After another 9 hour overnight bus ride from Arequipa, we arrived in Cuzco. At 06:00 am, we found out that Cuzco was far more touristy than any other place we had been so far in Peru. Often, we were the only guests in a hostel. In Cuzco, the first two places we tried were booked out, including the famous and not so cheap Loki Backpacker, with more than 145 beds!
We found shelter in the Hostel Sol de Los Andes, which was as freezing cold as all the other places, but clean and really cheap for Cuzco. A double room with private bath costs 17 USD, including the little heater we managed to rent, which helped a little maintaining the room at a bearable temperature.
In the early morning hours, we started out to explore the city center. Yes, it is a beautiful city, the nicest we have been so far in Peru. On the other side, we have not seen that many tourists in the two months we have been traveling in South America, mostly groups!
Of course we bought the “Boleto Turistico” for a hefty 22 USD, which grants you entrance to 16 historic and archaeological sites, although the most interesting ones are outside Cuzco, as Saqsaywaman, Pisac, Ollantaytambo, … and for most other sites in Cuzco, we had to pay entrance fees on top.
We especially enjoyed San Blas, the so-called artistic “Barrio”, with narrow cobblestone streets, a great view of Cuzco and which is full of souvenir shops and restaurants. We actually decided to stay there when we come back from Machu Picchu, in the small but cozy and most important warm Hostal Arrieros, with a breathtaking view over Cuzco.
The first highlight of this beautiful colonial city we visited was Qorichaska, one of the richest temples of the Inca Empire. As they often did, the Conquistadores destroyed the temple and built the convent of Santa Domingo on top.
Another must-see is the Cathedral, which actually consists of three churches: Iglesia del Triumfo to its right and Iglesia de Jesus Maria to its left. The stones to build these churches were taken from the Saqsaywaman temples and the gold to cover the wooden carved alter was taken from Qorinchaska. So much for bringing the blessing of Christianity to the new world!
Last but not least, the Inca Museum … Actually this museum provides an excellent overview of all the different civilizations and the different cultures which existed in the area that was eventually conquered by the Incas. Luckily, we invested 20 Soles taking a very knowledgeable young lady guide, which is absolutely necessary to fully enjoy and understand the displays in the museum.
But getting to know Cuzco also means just walking around the city center and enjoying the colonial architecture, especially the three plazas surrounded by tastefully restored colonial buildings with beautifully carved wooden balconies, the steady stream of tourists and vendors, who never stop offering their goods.
On the very first night, we decided to find out what makes the success of such a place as the Loki Backpacker Hostel, apart from being among the top 5 choices of the Lonely Planet … An incredible experience! Well, it is a young crowd, people in their early twenties, who find themselves surrounded by likely-minded peers and amenities that make a traveler’s life very comfortable: free Internet, TV room, free basic breakfast (even if you cannot find a room, you are invited for a cup of tea!), cheap dinner (10 Soles or 3 USD for the communal dish is exceptionally low for Cusco), special events, etc …
In the evening almost all of the 145 guests show up in the fairly sized but still cozy bar enjoying a notable number of beers for a hefty 7 Soles or 2 USD. Everybody finds somebody to chat with, since people know each other from sharing a dorm. Even to get dinner they do not have to leave the Hostel: one dish is prepared every evening that people can sign up for. This food being served is another group experience, with people waiting in line for their plate to be filled, talking to each other and then gobbling it down together in the rather dark room.
That way, this Hostel manages to keep almost all of its guest within the premises … It must to be a gold mine! Something many others should learn from … Why not us?