Perhaps the greatest evil that this city posesses is the ubiquitous American tourist groups who roam the streets baying for traditionally dressed women and tribal dances so that they can pretend that they are actually taking part in the culture. What actually happens is that they move from one site to the next in huge coaches (the most frustrating when i´m walking between all of them!), will refuse to speak any spanish (and find it ridiculous if someone doesn´t understand them) and revel in the exploitation of the poor children who have to pose for endless photos. The countryside surrounding it, however, is something entirely different. The city is surrounded by rolling hills making for a nice setting, but it´s really once you get out into the sacred valley of the Incas (about 20 miles away containing many Incan ruins) that you are afforded spectacular views.
On my first day I walked out of town to visit Saqsaywaman and another ruin called qenqo (pretty much a collection of large rocks). Top of the list on the tourist-tout manual is to mention that the former ruin sounds incredibly like ´sexy woman´. Almost amusing the first time but by the tenth time it begins to wear thin! On my other days I ventured out into the valleys via the local buses which are an experience in themselves. I´ve discovered that even on the most basic buses, Peruvians are militant about where they sit and will demand that you move out of the window seat, even if it´s so much easier for them to sit down in the seat next to you. The other joy of local transport is all of the livestock that gets brought on board at the same time which makes for a very long ride.
I visited the ruins at Pisaq, built on top of a large hill and there are great views right down the valley, and also to a place called Moray where there are Incan terraces in the shape of a huge amphitheatre which was quite impressive. As interesting and well-preserved as the ruins are, i´m much more someone who prefers visual spectacles over historical significance and thus it has always been the backdrop to these ruins that has made them worthwhile. Cusco is at 3400m so it is high up. Once you get into the valley you really get that feeling as you have an incredible backdrop of snow-capped mountains and deep gorges and very few other tourists around the less-visited ruins. So far Peru has been mostly desert from where i´ve been but I think that this is the classic Peru that I had in my mind when I came out here and is nothing short of stunning.
Maybe it was that I had built it up too much in my head or that the title of ´former capital of the Incan civilisation´conjures up magnificent images, but to call this city a mythical destination, that so many perceive it to be, is not entirely accurate. The combination of whole streets full of touirst agencies, pizzerias and street stalls and being offered a ´massage´every other second led to me being slightly disillusioned with the whole city. Certainly compared to the very modern metropolises of Lima and Arequipa, it makes a nice change with plenty of cobbled streets and colonial buildings, but it remains a bustling city nonetheless.