Are you a fan of llamas? Silly question, who isn't? They're fluffy, their faces are filled with expression and they're kind of like a camel's hipster cousin.
If you're nodding as you read then Cusco is the place for you. The Peruvian city has long been a stop-off point for pilgrims heading to Machu Picchu, one of the essential sites to visit on a trip to South America. While that's purpose enough for thousands of tourists to swing by Cusco every year, the city has its own charms that should ensure its place on any itinerary for the continent.
Firstly, as already mentioned, there's the llama aspect. The wooly animals are ten a penny throughout Peru but nowhere will you see them wandering about as much as in Cusco. As much as we'd take the dog out for a walk here in Ireland, Cusco's inhabitants see no qualms in sticking a llama on a lead and heading for a stroll.
Granted, one of the reasons they do so is to tempt tourists into lucrative photo opportunities and to be fair, the prospect is hard to resist.
Aesthetically, Cusco's cobbled streets and impressive architecture make it the perfect spot to wander around at your leisure before or after the more strenuous pursuit of scaling Machu Picchu. The city is compact, meaning you'll get to know your way around fairly easily in an afternoon and there are plenty of sights to see along the way.
Walking tours are available and will take you to places like the Cusco Cathedral, a UNESCO world heritage site, as well as the artisan quarter of San Blas, with its numerous art workshops and displays.
While there are a number of points of interest, most of the appeal of Cusco comes from exploring the place without any particular plan. It'll be a while before you get bored but when you do you can stop off at Paddy's Irish pub for a pick-me-up. "Not another bloody Irish pub", you're all shouting. Well this one is different in that it's the highest Irish pub in the entire world. So there.
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Step by step, to the highest Irish owned pub on the planet! 🌏 . . #Repost @jotakesabreak (@get_repost) ・・・ When in Peru - find the tallest Irish pub and battle altitude sickness there. It was fun getting down the stairs - which we know isn’t my strong point even when I’m sober! . . . . #paddys #paddysirishpub #irishbar #irishbarcusco #barcusco #cuzco #cusco #bar #sportsbar #cozy #homey #sportscusco #sportsbarcusco #football #basketball #baseball #americanfootball #rugby #fun #nightout #beer #beerlover #guinness #craftbeer #burger
Should you feel like venturing further during your stay, a number of bus tours will take you to the surrounding mountains where you'll find stunning views overlooking the city.
Back on solid ground, there's always a great buzz around the Plaza de Armas and if you want to pick up some souvenirs, you'll find plenty at Cusco's multitude of street markets.
During your stay in South America, you're sure to have sampled a variety of local cuisine but if you're after some home comforts, a trip to Cusco isn't complete without stopping at Jack's Cafe. Whether it's breakfast, lunch or dinner, this spot will have just what you need to fill your belly as you prep your trip to Machu Picchu.
Speaking of which, if you haven't organised that part of your trip before arriving in Cusco, there are plenty of tour operators lining the streets to help you find the best deal to suit your needs. Whether you want to go all out and undertake the trek or go for the more comfortable option of taking the train to Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu, you'll find all the answers you need from Cusco's friendly guides.
Whatever way you plan it, Cusco certainly shouldn't be seen as just another stop-off point along your way. You won't regret taking a few days to truly appreciate this gorgeous little city and it's sure to live long in the memory once you do.
Just don't leave without getting a llama photo, k?