Having done the routine in Lima already, we recognised the 'Taxi Officiale(s)' with their badges outside the airport, even though they still behaved like a bunch of touts. Looking rough, and with valuables well hidden, we took the ride into Cusco which was noticeably greener than Lima at first, but with a similar unfinished feel. We later found out that once a house is 'completed' then it is liable for tax.
After 20 minutes or so we turned into Plaza de Armas, and it started to look a little more like Disney Land. The large town square with colonial architecture, a cathedral and a church was well kept, was nicely decorated for Christmas, and had a wintery atmosphere, similar to Christmas in the UK. We checked in at the Hostel San Isidro Labrador which was adequate but overpriced with the two levels of commission we paid Trailfinders and Intrepid.
We ventured out, still cautious after our stay in Lima, and sampled various cafes and restaurants, all of which served great food. It took a little getting used to the constant approaches from 'artists', restaurateurs waving menus, people in traditional dress (photo opportunities for a fee), shoe shiners, kids selling sweets, kids carrying baby Llamas or lambs, hat sellers, massage girls, food & drink street vendors, retailers guiding you into their shops and the beggars, whilst also trying not to get pick-pocketed by the next kid that bumps into you, but our South East Asia training (and practice in Lima) kept us smiling sweetly and we learnt to navigate the streets accordingly.
Cusco is packed full of Gringos from all over the globe, not really attracting any particular crowd, except a small but notable group of alternative lifestylers in their dreadlocks and stripy trousers that seemed to mingle more with the locals. Tourism dominates, and nearly every shop is either a restaurant, bar, tour agency, or camping store catering to the Inca Trails in the area. During the floods of January 2010 (Machu Picchu town) it was estimated that the Cusco region lost $1M per day in tourism revenue.
Cusco grew on us and it catered to our needs well, and at a fair price. Although the couple of days preceding the Inca Trail we felt dead rough, like a bad hangover, due to mild altitude sickness at 3300m (quite high for a city!) we acclimatised in the following days and decided to stay here after our trek to enjoy the New Year celebrations. We checked into a decent hotel and lived in relative luxury for a few days before heading Argentina-bound to restart our South American journey.