Explore the colorful charm of Cusco.
Photo by Boris G/Flickr
Many travelers experience the principal museums and nearby Inca ruins in Cusco on a guided tour: but what about the city’s lesser-known sites and attractions? During your leisure time in Cusco, consider entertaining yourself with the following activities that are within walking distance of the city’s central square.
Plaza de Armas: Take a seat
A visit to Cusco would be incomplete without spending time in its iconic Plaza de Armas. Soak up the city’s charm on a bench or curb your appetite at one of the restaurants along its borders.
Today Cusco’s Plaza de Armas is a symbol of Peru’s rich cultural heritage and a lively hub where locals, expats, and international visitors mingle. The surrounding colonial architecture and churches are a reminder of the city’s Spanish influence, but the historical significance of this central square dates all the way back to Incan times. Don’t forget to take your photo in front of the Inca King Pachacutec fountain!
The 12-angle stone: A tribute to Inca stonemasons
One of the most impressive tributes to Inca stonework in Cusco can be viewed on Hatunrumiyoc Street, a pedestrian walkway typically taken from Plaza de Armas up to the San Blas District. Hugging this narrow street is the wall of a palace attributed to Inca Roca, according to common opinion. Stretching nearly an entire block, it was constructed by the Incas using green diorite stones that were pieced carefully together in jigsaw-like patterns.
Seeing this Inca wall makes you realize that ancient stonemasons were men who obviously mastered their craft. Each stone was transported, cut, shaped, and pieced so perfectly together that not even a knife can move between their edges.
One of the Inca wall’s most notable features is the famous 12-angle stone. Its sides are clearly defined and fitted together with such precision that it leaves you wondering how such perfection was achieved without using modern technology.
The 12-angle stone achieved “celebrity status” when it was chosen as the logo for Cusquena beer, a favorite among Peru’s international visitors. On a visit to Hatunrumiyoc Street, there’s generally a small group of people waiting to take a photo of the famous stone and a good indication of its exact location.
San Pedro Market: For local flavor
A visit to Cusco’s San Pedro Market is unlike anything a majority of travelers will experience back home. While the market has grown in popularity among foreigners, it has maintained its authenticity. On a typical morning you can find Cusqueñian housewives doing their shopping and locals eating at one of the many food stands.
There are five principal sections at San Pedro Market: handcrafts; fresh fruits and vegetables; meat; juice bars; and the food stands. Take some time exploring a few isles lined with separate stalls and try out your Spanish with the vendors. Bartering is common practice, but be mindful that the difference of a couple soles (S./10 is about US$3.50) can make a substantial difference to a local resident and their family.
The meat section is likely the most alarming part of the San Pedro Market experience. In fact, vegetarians should probably avoid it altogether! Chicken feet are among the many oddities on display and for sale.
To get there, walk straight from the south corner of Plaza de Armas’ south corner in the opposite direction of San Blas. You’ll go through Plaza San Francisco and then under a stone archway: keep walking for two more blocks and San Pedro Market will be located on your left. Petty theft does occur, so keep a close eye on your personal belongings.
Cristo Blanco: A heavenly view
Cristo Blanco is Cusco’s answer to the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.
Photo by Todd Gehman/Flickr
Situated on a hill not far from Sacsayhuaman, the Cristo Blanco statue in Cusco is visible from the city’s Plaza de Armas and particularly noticeable at night when illuminated with lights. In 1945, a group of Christian Palestinians who lived in Cusco during World War II donated the statue as a gift before moving back home. It has remained a part of the city’s skyline over the years and a visit to see this statue is rewarded with stunning views.
Perhaps the biggest deterrent of walking to Cristo Blanco are the daunting uphills steps through the San Blas District. These steep steps are a traveler’s kryptonite at such a high altitude and give new meaning to the phrase “uphill battle”. If you’re up for the physical challenge, the best thing is to move slow and remember that a rewarding view of Cusco will greet you at the top.
Cusco insider tips