I literally can’t read Cusco without singing it in my head exactly as it is sung in the Emperor’s New Groove. ( In fact I quoted/ sung a lot of parts from that movie throughout this trip) Cusco is hands down and incredibly beautiful, historic city. This city has ANGLES. Everywhere you turn there are either idyllic cobblestone alleyways, ancient palace ruins, cathedrals, and rolling hills that in the words of Pacha, “the hills just sing.”
Top things to do around Cusco
1. Check out my city guide here for all the walk-able, no tour needed sites.
2. Take a horseback riding tour. I’ve done several riding tours in 4 different countries now and nothing holds a candle to this tour.
3. Branch out to see the Sacred Valley of the Incas. There are so many archeological sites around, if you’re on a time crunch, best book a tour to see them all.
4. Visit the salt mines.
5. Hike to the Rainbow Mountain
Where to stay in Cusco
My top pick: Airbnb apartment $33/night
This is where I stayed with 3 friends for 3 nights in Cusco. It had a kitchen, living room/dining area, 2 bedrooms, private bathroom, washing machine and drying area, and best of all- views of the Plaza de Armas from the covered terrace. It’s also a super easy walk to all the historical sites in the city, great restaurants, and perfect for walking around at night in a safe area.
Rooftop view from our airbnb
Other great options include:
*Keep in mind that while some of these places have incredible views- it also means you’ll have to hike up them hills at the end of the day sight seeing.
Plaza de Armas- a 5 minute walk from our airbnb
Where to eat in Cusco
- Ceviche- located right on the Plaza de Armas. Excellent seafood, excellent pasta (if you aren’t into seafood), best dining service we had, and a really clean restaurant with reasonable prices.
- Pachapapa- located a 5-10 min walk from the Plaza de Armas, this restaurant was recommended to us by our trekking guide. It had very good food and a very romantic atmosphere. You might want to make a reservation here if you want to sit out under the heaters and twinkle lights on the patio. Otherwise inside is very nice too.
- Kusikuy Resaurante- Another easy 5 minute walk (and 1 minute walk from that airbnb) this restaurant had amazing fruit juices and the cheapest price for Cuy that we saw and was fairly good. So if you are wanting to try Cuy on your trip- this would be the recommended place.
A Note on Cuy
After learning about the traditions of eating guinea pigs, something they have done in the Andes for over 5,000 years, I wasn’t as shocked as I thought I would be. I was glad I didn’t order it- I just sampled some, but understanding that it is something they have eaten for so long, eat at celebrations like Christmas and the like, made it easier for me to compartmentalize and not condone a culture that is not my own. Yes I’ve had guinea pigs as pets, and NO if I’d held one earlier in the day, I’d likely not have been able to eat one. BUT that being said- if you can try it, I recommend you do. It was quite the cultural experience.
** Also it’s so ingrained in the culture, the cathedrals in Peru literally placed Cuy as the main dish in the Last Supper paintings. Not kidding –
Other popular foods at restaurants- grilled alpaca and creamed quinoa
You’ll have no trouble working off those meals in hilly Cusco and at least in the historical center- it was very safe to walk around in the evening.
A Note on Altitude Sickness
Everyone reacts to high altitude differently- you can be in seriously amazing shape and suffer from it- or (such as myself) in decent hiking shape and still experience it. From experience I know that I can breathe fine at 11,000+ feet and don’t really feel nausea, but can experience headaches…
and headaches it was. Cusco sits right around 11,000 feet and can be challenging to fly into because of the extreme change from lower altitude to high. I did try to drink water (which I’m normally terrible at when travelling) and also tried the tea but neither of those things really helped with my headaches. Sadly advil/ ibuprofen only dulled the ache without ever really getting rid of it.
With all that being said- unless you are taking Diamox (high altitude sickness medicine) you really SHOULD plan a few days to chill/ explore Cusco BEFORE your treks – JUST IN CASE to acclimate. It definitely would’ve sucked having to hike with my head feeling ready to explode- especially considering our first camp on our trek was around 12000 feet. The other unexpected part of altitude sickness was inability to sleep. So moral of the story: plan a couple days pre-trek or take Diamox if you don’t have enough a long enough trip to acclimate.
3 days in Cusco costs
Taxi from Airport to Airbnb $22 split 4 ways- $5.50 pp
2 x Breakfast at Cusco Plaza Hostel Buffet $10
Groceries (1 breakfast, snacks, drinking water) $10.75
Dinner at Kusikuy Restaurant $15
Lunch at Ceviche $15
Dinner at Pachapapa $17
Dinner at Los Toldos chicken $10.30
Horseback riding tour $65 +$4.5 tip
Inka Museum $3
Qorikancha Museum $3
Sacred Valley day tour $76 + $7.50 tip
3 nights at our Airbnb $135 – $33.75 pp
Total cost for 3 days in Cusco: $286.30