Things Everyone Should Know
Whenever I visit somewhere new, the one thing I always seek out is local, inside knowledge about the place. After living in Cusco for several years and spending more time than almost anyone exploring its neighborhoods, I feel confident that I can share a lot of honest, factual information that you might not be able to find anywhere else.
If there’s something I left out, please leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to quickly fill in the gaps!
There are three basic ways of getting around in Cusco: walking, taxi, and bus. Getting out of Cusco is generally just as easy, but negotiating the system of transportation can be extremely confusing as there is not central site for catching a short ride to nearby towns.
There are three basic ways of getting around in Cusco: walking, taxi, and bus.
If you’re physically capable — and I say that knowing the altitude and the terrain can challenge even the fittest — nothing is better than walking. go slow and take in the city step by step. (Even after over 3 years of living here, I frequently discover new sights along streets I’ve walked hundreds of times before.)
Most visitors treat the historical center of Cusco as if it’s some kind of Disney-like amusement park. The truth is that even that small part of the city is a very vibrant part of every day life for residents filled with an energy that must be felt to be appreciated.
Taxis are generally cheap and fill the city by the thousands. Just stand by the curb, stick your hand out, and one will pull over to offer you a ride within seconds.
Legal taxis are easy to spot. They are commonly marked as “taxi” and have red and white reflectors on the sides and back. Once inside, each rear door is clearly marked with the taxi’s license plate number so you can take a photo if you feel at all concerned. (I’ve NEVER been worried in a taxi and I’ve only heard of one case of a problem with a taxi, but taking the picture can give you some peace of mind in a new place.)
Sometimes people passing by the airport will offer a ride for a decent price to someone who just arrived. (I’ve done it a few times without problems, but would never recommend it even though the driver is almost certainly a normal person trying to make a little extra money.) Be careful to take a legitimate taxi — especially at night.
When a taxi pulls over, just tell them where you want to go through the window and they will give you a price. You don’t need to know much Spanish except numbers and they will frequently use their fingers to make the price clear. (I always repeat if back to them to make sure we agree.)
This isn’t a tip just for Cusco, but applies anyone. It’s a lesson I’ve forgotten twice and lost an iPhone — fortunately an old one — and a nice travel umbrella I brought from the US because I didn’t check before getting out of the vehicle. Always check your seat and your pockets to make sure nothing fell out or you set something in the floorboard (as I did with the umbrella). I also like to keep things of importance in zippered pockets or in my backpack to help avoid leaving them.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate if the price seems high. If you’re an obvious tourist, they will frequently tell you a high price, but just name something that seems more reasonable to you They’ll take it or make a counter offer. As a resident, I do it all the time!
When you arrive at the airport, the taxis will hit you with a price 3-4 times higher than you should pay. Don’t take a taxis just outside the airport door. Just walk to the wall on your right and proceed out to the street. You’ll be hit by a ton of taxi drivers offering prices ranging from 20-30 soles for a ride to the central historical district or San Blas. I would never pay more than 15 soles and usually pay only 10 soles to my home near that area.. Just keep walking and offering 15 (“quince”) until someone takes your offer.
Taxis to other places will range from 2-5 soles. I honestly don’t worry too much about the price unless it’s outrageously high.
For a long time, I wouldn’t ride buses due to concern about possible pickpockets in a crowded vehicle, but during the COVID pandemic Cusco buses run without standing passengers so really no chance of theft as long as you’re reasonably careful. Now I take buses all over the city and even up into the mountains to save a a LOT of time walking.
The bus system is a bit confusing for a tourist or a newcomer to the city, but they are incredibly cheap and convenient for getting almost anywhere.
Al of the buses have their main destinations printed on the side of the bus. Of course, you have to know where you’re going, but if you know you want to go to the Mercado TicaTica you simply look for TicaTica on the side of a bus. (I use the “Expreso Santiago” bus if I go up into those neighborhoods, but some others work just as well.)
Buses are brightly colored which makes it easy to remember which one will get you to a particular place. There are many buses that run the same route so if you want to take the red “Huancaro” bus they will pass by every 5-15 minutes.
As an example, the first bus line I learned well was the blue “Los Leones” that goes from Calle Saphi just north of the Plaza de Armas all the way to near the ruins of Tipon — a highly recommended place to visit, by the way! It will take the nearly the entire length of the city along the main commercial road through town (Avenida la Cultura) for just USD $0.25. The hour-plus ride to Tipon quite distant from central Cusco will cost USD $0.75!
If you’re familiar with it, the “Moovit” app works quite well in Cusco.
Transportation Out of Cusco
This is easily the most confusing part of the transportation system, but worth learning the basics as it’s a simple and fun way to get to cool places outside the city. While extremely inexpensive, catching rides in a shared van (called “colectivos” here but known as “combis” in some other parts of Peru), a taxi, car, or a bus means knowing where to find them as they are spread out all across the city and not clearly marked.
[Note: all vehicles are going full now. Standing passengers is not supposed to be allowed on colectivos, but often happens. Taxis go with four passengers — one in the front seat and three in the back seat.]
Here are the places to find a ride to various destinations out of Cusco. I’m not including maps here (unless someone asks for them) for most places because most people have map apps on their phones and can find these much quicker that way.
Keep in mind that you can use all these to reach any place prior to the final destination. Simply let the driver know before or say ”baja” (pronounced “ba-ha”) when you get to the destination. Many drivers call out where they are approaching to help passengers remember.
This little street is where you can catch a cheap colectivo or taxi ride to Pisac and the Sacred Valley all the way to Urubamba is called Calle Puputi.
You can’t miss all the people shouting ”Pisac” and ”Calca” trying to lure in passengers. There are axis a little farther up the hill if you want a smaller ride, but the colectivos will give you a better taste of Peruvian life as they will be filled almost completely with locals.
Avenida Grau and Calle Pavitos
This is where you catch a ride to the north. On the corner are colectivos going to Ollantaytambo — a place to catch a train ride to Machu Pucci. The colectivos (10 soles) and taxis (15 soles) now take the shorter route (one hour and 20 minutes) through the towns of Izcuchaca and Huarocondo through a breathtaking canyon which saves about half an hour.
During the rainy season (December through March) it’s possible that landslides may force a closure of the Huarocondo route, but that is rare. It is very possible that you may have a short wait while workers clear a recent landslide.
TIP: I always take a taxi ride for 5 soles more and make sure I sit in the front to minimize interaction during the pandemic. The trip is more comfortable and faster than the slightly cheaper collective ride. Since the total cost the drivers are making is 60 soles (about USD $15), you hire the entire taxi for that amount. Don’t let them try to charge you more.]
Across the street you can catch a colectivo to Urubamba. It is a little faster than the ones leaving from Calle Pavitos (see above) and goes through Chinchero.
Control San Jeronimo
This is a spot on Avenida la Cultura about 20-30 minutes southeast of central Cusco where you can catch a ride to Paucartambo or continue to the Manu National Park.
Going to Manu in the rainy season is not really recommended as the dirt road is frequently washed out and can be a bit dangerous.
In good weather, however, the road through the “Cloud Forest” is nothing less than breathtaking.
Consider hiring a private vehicle for about 450 soles one-way that will make stops along the way for photos and to look for animals. Just take a 1 sol bus ride and listen for the ”Control” stop where you can find lots of trasnportation companies on the right. (I always take the blue ”Los Leones” bus because it goes right past the Control stop.
The views as you descend from the mountains to the jungle are amazing. Expect to see monkeys along the road as some troops like to hang out near the occasional tourist lodge. There’s a good chance you will see Peru’s national bird, the Cock-of-the-Rock, too, with it’s brilliant red coloration. Have your camera ready!
Cusco’s main bus terminal (Avenida Vía de Evitamiento # 429) can be a bit crowded and hectic, but you can catch a long ride just about anywhere in Peru from here.
Cruz del Sur terminal
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Cruz del Sur is considered by all to be Peru’s best (and safest) bus line. They have their own separate terminal (Avenida Industrial 121 Urb. Bancopata Santia) in Cusco where I would definitely recommend taking a taxi as the neighborhood is a bit rougher.
I’ve traveled with them several times and always buy my tickets online — an easy process.
Their routes have changed during the pandemic and you can only head east towards Lima, but going to the south along the coast is possible though I’m not sure where the route splits.
The bottom floor of their buses has reclining seats that go almost flat. If you want a cheaper seat, the front row on the second floor will give you the best views depending on the weather.
Terminal Terrestre Quilabamba
Within a couple of blocks of this small station on Avenida Antonio Lorena you can find many possibilities for getting to Cusco’s popular jungle city to the north, Qillabamba. Lots of private cars leave all day long.
From Quillabamba it’s also possible to find transportation to visit some of the more remote, but extremely interesting, sites like Vilcabamba and Espiritu Pampa – only identified less than 60 years ago as the last Inca capital.
Avenida Grau and Jiron 21 de Mayo
There are a couple of places along this street to catch a ride to the western town of Paruro. I haven’t been there and don’t know anyone who has except locals, but the option is there.
On Av Grau there is a “garaje” where there will be some guys outside looking for riders by calling out “Paruro.”
If you make a right on Jiron 21 de Mayo a few yards farther up the street, you will see a group of drivers and some collectives waiting for passengers also going to Paruro to the left at the corner.
Jiron 21 de Mayo (one block near Calle Belen)
Just a block from the main Street of Calle Belen is where you can find a collective ride to Chinchero. There will probably be some taxis waiting near the corner also offering rides as well.