Looking for a place to live can be stressful and time-consuming anywhere in the world, so when you’re looking for an apartment for a relatively temporary amount of time in the midst or end of travels, like me, you really don’t want to invest a lot of energy in the process. However, a bit of knowledge in advance can help smooth the way – read on for my experience of apartment-hunting in Cusco…
I’ve done more than my fair share of house and flat viewings over the years, moving around regularly in London, but in Peru I was to experience a quite different process. There’s no trawling through Gumtree or RightMove here, and there’s rarely a telephone call made. We simply strolled the streets keeping an eagle eye out for signs on doorways, walls or lampposts, and popping into corner shops to ask the knowledgeable senora owners.
San Blas is the ‘artisan’ area and undoubtedly the most attractive area of Cusco, with steep cobbled lanes and white-washed houses with little blue balconies. So that’s where we started our search. Climbing up and down the vertiginous streets and steps that make up this neighbourhood soon helped us whittle down the options to the first three tiers of streets – any higher in this altitude and we’d either never leave the house or never go home. As you will read, our search later expanded to the more Cusquenian areas of Lucrepata and Wanchaq, both still in walking distance of the city centre.
We had arrived in Cusco in mid-March, which is the tail-end of the low season here – it’s still raining regularly enough to put off the tourists, hippies, ‘artisans’ and others who make a living from the tourism industry – they all re-emerge in late March and early April. So in a way, we had our pick of the crop, on the other hand, the crop was sparse.
Se alquiler habitacions
When we knocked at this typical San Blas blue door, the owner took an age to answer and then peered at us dubiously, but when she found out what we were after, she became all smiles and eagerly showed us in. We stepped through a mud yard with chickens and a dazed-looking elderly man and up the wooden stairs, dodging the underwear that had been hung there to dry. We looked at the two rooms on offer – simple and unfurnished, but with sweet windows that looked out over San Blas. The price? S/.250 a month, plus S/.30 electric bill. Cheap, for sure, but we couldn’t quite get over that we’d need to step through mud, chickens and possibly an old man every time we needed to use the bathroom in the yard.
Besides, we fancied something more self-contained – our own kitchen to cook in would save a bunch of soles, too.
José’s old place
Higher up in San Blas, we came to a grocery store that had a sign up saying ‘Apartment for rent’. We enquired with the shopkeeper, who replied, “Yes, it’s upstairs, do you want to look? I’ll come with you.” The large senora then slowly manoeuvred out from behind the counter and closed up her shop to lead us up the stone steps at the side of the building. Carlos immediately recognised that she was going to show us the apartment that his friend José had lived in last year before he emigrated to Spain. “That’s the room I used to stay in!” he laughed as we walked through the three spacious bedrooms. The kitchen units lined the hallway. The price? S/.1,200 a month, bills excluded. And it had no furniture. So a bit pricey for us, but brilliant for three or four sharers.
End of San Blas
We kept walking, and a policeman patrolling the area who had already seen us once or twice asked if he could help with anything. When we explained our search, he kindly told us of all the notices he had spotted. One was at the end of that street. Thanking him for his kindness, we carried on and found the door with a sign sellotaped on saying ‘Mini apartment for rent’. We rang the bell and a young woman answered and gladly showed us in. We were immediately on a wooden staircase that went up one way and down the other. We went down a bit to the main part of the apartment – a large bedroom and a smaller room with chairs and a bathroom. The views over Cusco were tremendous, but the décor was distinctly granny-style, including an elaborate dressing table and horse-adorned clock. The kitchen was in a separate building, further down the stairs. The price? S/.780 a month, excluding bills.
We began to think this last one was our best option, though the price wasn’t good value and I wasn’t convinced by the décor nor the disjointed layout. We still had a phone number from a sign we’d seen posted on a wall though, so we called the guy and arranged to meet him that evening. This time, the apartment was in the Cusquenian area of Wanchaq, so a little way out of the historic centre, but therefore maybe better value for money and would give us a better feel of living like a local.
We met the landlord by a water fountain in the pleasant Wanchaq plaza with its two big supermarkets. Enthusiastic about this new area, we had high hopes as he led us into an apartment complex. However, when he showed us the massive, four-bedroomed flat with a dirty kitchen, depressing bathroom and odd, hall-like living room, it turned out that we would be sharing this with him and three Argentineans. The price? S/.450 a month for the room, plus internet bill.
We’d become a little down-hearted and decided to give house-hunting a rest for a couple of days. Then we were recommended to buy the local listings paper – Rueda de Negocios (available on all newsstands – look for the blue-ink paper). For just 50 centimos, we got three pages of apartment rentals listed. However, we bought it on a Friday, and we later found out that it comes out on Mondays and Thursdays, and most opportunities are snapped up even by noon the same day. So by the time we rang round the ones that sounded ok, they had already gone. There was one gleaming ray of hope though – a ‘mini-apartment’ that the ad said was part-furnished and preferred to be rented to foreigners. We called and it was still available so we arranged a viewing for that day. We were pleased to find it in the pleasant neighbourhood of Lucrepata – adjacent to San Blas, so still near the hub-bub, but quieter and more residential.
The apartment was in a modern five-storey building facing a peaceful square with well-kept gardens. It was indeed mini – with a lounge, bedroom, bathroom and the world’s tiniest kitchen, but it would suit us perfectly for a couple of months. It was clean and new and had all the right amount of furniture – sofas, bed, table, fridge, cooker, and the most perfect views through its massive windows across the park out the front to the mountains beyond. The price? S/.680 including all bills. We moved in that very night. And yes – things can happen that quickly. The landlord lived in the ground floor apartment so he wrote up the contract and we paid up two months’ rent while we were there.
The exchange rate at time of publishing was £1 to S/.4.