If you’re heading for Machu Picchu, then you are bound to pass through the Inca city of Cusco on your journey. Here are some helpful Cusco insider tips to make the most of your time in this beautiful city.
Cusco’s can’t-miss sights Plaza de Armas: With monumental churches, remnants of Inca walls, and multiple cafes with 2nd floor balconies, the main square is the perfect place to soak in the past and present of the Inca’s imperial city.
Cusco Cathedral: The main cathedral is worth the price of admission (20 soles) and is filled with some real gems, including colonial-era religious art. Our Cusco insiders recommend that you look for a squat little stone obelisk near the huge wooden doors to the main entrance. The obelisk is said to be the embodiment of the male god “Wiracocha” and is the only artifact that remains from the Incan religious site that was destroyed by the Spaniards and upon which the cathedral was constructed.
San Pedro Market: This is where Cusco locals go to buy fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts, and other staples. Among the interesting things you’ll see are pigs’ heads and chicken feet, as well as stalls where shamans sell all manner of herbs and potions.
For travelers interested in off-the-beaten-path attractions, hike to the Moon Temple or go on a bike tour to Maras, the pre-Inca salt mines that are still in use today. Back in Cusco, we also recommend visiting the Monumento Pachacutec. Admission is included on your Cusco tour ticket or costs 1 sol.
From the highest hill of the Sacsayhuaman fortress, you can get excellent views of Cusco, the surrounding mountains, and the beautiful, snow-capped Mt. Ausangate. On Sunday, local Cusco families come up here to fly kites and play soccer.
Must-visit restaurants in Cusco
Travel to Cusco and you will find many fabulous restaurants featuring international and Peruvian cuisine, and the Cusco staff have their favorites:
Juanito’s: Located in San Blas on the corner of Carmen Bajo and Siete Angelitos, Juanito’s serves up the best sandwiches in Cusco, as well as homemade, battered french fries and homemade chicha morada (sweet purple corn juice). You can top your sandwich and fries with a selection of delicious sauces. Try Juanito’s Hawaiian chicken sandwich. Yum.
El Paisa: Locals insist that this is the best place for ceviche outside of Lima. El Paisa also serves a delectable lomo saltado, pollos a la brasa, and other dishes from northern Peru. In the evenings, you can also listen to a live band playing “norteño” music. Find this restaurant on Avenida El Sol, just past the huge mural depicting the history of Cusco from pre-Columbian times to the present.
El Hada: Try the best ice cream at altitude! Treat your sweet tooth at El Hada, an artisanal ice cream parlor located on Calle Arequipa, just off the main Plaza. Organic milk and eggs are used to produce small batches of ice cream in interesting flavors such as lemon pie and orange cardamom, served on homemade vanilla or lemon-flavored waffle cones.
In search of a quick snack?
Go to Calle Marqués, a pedestrian street between the Plaza de Armas and Plaza San Francisco. Look for Comidas al Paso, a small store with a green awning, that sells causa rellena, a Peruvian dish of potato-avocado goodness with your choice of chicken, tuna, and other fillings. For a midday caffeine fix, stop by the charming Café Dos x 3, an independent coffee shop serving the best coffee in Cusco made from a blend carefully refined by the owner over the years.