There is no doubt that Cusco is one of the most popular cities in Peru. Set at a head banging 3399 metres, it is not only the sights that will be taking your breath away. Cusco was the capital of the Incan empire and despite the Spanish colonizer’s best efforts there are still many ruins to see close to the city, and the awesome Machu Picchu is only a short train journey away.
Here is a short guide on what you can do in Cusco over 3 days (36 waking hours), this is an ideal amount of time to acclimatise before you walk the Inca trail. If you’re arriving from sea level you will need to take your time when wandering around the city. These are some low energy level activities that will ensure your time and lungs are both filled.
Catch a parade
Now this activity is slightly harder to plan but during our time in Peru we learned quite quickly that they like a parade. On our first morning in the city we wandered down to the Plaza de Armas (main square) and what seemed like half the Peruvian army were marching around and saluting a lot. On another morning we found people dancing outside of a church in a range of strange costumes that included fake dead baby alpacas on their backs. Needless to say I think that if you spend any time wandering around the streets of Cusco, especially close to churches, you will find a parade or some sort of procession to enjoy.
Dancing and strange costumes in San Blas:
San Pedro Market
Here you can buy everything from your dead guinea pig for dinner to a somewhat cuter fluffy toy version of the local delicacy. Fun to wander around and full of both tourists and locals alike the San Pedro market is a good way to kill some time. Having Pinion’s sister and my mum with us in Peru and their large luggage allowance meant that much of our time in Cusco was spent shopping, raising questions like can you ever have enough alpaca toys?
Chill in a square
Cusco is full of squares, from the bustling Plaza de Armas to the beautiful San Blas. There are loads of restaurants/ bars/ cafes situated around these areas that are perfect for people watching despite their tourist prices. You can always grab a menu of the day lunch elsewhere before you head to them to save some money. There are often churches in the squares providing somewhere else to visit.
Pretty San Blas (uphill but worth the effort):
Visit a museum
Unsurprisingly there are many museums related to the Incas in the city. I enjoyed the Museo Inka, although the English explanations varied in their quality in different parts. We also Inca’d up at the Yale exhibition of Machu Picchu artifacts.
If your history tolerance levels are starting to fade then the chocolate museum provides a welcome respite from the ruins. They run free tours around the small museum throughout the day, you get to sample a few different types of pretty nice Peruvian chocolate. They also run classes that last for 2 hours, for about £14 you can make some truffles or do a bean to bar class.
We enthusiastically booked the class for the day after our return from the Inca trail. The trail managed to nearly kill both of the Pinions and so it was left to my mum and I to do the class by ourselves whilst they slept off their illnesses, luckily we roped in Rachel a fellow trail survivor into the lesson. Gladys the instructor was super cute and our Baileys and Chirimoya (custard apple) truffles were awesome. If chocolate is not your thing then there is a coffee museum round the corner.
Sit down… on a bus tour
So breathing hasn’t really become all that much easier despite you being in Cusco for a few days already? Don’t worry those hills would be a work out, even at sea level. One of the best ways to see the city and be lazy at the same time is the City Bus Tour. Leaving from Plaza San Francisco at some time in the afternoon, you’ll be hard pressed to avoid it with all the touts selling tickets each time you walk past. For £4 the tour was worth it, we got to go up to the Christ statue that provides you with great views over the city and a sneaky peak into the Sacsayhuaman Inca complex.
There are plenty of day trips out of the city that will warm you up for Machu Picchu, Moray, Pisac and Ollantaytambo being the most popular. Sacsayhuaman is still within the city limits, albeit right at the top of the hill. Inside the city you can try to spot the 12 angle stone on Hatun Rumiyoc Street, this stone was part of the Palacio del Inca Roca the 14th century Incan palace. Apparently there are also some 13 and 14 angle stones too, spotting these provides the perfect opportunity to stop and catch you breath. Now if rocky ruins are not your thing then Cusco also has plenty of liquid opportunities to get ruined. And with pisco sours being a topic of national pride you should probably start there. Chilcanos are awesome too but best to save those until after the trek or until you have acclimatised.
You can even get cider in Paddy’s Bar: