At this point in my trip, I had already entered turbo mode, so I'm not spending loads of time getting to know places, unfortunately. My main reason for going to Cusco was to visit the ruins perched on top of Machu Picchu.
The thing that stood out to me the most about Cusco was the volume of tourists. There were more than I had seen in any other place on my trip. With about 400,000 folks visiting the ruins each year, I shouldn't have been surprised. Many of the locals speak English, so as to be able to sell their wares more effectively to the tourists. I had juice at a place called Yajúú! so that gave me a little taste of home, too (even the same font as Yahoo! if you didn't pick up on the similar name). With cobblestone streets—in the old part of town, anyway—and old churches around the perimeter of the main plaza, the city has a look and feel similar to many in Latin America. Up to this point in my trip, however, I hadn't seen many red tile roofs, but this city is covered with them. The view out the hostel windows reveals a city that appears to be made almost entirely of red clay. With church steeples poking up through the sea of tiles, the sight is beautiful.
The main tourist drag stretches in both directions off the main plaza and over part of its length is walled with large stones that the Incas somehow shaped to fit perfectly together. One cannot slide a piece of paper between the rocks, they fit so tightly. Along this street are many art galleries selling beautiful art by local painters, masseuses offering their soothing services, and restaurants for every taste. You'll find more of the same just off the plaza. Elin and I even ran across a club where we danced Salsa for a couple hours.
I was sitting on a bench in the main plaza when a local boy sat down next to me. He was from a small town far out of Cusco, but his parents didn't have money so he was living with his aunt and uncle in the city. Still, he didn't have enough money for school and he was asking for money. He told me $20 would be enough to pay for the rest of his school year—a few months. I asked him if that's how much the entire school year cost. He said yes. We went to McDonald's and I bought us a couple Fruit 'n Yogurt Parfaits. After we were done, I told him I'd walk to his school with him and pay his tuition. Unfortunately (for him), he told me his school is very far away and it would take hours to get there. I figured as much.
A note about trash: There are city workers who keep the streets swept and free of trash here in Cusco. This is something you'll see in some Latin American cities.
If you've got a couple days on top of your visit to the ruins, you'll find enough to keep you busy in Cusco.
Although I wasn't able to visit Arequipa, I'm told it's very nice and should be your next stop on the way to Lima, if you're headed north.
Although I barely scratched the surface of Lima, I can say that for the most part, it's a big, modern city—kind of what I expected. I saw a few old churches from the outside, an old government building—with an armored vehicle parked out front and a guy manning a machine gun on top—the main square, and a market. Pretty typical stuff.
The highlight of my visit to Lima had to be seeing an old friend, John, whom I had met in Puerto Natales several months earlier. After John left Puerto Natales (while I was still there), he went to Panama, but left when the rain started getting to him. Lima was his new home of choice. I met him at his hostel, in the upscale district of Miraflores, and we had lunch together and then I got some ice cream. We visited for a couple hours. It was fun to see him and catch up on life.
On the way back from visiting with John, I stumbled across a parade in celebration of the birthday of the barrio (neighborhood) in which I was staying—Barranco. That was a pleasant surprise for me and I took some photos as I strolled back to the hostel along the parade route.
My last stop in Peru was Trujillo, a little more than halfway up to the border with Ecuador. When I decided to go to Trujillo, I didn't know what I'd find there, I just knew it was a big dot on the map, so I figured there'd be a bus going there and it would get me part way up to Ecuador, the next country in line. I told some other backpackers where I was off to next, and they kindly pointed out that there are some ruins around the city. That would be perfect.
To get to the ruins, I took a collectivo—basically a minivan, cheap and packed with people—and arrived in about 15 minutes. Unfortunately, they weren't letting anyone in. I had to wait about 20 minutes until the king and queen of Spain and the president of Peru came out. That's not so bad! I knew the king and queen were visiting town, but didn't know I'd bump into them here. I shot some photos as their cars sped past, but didn't get anything earth shattering.
As I was walking into the ruins, I met Simon from England. We walked around the ruins together, and spent the rest of our day together, until I had to catch my bus.
The ruins were very different than those of Machu Picchu, but were interesting in their own way. Instead of being made from piling rocks up, mud bricks where their construction material of choice. Time had been hard on the city, but there was plenty left to see and enjoy. The specific ruins I visited were called Chan Chan, but there are several sets of ruins surrounding the city. The city was built by the Chimu people around 1300. They were later conquered by the Incas. On the way back into town, we stopped at another set of ruins, but of a temple instead of an entire city. It was called Huaca Esmeralda. It was much smaller, but had all the same features and used the same construction methods as Chan Chan, and, I presume, as all the other ruins in the area.
Although I sped through Peru, I enjoyed what I saw. It's a place to go back to a second time for more thorough exploration.