I like Cusco quite a lot for a city that’s tried to kill me and my friends. It’s a really interesting place to visit, though I’m not sure if I consider it a good place to stick around long term.
Cusco is a small city that’s 11,000 feet in the air. There’s nothing ordinary about it. The architecture is beautiful and the locals love life. We’ve been here 4 or 5 days and there are parades at all hours of the day in the city’s center square for a series of holidays in June that apparently are all back to back. People in elaborate costumes dance down the street and marching bands play music.
They also throw fireworks that sound like bombs at all hours of the day. That’s just how they celebrate. Restaurants are nice and homey, and the views are amazing from everywhere because the entire city is elevated and surrounded by mountains. The markets are full of locals getting fresh fruit smoothies and groceries. And there’s color everywhere – in the way people dress, in the rooftops and flowers, which are still in bloom even though it’s winter here. The general feel of the city is really fantastic.
You can’t go wrong with Peruvian food. And I haven’t had one bad meal in this entire city. All the Peruvian favorites, like ahí de gallina, ceviche, and lomo saltado are downright spectacular. The local food markets make great sandwiches and drinks that you can stop by and enjoy at the counter at any time of the day. The one thing that grosses me out is their tradition of eating guinea pig whole. Many restaurants feature elaborate dishes of a fully cooked guinea pig, head, legs and all. I love meat but I don’t want to eat it like that. That being said, I had alpaca and that was pretty delicious. We also had great Indian and pizza in Cusco, so they can be trusted with other cuisines. I haven’t been impressed with the desserts, which is really important to me, though the pastries are delicious.
Health and safety
This has to be the only place I’ve ever visited where I thought I might die. Altitude sickness is pretty awful. Though I haven’t felt too sick since the first day, I’m still extremely dehydrated and waking up in the middle of the night short of breath. Every time I blow my nose, there’s blood. And because everything is uphill, I get winded easily everywhere I go. That’s kind of a deal breaker for me. I need air in my life. I don’t want to be sucking on coca leaves all day just to survive. I mean, how do you even have sex here? Hooked up to an oxygen tank?
Other than that, the city is very safe, day or night. Locals don’t really seem threatening, though they do harass tourists to buy crafts, which is par for the course in any city that attracts foreigners so I don’t even mind. Driving around the winding streets seems a little precarious but these people have been doing it their whole lives so I’m probably safer than, say, in my home city of Miami.
The people in Cusco are a bit of a mixed bag. Everyone is really nice, but some people are definitely trying to scam you. I wouldn’t want to live somewhere where people are always thinking I have more money than I do because my Spanish is not from around here. Sometimes it’s small and forgivable like people giving you incorrect change. Other times, it’s really annoying. Like when an Uber driver tells you he can’t take you to your destination so you leave the car and then he ends the ride instead of cancelling it. (For the record, Uber gave me my money back.) On principle, I rather be surrounded by unfriendly assholes who are at least honest, than people who call you friend but want to fleece you. That being said, there’s a lot of great, friendly, and helpful people. And they’re all really happy because Cusco is really fun and festive.
Cusco is definitely one of the cheapest places I’ve ever been to but you have to know where to go. Since tourism is such a big part of how they make money, a lot of restaurants are just as expensive as they are in the US. But if you’re off the beaten path, you can get a really great lunch or even a buffet for less than $4. I imagine that renting an apartment is also equally affordable. The only problem is that you can’t put it at sea level.
Total livability score: 3/10
It’s a beautiful city that I recommend visiting at least once in your life. And I would live here if I had to, but oxygen is actually really important to me. Never thought I’d have to mention that. Livable oxygen is probably a basic requirement for a city to be habitable.