Exploring Cusco, by Peter Frost: Get Your Hands on Cusco’s Best Travel Guide (Book Review)

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If you live in or are passing through the Cusco area, get your hands on a copy of Exploring Cusco, by Peter Frost. This is much more than a travel guide: it’s full of history and stories written by the most knowledgeable insiders across a range of disciplines.

A travel guide skeptic falls in love with this travel guide

I’m amazed that I didn’t hear about this book earlier in my life, and I wish I had. I’ve been traveling to and living in Peru since 2010, and I’ve been living in the Sacred Valley, near Cusco, for the past five years. I’m always in the hunt for new adventures, new knowledge, and new encounters, and it wasn’t until recently that this book came to my attention.

I’ve always been the kind of person who is skeptical of guidebooks, instead preferring to head out into the unknown, to talk to locals along the way, and to do my own research. Maybe this is why it took so long for this book to come to my attention, or maybe it was because Exploring Cusco is in a different league than series such as Lonely Planet, Moon, or Frommers. It’s these sorts of guides that I’ve preferred to stay away from because they lack the authenticity and roots that we find from local writers and local guides. At the same time, they are the kinds of books that we find lying in the middle of the coffee tables of most tourist-friendly restaurants and cafes. It’s sometimes difficult to find the books that can be most important in our lives.

But this is a different kind of book. It’s full of heart. It’s full of relevant insight. It offers the reader hard-to-find details into off-of-the-beaten track hiking routes in order to help us to go out and explore on our own, while also feeling supported with tips for making our way. It’s packed with context and history to help any visitor to the Andes to connect more deeply. Put simply, I recommend this book for anybody making their way through Cusco.

An intimate insider’s perspective

Photo: Scott Montgomery

Unlike the writers of other travel guides that are available for the Cusco area, Peter Frost is an insider who has lived in the area for more than thirty years. During the time that he’s spent in these parts, he’s explored into the nooks and crannies of the area, and through his endless adventures, he’s grown to know the area better than almost anybody out there. With these insights, he published the first edition of the guide back in 1979. Since then, he’s brought the book through multiple incarnations, with each edition going deeper into the history and context of the areas and its people.

The 6th edition: a father and son collaboration

For the past several years, Peter Frost has been teaming up with his son Leo Duncan (who is also a contributor for several articles within the book) in order to delve deep into the Cusco area and expand from the foundation of past editions. The two spent years traveling farther off the beaten track and exploring new areas. They’ve also visited the area’s cities and towns in order to get up-to-date information about what’s currently happening. Therefore, everything is now up to date, from recommendations of places to stay, high-quality tour operators, the best restaurants, the ins and outs of transport, and the scoop on changes to hiking routes. They’ve explored everything, and in doing so have brought character and life into the book.

Contributions from some of the most respected contributors in their fields

Photo: Scott Montgomery
But this book is much more than a travel guide. Over the years Frost has teamed up with people across a range of disciplines who’ve contributed insightful articles that you won’t find anywhere else. In fact, the book feels to less of a travel guide than it does an engaging history lesson which is fun to read, and is offered in digestible bite-sized articles. You’ll find these insightful articles interspersed between detailed descriptions of how to get to know the areas of the ancient Inca empire on your own, without a travel guide.

Get an authentic glimpse into the history of the Inca empire

Musicologist Holly Wissler fills you in about the ins and outs of pre-Colombian music: the styles, the history, and the instruments. She’ll tell you about ancient Andean drums known as wankars, and tinyas. She informs you about the subtle, and sometimes profound differences between multitudes of wind instruments that have been played by ancient people across the continent for many thousands of years. And she’ll fill you into the relationship between the feminine and masculine energies which are embodied within traditional music. She’ll also point you to the area’s best places where you’re likely to experience the most traditional and mind-blowing musical performances.

Archaeologist Brian Baur shatters the myths about how the Inca Empire rose to power, which continue to be perpetuated by other travel guides, within most books you’ll read, and from the mouths of most people in the street. Also, the renowned  researcher humbly expresses that “It is clear that our understanding of Inca history, and the growth of the empire, is still in its infancy.”

Insightful and relevant

Contributor Leo Duncan gives you the low-down on the nature of Andean weaving. He’ll tell you how to identify authentic hand-woven garments from machine-made ones which, to the untrained eye, often look similar. As he notes, local weavers will often mislead potential customers by telling them that their machine-made textiles are actually hand-made. In another article within the book, Duncan gives an explanation to address the burning question you might have of why there are pairs of mounted bulls atop all of the houses of the region. He’ll also tell you where you can go to buy these mysterious figures to bring home as a souvenir if you so wish.

Where to get the book

Get your hands on a copy of this wonderful book by ordering it on Amazon.com.

 

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Scott Montgomery is a multi-medium storyteller and holistic creative, a travel guide and transformational coach, whose core mission is to help others to live authentically with purpose and intention in order to make an impact in the world. After earning his masters degree in creative writing at Arizona State University in 2013, he made the move to Peru in order to write about indigenous communities of the jungles and the Andes, and to explore what this might have to do with his own life path. These years of traveling and living across the country have helped him to embrace a more purposeful lifestyle that's guided by the values of collaboration, creativity, and transformation. To find out more about what Scott's up to and how you can get involved, visit his personal website www.voyagewithscott.com