I had planned to take a daytime bus from La Paz to Cuzco in Peru so as to enjoy the view, but they were all booked on the day I wanted to travel so had to settle for the night bus instead. We passed Lake Titicaca before it was dark though, so I can still say I’ve seen it. The border crossing was very relaxed – we seemed to be the only people going through the formalities, whilst hoards of locals transported large bundles of goods back and forth between the street markets on either side of the crossing. I was nervous about my bag of coca leaves so had left it on the overhead luggage rack in the bus when we got off to walk over the border, but needn’t have worried, no one searched our luggage or, as far as I could see, the bus.
We arrived in Cuzco at the deeply inconvenient time of 3.30am. This is a town where you are advised not to walk around after 10pm and to be wary of late night taxis as they are known to drive people to out of the way places to be robbed. I was saved from a night in the bus terminal by a grizzled Spanish hippy I’d made friends with on the bus, and his equally bohemian French chum. We shared a taxi to a hostel they knew of, but found it to be full. The man on the desk, once we’d woken him up, did let us in however and allowed us to phone a couple of other hostels, both of which were also full. The chaps then went off into the night, leaving me to guard the luggage and came back having secured a shared room for the three of us in a dirt cheap joint not far away. So we walked down through town (unscathed) and collapsed into bed for half a nights sleep. The next day they went off and found a hostel whilst I checked into a very nice hotel I’d found on Wikitravel.
Cuzco is both a world heritage site itself and also the place everyone passes through on the way to Machu Picchu, my next and much-anticipated port of call. The sixteenth century colonial centre was built by the Spanish on top of an Inca capital city (whilst preserving the layout) and there are beautiful examples of Inca masonry all over the place, down the side of alleys and forming the lower courses of church walls. The most extensive Inca remains are in a convent where they were incorporated into the cloister but have subsequently been re-exposed.
The city is in the Andes at 3,400m but didn’t seem as chilly as the high altitude places I’d been to in Bolivia, although I was grateful for the heater in my room at night (and not just for drying my socks). My hotel room opened off a rustic balcony with a view over the old centre and I spent some very pleasant evenings sitting out there on a sofa with my netbook, drinking tea (there was a constant supply) and watching the humming birds flit around the garden beneath me. You will be unsurprised to learn that this is another place where I decided to stay an extra night.
The old centre is a very pleasant environment, despite being almost entirely full of businesses aimed at tourists: opportunities to eat, buy outdoor gear, change money and book for the Inca Trail or any number of other treks and excursions. You are also constantly being offered a shoe shine, a massage or some appalling ‘art’ by mobile entrepreneurs. I stuck to doing my bit for the economy by eating in some very nice restaurants and cafes.
I visited a number of Baroque churches but the most impressive was the Cathedral ‘complex’ – the main sixteenth century structure with two slightly later churches grafted onto the sides. Unfortunately photography is not allowed inside so I can’t show you how wonderful it is, with fabulous carved and gilded altars and oil paintings covering almost every square inch of wall. My favourite of the latter, sited right up by the roof, had the Virgin Mary in a howdah on the back of a rather misshapen elephant, trampling Satan.
Since I liked the inside so much, I chose the outside of the cathedral for Cuzco’s Lego model: