The Coca Museum in Cusco is an homage to the leaf that has become one of Peru’s most important cultural symbols while examining the more sinister guise it has taken on in the modern era.
The coca leaf is perhaps the most simultaneously loved and hated plant product in all of Peru. It has thousands of years of cultural significance because of its use as a mild stimulant (chewed) in every day Andean life, all of which are threatened by misuse in the form of cocaine in the modern era. At the same time that thousands of tourists come to Cusco curious to try coca tea to alleviate their altitude headache, the Peruvian government is running a massive coca eradication operation in Peru’s jungle regions.
Cusco’s Coca Museum, located on San Blas square, doesn’t leave any of this out. Guides are available to walk visitors through the art, artifacts, and other exhibitions related to the Inca’s sacred leaf.
In reality, coca is harmless by itself, and may even have medical properties (like coffee). Cocaine is the main alkaloid that must go through a chemical process to become a highly addictive drug. Like most things, humans make it good or evil.
For these reasons and more, the Coca Museum in Cusco may be worth a stop if you are in the city. It’s one of those places you might think “I could take it or leave it,” but it’s exactly those kinds of places that can surprise and teach you the most. Understanding coca is an important element to understanding the Andean culture, past and present.