After the 2 months that I spent last summer in Cusco, Peru, it is safe to say that I have fallen in love with the city. At the first sight, it looked rustic, overwhelming and fascinating. And that's all true, but Cusco is a lot more than just that. Those two months there were one of the best months in my life. This city had a magical ability to make me feel like home. I think Cusco is the closest I've ever been to home. That's why I will never forget my time there. Getting a little intense? Ok, I'll stop now, I promise, let's move on ...
So as to celebrate the month of love, here are 5 reasons to fall in love with Cusco.
''I don't want to leave'' is one of the most popular sentences I've heard while working in a backpackers hostel in Cusco. People come here for a couple of days on their way to Machu Picchu or the Southern Peru to see the lake Titicaca, but many of them end up changing their plans and decide to stay ''just couple of extra days''. Oh boy, I've seen it turn into weeks if not months! No wonder, Cusco has also put me under its spell with its relaxed yet bubbly atmosphere.
Sometimes I wonder if they put something in the air to make people stay. My personal favourite is Cusco's historical centre in the evening. You just simply never get bored of it. I loved to take aimless walks around the city and discover local neighbourhoods. Even Cusco might seem hard to navigate at first, don't get discouraged! It is very unlikely that you would get completely lost!
As Cusco is a rather safe city, I sometimes left my map at the hostel and just walked where my feet brought me! I discovered a lot of interesting sights and nice restaurants that way. If you get lost, just catch a taxi back to the centre and you'll be fine!
Some people might wonder if there are enough things to do or to see in Cusco, as it is a city of only 500 000 inhabitants. But trust me there are. Cusco is a perfect place to take tours to the surrounding Inka ruins and charming Andean towns. You can explore the Sacred Valley or visit the town of Chinchero during the day time and return to Cusco by sunset. However, you don't have to leave Cusco to find things to do as the city has a lot to offer itself. You can discover the Inka ruins in the city (read more here) or visit museums, take a walk in the local neighbourhood or go fruit tasting in the local farmers' markets.
During the night time, Cusco turns to a perfect party place! As it's touristic character, the clubs and bars keep their doors open until 4 AM if not later. There is a place for every taste whether you want to dance; salsa, electronic, international hits or traditional Peruvian dances. The fun part is that it doesn't matter if you are in Cusco during the week or weekend, there's always a party!
There are also a lot of festivals throughout the year. Every year in July there's a big celebration called Inti Raymi which is a tradition that dates back to the times of Inka Empire. The name is in Quechua, the language of Inkas and it means ''the feast of the sun''. During that time Cusco is the place to be. There are a lot of parades and dance performances in the main plaza.
Peruvian cuisine is famous throughout the world, and I have no doubt why. Even for a picky eater like me, there is always some super delicious dishes to choose from. I've been where to locals go, chaufas, which offer Peruvian Chinese food. The dishes are huge and the prices start from 5 soles. If you stay longer or you feel like you have a strong stomach, make sure to try the street food. It's super yummy (and super cheap!)
Some of the best places to experience the authentic street food of Cusco is in the Mercado San Pedro which is a big market hall where you can find super delicious juice stalls, do souvenir shopping or get some fresh ingredients for your next meal or simply just sit down and enjoy the local food from one of the street food ''restaurants''.
If you are in the mood for a fancy dinner, you should head to the historic centre where most of the high-quality restaurants are located in. There are many good ones near Plaza de Armas but I usually go a little off the beaten path and always found nice ones. These places are perfect for trying the Andean cuisine such as cuy (guinea pig) or alpaca stake.
Cusqueños are the nicest! They are used to foreigners as the city lives from tourism, therefore, the locals seem to have respect for the visitors. Locals are more than happy to help you if you know Spanish or sometimes even with English. What I love is that sellers usually leave you alone if you politely say ''No gracias''. I met some really cool locals and I can tell they are hard working and very lovely people!
What impressed me is how hospitable the locals were. I will never forget how one time I was having an afternoon coffee with my co-workers at a cafe just outside the main plaza when we heard some music and realised that the noises come from the end of the alley. Our curiosity woke up and we decided to just go check what was going on there. As soon as we saw a door decorated with pink balloons and people wearing suits and dresses we quickly understood that it was a wedding.
A man next to the entrance noticed our curious faces and told us to step in. The man was the father of the bride and he introduced us to the wedding couple. We were given a lot of food and drinks and we were treated just like any other guests. The only thing was that we were wearing hoodies and sneakers, but no one seemed to care!
We ate and drank. We danced and then after a good hour of dancing we decided it was time to go. As a 3 foreigners, a Finn, Brazilian and a Taiwanese we didn't want to steal the spotlight from the couple. Anyhow, this was only one of those times when I experienced the true Peruvian hospitality.
I mean, who doesn't love cobblestones? Some of the cobblestone walls look like they were just constructed yesterday but actually, they are from the times of Inka Empire. It amazes a lot of people. The historical centre is all about cobblestone streets and narrow alleys. These are the alleys you are most likely going to stumble upon cholitas (women wearing traditional outfits) with their pet llamas or alpacas. They are more than happy to pose for a photo with you for a few coins.
There are obviously hundreds of reasons to go to Cusco. I could carry on forever, but I let you guys experience the city yourself. All I can say is that since that moment when the airplane took off from the Cusco airport I've been missing that place. I promised that we will meet again.