Five Reasons You’ll Never Want to Leave Cusco

by Brandon Knopp

The city of Cusco needs no romantic introduction — you’ll get that in person, as the airplane descends and your eyes adjust to the orange-tiled rooftops nestled deep in the magnificent Andes mountains. However, Cusco won’t let you leave without a heartbreakingly romantic goodbye.

Studying Abroad in Cusco
You may make the best friends of your life in Cusco. Photo by Brandon Knopp

It is a city that promises excitement around every bend: just as you think you’ve finally experienced all that Cusco has to offer, you’ll come across a new quiet cafe with great food, or an other exhilarating hike up a postcard peak. I’m not going to tell you why you should study abroad in Cusco — the benefits go on and on. Rather, I’ll let you in on some of the reasons why it will be so hard to leave this majestic city in the heart of the Peruvian Andes.

1) You’re Going to Miss Having a Festival or Holiday Nearly Every Week.

Corpus Cristi, Carnival, Inti Raymi, Día del Amigo ... in Peru there are around 3,000 typical fiestas celebrated each year. Many of these halt daily life and bring everyone to the streets to enjoy each other’s company and partake in never-ending parades and other eye-popping events. It is a tradition that you are guaranteed to miss the following year when you are back home, sitting in a classroom, knowing that they’re celebrating Carnival right now in Cusco.

2) You Haven’t Been to the Santuario Animal de Cochahuasi

This family-run sanctuary rescues animals that are victims of exotic pet trafficking. The owners, Omar and Dante, are brothers who built the sanctuary based on their father’s dreams. They started out with only a baby condor, and today have allocated spaces for multiple animals: condors and other exotic birds, pumas, Andean deer, and many more. The sanctuary is located just outside Cusco on the way to Pisac, and Omar and Dante love visitors. If you are really inspired while taking the tour, ask about volunteer opportunities and you can learn about exotic South American animals while giving necessary help to a small but important shelter.

3) Where Else Can You Have a Beer in a Busy Pub, Then Hike Up an 11,000-Foot Mountain?

When you are studying in Cusco, you are not just surrounded by mountains — you are in the mountains. Cusco gives you unbelievable access to the Andes, literally right outside your door. From the Plaza de Armas in the center of town, numerous streets will take you up the steep steps of the city, onto trails that bring you high up into the surrounding mountainscape. Horseback riding, picnicking, trekking, climbing, and exploring local ruins and temples can be everyday activities. The trails and vistas around Cusco are seemingly limitless, each one more awe-inspiring than the next. We recommend you find the South American Explorers Club office, a cheerful and welcoming resource for adventure travelers.

The Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin in Cusco, Peru

The Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin, also known as Cusco Cathedral.

4) You’ve Become Addicted To ‘Sapo’

If you’ve started hanging out in the chicherias around the city, you’ve done something right. These local hangouts where Peruvians go to drink Chichabeer and play the Peruvian pub game Sapo are rarely visited by tourists. Often unadvertised and hidden on backstreets, chicherias are an ideal place to immerse yourself in the culture and pickup a few new slang words, and make some local friends at the same time.

5) The Friends You’ll Make in Cusco Will Feel Like Family

If this will be your first time traveling to another country for an extended period of time, you’ll quickly realize what an intense bonding experience it is. This may be more true of Cusco than of other places, however. Cusco has a mystical quality to it that bonds people quickly. Studying abroad in Cusco, you’ll quickly settle into a routine: take this bus in the morning, grab a coffee at that cafe, meet with friends at this bar, play soccer at that field. Familiar faces become friends, and friends become family. Cusqueñens are not good at saying goodbye, and neither will you be. Whether it’s a local stray dog that you’ve become attached to, or a host mother who took you in as her own for several months — saying goodbye is going to be tough.

The list can go on, but it won’t make it any easier for you to prepare for your own trip back home after a study abroad program in Cusco. It is a highly impressionable city that you will always remember visiting. As it continues to profess its strong culture and resist westernization, Cusco remains a timeless town where you’ll walk by mystifying ancient Incan walls on your way to class, and dance to a live salsa band on your way home. And so, whether it’s in Spanish (ciao), Quechua (rikunakusun), or English, goodbye is the one word you may never be ready to say to Cusco.