Cusco is the doorway to see Peru’s Sacred Valley. It’s a lovely town that serves mostly as a tourist base for the pilgrimage to Machu Picchu.
On the way to the Sacred Valley, we zipped through the town, intent on arriving at Ollantaytambo that day. It is suggested to travel to the Sacred Valley upon arrival in order to prevent altitude sickness since the valley is lower than Cusco.
Our trip got a little complicated when we descended Machu Picchu to the town of Aguas Calientes. Farmers were striking on account of the government’s privitization of water and had decided to block the Perurail train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo. This was a problem because the only way to get tourists out is by train. Farmers often demonstrate their frustrations to the government by damaging the tourist economy since it makes such an impact in Peru.
We were able to take a rescheduled train late into the night to Ollantaytambo. The strike was happening in earnest the next day–the day we needed to get to Cusco, so it was tough finding a ride. Protestors were placing rocks in the road, and there was a human block in the road outside of Cusco. No cars or buses could pass.
Luckily we found a taxi driver willing to take us to Cusco despite the blockades. At one point, we had to get out of the car and move large tree branches to get by. With much luck we arrived in Cusco the day we had originally intended. Although there was a block of strikers outside of town, we were able to walk about a half an hour in. It was such a relief not to lose our airline tickets.
Below is the Plaza de Armas–the center of town. The cathedral is located there. Hostels and restaurants are plentiful. Don’t expect to get hot water for showers, even if advertised. I recommend purchasing souveniers in Cusco rather than Lima as there are more options.
I can recommend two restaurants in Cusco: Aldea Yanapay and El Encuentro.
The restaurant/cafe Aldea Yanapay is part of a nonprofit organization that raises money for school and social benefits for children. The inside of the cafe was charming–it was decorated as if it were a playschool with murals and stuffed animals sitting on some of the seats. I had a Peruvian dish of stuffed peppers. Aldea Yanapay may be a better restaurant for dessert and coffee, as our meals were a little dry. However, the idea of helping local children is very satisfying. The ambiance is worth a visit as well.
El Encuentro is a vegetarian restaurant that provides the opportunity to try Peruvian dishes that veggies wouldn’t normally get to taste. Some examples are Bistec a lo Pobre and Lomo Saltado. I had natural yogurt drizzled with honey that was heavenly. Even better, the restaurant seems to ofter a special each day that includes tea, soup, and a main plate for around U.S. $2. They have several locations including Sta. Catalina Ancha 384, Choquechaca No. 136, and Tigre Street 130. The Tigre location is two blocks from Plaza de Armas.
We felt fortunate to have arrived in Cusco despite the striking farmers. Once we dropped off the backpacks in the hostel, we could take a deep breath and do some exploring.