This post discusses 3 of the cities in Peru, as you can see by the title if you are literate, which I presume you are as you’re reading this blog.
Puno is known for some floating islands where indigenous people live. Many travelers visit them, although by most accounts they are highly touristy and some people even find them exploitative. I didn’t visit the islands, nor really spend much time in Puno to be honest (just a few hours between buses) but I got a quick feel nonetheless. The downtown is OK, pretty standard, with a bit of a dirty city feet at night. It boasts the usuals: Plaza de Armas with some colonial buildings, huge church, monument. Narrow street closed off to traffic lined with shops, restaurants and people trying to beckon you into both. Street vendors selling cheap snacks (!), dirty streets, city lights. Despite my brief stay, I could tell it was a (pu)NO for places to go.
The gateway to Machu Picchu! I spent a bit more time here, including aggressively hiking to the city ruins. I was here during a national festival, so I had a unique experience in that the entire town was shut down with massive parades and performances, people cooking hoards of street food, music, costume and all around special activities.
My first day I spent a while wandering to the main sights – Plaza de Armas, the many churches, Qoricancha convent, El Cathedral, and a weird stone with 12 sides with a huge line of people taking photos (why). Then I got deranged from arriving at 5am on the night bus, ate some cake for dinner and passed out on my bed around 6pm. Day 2 I took the collectivo back into town after visiting Tipon and being charged by a rogue sheep on the mountain (leg bruise remains), to find the party was bigger than the day before! Entire blocks of the main Avenida del Sol closed off, with food vendors and people cooking and selling everything imaginable – from papas fritas, to guinea pig, to chicken, to rice, to snacks, juices, hats, flags, and more.
Eventually I got tired of the crowds and wandered outside the tourist core to some other streets that felt very different; more industrial, some unsavory characters milling about, auto glass vendors with huge signs with bikini-clad girls on them, you know.
Cities in Peru: Cusco Food and Drink
I am obsessed with the menu in Peru – or the set, several course meal which you can find for a bargain if you look (2-3USD). I love the slight element of surprise about what you will get, especially if your Spanish is questionable, which mine is. My first afternoon in Cusco I was starving and eating was a priority. I want to Ego’s, where I got a menu for 15soles including a random chicken dish (not sure what I was ordering), soup, and some delicious chicha morado (purple corn drink with sugar).
For dinner I went to a place Quori Sara, ordering the Menu again of course. This time, a soup, huge breaded beef bigger than my head, cup of chicha morada, and a rice pudding dessert. I was wildly full and believe the rice thing had diary which I can’t eat, but ate it all anyway. I mean it was delicious and good value for 2USD. Also I went back again the next night.
A natural next move after Cusco, many people claim Arequipa is a must-see. Many people are wrong. Lonely Planet says it’s the “most beautiful city in Peru – sorry Cusco.” Lonely Planet lies (although we already knew this). After an overnight Cruz Del Sur bus (very plush, free food, movies, heat!) I arrived at 6am, naturally without a map/directions or idea where to go. The bus info was closed and I wasn’t sure how to get to my hostel so I took a taxi, instantly regretting the fare and wishing I’d walked 40 minutes.
Deranged, I set out to explore the sights on the tourist map. Wandering in my delirious state I got lost straight away, but recorrected and ended up finally at the San Camillo Market. I wandered without camera, enjoying the smells of raw meat and fresh fruit. I glimpsed dead sheep’s heads hanging as diseased flies swarmed and aggressive juice vendors thrust menus at my face. Afterwards, I saw many a church, and the massive convent that takes up an ENTIRE block and is a city in itself. I wanted to go in, but the credit card machine was broken and I had no cash so I could not. I also debated seeing the mummified ice princess, but decided against it and just wandered the colonial architecture streets and ate some street food for very cheap instead (30 cents each for: papas rellandos, a potato, meat, veg item; Inka corn; churros…aka malnutrition).
For the afternoon, a walk past Recoleta are on other side of the river, more churches, and stroll in the Yanahuara neighborhood (the mirador is relatively lame). I wasn’t having much fun, so I began walking towards the hostel in an annoyed mood. But then…I discovered streets of local shops, bustling and with no tourists!
My spirits lifted as I began shopping for bootleg/counterfeit sneakers, sketchy possibly-used tee shirts for 1usd, and my favorite – beads! With pure joy I purchased 20 kg of beads for 1 sole (30 cents), at which time the man looked at me as though I was insane. People usually buy much more, I suppose, and I was overly-excited. I finally met back up with my sister after 2 weeks apart, and we went out for a celebratory dinner menu for 6 soles each (2usd). It was inclusive of appetizer, main course, juice drink and beer — obviously, we [over]ate it all.
All in all I didn’t see anything special about the city. I guess that’s why many people use it as a base for a trek to the volcano or to see Colca Canyon.