Cuzco is a large but quaint town in Peru with an elevation of 3399m of altitude. If you’re heading to Cuzco, it is likely that you’ll fly from Lima. Remember that you’re flying into a place at altitude, so it’s likely your plane descent will likely be a turbulent and a little scary. Once you land, get yourself a taxi into town and find your place to stay.
You may also come on a bus ride if you’re travelling via a number of other towns too, perhaps you can use Peru Hop. Its approx 10 hours from Arequipa or 26 hrs from Lima.
Cuzco is the highway or gateway for travellers heading to Machu Pacchu. For this reason, you will find a high volume of hostals, hotels, restaurants and shops. If you haven’t booked ahead of time, we’re sure you’ll find somewhere. There’s plenty of banks, laundries and pharmacies should you need any of those services. With this being a tourist town, the prices are a little inflated, although no where near as inflated as Agua Calientes (town of Machu Picchu) where the charge $8 Soles for a small bottle of water.
As Cusco’s is at a height above sea level, at 3,399 metres so it is recommended you stay a night or two before heading to Machu Picchu. This is for your body to adjust to the elevation. We had no problems since we came from Ecuador and Mexico which are also elevated. But if you’re flying from sea level, remember that the altitude may affect you. Some tips are to walk slowly, drink plenty of water, get enough sleep and lay off the alcohol.
Where to visit
There’s a lot to do in Cusco. If you just want to explore the town, then 2 days is perfect. However if you also want to visit sites in the sacred valley and some day trips, maybe 5 days would be better.
You can easily grab yourself a map and find your way around the city and the sites. If you would prefer to do a tour, it’s easy to get a ‘free’ walking tour of the city (where you tip your guide at the end). There’s a number of churches and museums.
Around town there are plenty of historical attractions to see such as:
This museum holds a range of artefacts from prehistory as well as the Inca period and subsequent Spanish conquest. It’s 10 soles entry.
Plaza de Armas
In the central part of Cuzco is the Plaza de Armas, or a main square which is a grassy area surrounded by restaurants, shops and historic areas.
Saint Dominic Priory Qorikancha
This is one of the more interesting buildings in the city. It is a 16th century church built on the site of an Inca temple. You can walk through this baroque styled church with all its beautiful art and gold whilst also seeing the foundations of the original Inca temple. The rocks used to construct the Inca temple are huge and one is even carved of one slab with 14 sides.
Museo Del Chocolate
A must visit for those chocolate lovers out there. The staff draw you in by the offer of free chocolate tastes outside. Head inside and check out the shop and buy yourself some chocolate covered nuts, fruits, marshmallows or a variety of chocolate flavours. At night, a hot chocolate will make you warm! You can also do a tour or class learning how to make chocolate.
Museo Del Pisco
This is called a museum, but more like a large bar with Pisco history and classes. This place is passionate about sharing their knowledge of all things Pisco. Pisco is nations favourite alcoholic drink, which dates back to the days of the Incas and subsequent arrival of the Spanish Conqusitadors. We learned that the Europeans brought products such as grapes and these were made into a kind of brandy called Pisco, named after a native chieftan. We also learn how the Pisco is made; picking the grapes, stomping, blending, fermenting, distilling and then rest. You can then sample a number of different Pisco brands, learn how to make a Pisco sour or just simply order a drink. We did the Pisco tasting and our waiter was superb – extremely knowledgeable. We then ordered a traditional Pisco Sour and a Maracuya sour – some of the best drinks we’ve tasted! This bar/museum is great. It’s large, has a good atmosphere and great drinks. They also sell food too.
Mercado / San Pedro Market
This is your one stop place to get souvenirs and food. There’s plenty of stalls selling socks, beanies, blankets, bags, key rings and more. Just be sure to bargain for a lower price.
There’s wholesalers selling cheese, butter, breads, grains, fruits and vegetables and alcohol.
At the back end are the juice and food sellers. If you’re keen for pork, get there at 7am! We had a local lunch there. They are massive portions so you should share.
Pronounced “sexywoman”, this is an archaeological site of Inca remains, found above Cuzco, about 15 min up in a taxi or 30 -45 minute walking (uphill though the whole way – it’s a trek)! It is a huge site, which unfortunately costs 130 soles to enter!! However if you plan to visit the 3 other sites included in the pass it may be better value.
Day and excursion trips
There’s endless tour companies offering a range of tours for hikers, people on budgets or those that want more luxuries.
If you are spending a good amount of time in the area and are interested in the historical sites, the “Boleta Touristica del Cusco” for multiple tourist attractions (except Machu Picchu) would be a worthwhile purchase. The full pass for 130 soles is applicable to 16 sites (can use over 10 days) and the ticket will allow entry to places such as Ollantaytambo, Pisaq (famous for handicraft markets), Moray, Maras and Chinchero to name a few. There are plenty of tour/mini vans that will take you to the sites on a day trip.
Generally price of admission is not included. You can also get 4 pass tickets (must visit in one day), but we would recommend to do your research first to decide where you want to visit and what you can fit in.
There’s plenty of other activities such as a visit to the Amazon or the Rainbow Mountain, which we wanted to do, but time didn’t allow that for us.
Salinas de Maras (salt flats)
The salt mines are beautiful series of white terraces making for an amazing landscape. Here, there are approximately 3000 pools fed by saline water. The salt water is left to dry and the salt crystallises in the pools and later collected to produce salt for cooking or bathing. Only 10 soles entry. You can trek up from the town of Maras or pay for a vehicle to take you.
The most famous is Machu Picchu and you can complete the Inca Trail or a day trip. This demands a lot more information, so read about it in our separate blog.
Ollantaytambo is 1 hour and 45 minutes from Cusco, the trains also stop there. The historical sites are also included on the 4 and 16 pass tour. We recommended you visit there and stay the night. It houses an archaeological complex with the remains of a fortress built by the Incas. But it is also a lovely town with amazing food options. We’ve also prepared a blog on this too. See it here
Where to eat
There’s a wide variety of options for your taste buds. From the cheap chains like Mc Donald’s, KFC and Starbucks to the local set menus and fancier restaurants, there’s something for everyone.
There are many bars, and whilst you shouldn’t drink much at this elevation, be sure to sample a cerveza or pisco sour. Pisco sours are the National Peruvian drink.
You can get food cheaply at patisseries. You can find afajores, churros, chocolate cake, empanadas and lemon meringue pie!
I’m obsessed with tea and unless you like coca or herbal tea, it’s almost impossible to find good tea. This place has about 30 tea flavours including my favourite; English breakfast. The space has lovely vintage styling and free wifi. Located close to Qorikancha.
For a small price you can get the set menu of a sopa (soup), main and a dessert. We enjoyed the chiccaron – or deep fried pork, served with potatoes and salad. Found in many areas, it seems the specialty Chiccaron stores are near Qoricancha. A great for a cheap tasty meal.
A restaurant that was pumping with customers when we visited the attached bar. A super range of cocktails and we tried their Q’ori Wayna of passionafruit, vodka, triple sec and lime juice which was amazing! We also tried the Chicha de Jora or fermented corn beer, a local specialty generally low in alcohol and very refreshing.
From farm to table, this restaurant is an organic sustainable restaurant with their own vegetable garden fresh ingredients. It’s only a small restaurant and it was packed the day we visited. We tried their delicious quinoa soup, chicken salad and the grilled alpaca. We were hesitant to try alpaca but it was prepared beautifully here and tasted nice and lean. The food here is presented so well, complete with edible flowers. They also had some brilliant cocktails. We didn’t have dessert but saw other people devouring the chocolate fondant, cause of some major food envy! Staff at Organika were great and service was A class.
We went to Rucula primarily because we loved Organika and given this was affiliated, we presumed it would be just as good.
That, and we were given a 15 % off voucher. A two storey location right near the Plaza de Armas, it was pumping with customers. We decided what we wanted straight away; a goats cheese salad and Ragu papadelle which was phenomenal. There were so many delicious options to choose from and they use sustainable and organic products directly from their farms. Plenty of choices for vegans and vegetarians too. This restaurant also does pizzas. The food is beautifully presented and reasonably priced for the area. Service was notch and food came so fast. Kudos to the pregnant staff member who ran up and down the stairs endless times / give her an easier job!!
Where to stay
There’s a multitude of places to stay. Plenty of hostels but also fancier options like the Ramada. We chose hostels approx $50 a night but there’s also plenty even cheaper than that depending on your budget.
Casa de Mayte
Located not far from the central square, Plaza de Arms in Cuzco, this hostel was lovely. We were promptly picked up from the airport (which we didn’t pay for, nor do I remember booking) which was awesome. The lady running the place speaks perfect English and man at the desk does too. Rooms are small but nice and have everything you need. A double bed, television, and bathroom. The room also has a heater. They also do laundry. Our room did not have a safety deposit box. They provide endless coca leaves and hot water to make tea. There is also breakfast provided – fruits, fresh bread rolls, ham, cheese, granola and yoghurt. It is opposite an amazing patisserie too!!
Hotel Inti Wasa Plaza de Armas
This is a quaint little hotel right by the Plaza de Armas. A nice lobby with places to sit and books to borrow. The hotel has large rooms and comfortable beds. Rooms also have a tv. The room has a heater and the price was reasonable and it included breakfast. It’s noisy if you’re by the street side, with cars driving on the cobblestone streets.
Munay Travel Peru
Yanapay Servicios Turisticos
+51 941 002556
For an awesome driver in Peru, please try Fredy Berni Garate. We were taken by him in a taxi to the airport from our hotel in Cusco and he was so lovely, we arranged for him to pick us up the next day from Ollantaytambo and take us back to Cusco (which was quite far). He didn’t know a great deal of English but tried super hard to communicate. He fit in many stops for us along the way and helped us with our baggage.
An interesting town to explore and get adjusted to the altitude before your trip to Machu Picchu.