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Inca ruins, wee smells and tonnes of touts

sunny 20 °C

We can't deny it was a nice feeling to be in a comfortable B&B again and have the facilities of a town after our Titicaca homestay. It was also exactly three weeks to the day we would be flying home.... so these two things combined put us in the mood for a few drinks back in Puno.

Several hours later, several cuba libres downed, and we'd had a great evening... but, oh boy, I seriously paid the price the next day. Urgh!

We had to be up at 6am to catch a 7am bus to Cusco. When I first came to I really didn't think that was going to be possible. But we managed to get the bus with just a few minutes to spare, and had a long 10 hour journey ahead. Just what you need with a raging hangover...

The journey to Cusco is only 6 hours if you go straight through, but we'd chosen to do a tour bus with about 6 stops at various points of interest. I have to say it was really good all-in-all, and thankfully the hangover subsided surprisingly quickly.

Soon after Puno we passed through Juliaca, a city not recommended for tourists. It was a chaotic state of a place, incredibly dusty with a poor infrastructure. It's renowned for its black market with smuggled cheaper goods from Bolivia, and it's pretty much left to its own devices with authorities turning a blind eye to the illegal activities. Residents don't pay taxes and therefore the government don't invest anything to improve the city... so it's Catch 22.

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We then drove through the altiplano (high plateau) of the Andes, getting glimpses of rural folk going about their daily business.

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The stops the bus made ranged from archaeological sites to small village churches, one of which has been dubbed "the Sistine Chapel of the Andes", on account of its painted ceilings and murals.

High altitude souvenir shopping... I tell you what, Peruvians don't miss a trick...

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Pukara, an historic village where the pre-Inca Pukara people were famed for their ceramics and stone carvings...

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Very errr... Catholic

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The locals have two (surprised looking) ceramic bulls on their roofs - the bulls signify power to bring strength and protection to the family

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Raqchi, an Inca site...

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Churches en-route...

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Being an idiot

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St Peter's - the 'Sistine Chapel of the Andes'... no pics allowed inside but it was beautifully painted

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Great views from the bus as we got closer to Cusco...

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The white 'blob' on the hill is a large figure of Christ overlooking the town

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There's no denying Cusco is quaint, and as the "navel" of the Inca civilisation is an absolute must on any Peru itinerary, but my God it's touristy. Depressingly so. You get mithered to death on the streets to buy paintings, keyrings, massages, coins... you end up permanently saying "no gracias" to everyone. It definitely takes the edge off.

Oh, that and the wee smell everywhere. Well, almost everywhere. Down narrow Inca streets and around smaller plazas it really reeks of urine. Ant said he doesn't remember it from his 2006 visit, so we're not sure if it's a new problem or not. But either way it's pretty gross and gagworthy.

Cusco's Plaza de Armas is gorgeous, and probably one of the finest examples (ignoring the open top tourist buses and the touts) that we've seen. Cusco has some extremely narrow cobbled streets which give the city real character, and are great to wander around (ignoring the endless touts, shop assistants trying to lure you in, oh, and those wee smells).

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Cusco streets

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The most famed of Inca kings - Pachacuti... he is acknowledged to have established the Inca Empire which reached from Ecuador in the north to Chile in the south

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Plaza de Armas

Mainly due to our unexpected extended stay in Arequipa we weren't left with much time in Cusco, so to maximise our time we booked on a city coach tour which took in the key sights. It was fascinating seeing the Inca buildings with their interlocking wall perfection very apparent in the stonework.

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We did feel incredibly herded around and every place we went to was so overrun with tourists, that I didn't like Cusco as much as I'd hoped to.

I suppose ultimately its proximity to Machu Picchu is inevitably going to mean it's a tourist mecca. And of course it has itself been declared the archaeological capital of Latin America - the surrounding area of the city is jam-packed with fascinating Inca sites.

But Cusco has to win the most touristy place we've been to award, and not just in South America but of the whole trip.

Posted by Galavantie 20:29 Archived in Peru

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