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This Travel Guide shows you the best things to do in Cusco and will help you to enjoy your time in one of the highest cities of the world.
As the former capital of the Inca Empire Cusco is nowadays very popular by tourist from all over the world as base for traveling to Machu Picchu as well as discovering the various Inca ruins around the area. For more information about the country you should read my Peru travel guide.
This article is part of a whole series of free guides for Backpacking in South America.
(Click to go to the related section)
As said Cusco has been the capital of the Inca Empire therefore you can use your stay to start discovering the history of the Incas here.
a) Sacsayhuaman (fee: 70 soles / or: boleto turistico)
The ruins of Sacsayhuaman are with no doubt the main attraction in Cusco: located on a hill in the northern part of the city. To get there you can walk directly from the city center, but be aware: the heigh altitude may make it harder to go the way uphill.
I made it in around 20mins from the Plaza de Armas to the ruins.
Up there you can discover an impressive, huge walled complex as well as enjoy stunning views above Cusco.
b) Mirador Cristo Blanco (free)
The white Cristo Blanco statue overlooks Cusco from a hill right next to Sacsayhuaman in the north. It reminds me somehow on Rio and if you are up there you have the chance to make some nice pictures pretending to be in Brazil ;)
If you like to walk it just go north west coming from the Plaza de Armas – the way is easy to find: just turn right before you enter Sacsayhuaman and head to the statue.
c) Free walking tour
As in most cities of Europe you can also attend free walking tours in the center of Cusco showing you the main sites – just ask at the reception of your hostel/hotel. Usually those tours start at 10/11a.m. at the main square (Plaza de Armas).
I had the chance to have a special local tour provided by my hostel (Milhouse Backpackers) – this one starts every saturday morning and takes you to the local market, the school and the most important sites. Only for Hostel guests.
d) San Pedro Market
The local market is a nice way to experience the real Cusco, or better: the real Peru. Though it's not recommended to eat lunch or dinner here it's safe to go for some fruits and a cheap freshly squeezed juice. I said cheap? Oh yeah, this is the place to go for the real deal – doesn't matter if it's the Lama hat, the Lama pullover or the gloves you've had an eye on since your arrival: here you'll find the best prices, but still: don't forget to bargain also here!
e) Cathedral, Churches, Museums
With the Boleto turistico you are able to access all important sites of Cusco – though it's not that cheap (around 130 Soles) it is the best option if you like to visit more than one site.
I didn't buy this ticket and discovered all these sites only from the outside, which is impressive and interesting, too.
Cusco has a huge amount of Places to eat, enjoy a coffee or a drink. This is also why you'll find a lot of places where the price does not fit the quality – take this selection to enjoy some tasty meals for fair prices.
a) Jack's Cafe (Breakfast)
Can't see your Hostel Breakfast anymore? In need of some real, proper Meal to start the day?
Jack's Cafe is THE place to go for a full english breakfast, fluffy pancakes or awesome Sandwiches. Moreover they have a really good espresso machine.
A filling meal with a drink will cost you around 20 Soles and you'll leave with a smile – I've been there 3 times during my one week stay ;)
Address: Choquechaca 188
b) La Cusquenita (Lunch: 11 a.m.- 5 p.m.)
The “girl from Cusco” is quite new – this restaurant was opened just a few week before my arrival in Peru and stands for typical local food, fast served sided by traditional music and dance performance. Dance performance? Yes, that sounds like a tourist trap – but: as we've been there we were the only tourists as the place was packed and we had to wait for a free table. Though a bit more expensive the food was really good – because they have a limited selection of meals and a big kitchen you can expect to start eating 10minutes after your order.
Main dishes like Ceviche or Aji de Galina are around 25 soles. It's worth it.
Address: Ave Tullumayo 227
c) Granja Heidi (Coffee, Lunch, Dinner)
This tiny, charming Café should not be missed during your stay: relaxed atmosphere and a nice setup with a wide range of books and magazines offer the possibility to enjoy a nice afternoon by having some tasty chocolate cake and a hot drink.
Address: Cuesta San Blas 525
d) La Chomba (Lunch,Dinner)
Also a place locals like to pick if they are hungry ;) For around 18 Soles you can have a nice local dish.
Address: Av. Tullumayo 339
It's not a secret anymore: Cusco is one of the Peruvian Party Hot Spots. Beside the Party Hostels you'll find a nice setup for a big night out. But: keep it low the first days otherwise the altitude will make you experience the worst hangover of your lifetime!
a) Paddy's Irish Pub
The world's heighest Irish owned Irish Pub is the place to meet fellow travelers, talk about the Inca trail, action adventures or simply enjoy a fresh beer with friends. The perfect place to warm up, located right next to the main square.
Address: 124 Calle Triunfo
b) Mama Africa (Club)
I guess it is the main place to party: dance the night away with chart music as well as some south american rhythms. Locals meet tourists, prices are comparatively high for peruvian standards.
Be sure to show up not too early – best after 1 a.m. Located at Plaza de Armas, hard to miss ;)
No entrance fee.
Address: 135 Espadoros
c) The Temple (Club)
Just 5mins north from Mama Africa you can find an alternative dance location – the music is not that different, so it's a good idea to swing by if Mama Africa is still empty or if you are in need of some location change.
No entrance fee as well.
Address: Waynapata 194
The Milhouse Backpackers has been my home for the time in Cusco. Just 5 months old it was a good choice for different reasons: located in the center, breakfast with fruits included, restaurant to order food for fair prices and the option to have a private room. Moreover they offered a program every day and are now on the way to become a party hostel.
Positive: All Rooms have Bathroom Ensuite (2 in 12 Bed dorms), Tour Agency Inhouse, Nice Balcony at the Bar, Luggage Room for your time on the Trek, nice staff
Downsides: the Internet was quite slow and there is no possibility to cook your own food.
Prices: Dorm from 22 Soles, Private from 90 Soles
Address: Calle Quera 270
Cusco is the starting point if you want to see Machu Picchu, therefore a lot of tour operators offer tours starting in Cusco every day – be it a one-day tour or the famous multi-day hike along the Inca trail.
With GetYourGuide you can book tours with local tour operators in advance, for example:
Do you know more things to do in Cusco?
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My accommodation in Cusco was supported by Hostelbookers.com – they helped me to show you South America on my #HolaGringo trip.
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