The 6 Most Unexpected Surprises In Cusco, Peru

Erin Johnson is a student at South Dakota State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied and participated in service-learning abroad with ISA in Cusco, Peru.

When I was deciding on where to study abroad, Peru was my number one option. I knew almost nothing about the country except the rich history of the Incas. I was dying to visit Machu Picchu, and I also knew part of the rainforest was located in Peru. Incas, Machu Picchu, Rainforest. My mind was decided on Peru. As I began packing, I realized I didn’t know how to pack. I packed as best as I could, and I when I arrived in Cusco, I finally realized how little I knew about the city or the country. Here are the biggest surprises about Cusco I wish someone would have told me.

  1. You must pack for every climate.

In the wet season/summer, the morning is fair, the afternoon is sweltering, and the evening is extremely chilly. An umbrella and rain coat are necessary at all times as the rain that shows up when you least expect it. You’ll want shorts and a tank top for the hot afternoons, but this isn’t possible because you’ll need a jacket and long sleeves for the evening. A winter coat wouldn’t hurt either.

  1. No one wears shorts.

All of my fellow ISA students were just as surprised as I was when we realized people in Cusco do not wear shorts. Never. Because of this, don’t pack as many shorts and skirts as you think is necessary. Despite the hot afternoons, shorts aren’t worth the cold you’ll experience at night.

One of the many stray dogs in Cusco
One of the many stray dogs in Cusco
  1. Natural remedies are used more frequently than pharmaceutical medicines.

In my host family and a lot of others, when feeling sick or achy, there is always a tea, herb, or fragrance that will help or cure the problem. In my experience, the natural remedies work. Embrace these remedies!

  1. Water is not to be taken for granted.

Some days, you will wake up to find your toilet, shower and sink non-functional. The water here gets turned off or is malfunctioning frequently. Also for some houses, the water gets turned off at night to conserve. Don’t take water for granted!

  1. Stray dogs.

There are so many stray dogs in Cusco, but they all seem to be well fed and cared for because none of them look malnourished.  At first I was afraid of them, but I soon realized they weren’t going to attack me. Still be careful, though, because there’s always a chance of the dogs biting you.

The dogs all look completely content and well fed
The dogs all look completely content and well fed
  1. The markets are incredible.

There are so many different types of markets where you can purchase whatever your heart desires. Every type of fresh food, every handicraft you may need, outdoor equipment, clothes, school supplies, art, etc. The markets are like Wal-Mart but so much better. Take advantage of these!

These are only a few of the many surprises you may experience while in Cusco! Learn to love the surprises, and go with the flow.

The world awaits…discover it.

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