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How to Find an Apartment in Cusco, Peru, Part 1

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You know how when you get something you REALLY like, two months later, you’re like, “But WHAT IF there’s something BETTER out there?” No? That might just be me.

I was living quite happily in a bedroom in a shared “hospedaje”/hostel/guesthouse, with an expat family and several other foreign guests, but after a month, I yearned for more. I wanted my own private apartment.

My Experience

One sunny Saturday morning, I headed out to scour the streets of Cusco with a backpack, some water, and a lot of optimism.

I climbed up stairs no one should ever have to climb.

stairs bottom

stairs top

I was stalked by this dog.

dog 1

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    And this one.

    dog 2

    Okay, I met a lot of dogs.

    This dog is the momma of the puppy pictured above.
    This dog is the momma of the puppy pictured above.
    dogs3
    Pack of stray dogs

    I came across this head-scratching system of doorbells.

    bells
    I wasn’t sure which one belonged to the apartment I wanted to see. So what did I do? I PRESSED ALL OF THEM.

    I learned about the Peruvian home security system.

    Yes, that is straight up broken glass bottles jutting out of the top of a fence. Don't try to jump fences in Peru--they will SHANK you.
    Yes, that is straight up broken glass bottles jutting out of the top of a fence. Don’t try to jump fences in Peru–they will SHANK you.

    And, oh my gosh, MORE STAIRS.

    stairs again

    I toured several apartments, but two weeks into my search I still hadn’t found “The One.” I got so desperate I started barging into open doors and demanding to know if there were any rentals available nearby. This, surprisingly, never ended badly–but I don’t recommend it.

    So after all this, you may be asking, “Why is it so hard to find an apartment in Cusco?” And to be honest, it’s not hard to find an apartment–there are rentals everywhere! I toured at least 15! What IS hard, however, is finding your ideal apartment, for several reasons: Apartments in Cusco often don’t have running water 24 hours, or a refrigerator or stove, and I’ve seen a few that have holes in the walls patched up with tape or entire pieces of windows missing.

    Before you begin your search, keep this in mind: Apartments in Peru are, understandably, different from apartments in the United States (where most of my readers reside). Of course they are! These are two different countries we’re talking about here. Once you have this idea in your head, you won’t be too shocked at some of the interesting dwellings you’ll find.

    Where to Look

    Buy a copy of the Rueda de Negocios

    You can find these at any newspaper stall on Avenida el Sol (a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas) for 50 cents in Peruvian soles. The Rueda de Negocios is a classified ads paper. You can find anything from refrigerators, to animals, to land, but what you want to look for are the apartment listings. You can find these under “Alquileres.”

    Important note: The Rueda de Negocios comes out on Mondays and Wednesdays, so be sure to get to a newspaper stall early to buy it (around 8am) in order to have a head start. Particularly during tourist high season (May to August), apartments get snatched up quickly.

    Headed to Machu Picchu? Check out these tours!

    Go through all the listings and, if you don’t speak Spanish, here’s a quick guide on what to look out for:

    • Rentals – “Alquileres”
    • Furnished – “Amoblado”
    • House – “Casa”
    • Apartment – “Departamento”
    • Room/bedroom – “Habitación”
    • Room/bedroom – “Dormitorio”
    • For good locations, look for these neighborhood names I talked about in my “Best Neighborhoods to Live in Cusco” post:
      • Lucrepata
      • San Blas
      • Plaza de Armas
      • Jardines de los Inkas
      • Zaguan del Cielo
      • San Cristóbal
    • Potential red flags to watch out for
      • If it is written in English, it’s aimed at tourists and will cost more
      • If you see the words “solo para extranjeros” (only for foreigners), it’s aimed at tourists and will cost more

    Call and/or visit the listings you like

    Unlike in the United States, it’s perfectly acceptable to simply show up at the doorstep of a listing you like. Before I was comfortable speaking in Spanish, I felt better about just showing up (talking on the phone in a language you’re unfamiliar with is difficult and daunting). The good news is by the end of my apartment search, I had no trouble calling someone up and asking them about apartments in Spanish (so yes, apartment hunting will be good for your language learning).

    Walk Around

    A) Look for signs advertising rentals

    signs
    They are everywhere, on lampposts, walls, doors. Just keep an eye out. These happened to all be in English, which is unusual and is a sign the rental prices will be on the higher end.

    If you want to find a REAL deal, toss the Rueda de Negocios and go hunting on your own. The problem with the newspapers is that the advertisers know tourists rely on them to find a place. When I stuck to listings found in the Rueda de Negocios, I NEVER found a place lower than 1,000 soles ($338USD) which, for an American, is a very good deal, but no Cusqueñan would ever submit to paying that.

    Yep, sometimes you get a sign painted onto a crumbling wall.
    Yep, sometimes you get a sign painted onto a crumbling wall.

    B) If you see an area or building you like–knock on the door and ask the owners if they know if anyone’s renting a place. Or just ask locals who are walking around that area.

    Here’s the great thing about Cusco: EVERYONE knows someone who is renting something out. Lots of valuable information is spread purely by word of mouth. During my apartment search, I asked everyone I saw–the expat who lived next door, the lady at the checkout counter, everyone. And you know what? I got some pretty good leads from their answers! One woman at the San Blas Market was so concerned about my finding an apartment that she walked me to the house of her friend who was renting one out. I almost got it too, but it got snatched up before I could make up my mind. Anyway, the lady at the market who helped me is named Berta and she’s the sweetest. We became friends after that.

    What to Look for

    Location

    Yes, prices will be cheaper the farther you get away from the Plaza de Armas–but location is everything. If you choose to live miles away from downtown (in say, Wanchaq or Marcavalle), you will have to take a taxi almost everywhere.

    Additionally, before committing, walk around the neighborhood. Is there a noisy bar next door? Is there a lot of car traffic? Do you feel safe? Do you like the area? Try to visit the apartment at both daytime and nighttime to get a good feel for the place.

    Price

    Watch out for “gringo pricing”! The high range of what I was quoted at the beginning of my search for one- to two-bedroom apartments was 1,000-1,500 soles. The low end of that spectrum was 550-750 soles, which is pretty good. Your best bet? When a potential landlord quotes you a rental price, go ask a native if it’s a good deal before you agree to it.

    It is perfectly acceptable, even expected, to negotiate on rental prices (and anything else) in Peru–so don’t be shy to do it. One shop owner in San Blas, his name is Francisco, became my confidante during my stressful search for an apartment. One day he suggested I go to his friend and ask if he had a rental and he did–for more than 1,000 soles (out of my budget). When I told Francisco about this, he urged me to ask him to lower it. I told him I was too afraid, and Francisco and his wife, Nancy, kept telling me that it’s normal to bargain on everything in Cusco. Eventually, Señora Nancy called the landlord for me, and though she wasn’t able to get the price lowered, I really appreciated her help.

    What’s Included

    Before you decide on an apartment, make sure you understand what is included in the rent, such as:

    • Hot water 24 hours a day – “Agua caliente veinicuatro horas”
    • Wi-Fi – Same word and pronounced the same
    • Electricity – “La luz” (yes, it technically means “the light,” but in Cusco that’s how everyone refers to electricity bills)
    • A bed – “Una cama”
    • A mattress -“Un colchón”
    • A refrigerator – “Un refrigerador”
    • A stove – “Una cocina”

    To ask, “Does it include _____?” say “Incluye _____?”

    Also, be sure to ask if there is a deposit that needs to be paid as well. “Hay una garantía?” or “Hay un depósito?”

    How to Finalize on an Apartment

    This is rather informal. You’ll hand over the rent in cash, and your landlord may just write down your name, the dates you’ll be staying, your passport number, and have you sign it.

    What apartments did I find?

    In my next post, I’ll share photos and prices of some apartments I found. It took two months, but I finally found an apartment I loved. Click here to read part two!

    Apartment Prices in Cusco, Pero

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