Planning Your Time
Because of its altitude and complex cultural roots, Cusco is best experienced after having visited the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. Most of the city can be seen in two days, though we have spent weeks exploring the alleyways of Cusco, and soaking in its incredibly international energy, without getting bored.
Cusco’s boleto turístico gets you into most of the major sites of Cusco and the Sacred Valley for US$45.
As a home base, we prefer staying in the neighborhood of San Blas, which is an uphill hike from the Plaza de Armas but blissfully removed from the noise and traffic of the center. San Blas’s narrow streets are difficult for cars to negotiate and therefore very peaceful.
The main sights of Cusco are within easy walking distance and concentrated within an area that takes about 10–15 minutes to walk from one side to another. Outlying sights such as Sacsayhuamán and other ruins on the outside of the city require a taxi or bus to arrive, though hiking back downhill into Cusco is an enjoyable way to return.
The traditional time to visit Cusco is during the dry season May–August, but the best weather is in June and July. Avoid the last week in July when Peru’s hotels are often booked solid for Peru’s Fiestas Patrias celebration around July 28.
An increasing number of visitors are enjoying the solitude of Cusco during the rainy season November–March. We definitely recommend the “shoulder months” of April, May, September, and October, which are in between the dry and rainy seasons. You’ll find good weather during these months and few crowds.
Taxi hijackings, where taxi drivers kidnap and rob their unsuspecting clients, do happen in Cusco. Examine your taxi carefully before getting inside, especially at night. Have your hotel call a taxi, if at all possible. At night, avoid walking alone in out-of-the-way places or while inebriated, as assaults happen every week.
It is a common misconception that traveling through Peru’s remote countryside is risky while spending time in a tourist town like Cusco is safe. In fact, the exact opposite is true.
Taxi assaults, where cab drivers rob their passengers, are on the rise in Cusco. Most of these are simple robberies, though some have involved violence. Here are some tips for staying out of trouble:
• Take only authorized taxis; these can be easily recognized by a hexagonal yellow sticker on the windshield. Even better is to go with a radio taxi company — these have advertising and phone numbers on their roofs.
• Look at the taxi driver and decide whether you feel comfortable with him. If you feel nervous, wave the taxi on and choose another.
• Always take a taxi late at night, especially after drinking. Night taxis anywhere in town cost US$1.
• Walk in a group at night, and women should never walk alone.
• Carry your wallet in your front pocket and keep your backpack in front of you in a market or other crowded area. In markets, it is often better to leave most of your money and passport at home.
• Walk with purpose and confidence.
• When riding on a bus, store your luggage below or keep it on your lap. Do not put it on the racks above you where others can reach it as you sleep.
• Be wary of new friends at bars and on the street — many scams involve misplaced trust or the lure of drugs and sex and are hatched over the space of hours. Think twice before you go somewhere out of the way with someone you just met.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition