When I first started on my trip to Peru, I had thought that I would write two posts on my trip. “One on our hike and one on our trip to Lima. Done and done!” However, after stepping foot in beautiful Cusco, Peru, I knew that sharing about this gorgeous city was an opportunity not to be missed.
Cusco has a life of it’s own – one that is full of such spirit and vitality that it’s difficult to put into words. While not nearly as cosmopolitan as more well-known Lima, Cusco has a culture that makes it stand above the rest. Just like in the rest of Peru, the people are all incredibly kind and are hard workers. However, unlike many of the cities you may visit, the people of Cusco thrive on tradition and fight against change. While we were in town, I celebrated Palm Sunday at a massive, stunning church, but it was immediately followed on Monday by a festival thanking their Patron Saint (the patron saint of earthquakes) for not tearing down the town – a celebration that’s been going since 1650. The buildings have remained almost entirely the same as they have been for hundreds of years, even surrounded by the cobblestone streets that scare the sports cars out of town. Below are some of my top recommendations for things to do, places to eat, and locations to rest your head.
Things to Do / Places to Visit
- Walk around Plaza De Aramas – This square in the center of town hosts stunning cathedrals and a wide array of restaurant patios overlooking the square. Perfect for people watching or to feel like you’ve travelled back in time. Please note that I HIGHLY recommend not feeding the stray dogs that are old pets (we’re talking poodles and retrievers here.) They will continue to follow you around town for an extended period of time.
- Visit La Merced – While not as noticeable as the nearby La Compania and La Catedral, this is only because it is a block off of the main square. However, it’s relative distance from the heart of town is no match for the elegance that is inside this church. Dripping with stunning chandeliers, the alter is a massive structure entirely carved in wood. The doors opened every night at 6pm while we were there, with a church service starting at 9:30pm – doors will stay open during the church service if you’d like to attend.
- San Pedro Market – Visiting this colorful market is an experience not to be missed. Sectioned based on what the vendors are selling, the aisles are full of a HUGE selection of anything you can dream of – 100+ types of salt, fresh baked pastries galore, a massive assortment of different types of potatoes, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, pickled snakes (you read that right.) Visit on the weekdays if you’re pining for a sense of the crowds, or visit on the weekends for a much tamer trip.
Where to Eat
My go-to when I visit a new city is to take a free or cheap walking tour, typically offered by hotels, and Cusco was no different! Our guide Wilbert suggested the below two places and they did not disappoint. While we tried food at several other locations, the below absolutely became our favorite.
- Uchu – In an alley just off of the main square, you’ll find this small “steakhouse” with unique, incredibly tasty options. Here, you select your meat and temperature and they bring the meat out to you on a heated stone so that you can select your desired doneness of each of the meats. We selected a sampling of beef, lamb, and alpaca (a Peruvian delicacy) to be able to try a variety. Just as good as the meats was the salads and accoutrements, such as marinated olives. With the prices in Cusco, your incredible steak will cost around $20, so I’d recommend adding on a glass of the Peruvian syrah on the side – smooth and the perfect addition to any meal. If you have a large group, then I recommend reservations. They were fairly flexible when we walked in as two.
- El Mason de Don Tomas – Guinea Pig is a Peruvian delicacy that should absolutely be tried if you don’t have any dietary restrictions. No, I don’t think it’s great, but you should at least check it off the list. But when it comes to the guinea pig, we were warned in advance that several restaurants do not use fresh guinea pig, but that this place is the way to go. Whether or not that is the absolute case, there is live Peruvian music, kind service, and fantastic tastes of Peru. Arrive early to get a seat!
- Musee de Pisco – We didn’t have the food at this restaurant, but the pisco is worth the recommendation. While pisco sours are the cool thing to drink for tourists, I wasn’t a fan (they taste like a margarita.) At this location, they have several drinks that all include pisco, but in creative, fun ways – added to champagne, in fruity beach-like cocktails, mocha coffee drinks, you name it! If you’re feeling extra adventurous, pop down at the bar and ask David to sample a few options. You won’t be disappointed.
- Cusquena – This is actually the local beer created in Cusco, and it’s available in almost every restaurant in the area, as well as within most spots we visited in Peru in general. There are four options – Cusquena Red was available most places and became my favorite. It’s more “Bud Light” than “craft brew,” so if you’re typically in the mood for unique offerings, then I recommend Cusquena Black.
WHERE TO STAY
- Hotel San Agustin El Dorado – This is where we stayed and I cannot recommend it enough. Great location close to the main square, but off the main street enough to be able to sleep without noise. If El Dorado is booked, San Augustin has two hotels called San Augustin International and San Augustin Plaza that have similar locations. I do not recommend these hotels if you are looking for 5-star accommodations, but they’re perfect if you’re looking for a simple, affordable place to stay with great service and cozy rooms.
Walking through the streets of Cusco
Food at Uchu – Alpaca is on the far left
Palm Sunday at El Merced
Cusquena – What an awesome label!
People in the main square celebrating Semena Santa (Lord of the Earthquakes)
JOIN THE CONVERSATION
If you’ve been to Cusco, what additional tips do you have to share?
Have you tried guinea pig or alpaca?
Create a great life!