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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

Machu Picchu is South America’s top tourist destination and Cusco is the gateway to the once-lost city. Coming from Lima it was great to see blue skies once again and the Spanish colonial architecture was stunning.

Located in the heart of the historical district, the Plaza de Armas is the epicenter of tourism in Cusco. There you will find the usual mix of hotels, hostels, restaurants, and travel agencies.

A short walk from the Plaza is San Pedro Market, which has a wide variety of produce, meat, and food stalls. I had most of my meals there. They were inexpensive, but nothing I’d go out of my way to eat again. I did manage to buy a bunch of Peruvian foodstuffs to bring home, including several types of corn, quinoa, and aji amarillo.

Overall, the food in Cusco was a disappointment. The tourist traps surrounding the Plaza de Armas serve an overpriced, horribly executed mix of international and Peruvian food. Since I was there, I had to try cuy (guinea pig). I went to Chez Maggy, which has two locations in the center and a Trip Advisor excellence sticker on the window. The service was horrible, the food worse, and the guinea pig nearly inedible.

Cuy was not what lured me to Cusco. I had hopes of taking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, but, during high season, that requires booking 6-9 months in advance. Not having that luxury, I settled for the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, which was truly wonderful.

There is no shortage of massage parlors in Cusco and masseuses actively solicit business in the street. Prices range from $7 for a basic massage to $15 for the Inca Special. I splurged on the Inca following my trek and, while it wasn’t Thailand, had a very nice (strictly platonic) rubdown.

The day after my trek, I took the 45 minute bus ride to Pisaq, which, in addition to Inca ruins, holds a popular market on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. The Sunday market featured an array of handicrafts and fresh produce. I purchased handicrafts and more foodstuffs to bring home, and had a gigantic and extremely tasty fried trout while in Pisaq.

Cusco is a beautiful city and I was extremely satisfied with my trek. I had originally intended to stick around longer and use Cusco as the starting point for another trek and to visit Lake Titicaca. The sheer volume of tourists and the impersonal, predatory atmosphere generated by it led me to seek greener pastures. I booked a flight for Colombia and decided to try my hand in a place less on the radar.

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