Cuzco (also spelled as Cusco, Qusqu or Qosqo) is the entry point for millions of tourists per year to discover the ruins of Machu Picchu. As such, the city center is pretty much Gringolandia: a number of bars, restaurants, hotels, massage parlors, jewellery shops and discotecas cater for the wealthy Americans or western Europeans. The shops are so tuned to the visitors of the ruins, that you can even get a polar filter for your camera in almost every second shop. Funnily enough, in Lima a polar filter is impossible to find, people haven't even heard of it!
Despite the mass number of tourists, Cuzco managed to keep a lot of its charm. When the Spanish conquistadors entered the city, they did a good job in destroying all the rich heritage of the Incas, whenever they could not, they were erecting buildings on top of it. Thus there are a number of buildings in the city which are built on the original Inca walls: stones fit so close together that not even a sheet of paper can pass through between them. A skill of masonry that is unfortunately never been learnt by the Spanish, thus lost forever.
Just a little bit outside the city center, near the San Pedro station one can also face the real Cuzco, as the locals experience it: dirty but vivid market life, people in traditional dresses offering sweets, fruits, or different kind of meat (strictly without refrigeration accompanied by happy flies), some shops specialized in selling cuy (guinee pig, a local delicacy), others are offering a daily menu for as little as 2 soles (around 50 eurocents).
Most other restaurants in the city are also offering 3-course menus starting from 8 soles (2 euros). Pollo a la plancha and lomo saltado is the “default” in every menu, and our all time favorite lucuma and maracuya juices are also easy to find.
Apart from the Inca walls in the city, there are other things to see nearby. On the hill above, lay the ruins of Sacsayhuaman with its gigantic stone walls, the purpose of which we know little.
Walking around in Cuzco one can also observe a number of places with Hebrew sings. Since then we have learnt that South America is full of travellers from Israel. After their military service they all fly out and apparently this continent is attracting them, a lot. At the moment of writing this post, I am sitting in a hostel in Ushuaia, and there are around 15 people around me talking in Hebrew. A phenomenon one have to get used to.
After all not only we visited Machu Picchu from here, but we also did some volunteering work in Cuzco. We have written earlier about this experience. Even though finally we left one day later than we planned (thanks to the great service of StarPeru), we felt like it is a place we could have stayed more. Thumbs up for Cuzco.