Cusco, the ancient heart of the Incan Empire, now stands as a beacon for travelers seeking to uncover the mysteries of its past, immerse themselves in its vibrant culture, and explore the breathtaking landscapes that surround it. Recognized as the historical capital of Peru, Cusco offers a unique blend of Incan ruins, Spanish colonial architecture, lively markets, and stunning natural wonders. Adventure In Peru invites you on a journey through our insider’s guide to the best things to do in Cusco, where history and modernity intertwine to create an unforgettable adventure. From wandering the sacred grounds of Qoricancha to savoring the flavors of San Pedro Market, our guide is tailored to help you discover the soul of Cusco and create memories that will last a lifetime.
Join us as we delve into the heart of Cusco, uncovering the city’s must-see attractions, hidden gems, and culinary delights. Whether you’re marveling at the architectural wonders of ancient ruins or gazing upon the city from its myriad vantage points, Cusco is a city that captivates and enchants at every turn.
Unveiling Cusco’s Rich History
Coricancha and the Convento de Santo Domingo: A Testament to Time
Coricancha, once draped in gold as the Inca Empire’s spiritual center, symbolizes the intersection of Incan and Spanish cultures. The Spanish conquest led to the construction of the Santo Domingo Convent atop the Incan temple’s remnants, serving as a powerful symbol of cultural amalgamation and conflict. This site not only offers insight into Incan architecture and spirituality but also tells the story of an empire’s twilight under colonial rule.
Visiting Tips: Allocate at least an hour to fully appreciate the site’s historical depth. Guides available at the entrance provide invaluable insights into the complex history and architecture.
Dive into Local Life
The Vibrant San Blas: More Than Just Bohemian
San Blas, with its quaint streets and artisan vibe, is a treasure trove of Cusco’s finest cafes, restaurants, and boutiques. This neighborhood transforms Cusco’s perception from a tourist-centric city to a vibrant community brimming with creativity and local life. From the unique handmade jewelry of Isa Luna to the lively music of KM 0, San Blas is where Cusco’s heart beats the loudest.
Local Favorites: Check out the KM 0 bar for its live music and vibrant atmosphere. Isa Luna offers unique fashion finds, making it a must-visit for those looking to take home something special.
The Pulse of Cusco: Plaza de Armas
The Ever-Lively Plaza de Armas
The Plaza de Armas is more than just a central square; it’s where the past and present of Cusco converge. Surrounded by iconic landmarks like the Cusco Cathedral and Church de La Compañía de Jesús, the plaza is a bustling hub of activity, culture, and history. Whether you’re people-watching from a balcony cafe or exploring the surrounding architecture, the Plaza de Armas offers a snapshot of Cusco’s vibrant life.
Experience Tip: For a unique view of the plaza, visit the cafes with balconies overlooking the square in the morning or late afternoon for a different perspective on Cusco’s heart.
A Taste of Authentic Cusco at San Pedro Market
San Pedro Market: A Culinary Journey
San Pedro Market is not just a market; it’s a sensory journey through the flavors, aromas, and colors of Cusco. From the freshest local produce to traditional dishes served amidst the market’s lively atmosphere, this is where the authentic taste of Cusco comes alive. It’s also a perfect place to find unique souvenirs and gifts, reflecting the rich cultural tapestry of the region.
Culinary Insight: Venture beyond the main thoroughfares to find stalls selling traditional dishes like ceviche and chicharrón. Engage with local vendors for a more immersive experience.
Culinary Delights and Vegetarian Gems
Green Point: A Culinary Oasis
In the heart of the artisan district of San Blas, Green Point stands out as a beacon for vegetarian and vegan cuisine. The restaurant’s commitment to fresh, organic ingredients shines through in its diverse menu, offering a gastronomic journey that even non-vegetarians will cherish. The almuerzo set menu is a highlight, showcasing the innovative fusion of Peruvian and international flavors.
Foodie Must-Do: Beyond dining, explore Cusco’s culinary landscape through chocolate tasting sessions or cooking classes focusing on traditional Peruvian cuisine.
Gaze Upon Cusco from Above
Breathtaking Views: Limbus Restobar and View House
Cusco’s natural beauty can be best appreciated from its numerous vantage points. Limbus Restobar and View House offer not just spectacular views but also a chance to unwind with a drink after a day of exploration. These spots are perfect for capturing the essence of Cusco as the sun sets, painting the city in golden hues.
Viewpoint Tip: For the photographers and sunset lovers, the San Blas Viewpoint offers unparalleled views of the city’s rooftops against the backdrop of the Andes.
From Sacred Ruins to Starry Skies
Sacsayhuamán and the Cusco Planetarium: Connecting Past and Present
The Sacsayhuamán ruins provide a glimpse into the architectural prowess of the Incas, while the Cusco Planetarium offers a modern link to the stars that guided ancient civilizations. These experiences bridge the gap between Cusco’s rich history and the cosmic beliefs that have fascinated humanity for centuries.
Adventure Tip: Combine a morning visit to Sacsayhuamán with an evening at the planetarium for a full day immersed in Incan culture and astronomy.
Your Base for Exploration
Cusco serves as the perfect base for day trips to iconic locations like Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain, and the Sacred Valley. Our guide simplifies planning these excursions, ensuring you make the most of your stay.
Accommodation Advice: From charming hostels in the historic center to luxurious hotels, Cusco offers comfortable stays for every budget. Booking ahead during peak season is essential.
Where to Stay in Cusco
Cusco’s array of accommodations caters to every traveler’s needs, from the budget-conscious backpacker to those seeking luxury amidst the Andean landscape.
Budget Options: For travelers looking to stretch their soles and their dollars, hostels in the historic center offer both dorm beds and private rooms, often with communal kitchens and vibrant social scenes. Look for properties that balance cost with convenience, ensuring you’re never too far from Cusco’s main attractions.
Mid-Range Comfort: Mid-range hotels in Cusco often fuse modern amenities with local charm. Many are housed in colonial buildings, offering a cozy retreat with breakfast included, ensuring you start your day of exploration on the right foot.
Luxury and Boutique Hotels: For those seeking the ultimate in comfort, Cusco’s luxury and boutique hotels provide a sanctuary of relaxation with stunning views, spa services, and exquisite dining options, all wrapped in the warmth of Andean hospitality.
No matter where you choose to stay, ensure your accommodation reflects your journey’s spirit, offering a peaceful haven to return to after a day of adventure.
How to Get Around Cusco
Navigating Cusco is an adventure in itself, with options ranging from leisurely walks through cobblestone streets to convenient rides in local transportation.
On Foot: The best way to experience Cusco’s vibrant streets and hidden alleyways is on foot. The city’s compact size makes it ideal for exploring the main sites, markets, and restaurants at your own pace.
Taxis: Readily available and reasonably priced, taxis are a convenient way to traverse longer distances within Cusco. Always agree on a fare before starting your journey to ensure a smooth ride.
Public Transportation: For the more adventurous traveler, Cusco’s public buses and colectivos (shared vans) offer an authentic glimpse into local life and are an economical way to reach nearby attractions.
Rentals: Renting a bike or even a car can offer the freedom to explore Cusco’s surroundings at your leisure, though navigating the city’s narrow streets and surrounding mountainous terrain may be best suited for the more experienced.
Adventure In Peru’s Pledge
As our journey through Cusco comes to a close, it’s clear that this city is more than just a stopover on the way to Machu Picchu; it’s a vibrant tapestry woven with threads of ancient history, rich culture, and breathtaking natural beauty. From the awe-inspiring legacy of the Incas at Coricancha to the bustling aisles of San Pedro Market, Cusco offers a myriad of experiences that cater to every type of traveler. Whether you’re seeking adventure, tranquility, or a deep dive into history, Cusco stands ready to exceed your expectations.
Our guide to the best things to do in Cusco has aimed to illuminate the paths less traveled, alongside the well-trodden ones, ensuring that your visit is as enriching as it is exciting. Adventure In Peru is committed to helping you discover the essence of Cusco, from its highest peaks to its most hidden corners, ensuring that every moment spent in this ancient city is unforgettable.
As you prepare to explore Cusco, remember that the true beauty of travel lies not only in the places we visit but in the stories we gather, the people we meet, and the memories we create. Cusco is not just a destination; it’s an invitation to adventure, a call to explore the depths of history, and a chance to immerse yourself in the vibrancy of Peruvian culture.
Thank you for joining us on this journey through Cusco. May your travels be filled with discovery, wonder, and the joy of exploration. Adventure awaits in every corner of Cusco, and the next great story is yours to write.