Most travelers only find out about Cusco as a starting point for the trip to the famous Machu Picchu. It’s also a great stop to get acclimated to the elevation. However, the city has much more to offer apart from being a convenient stop on your way. Wandering the streets of Cusco you can explore the charming cobbled alleyways and attractive historic buildings. Cusco is full of museums, galleries and other interesting places to visit. There is a reason the city itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
How to Reach CUSCO
By bus – The main bus terminal, Terminal Terrestre, is about 1.5 miles (2.4km) SW of the city center. Buses are plentiful to and from other Peruvian and Bolivian cities but are quite long and slow, although many times offer scenic views.
By train – Cuzco is connected to Machu Picchu and Puno by rail. The train service is operated by Peru Rail.
By plane – The international airport of Alejandro Velasco Astete (CUZ) is located at the edge of the city. There are daily internal flights to and from Lima, Arequipa and smaller jungle airports in the Amazon basin.
Cusco Travel Tips
Try Cuy (guinea pig) – Taste the traditional holiday food of the region. You can buy a whole cooked cuy in many of the restaurants around Plaza de Armas. There are also many dedicated ‘cuyerias’ around town where you can find much cheaper cuy. If you purchase around the Plaza de Armas be prepared to pay close to that of a decent steak.
Take a Salsa class – With a number of enthusiastic teachers and a number of styles taught in the city, this is the perfect place to learn some new dance moves.
Try alpaca steak – A taboo in other parts of the world but here, it is considered a delicacy.
Do not be reckless – Although Cusco is a relatively safe city, as in any urban area, muggings and petty thefts do occur. Be careful where you walk at night and take care of your belongings.
Do not underestimate the altitude– The altitude is no joke. Many people experience some for of altitude sickness when arriving to Cusco as it is around 11, 000 feet (3399m) high. Just be sure to drink plenty of water and use cocoa leaves in a tea or simply chewing them. If you are doing hikes such as the Incan Trail it is a good idea to acclimate here for a day or two before heading out on a hike.
Typical Costs in cusco
Price Range for Hotels
There are many sleeping options in Cusco to suit all budgets. Most won’t need to be booked beforehand. You can find a hostel or a local bed and breakfast for as low as $5 per night, you can find a luxurious hotel for a few hundred USD per night and you can find all the options in between.
Cost of meal
There is an endless string of restaurants and bars in Cusco’s streets that offer food and drinks at reasonable prices. Price per dinner in an average restaurant can be lower than $5 per person. If you are looking for a more expensive option, there is no shortage of those also.
Taxis are a relatively cheap way to move around the city as a 3 km ride will cost you around $1. The taxi from the airport to the city center costs around $3.5. Busses are an even cheaper way to move around the city, though they might get really crowded and hectic.
Where and What to Eat in cusco
Where to Eat
Cicciolina (dishes start at $12) is one of the most recommended restaurants in Cusco and is known for its selection of international dishes. Marcelo Batata is for those looking to try classic Peruvian favorites ($15-$25), while La Bodega 138 offers up brunch menu and craft beer, with meals starting at $8.
Unique Dishes to Eat
Cusco has some very unique dishes that are must tries. First off try cuy (guinea pig). It’s sounds very odd but it’s actually pretty good and as you would suspect, it takes like chicken. Another unique thing to try is alpaca meat. Alpaca steaks are delicious and tastes a big like something between lamb and beef. Chicharrón is another typical local dish which is basically fried pork.
For the Beer Enthusiast
We checked out the QosQo Beer House by the square which had an excellent beer selection with plenty of local craft beers. QosQo even had pretty good food. Cholos Craft Beers and Nuevo Mundo Draft Beer also come highly recommended.
Top Places to Visit
Visit Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas is considered the very hub of Cusco. Due to its location in the very center of the historical town, this is the place you should start your city tour. There are many spectacular buildings surrounding the plaza. In the very middle, you will find a statue of Tupac Amaru who was the last indigenous monarch. Two major cathedrals that are facing the Plaza de Armas are The Cathedral of Santo Domingo, which was Cusco’s first cathedral and the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesus. Which is often referred to as the most wonderful baroque-style church in the Americas.
Explore Qurikancha (Santo Domingo)
Today also called the Convent of Santo Domingo, is known to be the most important temple in the Inca Empire, dedicated primarily to Inti, the Sun God. During Cusco’s reign as the Incan capital, this was one of the most valued and richest temples, as it was covered in gold from top to bottom. Today, there you can find a cathedral, which the Spanish colonists built on the site, after demolishing the temple and using its foundations for the cathedral.
Wander the streets
of San Blas
San Blas is one of Cusco’s most picturesque neighborhoods, located north of the Plaza de Armas. This pedestrian-only area is perfect for exploring the ancient streets, made from local stones. Today on the streets you can admire the works of local artists.
Check out the 12
You can walk up the old Incan Road to reach the palace of the Archbishop of Cusco where the 12 angled stone is located. The stone was once a part of a stone wall of an Inca palace. The stone is an example of perfectionist Incan architecture and a great example of the Inca knowledge about the construction.
Located about 30 minutes by walking (uphill) outside of Cusco. This structure features hundreds of massive stones weighing around 300 tons! A ticket is required to visit the site.