A highlight of many Peruvian adventures, the city of Cusco is the former capital of the Inca Empire and commonly referred to as the “Gateway to Machu Picchu.” It’s also the base for many adventures across the Sacred Valley. Whether you’re spending time there to acclimate to the altitude before trekking the Inca Trail or discovering Rainbow Mountain, or interested in experiencing the fascinating Peruvian culture, you won’t want to miss out on these sites and activities in this thriving city in the heart of the Peruvian Andes.
Plaza de Armas
Located at the center of historical Cusco, this plaza is a must-see for first time visitors. The beautifully manicured square is surrounded by restaurants and shops selling alpaca products as well as the Cusco Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the Natural History Museum. Find a bench in the middle of the plaza to watch tourists, street vendors and shoe shiners pass by as well as frequent cultural performances in front of the cathedral.
San Pedro Market
Become enveloped in Peruvian culture and experience the local life in Cusco at San Pedro Market. This colorful market features hundreds of stalls selling crafts, jewelry, souvenirs, sweaters and other outerwear, as well as prepared and unprepared food. Some of the grocery items may cause a bit of culture shock since you’ll find whole pigs, barrels of unknown substances, and other products. But you can also sit side-by-side with the locals and enjoy a traditional Peruvian meal at a fraction of the cost of many Cusco restaurants.
San Blas Neighborhood
Don’t leave Cusco without checking out this bohemian and picturesque neighborhood. It’s just a 10 minute walk uphill from the bustling Plaza de Armas. You can spend a few hours wandering the narrow, cobblestone streets filled with art galleries, craft vendors, clothing shops, cafes, and restaurants.
While there, consider visiting Iglesia San Blas (San Blas Church) and enjoying the views from the square beside it. Here you may have the chance to pay for a photo with an adorable baby llama or alpaca.
Although it may seem silly to seek out a single rock in a stone wall within the city, this stone is a testament to the engineering and architectural acumen of the Incas. It’s said that not even a sheet of paper can fit between the stones!
You can find the 12 angled-stone on Hatun Rumiyoc Street, which is a historical, ancient Inca road. Keep your eye open for the shapes of a snake, condor and puma in the wall as well.
Museums to Visit
There are a number of fantastic museums in Cusco. Here are a few that you should explore:
- Planitarium Cusco – Get an introduction to Inca astronomy and do a little stargazing.
- ChocoMuseo – You’ll learn how they make chocolate, enjoy free samples and be able to purchase chocolate.
- Museo de Arte Precolombino – Held in a Spanish colonial mansion, this museum features more than 400 pieces of pre-columbian art.
- Museo Historico Regional – Experience pre-Incan, Incan and colonial relics in the former home of poet Garcilaso de la Vega.
- Museo Inca – Learn all about the Inca Empire that once ruled Cusco through the artifacts, models and mummies featured here.
- Monumento Pachacuteq – Both a monument and museum dedicated to the great Inca Pachacuteq Yupanki. The museum is in the tower of the monument.
In and around Cusco you can visit several archeological sites including Puca Pucara, a small, circular Inca site; Q’oricancha, the Temple of the Sun, located right in Cusco; Sacsayhuaman, with its 200-ton monoliths; and Tambomachay, a water temple featuring fountains believed to be used for bathing by the Incas. You can see them all in one day on a tour with FlashpackerConnect.
Interested in taking your adventures beyond Cusco? Check out FlashpackerConnect’s single and multi-day tours to cultural sites, natural wonders and other Incan ruins in the Sacred Valley.
Where to Eat:
As the name suggests, this restaurant serves fresh, organic food with great vegetarian options and juices.
La Bo’M Creperie
This creperie is located above a hostel by the same name in San Blas. Owned by a young French woman, you can eat fresh sweet and savory crepes as well as a variety of teas and juices.
This picantería serves traditional Peruvian dishes such as cuy (guinea pig). Stop by for lunch and you could see a traditional folk dance.
Monkey Coffee Cusco
This small coffee shop in the San Blas neighborhood serves up great coffee all day long. If you’re hungry, there’s also breakfast, pastries, and sandwiches.
Get a taste of Mexico in Peru at this affordable, small restaurant. You can even build your own taco, chimichanga or enchilada.
Where to Drink:
Head to Limbus Restobar at sunset to enjoy a cocktail and a fantastic view of Cusco. Or, grab a Peruvian craft beer at Cholos Craft Beers Cusco. Both are located in the San Blas Neighborhood.
If an Irish pub is more you style, head to Paddy’s, which holds the title as the “highest Irish-owned pub in the world.”
If you prefer a local cocktail Museo del Pisco, and enjoy a Pisco Sour — the most famous drink in Peru, part pisco (a colorless brandy produced by distilling fermented grape juice into a high-proof spirit), part lime juice, part simple syrup and a lot of shaking! Blend your own infusion of mango, coca leaf, licorice or hot pepper.
Cusco Day Tours can be found here: TOURS