Of course I was not yet spending as much on cultural experiences and treks as I was spending a lot of time studying, so bear in mind that the following months do get slightly more expensive than the month you are completing your TEFL training!
My salary was $500 USD a month, which doesn't sound like a lot, but when you consider that £1 USD is around 3 Peruvian Soles and how cheap everything from food to accommodation is in Cusco- it is actually more than enough to support your costs of living. The salary was also paid in payments of $250 every 2 weeks which meant I was never out of pocket!
I worked for 8 hours day, spending 4 hours teaching and 4 hours planning and marking within a language institute catering to teenagers and adults. If a class was canceled I would still get paid, but vacation and sick days were not paid. Teaching is definitely a time-consuming job as you care a lot about your students and want to deliver well planned, high quality, fun lessons – but the rewards make every minute you put into it more than worthwhile and often its really fun and social planning your lessons and sharing ideas with other teachers!
Gaining employment: The only eligibility criteria in gaining my teaching position was to be a Native English Speaker with a TEFL qualification! I was offered a position at the institute in which I completed my TEFL training immediately after my program ended, which meant I started earning right away and was already familiar with the workforce, environment and students! There are also plenty of opportunities to work with children in mainstream and special needs schools in Cusco, and even to go into the nearby mountains or Amazon jungle to teach!
Rental costs: Whilst completing my TEFL training I lived in an apartment organized by the language institute in which I studied my TEFL. It was a gorgeous apartment in a safe, convenient area, but was far overpriced compared to other similar homes in Cusco. That said, I am still really glad I paid a little more for the company to arrange this for me as it made me feel safe and secure in my first month of solo traveling, which is absolutely priceless! After this I began living with two other teachers for a fraction of the price! You can expect to pay around 300-600 soles a month for rent and bills together in Cusco depending on the area and how many house-mates you have. There are also plenty of chilled out, commune style hostels in the San Blas area, just above the main square, that are really cheap and great if you want to meet new people but steer clear of the party atmosphere of your typical backpacker hostel while you work!
Bills: Usually bills will be included in the rental price in Cusco, however this doesn't tend to involve gas. This is because the average Cusco apartment does not have built in gas units or stoves, rather you have to replace or refill a large gas cannister that attaches to a stove kit. Whilst this price is unlikely to be included in the rent, the cannisters last a really long time and I personally never had to get mine changed despite cooking a lot.
One thing to watch out for is that there is no central heating system in Cusco, and the mountainous region can get rather chilly in the night. Most homes will be equipped with external heaters and layers and layers of thick, cosy alpaca fur blankets, which definitely do the trick in keeping you warm. If you find your place does not have these things, just ask your landlord! I found they were always extremely helpful and friendly and really do want to make sure you’re comfortable and warm.
Hot water is also somewhat of a rarity in Cusco, and in fact in South America in general, so if this is important to you make sure you inquire before committing to a home. Most homes with hot water also don’t have it all day, and in fact may not even have any running water for a few hours every day, which is another thing to check if you like to shower later than first thing in the morning!
Keeping in touch: I purchased a pay-as-you-go SIM card with the local phone provider Claro upon my arrival in Cusco, and I still cannot believe how cheap it is! By topping up only 5 soles a month I was able to make texts and calls and secured a month-long unlimited data package! And to put the cherry on the cake Facebook and WhatsApp were included for free without eating into my data or requiring any kind of top up!
Travel: The bus service in Cusco is very interesting compared to my home experience of big red London buses. The stops are far more difficult to navigate and they almost resemble an overcrowded van, doors swinging open as you zoom up and down the mountains. That said, it is a must do experience if you’re really looking to immerse yourself in Cusquenian culture. The bus is quirky, runs on time and gets you just about anywhere in Cusco – but is challenging nonetheless.
If you think you’re likely to use the bus service definitely go with someone more experienced on your first time and get to know the routes by foot first so you know if you’re getting lost. I found most places to be within comfortable walking distance and with the fabulous scenery of this city in the mountains walking was a wonderful option every time. Cabs are also extremely cheap, costing about 3-5 soles in the day and 5-7 soles in the night almost regardless of how far you are traveling. With the bus being so challenging and the walking terrain being at times rather steep, the cheap, always available cabs became my transport of choice.
Local Cuisine: Kitchen facilities are widely available across apartments, hostels and home stays in Cusco and buying ingredients at the famous local market San Pedro not only makes for incredibly cheap and delicious meals but for a fantastic day out experiencing Peruvian culture! You can even buy traditional cooked meals there and sit on atmospheric long tables with masses of locals who are always happy to chat!
In fact in a lot of restaurants in Peru you are not expected to sit at a table alone, but to join those who are already dining there, which is a beautiful way to integrate with the locals and share memories with others! Although cooking for yourself is a little cheaper and widely possible in Cusco, eating out there is not to be missed!
Peru has recently been named the culinary destination of the world for the 7th year running, and you can definitely see why! The food is varied, wholesome and unique – from the fresh, zingy classic ceviche to the warm, hearty lomo saltado, Cusco is a hub for trying high quality, original dishes. A lot of eateries in Cusco run a daytime ‘menu service’, where for between 5-10 soles you can get 3-5 delicious courses and a traditional drink of chicha morada or coca tea!
Supermarkets in Cusco are admittedly not amazing and imported products are few and far between; in fact you will often find the same goods in the markets for a fraction of the price. The only imported goods seem to be American and are incredibly pricey, with a large bar of Hershey’s costing 20 soles! My advice would be to stick to the Peruvian brands, they are miles cheaper and just as good in quality!
Nightlife: The night life in Cusco is absolutely unrivaled! In and around the central Plaza de Armas you can find packed streets of party-goers jumping in and out of the areas many colorful, carnival like clubs, with loud reggae-ton and a vibe of true enjoyment and togetherness filling the roads outside. Club entry is usually free and drinks tend to cost around 10 soles for extra-large bottles of beer and shots and 15-20 soles for spirits.
Vibrant, traditional parades are also plentiful in Cusco, with dancers and cars hooked up with speakers taking over the streets often multiple times a week! These colorful, lively celebrations are a great opportunity to see some traditional Peruvian clothing and dancing and to meet locals in what makes a fun, friendly day out in town.
Must see locations: Living in Cusco leaves you in the fortunate position of being on the doorstep of one of the wonders of the world, Machu Picchu! There are many fun and historically rich ways to visit Machu Picchu, from the classic Inca trail to a trek through the jungle to the 360 degree view train, every way is naturally beautiful, culturally educative and rewarding.
The treks are very expensive, costing around $250 from most tour agencies, so this is definitely one to save for in advance! As the old Incan capital, there are plenty of other gorgeous, iconic treks around Cusco too. Some examples include the newly famous Rainbow Mountain, which was only discovered a matter of years ago, the hidden-at-altitude Lake Humuntay, The Sacred Valley of the Inca’s, The Temple of the Moon and many more fascinatingly constructed Incan ruins and natural phenomenon’s! It is a city proud of its mysteriously intelligent tribal history and full of its most prominent and well-kept landmarks – a truly exciting and spiritually powerful place to be.
Another great tourist attraction of Cusco is of course the many Llamas and Alpaca’s that wonder around the streets! Peruvian women donned in large traditional skirts and colored hats walk their ultra-fluffy Llamas as if they are dogs, and are always more than happy to stop for a picture! If you travel into the mountains that encase the city of Cusco you can visit numerous Llama and Alpaca farms where you can feed and groom the animals, learn how to weave their wool, and discover their importance in Peruvian history and culture. If you’re lucky you may even see a Vicuña, the national animal of Peru, which are a protected species similar to Llamas and Alpacas, that are not kept as pets.
Want to find out more? visit our program page for Peru
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