After two weeks in Cusco, I am completely in love with this amazing city.
Full of modest architecture, a thriving tourism industry, and vibrant nightlife, Cusco somehow manages to be thrilling yet humble at the same time. But it’s the never-ending bursts of color that make this Peruvian city truly unique.
The most widespread, consistent colors in Cusco are brown and white. Yes, I realize that these are two very plain and uninteresting colors, but they manage to create a comforting, peaceful atmosphere in both the quiet streets and the busy public squares. The massive Plaza del Armas is home to two gorgeous, ornate cathedrals, while the rest of the square is lined with buildings sporting regal brown archways and balconies.
Branching off of this main plaza are endless quaint alleyways, where the bright white walls illuminate the dusty darkness of the stone streets. Even looking down over the city from above, the clusters of rustic tiled roofs create a wide sea of warm brown hues. While the architecture is overwhelmingly colored in plain earth tones, the occasional brightly painted door or small pot of flowers adds life to the simple antiquity of the streets.
But the most captivating source of color in Cusco is the presence of art and textiles. The constant flood of tourists to the city means that souvenir shops reside every few feet, where locals hope to sell some of their arts and crafts to foreigners. This persistent desire to sell things can be a bit overwhelming, with different people approaching you in the street every two minutes and pushing their massages or shoe-shines or jewelry upon you. But in reality, most of the goods that the locals try and sell are beautiful.
A shop selling traditional Peruvian handicrafts lies around every corner, and every store shelf succumbs to overflowing mountains of alpaca wool clothing or chaotic clusters of small trinkets. And of course, all of these stores look like explosions of rainbows. All the textiles contain layer after layer of stunningly bright colors, and sometimes the displays of scarves, bags, and sweaters have a hypnotizing effect due to the intricately patterned fabrics.
While many of these souvenir stores sell similar products, I never tire of browsing through all of them. I could gaze at the gorgeous paintings or admire the delicate ceramic dishware for hours. Everything contains so much detail and color that it’s hard to look away from the visually pleasing appearance of the shops.
Another colorful experience I had in Peru was climbing Rainbow Mountain. Though this place does not actually reside in Cusco, I simply could not write an article about color and fail to mention this adventure. After leaving Cusco at 3:30am, hiking for 18km in 5 hours and reaching an altitude of 5,100 m above sea level, this day trip resulted in aching legs, sunburnt faces, and tired lungs. But the natural scenery made the struggle absolutely worth it.
At the peak of the mountain, the surrounding jagged mountains and sloping valleys all merged into one vast landscape slathered in different colors. The Rainbow Mountain itself looked like a painting; it was absolutely incredible how colors like red, green, yellow, and orange crawled over the mountain in perfect lines to create this striped natural phenomenon. Despite the hail pelting our faces and the freezing wind whipping our skin at the top, this unique and magnificent mountain left me very impressed with mother nature.
We were so exhausted while trudging up the mountain that we didn’t really appreciate the views of the trek until the descent. But we were able to leisurely walk back down the mountain and enjoy the continuous natural beauty, having conquered the struggle of hiking at such high altitude. We soon realized that the Rainbow Mountain itself was not the only conglomeration of beautiful colors. The entire hike blessed us with a vibrant mixture of blue skies, rich green hills dotted with alpacas and horses, and more powerful and multicolored mountain ranges.
So my experience in Cusco thus far has been undeniably colorful and enjoyable in so many ways. Milhouse Hostel, where I live and work, is full of amazing people and an intoxicating energy. So many guests I’ve met here keep saying they are staying here longer than they planned, and I can see why. Cusco has such a captivating charm that no one wants to leave. Many people use this city as a stopover to get to the infamous Machu Picchu, but no one ever talks about how wonderful Cusco itself is. Well this is me saying that Cusco is absolutely incredible, and while I am obviously going to visit Machu Picchu eventually, I am perfectly content to be living in this welcoming city for the time being.