Our flight landed at 10:30 pm in Lima, which tends to be the norm. However, our connecting flight was not scheduled to leave Lima for Cusco until 4:30 am the next day. For us, this was much too brief a time for us to book a hotel, so if you are like us, it's "sofa city sweetheart" or unfortunately, the cold tiled airport floor.
The domestic side of the terminal does not open until 1:30 am and that's where the semi-comfortable chairs are located near the departure gates. The main terminal is just unforgiving floor and a constant buzz of noise. We tried to nap near a local airport massage kiosk. At least they played relaxing music, but with the crowd noise and tinny airport public announcements every few minutes, sleep was futile.
After giving up on trying to get any quality rest, we finally retreated to the food court, got a little something to eat and groggily waited for the domestic terminal to open. Once it did, we raced for some highly coveted cushioned seats near our gate to take a little nap before boarding our quick flight to Cusco.
Since the transfer person from our trekking company didn't show up after waiting over a half hour for him, we had to take a taxi. However, because we didn't know the local taxi rates we got a little 'taken' by the driver who quickly charged us 30 soles ($10) to get to our destination. We later found out that a ride of that short distance should only have cost us 10 soles ($3). Oh, well. Travel and learn.
When we arrive in a new city and we plan to stay longer than a week, we usually book a place online for only the first two or three nights and then immediately scout about town looking for a better deal. We spent half a day, our first day in Cusco, talking to locals, researching rates online, and visiting hotels and hostels, looking for new locations and better deals. We eventually found one that suited our needs and it was super conveniently located just off Cusco's main square, called Plaza de Armas.
In Peru, you will see ubiquitous signs saying "We accept Visa!" just about everywhere. However, it's good to remember that the posted price for goods and services is non-negotiable if you do choose to use a credit card. On the flip side, if you pay with cash, you will often get a discount. This is applicable for hotels, tours, clothing, restaurants, etc. Because we paid our hotel in cash, we were able to negotiate a great discount for our stay.
As usual, we followed our own travel advice and found an advertised "free walking tour" of the city which gave us a chance to listen to the history of Cusco and get a lay of the land for future exploration.
There are two great places you can shop for textiles that are away from Plaza de Armas. They are San Pedro Market and Centro Artesanal market. At both of these places you will save about 25% on most items. If you want even better discounts than that, continue downhill about 4-5 city blocks away from the San Pedro Market. There, you will be among the locals (and probably the only gringo around) and get the very best deals on everything, because they usually offer rock-bottom wholesale prices.
After all that shopping, we worked up an appetite. The food in Peru was surprisingly really tasty and fresh. Restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, bakeries, and even a few fast food places are located everywhere and touts, or hawkers, are actively vying to get you into their place.
When you receive a menu at a chosen eatery, make sure you ask for the "daily special menu" or "especial de hoy". This is the menu that most places are reluctant to show you upfront. This is because diners will be offered the best overall deal. Instead of having to order each item a la carte, the special daily menu will offer you a set menu of your choice of an appetizer, entree, dessert AND even a drink, usually for only 25 soles per person ($8). That is an amazing price, considering that when we added up our chosen items on a typical a la carte menu, it came to four times that amount. Also, don't forget to ask for your free pisco sour. They will usually comp this "nectar of the gods" if you ask and boy, is it worth it! Pisco is the local alcoholic beverage in Peru. It's comparable to Mexico's tequila, although pisco is made with grapes.
Remember that ice is not served in most places. The Peruvians consider the air temperature cool enough to bypass the need for it. Even in most convenience stores, you will see drinks displayed in an electric cooler, but the cooler will not even be plugged in.
If you want to enjoy a really excellent, high quality meal and are willing to pay nearer to Western prices, visit the Inka Grill. It is a very upscale restaurant located right on Plaza de Armas. You can't miss it, as it has the giant melted candle wax in the window and is directly next door to the Inca Rail touring company. We celebrated our successful Inca Trail hike with some of our fellow trekkers at the Inka Grill and loved every single item we ordered.
Another helpful tip that we learned was to introduce ourselves using our Spanish names when people asked. English is not widely spoken except in certain areas in Peru. The Peruvians also had a difficult time pronouncing our names so we used our Spanish names given to us by our good friend Ricardo who owns Teocintle Maiz restaurant in Ajijic. https://www.facebook.com/teocintle.maiz.1 Our Spanish names are Rolando and Lorena. This helped tremendously as we traveled around Peru. It also made it much easier for the locals to remember.
There are touts working hard everywhere around Plaza de Armas. Most are very polite, not too pushy and offer a wide variety of legitimate services. Some will try to get you into their restaurant by showing you their menu, and others will offer sightseeing tours and or spa services such as manicures and massages.
The massages are really good and will only cost you about $10 for an hour. Make sure you negotiate before your treatment begins because they will try to upsell you more expensive massages like the Inca massage or hot stone massage. Lori negotiated a 2.5 hr massage, mani/pedi, facial and a hair wash/blow dry for less than $60. In all, she relished in about four hours of decadent pampering. She loved it, especially after completing the arduous Inca Trail.
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