An Expat’s Guide to Living in Cusco

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In 2014, I packed what I needed into a 40-liter backpack and boarded a flight for a 3-week trip to South America

…that turned into a 5-month stay in Cusco, Peru.

That definitely wasn’t part of my plan. But after experiencing the rich culture, mouthwatering food, fascinating people, and incomparable beauty of this ancient Inca city nestled in the Peruvian Andes, how could I leave? It soon became clear to me that I wasn’t the only one enchanted by Cusco. There is a growing expat community that wandered into this place and somehow never left.

An Expat’s Guide to Living in Cusco is the culmination of my living, working, and volunteering in Cusco, my interviews with locals and expats, and my lessons learned from many rookie mistakes; this is, essentially, the book I wish I’d had when I arrived.

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If you’re considering a visit or move to Cusco, here is some info to get you started…

Why Cusco?

Cusco is unlike any place in the world. Best known for its proximity to the stunning Machu Picchu (one of the seven wonders of the world), Cusco is the perfect base from which to explore ancient ruins and geological beauties, of which there are many, such as the salt mines of Maras, the Inca ruins in Ollantaytambo, and of course, the Amazon rainforest. All of these excursions can be reached by bus or a short plane ride from Cusco. It is an explorer’s paradise.

Machu picchu

My second visit to Machu Picchu, with my friend Julieta! One of the many perks of living in Cusco is its close proximity to Machu Picchu

Me getting acquainted with the wildlife in Cusco...llamas are everywhere!

Me getting acquainted with the wildlife in Cusco…llamas are everywhere!

Ollantaytambo ruins

Ancient Inca ruins in the nearby town of Ollantaytambo

Maras salt mines

Salineras – Thousands of salt mines in the Sacred Valley in the Cusco region

Visa Requirements

Americans visiting Peru as tourists do not need to apply for a visa. You will receive an entry stamp on your passport that says how many days you’ve been approved to stay. The maximum amount is 183 days, though most will receive 90 days–UNLESS you ask for more. Immigrations officers are usually pretty generous in this area, so if you want 183 days, ask for it. Peru no longer offers extensions for tourist visas.

Culture of Cusco, Peru

Peruvian culture is steeped in history and heavily influenced by the Inca Empire and Spanish colonization. History has left its mark on Cusco, from the 15th century baroque cathedrals that dot the city, to the Quechua language (the language of the Incas) still spoken by many locals today. Life in Cusco is slower than the hustle and bustle Americans are used to. Natives run on what is endearingly known as “Peruvian Time.” Simply add 10-15 minutes to whatever time someone tells you to meet them, and don’t be surprised if you show up to a restaurant during its posted operating hours–only to find they decided not to open that day.

Quechua person in Cusco

One of the villagers in the Cusco region; he’s wearing traditional Quechua clothing

Cusco Cathedral in Plaza de Armas

The Plaza de Armas, the main square in Cusco

Money in Peru

Peruvian currency is the Peruvian nuevo sol. One unit is sol; more than that is soles. Because Cusco is such a tourist town, US dollars are in wide circulation, but generally speaking, you will get a better exchange rate by dealing only in soles. At the time of writing, the exchange rate is about 3 soles to 1 US dollar.

Learning Spanish

Cusco is a favorite among Spanish learners for two reasons

  1. Peruvian accents, particularly in Cusco, are among the best in the world. Peruvian accents are known for being rather neutral and easy to understand. In Lima, however, Peruvians tend to speak more rapidly and have their own slang. In Cusco, Peruvians speak at a slower pace, and the accent is my favorite.
  2. The locals in Cusco are patient with foreigners because so many pass through here. It is intimidating to practice your Spanish with a local, but in Cusco, locals tend to be very patient and forgiving. Why? Thousands of tourists pass through here every month, so the natives are used to those who can’t speak Spanish well. In fact, in Cusco you’ll be able to pretty easily find someone who at least understands English if you’re stuck in a bind (but don’t use that as an excuse not to practice your Spanish!)

It’s no wonder there are Spanish schools and private tutors all over Cusco offering to teach you Spanish. My personal favorite is Maximo Nivel on Avenida el Sol. You can sign up for group classes or private classes.

Having said that, it is definitely not necessary to speak Spanish before coming to Cusco. I know several expats who have lived in Cusco for years and never learned the language because they got by just fine with English.

So You Wanna Live in Cusco?

Living in Cusco is within your reach. Don’t think you lack the courage or the money to take the leap. Throughout my 5 months living, working, and volunteering in Cusco, I learned so many things that I wish I had known before arriving, more than I could ever hope to fit on this page. I decided to compile all that information into this eBook for you.

What You’ll Get

  • Tons of advice, stories, and tips gathered during my time in Cusco
  • Exclusive access to hundreds of high-res images I took in Peru but couldn’t fit in the eBook
  • A 10% discount code from the South American Explorers Club (available ONLY to my readers)
  • Detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to leave your house, car, pets and belongings behind, and take off to Peru for several months!
  • The Ultimate Packing List for Cusco, Peru – Never worry again about if you’ve packed the right things. I’ll detail exactly what to bring, and I’ll let you know what items will be tough to find in Cusco.
  • Insider tips on finding the best apartment in Peru, including how I snagged a 1-bedroom apartment for a mere US$180/month!
  • Budget lists and a breakdown of my monthly expenses while living in Cusco
  • Information on all my favorite food spots(Peru is a foodie’s PARADISE)
  • Funny and entertaining anecdotes from my travels in Peru (because who wants another dull travel guide? Bleh.)

Who’s This Book For? This Book is For You If….

  • You’re planning a long-term stay in Cusco, Peru (one month or longer)
  • You’re thinking about moving to Cusco, Peru
  • You don’t want the typical tourist information on how to plan excursions
  • You want a practical guide on the ins and outs of daily life in Peru
  • You want information from someone who lived like a local for several months
  • You enjoy a personalized touch and funny stories
  • You’re awesome

Early Praise for An Expat’s Guide to Living in Cusco

“Honestly, this book is great for anyone getting ready for their first, second or twentieth longterm trip [to Cusco]! It has everything they need in one place and gives anecdotes that allows them to feel like everything will work itself out- it’s almost a confidence booster in a guide book! It differs from any other guide book in the sense that as soon as I arrive (and even before), I have a sense of what to expect and do, rather than trying to find specific places that are mentioned.” – Kelly Parker, Succasunna, New Jersey, USA

“It’s wonderful! It really gave me a feel for what I could expect if I were to travel to Cusco to live for awhile — and it made me want to go!” – Gordon Bowman, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (Editor of The Scooter Diaries)

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