If you go to Peru, you will most definitely be spending some time in Cusco. It’s the gateway to Machu PIcchu and the Inca Trail, and anything else you might want to do in the Southern Andes.
Besides being a tourist hub, Cusco is actually really charming and lovely. I spent 2 weeks in this city, and loved wandering the pretty cobblestone streets, looking at the colorful blue ornate doors, and discovering cute cafes and restaurants.
So don’t overlook this charming city on your trip through Peru. Find out the best things to do, eat, drink, and where to stay in this city in the Southern Andes!
Cusco City Guide:
What to Do, Eat, Drink and Where to Stay in Cusco
What to Do:
Sacsayhuaman is the most famous ruin in Cusco city, and the center of the most powerful kingdom during Inca times. It’s perched on the top of the mountain overlooking the city, and is only a few minutes from the city center.
You can walk up to this ruin through a wide and gradually sloped stone pathway. Be sure to bring water though and take your time – at this elevation, any walking can be a challenge! Or if you’re feeling tired, you can take a taxi to the ruins.
Once inside the ruins, be sure to check out the mirador, or viewpoint overlooking the city. There will be plenty of signs directing you to overlook. This is a great place to take photos of Cusco from above.
Then continue through and see the large ruin site. There are lots of ruins to climb and explore, and you’ll be amazed at the huge stones they carved and moved to build their city!
Cristo Blanco is another site that overlooks the city. It’s actually only a few minutes walk from Sacsayhuaman, so you can combine the two sites if you have time.
Cristo Blanco is a huge statue of Jesus that has a great viewpoint of the city below.
Plaza de las Armas
The Plaza de las Armas is the central square of the city of Cusco. This is where all the action is, so it’s a great place for people watching! There are also often popup tents, events or parades here.
You’ll find the cathedral, a church, and government buildings around the square. They’re all picturesque so sit down and enjoy the view!
Wander San Blas
The San Blas neighborhood is the bohemian, artistic neighborhood in Cusco. It’s full of cute cafes, yoga studios, healthy restaurants, and colorful doors. Wander this neighborhood on the side of the mountain and duck into stores and cafes as you go.
Visit the Markets
I always love visiting local markets when traveling – it’s a great look into everyday local life!
The biggest market in Cusco is San Pedro. This local market has everything from produce, artisan products, to electronics!
There are also lots of small artisan markets scattered throughout the Centro. These are great places to do your shopping for textiles or other goods that you might want to bring home.
Convento La Merced
This gorgeous convent isn’t much talked about, but it’s well worth a visit! It’s a huge old convent with a large central courtyard with greens and flowers. There are also lots of rooms with big paintings and artifacts. Head upstairs to see the courtyard from above, and enjoy the pretty archways.
Where to Eat:
This soup restaurant was so good, we went twice! They have lots of varieties of soups from traditional Peruvian soups to Japanese to Thai to Italian. We tried 4 different varieties and they were all delcious!
This is a super delicious restaurant to have a nice dinner while staying in Cusco. Their specialities are their stews and they are super great!
La Sangucheria 154
This is another restaurant that was so good, we went back twice! It’s pretty casual and is great for a lunch of salad and sandwiches. They also serve freshly made juices that were delicious.
This is an expat restaurant that serves delicious food. It’s casual and is called a “couch bar” so it’s filled with comfy couches to eat your meal.
We had the burger and the fries and it was sooo good and the portions were huge.
Restaurante Qori Sara
If you want a good traditional meal, this is a great place in the centro! We went here for our very first meal upon arrival in Cusco and it’s still one of my favorite traditional meals I had.
It’s a casual cafe, but super busy at lunchtime so you know it’s good! There was still a table for us, so we sat towards the back and ordered the menu of the day. This is a typical lunch option in Peru – it just means that they have 2 or 3 options for you to pick for your entree. You’ll also be served a small starter, a soup, a drink, and sometimes a dessert. It’s a great deal and a great way to try eating like a Peruvian.
The portions are huge, and there are many courses so pace yourself! If you’re not starving, you can probably share one between two people. We had one menu del dia each and couldn’t finish it all.
Where to Drink:
Cholos Craft Beer
This is a great craft beer bar that serves their own craft beer as well as other local favorities. It’s in a great location between the centro and San Blas, and has a great casual atmosphere so we found ourselves stopping here 3 times during our 2 week stay to enjoy a beer and use their fast wifi.
Norton’s Rat Tavern
Despite the strange name, this bar has an amazing location so is a great place to hang out. They are right on the Plaza de las Armas in the middle of the centro and upstairs. You can snag a seat at the balcony outside and have a perfect view of the central square below. Great for people watching! They also have craft beer.
This cute restaurant also has a front bar area. We tried a couple of their Pisco Sour cocktails (the most famous drink in Peru) and they were delicious and fresh. The atmosphere is also great to relax with a happy hour drink.
Where to Stay:
There are tons of options of places to stay in Cusco since it’s such a tourist-heavy place.
We stayed in an Airbnb since we would be in Cusco for a bit of an extended period (2 weeks). It was a great choice for us – we had a large house to ourselves with a kitchen, living room, 2 bedrooms, right in the middle of the Centro for the equivalent of $35 USD (with weekly discount). There are lots of great options on Airbnb if you prefer a homey experience.
*Use this sign-up link to get $20 off your first booking.
Splurge – Belmond Hotel Monasterio
If you prefer to stay in a hotel, the Belmond Hotel Monasterio is a gorgeous boutique hotel in a former monastery in the Centro of Cusco. It has great reviews, beautiful grounds, and charming decor.
Mid-range – Hotel Arqueologo Exclusive Selection
The Hotel Arquelogo Exclusive Selection is a great midrange choice. It’s on the hill between the Centro and San Blas, so the location is ideal and a little quieter. It’s well designed, charming, and a good value for the price.
Budget – Amaru Hostal
If you need a more affordable option, Amaru Hostal has great reviews and is charming and colorful. It’s located in the San Blas neighborhood, so you’ll have a more residential feel and be surrounded by the artsy cafes and cute streets.
So if you’re going through Cusco during your Peru trip, be sure to spend a couple extra days in charming Cusco! It’s a good idea to acclimate to the high elevation here, but you will also find no shortage of things to do, great things to eat, and pretty corners to explore.
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