Where’d we leave off?
That long, local bus ride from Puno. If you haven’t read the post about Lake Titicaca, let me fill you in: we were pressed for time. Like, really pressed for time. But we were also hell bent on seeing both sides of the lake despite the fact that it meant we’d only have a measly 14 hours to spend in Puno (over half of which were spent sleeping) and would likely miss the early-morning (and very convenient) tourist bus. Well, we did miss that bus. And everyone – from the owner of the hotel we stayed at to the agent at the bus terminal – tried talking us into waiting for the tourist bus the next morning (it makes fewer stops, is more comfortable, and is generally more safe for foreign travelers), but we were having none of it. We needed to be in Cusco by a certain time and, at that point, a local bus was our only option. So we bought our tickets and got on the damn bus, and spent the next 10 (or 11) hours packed like sardines in a vessel – without air conditioning – that smelled a little too much like week old bologna.
We made our first stop a couple hours in and were warned (no one else, just us) not to get of the bus because the area is known for its violent ways – especially toward foreigners. So we waited around for 30 minutes then carried on for a few more hours before arriving at our second stop. We got the green light to get off the bus so Thom went to look for oranges (Peruvian oranges are some of the best I’ve ever had) while I stayed with our belongings. Eventually the bus pulled away and I assumed – like the first stop – that it was just pulling around to the other side of the station. But within a minute or two, with my nose buried deep in a Milan Kundera novel (probably The Unbearable Lightness of Being for the 1,983rd time), I noticed the guy from across the aisle turbulently waving his hands at me and it was then that I realized OH SHIT THE BUS IS ACTUALLY LEAVING AND MY HUSBAND IS BACK AT THE BUS STATION LOOKING FOR ORANGES.
My immediate reaction was something straight out of Home Alone, followed by an urge to grab all of our bags and run to the front of the bus. So I did. My buddy from across the aisle followed me and explained the situation to our bus driver, and I jumped off the bus (which was still slowly moving at that point) and came to the awful realization that we were going to spend the night on the floor of a bus station.. in the middle of nowhere. And just as that hit me I looked up and saw Thom, about a quarter mile away, running like mad toward the bus and its massive dust cloud. I poked my head inside and updated our buddy (un minuto, por favor!), and next thing I knew Thom was two feet away from me, sweaty and out of breath and grabbing for his belongings. We hopped back on the bus and were greeted with rage-filled eyes from the driver (can you blame him?) but claps and big smiles from the other riders, who were relieved to see that one half of the gringos on board didn’t get left behind.
Eventually, sometime just before midnight, we made it to Cusco. We checked in to our B&B and called it a night, then woke up early the next morning to wander around the place I kept referring to as, “a little slice of Eastern European heaven.. in Peru.” And between the convoluted, cobblestone pathways and charm that oozed from every nook and cranny, Cusco won my heart. In fact, we had zero intention of spending more than a day in the 2+ mile high city, but after wrapping up our trek to Machu Picchu, we decided to scrap a trip to Arequipa or Pisco and spend a few more days laying low and exploring at our leisure.. and avoiding long bus rides (even if they were going to be on the tourist route).
– A cab ride from the bus station to the city center shouldn’t cost more than five soles, but damn near every driver will try to charge you 15.
– If you haven’t spent much time at altitude and are planning on trekking to Machu Picchu, make sure you arrive to Cusco a few days before the start of your trek so you can acclimate.
– Make sure you drink a boatload of water. If that doesn’t keep the symptoms of altitude sickness at bay, coca tea will help with the adjustment. Or you can say fuck the tea and chew on the leaves (it’s what I did).
– If you want textiles, get them in Cusco. I got two beautiful rugs for less than $40/each (!) and a bunch of other vibrant tapestries.
– If you’re heading to the local markets, try your hand at bargaining (though be respectful about it).
– Let the locals guide you. I always say they know best but, in Cusco, they really know best.
Greens organic – A delicious restaurant that serves up both organic and local grub. A bit on the pricey side (for Cusco), but absolutely worth it.
The Meeting Place – Great place to grab breakfast. Top notch (not vegan) milkshakes and pour over coffee. Even better? 100% of profits go to local charities and projects.
Mr. Soup – Giant bowls of soup (AND BREAD!) with options for vegans and meat eaters, alike.
Granja Heidi – Fantastic food and atmosphere. Owner is a delight.
Jack’s Cafe – All day breakfast and other tasty things.
Viva – Healthy vegan Peruvian fare.
Selesonia’s Mesa – Traditional Peruvian that came highly recommended from a fellow traveler.
The Sepia Club – A few items can be made ‘vegano’, you’ve just gotta ask.
Green Point Vegan – Opens at 8am and offers a hearty breakfast menu. Salad bar served with lunch and dinner.
Pachapapa – Dinner on the patio at dusk is divine. Go for a wood-fired pizza.
Cafe Ayllu – The only good coffee shop we visited in Cusco.
Cocoliso – Funky cafe that serves up boozy drinks, delicious juices, and small bites.
Paddy’s – A traditional (and super cozy) Irish pub. Great for watching football (err, soccer).
The Cross Keys – An English pub with a number of imported beers and huge portions of papas fritas.
Mercado Central de San Pedro – A jam-packed local market with everything from fresh produce and chocolate to kitchen gadgets and textiles. A lot of resources say the vendors ignore tourists but that couldn’t have been further from the truth. We left with an assortment of dried fruits, a couple of wooden utensils from a darling man named Cesar, and bars of Peruvian chocolate.
Saksaywaman – Inca ruins, just a 10-15 minute walk from the heart of Cusco.
San Blas – A historic neighborhood with a small market that pops up on the regular.
We wound up staying at a dreamy B&B that was a couple of blocks from the center of town. Aside from the fantastic location, the hosts were incredibly generous (they received us late at night, arranged laundry service, helped us book our plane tickets to Lima, etc.) and we met a lot of kickass travelers (one of whom was an OLC reader) (SMALL WORLD). While breakfast wasn’t worth writing home about, there was a spread of coffee, fruit, and fresh-baked bread from the bakery down the street.