I’m afraid I might not be able to do this city justice. Peru and the Andean region, a longtime dream of mine has finally come true this week, and Cusco – the former capital of the Inca Empire – is a true gem in the Andes, and a perfect starting point for your Machu Picchu adventure. Let me preface what I’m about to write by saying – you need AT LEAST 48 hours in this city to even try and do it right. We were short on time so had a 24 hour stop in Cusco on the way out to the Inca Trail, followed by a night on the way back. Literally within the first hour of landing, we were in love.
Winding cobblestone streets, hills that would make San Francisco proud, colourful markets, grand plazas, views of the Andes, and food that makes it impossible to stop eating – pretty much sums up Cusco for you.
On that note, here’s what you can’t miss :
A little town in the picturesque Sacred Valley, Pisac is an hour’s taxi ride out of Cusco (take a taxi or Uber – always cheaper than a hotel car and as reliable). Plan your itinerary so you hit Cusco on Sunday – the market is on everyday but the largest one is on Sunday with the most stalls and products. This is an amazing place to grab some souvenirs, and DON’T be afraid to haggle, they are all expecting you to and you can easily cut the price by 30-40% if you’re strategic. Be sure to clarify which ones are handmade because those will come with a premium but it shouldn’t be enormous, so be careful.
Some of our favourite finds were alpaca scarves and blankets, coin purses, table runners, oven mitts, ponchos, headscarves, friendship bracelets and cushion covers.
Before you hit the main market, right by the car park, is a silver store, with silver the region is known for (metal works was – and in parts, still is – one of the biggest occupations) along with some lovely semi-precious stones native to South America. Prices are decent, but feel free to negotiate, you can get a great deal.
Plaza de Armas
The main town square is ALWAYS buzzing and has some of my favourite restaurants in the city, particularly Barrio Ceviche– you’ve got to also try Paddy’s Irish Pub, a hallmark in the plaza. For a quick snack, Papachos, also in the main plaza, is famous for their burgers. Take a walk through the plaza around dusk and the colours of the sky fall beautifully against the cathedral.
Cathedral De Santo Domingo
Set right on the side streets by the Courts of Justice in the Plaza Mayor, this cathedral is the most spectacular in Cusco, and the architecture alone is enough to make you stop in your tracks. It is built on the site of the Coricancha, or Temple of the Sun.
If you have time – and very doable in a 48 hour trip – take a tour of the Sacred Valley, which takes you to the nearby towns in the valley, giving you a taste of Inca life as it used to be.
Eat Your Weight in Peruvian Seafood
There is no better way to do it. Barrio Ceviche serves up some of the best ceviche in the city, and any of their choices (we went with the Classico) are well worth it. Add some tiradito – Peruvian sushi – and their specialty, ‘Arroz con Mariscos’ – a seafood dish with rice that will make you unable to stop eating. The JW Marriott’s restaurant Qespi is also highly regarded for Peruvian cuisine that promises to hit the spot.
This city WILL leave you wanting more, and no amount of time feels like enough. My best advice is to not underestimate how awed this city will leave you, and give yourself enough time to truly relax and enjoy it.
Where to Stay in Cusco :
Where to Eat in Cusco :
ToV was welcomed by the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco, but all opinions are, as always, my own.