I’ve become a huge fan of “Free walking tours” in each of the major places that I visit. The idea is that the tour itself is free and you pay a “tip” at the end depending on how much you enjoyed the experience. So, given I didn’t really have any plans for Cusco, and I wasn’t planning on revisiting the major Incan ruins in the area, I decided to join Free Walking Tours by Foot for some more insight into the city itself.
I started out doing the Downtown Cusco Walking Tour, which goes for about 2.5 hours and takes in the sights listed on the webpage. Elvis was our guide and he was absolutely brilliant! Very knowledgeable, full of information, encouraged lots of questions and had an awesome, awesome sense of humour that I particularly appreciated 🙂
For example, one of the things you do on the tour is learn a little about llamas and alpacas.
Llama: A domesticated Guanaco. The llama is the Peruvian version of a horse and it is used to carry cargo. They are often larger than alpacas but not always, and the way to tell the difference is that the llama looks like it is wearing eyeliner (top image).
Alpaca: A domesticated Vicuña. The alpaca is the Peruvian version of a sheep and is used for its wool and meat. They actually come in 2 types. As Elvis put it, you have the “French Poodle” alpaca and the “Rastafarian” alpaca. The quality of the wool is the same for both.
Elvis also does an amazing job of explaining the layout of an Incan Palace while visiting the Palace of Pachaquteq, including how the Incans got light into the centre of their structures, and how roof slopes and drainage systems worked together.
He also explained the importance of why Incan walls slope inward and the significance of the trapezoid that is so ubiquitous in Incan structures (it is the Incan equivalent to a Roman arch, and protects against earthquakes).
The only shop we visited on the whole tour was right at the end – an alpaca goods shop where Elvis’ brother works. But there was absolutely no pressure at all to buy anything. Rather, they continued to give to their guests by finishing the tour with a small “Peruvian exotic fruits” tasting – Granadilla, Aguaymanto and Chirimoya. Brilliant!
Contrast this to an experience one of my friends had with a different company – where they mostly visited shops and had a lot of pressure to buy. Make sure you book with the right company!
In fact, I was so impressed with first tour, that I went back for a second one! My last day in Cusco I joined Elvis again (yay!) for the Puma Walking Tour. Elvis recognised me from 2 days prior and said up front that the tour would cover some of the same ground. I said that was fine – and in the end, there was only a small amount of overlap because Elvis changed the tour up a bit to make sure there was plenty of new stuff for me as well. Awesome, awesome guy!
Recommendation: When you are in Cusco – definitely look up Free Walking Tours by Foot and join Elvis on at least one of his tours.
Cost: Free, but please leave a generous “tip”. The tours are fabulous and need to be supported appropriately. Think of what you would pay for a city tour somewhere else before deciding how much you will give.
Time: 2.5 – 3 hours