Why There Are No Movie Theaters In Cusco

Cusco does not have a single movie theater and for a city of 320,000 people that is downright strange. Perhaps the reason can be found in a makeshift jumble of market stalls on the outskirts of Cusco; a "black market" called El Molino. During my first couple weeks in Cusco, I heard the words "El Molino" more than a few times. My Spanish teacher told me to visit El Molino for inexpensive CD's and DVD's and my landlord told me to go there for household items that we needed for our kitchen. During our first week in Cusco, my daughter and I frequented a restaurant on the Plaza de Armas called Mythology, a salsa bar-cum-restaurant that shows movies. For the price of a couple drinks or a plate of appetizers you can choose from hundreds of new DVD movies to watch while you enjoy your lomo saltado. Many of the titles come out as soon as a few weeks after their U.S. theatrical release. When I asked where they got so many brand new titles, the answer was "El Molino."

El Molino lies alongside a foul-smelling river about a 10 minute taxi ride from the Plaza de Armas. I'm told that much of the merchandise is brought in duty-free from Peru's southern-most port town of Tacna. The market itself is a collection of hundreds of small stalls with corrugated tin roofing that are jam-packed with merchandise. Look down one aisle and you'll see books, bicycles and bootleg CD's. Look down another and you'll see perfume, pinatas and pirated DVD's. Glance to the side and you'll see clothing, cameras and costume jewelry. Turn around and you'll spot hard liquor, housewares and HDTV's.

Obviously, all the DVD's are pirated; how else could you charge only 3 soles ($1) for a brand new DVD movie that just hit the theaters 3 weeks ago. With every movie title on the market available for just a dollar, who needs a movie theater?

This smorgasbord of cheap digital media does have its risks, however. As El Molino veterans, we have learned from experience what to look for when purchasing DVD's. The first thing to look for is: Does the disc have English-language audio and subtitles? Wheny we bought Steven Soderbergh's 2-disc "Che" (Guevarra) biopic and we previewed the first disc to verify that it had English-language subtitles. After enjoying the first disc about Che's role in the Cuban revolution we popped in the second disc to find that it did not have English-language subtitles. The second thing to look for mainly applies to new releases: Is it a disc-to-disc copy or was it filmed in the back row of a movie theater? Pirated versions of new releases get out quickly because someone sits in a movie theater with a digital movie camera and films it. Our kids watched "Ice Age 3" a while back and a baby started crying in the middle of the DVD soundtrack. When we bought "Transformers 2," the excitement of seeing this new release outweighed our concerns about the video and audio quality. We got home and watched about 10 minutes of it before we gave up. The action scenes were impossible to watch and understand. The third thing to look for applies to TV series: Are all the discs present? My daughter has bought four seasons of "The Office" and on two occasions, we found episodes missing.

Even with these risks, the economics of pirated DVD's means that it will be a while before we see a multiplex adorning Cusco's Plaza de Armas.


  1. El Molino? Is that spanish for Netflix? Because that is why we hardly ever go to movie theatres anymore. My hubby set us up with surround sound and everything so we don't have to worry about crying babies and people talking on their cell phones. Hey, we saw Che too - great movie. Want me to tell you how it ends?

  2. You know I didn't even notice there weren't any theatres here, but our hostel has a movie room which is just as good.