Updated May 29th, 2017.
1. There is no sleeping early for Cusco
Maybe you will be at Pariwana hostel, or possibly you will find yourself at Mythology Club or maybe, just maybe, you will find a crazy party in Ukukus bar, but there will always be somewhere to go and dance until dawn. Cusco is filled with things to do at night, even if you just want to grab a bite: you can try to gobble down the great 200gr hamburger in Los Perros Bar or treat yourself to an enchilada at El Cuate Restaurant. And if you are looking to chill out and listen to some reggae just head to Wachuma Bar in San Blas and forget about all the rest. If you’re curious about trying some of the local drinks on offer head to Inkaria bar.
2. Not everything is about Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is a must if you are a first timer in Cusco, but don’t just head to the city to see this world wonder. The city and its surroundings are too amazing to just be considered as a pass through destination. Rent a couple of horses and go to the ruins of Qenko and on your way back stop at the ruins of Sacsayhuaman while munching on some Choclo con Queso (large kerneled corn and cheese).
3. The city of a hundred treks
The most known is still the Inca Trail, but that doesn’t mean that it is the best one. The truth is that there are many, probably thousands of hiking routes, all around Peru and its neighbors. There are some that end up at Machu Picchu like the Salkantay trail (our personal favorite), the Santa Teresa trek, Alternative trek, or the Jungle Trek. Some of our other favorite hiking trails are the Choquequirao trek, the Ausangate trek and a much longer route which ends at Espiritu Pampa.
4. Cusco breathes tourism
Don’t forget that this is a city that lives because of tourism. Try to avoid big international tour companies and help the little ones get bigger, as they pretty much offer the same deals. There are so many guesthouses, tour agencies and local restaurants that it won’t be difficult to find your own favorite places in the city. Also learn how to say no gracias, truth be told you are going to be offered so many things, including scams, so you should be prepared. If you are less of a tourist, and more of a traveler, try making a visit to the local Andean communities, the night will most likely end up in a fire side dance and a feast of potatoes (for info ask around at local NGO’s, we recommend going to “South American Explorers” in San Blas).
In Quechua the city’s name is Qosqo, meaning Navel of the World. Although this may have been more true in the time of the Inca’s, the city is still a hub for backpackers in South America. So don’t miss out on connecting with your fellow travelers; meet the Argentineans selling art products, learn samba with Brazilians, strike up a conversation with Chileans, try salsa dancing with Colombians, and go partying after a 5 day trek with the rest of your new friends. But above all don’t leave Cusco without taking the time to connect with the friendly Peruvians who live there.
6. The Sacred Valley is close by and should be explored
Take a 45 minute long combi ride for a mere couple soles and you will be in Cusco’s agricultural town of Pisac. Famous for it’s bustling market, spectacular ruins, and small town charm this town is our favorite day trip from the city. Push past Pisac and many other small towns await, further from the tourist trail, indulge in sweet local breads, take your turn designing pottery, or get your heart pumping on a rafting trip down the Urubamba River. Also in the area is a bungee jump located 60 mts from Chinchero. If you are into climbing, head to the cliffs between Urubamba and Ollantaytambo, there you will find some fellow climbers and kayakers.
7. Seeing one museum? Might as well see them all
Sightseeing in Cusco requires the purchase of a boleto turistico. The ticket costs approximatly 45 dollars and allows you access to the main museums, ruins, and cultural shows in the city. The ticket can be used any time during a 5 day period, and should provide you with plenty of options with how to fill your day. Our favorite stops include, the ruins of Pisac, the church of San Blas, and the Andean dance performances.
8. The city is a haven for vegetarians
Cusco, especially the neighborhood of San Blas, was made for hippies. Local artisans line the streets and small cafes specializing in organic treats are plentiful. For vegetarians the city offers a happy reprieve from the meat heavy diet of most other South American cities!
9. A walking tour will help you get fit
Located at 3,400 meters (11,200 feet) it’s not just Cusco’s beauty that will leave you short of breath. A stroll into the neighborhood of San Blas will find you engaging those thigh muscles as most streets are at a steep incline. Use the walk as an excuse to stop often, turn around, and take in the glorious city that you are standing in! Also, while we are talking altitude, best to give yourself at least 5 days to explore Cusco as acclimatization might slow you down your first couple of days.
10. You’ve got to get yourself to the market
Warm quinoa soups ladled out from stands nestled in among a plethora of potatoes and squeaky wheels of fresh cheese. If you’re looking for a more adventurous lunch sink your teeth into a freshly fried guinea pig while you wander down the market aisles. Don’t miss the stands dedicated to shamanism, a great place to fulfill you’re travelers curiosity.
Written by: Andres Nunez del Prado, a local Peruvian currently living in Lima, and Tyler Protano-Goodwin.