Upon arriving in Cusco, the first thing I noticed was the buildings. Flying into the airport that is relatively central to the city, I was able to catch a glimpse of its infrastructure from above as well as on the ground. At first glance, most of the buildings looked as if they were stopped mid-construction or had been around for a long-time. In a sense, it looked like a pretty impoverished city and I began to question what it had to offer. Coming from Chicago, I am used to seeing buildings made of glass, recently renovated structures, and flashy architecture. In general, I am used to cities that display their value through appearance. As a result of living around such North American cities, Cusco, at first glance, seemed underwhelming. However, once I was able to explore it, my initial observation was turned on its head. Even though this Peruvian city is not as outwardly modern as other cities I have visited, it still has immense value both physically and intrinsically. The difference is that Cusco hides itself behind its clay walls.
Continuing the physical comparison of Cusco to Chicago, one can actually find similarly modern storefronts in the central plaza. Even though the surrounding buildings look old on the outside, their interiors are quite modern. Many of the stores have glass windows, carry high-end products, and have uniformed employees. Even though such stores don’t outwardly advertise themselves like in Chicago, they do exist in Cusco. Furthermore, the restaurants and cafes similar in quality to those in major cities are often hidden here. As a result of the different civil engineering in Cusco, you often times have to venture into secluded places to find the best shops to grab a cup of coffee. For example, Lauren and I found this café on the second floor of a building on a small side street whose existence was only indicated by a sign on the wall. Despite its seemingly small presence, the café had beautiful chandeliers, outdoor seating, and great service. In Chicago, the best places to eat are heavily advertised and always boast about the awards they have won for their products. Even though you don’t often see such a fuss in Cusco, restaurants and cafes of the same caliber if not better can be discovered. You just have to look a bit harder!
Not only can you find amazing shops, cafes, and restaurants in Cusco, but you can find an amazing experience as well. Aside from the nicer areas of town, one must take the time to visit the small markets and shops on the roads less traveled (cliche I know, but true). Here you can find vendors who are willing to take time and teach you the differences between llama and alpaca fur. You can also meet their children who help you pull Chompa samples while telling you about their favorite television shows. Furthermore, you can watch a woman weave a rug of fantastic colors or try fruits you have never seen before. You can even watch quinoa crepes being made and have waiters draw you maps of the best clubs around town. What I have learned from Cusco thus far is that a city doesn’t need a flashy exterior to be considered exciting or valuable. Instead it is a combination of the shops, the service, and the experience that create a city worth visiting. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need a plethora of flashy stores or buildings when I can get a picture with a llama in costume and two baby sheep in my arms. To me, the latter is a more unique and valuable experience than anything I could possibly do walking down Michigan Avenue.