One of the first things that I noticed upon arriving to Cuzco on the first day of the trip was how dense and bustling the city was. Cars were zigzagging every which way, tourists and locals alike packed the narrow sidewalks, and vendors and shop owners competed for attention and sales. In some areas of the city, especially near the central Plaza de Armas, the touristy side of the city dominated. On a 10 minute walk from the hotel to the San Pedro market, one could expect to be offered 15 massages (of questionable quality and possibly legality), 6 “baby alpaca” hats, 23 llama key chains, 4 pairs of knock-off Ray Ban sunglasses, menus to 8 different restaurants, and an uncountable number of other goods.
At first this was great, as it was all new and exciting. However, by the second week in Cuzco it became tiring. It becomes evident that all the vendors are selling the same things. The last thing you want to see right after finishing a meal is a menu for another restaurant. If you’re wearing a rain jacket, it should be obvious that you don’t want a rain poncho, but they still shove them in your face. After seeing the same painting by “Pablo Picasso Junior” for the fifteenth time, you begin to question whether there is actually any original artwork in the city. The vendors can be ruthless, following you for blocks if you accidentally show a hint of interest in their product. However, this is not the only reality of Cuzco.
On a few occasions I got the chance to venture out a little farther to the less touristy areas. Avenida el Sol and the nearby streets are noticeably different. The gift shops and street vendors were replaced by things residents actually need, such as barbershops and shoe shiners. You can walk in peace down the street and not have to worry about someone getting in your face to try to sell you something. People went about their daily business, and it seemed just like any other small city I have ever visited. This was really refreshing, taking a break from the tourist-dominated historic center of town to get a glimpse into how the real residents of the city lived.
However, one thing which I really appreciated from the touristy area where we stayed remained constant throughout the rest of the city. The streets of Cuzco were all pedestrian friendly, and the shops and businesses were all densely packed. One would not have to walk more than a minute at most to find a bottle of water or some snacks at the nearest convenience store. Nearly everything one could need was within walking distance. Since the streets were in fairly rough condition and traffic was almost always heavy, it’s a very good thing that the city was so walkable.
Cuzco has a lot to offer, but it’s easy to get stuck within the touristy area. I highly recommend to anyone that visits the city to get out and explore some more, because there is so much more to Cuzco than the countless gift shops and the Plaza de Armas.