10 THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN CUSCO CITY
Here, you will find some places, activities to visit/do during your leisure time in Cusco city; you can visit these places and do these activities on your own (ideal for a walking tour around the city).
- Cusco´s main Square
- Inca Museum
- San Blas (Traditional artisan neighborhood)
- San Cristobal (Cusco citadel´s best point view)
- San Pedro Market (A world of smells and tastes)
- Artesanal Market
- Dare to try exotic Andean food: Guinea pig or Chicharron
- Museo del Pisco
- Cusco´s nightlife
According to history, in Incas time the Cusco´s great plaza was surrounded by Incas’ palaces, built in order to shelter their “Panaka” or royal extended families. This plaza was divided into two sectors by the Saphi (“Root”) River that flowed channeled and covered by the middle of it.
The main sector of the plaza was known as Wakaypata (Weeping Sector) and the other half side of the Plaza was the Kusipata (Cheer Sector), because after the great ceremonies, the population was concentrated in this sector of the plaza in order to carry out their parties, to eat and drink.
By the center of those two sectors there was a special high platform known as Usnu from which the Inca, the priests or other officials could address their people.
The Inca palaces which surrounded the main square were:
Qasana (Palace of Inca Pachacuteq), Qoraqora (Palace of Inca Roqa), Kiswar Kancha (Inca Wiraqocha’s palace) where today is the Cathedral, Hatun Kancha (palace of Inka Yupanqui), Amaru Kancha (palace of Wayna Qhapaq), the Ajlla Wasi or Virgins of the Sun’s House.
Last important events at the main square:
- In 1536 Manko Inka began a long and bloody war against the Spanish invaders having a siege of 8 months over the city. Finally in 1572, after a war that lasted 36 years, Tupaq Amaru I, the last emperor of the Incas dynasty was defeated, captured and executed cutting his head off in Cusco´s main square.
- In 1650 the city was badly affected by a violent earthquake that destroyed almost every colonial building (the most affected was the Cathedral).
- Later in 1780 the city was once again shaken, but this time by a social-quake: the Tupaq Amaru II rebellion, he fought for the Peruvian emancipation but unfortunately was betrayed, defeated and then executed as well as his whole family and followers in the same Cusco’s Main Square.
INCA MUSEUM (MUSEO DEL INCA)
The Inca Museum sits in an old 17th century building called Casa del Almirante, the former home of Spanish Admiral Francisco Alderete Moldonado.
The Inca Museum houses a great collection of artifacts dating back to Inca and Pre-Inca times. You will appreciate from textiles to pottery to gold, metal pieces and mummies.
Most of the displays have information in Spanish and English. It is informative, interesting and allows the visitor a good insight into the Peruvian development process, from the pre-Inca cultures, Inca culture and the Spaniards invasion; so you will have a better idea how the Inca lived, worked the land and survived.
The museum has two floors: on the ground floor there are two rooms dedicated to exhibitions from pre-Inca cultures; here you will find information about Andean hunter gatherers, you’ll see ceramic pieces, ancient water holders, bowls, ceremonial items and ancient rock sculptures, etc. that date as far back as 5,000 BC.
On the second floor, there are numerous rooms which hold different artifacts; you will see techniques used by the Incas in building and construction. There are amazing pieces of Inca artwork like wood carvings, mirrors made from bronze, cups and bowls with decoration.
The most interesting displays are the skulls presented in glass cases, these skulls reveal an ancient Incan medical practice known as trepanning. The Mummies, the Incas would sacrifice children and adults to the gods, along with food and other possessions. There are about eight bodies to be seen including two children and an animal sacrifice.
Subsequently, the museum focuses on the invasion of the Spanish. The artwork, sculptures and the displays begin to illustrate change.
In the courtyard, highland Andean women weavers demonstrate their craft and sell traditional textiles directly to the public.
- The “Museo Inca” is located at one block northeast of Plaza de Armas (Calle del Almirante).
- Open from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (Monday through Friday) and 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturdays.
- Admission costs S/10.00 soles
SAN BLAS (artisan neighborhood)
The artisan neighborhood of San Blas is notable for its architecture and quaint shops. Just a short walk from the plaza (northeast), the terrain becomes steep on the way up to San Blas Plaza. There are many streets leading to San Blas, but we recommend following the ancient Inca street of Hatunrumiyoc (great stone street), where you will see the famous 12-angled stone, set into one of the best-surviving walls in Cusco.
This is definitely one of the most beautiful streets in Cusco, as you come to the end of the street; you will start to ascend the steps of Cuesta de San Blas where small boutique shops and galleries line the streets, making for more authentic gifts or souvenirs than the trinkets found in the Plaza de Armas.
The San Blas Plaza contains picturesque church, inside the church is one of the greatest jewels of colonial art in the continent: the Pulpit of Saint Blas which is filigree made in cedar wood by expert hands managing a gouge. This church was built in 1544 over the old Incan Temple dedicated to Illapa (god of thunder and lightning). It is the oldest parish church in Cusco.
San Blas is a perfect late-afternoon destination, with bars and restaurants, galleries and studios for relaxed visits into the evening.
If you decide to visit the San Blas Church:
- Admission cost to San Blas Church S/10:00 soles
- Open daily from 10:00 to 18:00hrs
SAN CRISTOBAL (viewpoint of Cusco city)
If you want to hike into the city and have a great view of Cusco, the Plaza de San Cristóbal is the best option.
San Cristobal neighborhood lies on a hillside to the north west of the Plaza de Armas, from this place you will have the most broadly view, the highest and the closest to the city center. There are seats out of stone where you can take a rest from the climbing uphill.
To get San Cristobal from the Plaza de Armas, you have to follow uphill the Calle Suecia and then Resbalosa until get the San Cristobal (almost 10 minutes hiking).
The San Cristobal Plaza is located over the Inca site of Qolqampata palace which belonged to Manco Capac (the first Inca), remnants of Inca buildings with the trapezoidal doors are still visible around the Plaza and church.
In the Plaza San Cristobal, you will visit the church which was built in the early years of the Spanish conquest, according to oral tradition, Cristobal Tupaq Yupanqui Paulla, indigenous lord of Qollqampata in the years after the Conquest, sponsored construction of the church to show his devotion to Christianity. The church has a wide terrace with views over the city where people like to hang out. Inside the church, you can see a statue of the patron saint San Cristobal, who is taken out every year as part of the Corpus Christi procession.
If you decide to visit the San Cristobal Church:
- Open daily from 10:00 to 18:00hrs
- Admission cost S/10.00 soles
SAN PEDRO MARKET (A world of smells and tastes):
The San Pedro Market is located about an eight minute walk south from Plaza de Armas, this market is truly a spectacle to behold, filled with towers of fruits and vegetables, piles of herbs, stacks of fresh flowers, every imaginable animal cut in the butcher section, wheels of cheese, barrels of nuts and dried fruits, textiles, tailors, incense, love potions, amulets, and juice stands where you will get your favorite juice from fresh ingredients. Beside, a whole section of food stalls serving breakfast and lunch.
So, if you want to be part of a local market experience, the San Pedro market is as authentic as Peru comes, and locals shop at this market every day in order to stock up on produce and groceries. It is the best option.
We recommend to visit this market in the morning; once you enter into it, all your senses come in to play, the array of colors (of fruits and vegetables), the smell of raw meats and spices, the sound of the local women fighting for your attention, will immerse you into a world of smells and tastes.
But is definitely well worth the visit. It can be a real buzz trying to get the right prices for things, haggling with the local vendors for food or souvenirs and just chatting with locals.
Try some local fruits such as lucuma, granadilla (passion fruit), chirimoya (custard apple), tuna (prickly pear).
If you decide to visit San Pedro market, from Plaza de Armas head south along Calle Manta, past Plazoleta Espinar. As you pass Plaza San Fancisco, an archway will appear in front of you (Santa Clara arch). Head under the arch and walk straight for a block more and San Pedro market will be on your left hand side.
- Open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm.
CENTRO ARTESANAL (ARTISANAL MARKET)
Centro Artesanal is the largest indoor market of handicrafts stalls in Cusco, and many goods are slightly cheaper than others closer to the plaza.
This is a great place to find souvenirs for friends and family back home. You can find a great range of items: alpaca-wool sweaters, shawls, gloves, hats, scarves, blankets, ponchos (in fact, there are so many cool and cheap cold-weather items here that many people end up replacing the things they’ve brought for the chilly nights); silver jewelry; antique blankets and textiles; woodcarvings, especially nicely carved picture frames; fine ceramics; and Escuela Cusqueña reproduction paintings.
Unlike the smaller markets at other tourist locations, the merchants here are very open to bargaining over price. This can be particularly effective when purchasing several items at the same time; considering that the item are made on site by local artists
The market is located on the corner of Avenida el Sol and Tullumayo, five blocks down from the Plaza de Armas (10 minutes walking).
- Open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm.
DARE TO TRY EXOTIC ANDEAN FOOD: GUINEA PIG OR CHICHARRON
Peruvian’s cooking is an invitation to discover flavors and fragrant smells which are as authentic as they are ancient.
The Andean Cuisine, heated in a firewood oven, earthenware of the highlands gathers odors and flavors linked to earth. Meats, tubers, grains and herbs are used in a great variety of simple but tasty dishes.
We invite you to dare to try these typical Andean dishes:
CUY (Guinea pig):
This is the most symbolically important dish of the Cusco region, prepared for important events. This indigenous mammal has been a staple in Peru’s Andean diet for around 5,000 years. The taste for guinea pig might even be catching on – you may be surprised to hear that 11 tons of cuy meat was exported last year, 90% of which went to the United States.
The cuy is oven roasted, spicy with wacatay (black mint), garlic, cumin, and salt.
It’s accompanied by choclo (corn on the cob), yellow potatoes, a simple salsa criolla and an ají huacatay sauce.
NOTE: Into the Cathedral there is a great canvas representing Jesus Christ and his apostles in the Last Supper painted by the Cusquenian artist Marcos Zapata. The painting has several peculiarities; the strangest of all of them is that the traditional representation of the Paschal Lamb is replaced by a roasted guinea pig.
One of the most delectable dishes is Chicharron (fried pork skins). This is made from fresh pork belly and a cut that doesn’t include much meat (the meat doesn´t really hold up well to the process, it’s the fat that counts here).
This skin is cut into smaller squares which are boiled and after those are fried until the skin is crispy
It´s accompanied by choclo (corn on the cob), fried potatoes in large strips and onion salad with peppermint.
To try these dishes, we recommend visiting the “quintas” which are typical restaurants where you will find traditional Andean dishes.
PLANETARIUM (Andean astronomy center)
For the Inca, astronomy played a huge role in day-to-day life, influencing planting and harvesting of crops, religious ceremonies and architecture. The Inca calendar was detailed and accurate, evident from the position of buildings to coincide with solstices.
So the Cusco planetarium which is a cultural interpretation center of the Incas astronomy offers a personalized experience that you can rarely find at other planetariums around the world; here visitors will learn about Inca astronomy and conduct star-gazing of their own.
You will have stunning views of the stars from Cusco’s high elevation and know better about the south hemisphere.
The planetarium is located at Llaullipata (Sacsayhuaman), at almost 15 minutes by car from the Plaza de Armas.
They offer private and shared services, for shared services the shuttle leaves the Plaza de Armas at about 5:40 p.m. and returns to the city around 7:30 p.m.
- Open daily from 6:00pm to 8:00pm.
MUSEO DEL PISCO:
After visiting Cusco and its more important archaeological and natural places, it is time to rest, enjoy and learn about the best cocktails based on pisco…it is time to visit the Museo del Pisco; it is not a museum recounting the history of Pisco in Peru, it’s one of the coolest bars in Cusco.
At this place, you have your choice of dozens of infusions, plus you can opt to do the Pisco tasting to get a better handle on what makes a good Pisco. Four Piscos (grape brandy) are delicately poured with their bottles on display. As you sniff, sip and taste each, the bartender gives you the run down on how each is made, where the grapes are from and what you should expect to taste.
Try to taste original cocktails like valicha (pisco with jungle fruit kion, spearmint and sour apple).
Also they offer Tapas, such as alpaca mini-burgers on sesame buns and tiradito (a Japanese-influence version of ceviche) marinated in cumin-chile, sate your hunger.
A must when in Cusco.
- Open daily from 11:00am to 1:00am
- Location: Calle Santa Catalina 398
Cusco doesn’t sleep, Cusco´s nightlife is one of the liveliest in the world.
With a vast abundance of nightclubs, restaurants, bars and lounges, Cusco comes alive at night with the sights, sounds and experiences of a most fascinating, vibrant metropolis.
The scene revolves mainly around the Plaza de Armas with most of the other nightlife easy to reach. Here you can party in the underground scene, dance the whole night long in the clubs, see live music, take salsa lessons, do a pub crawl, sip cocktails, meet other tourists.
The clubs have music ranging from electronic, salsa, reggeaton, 80’s and classics, hip hop and reggae as well as mainstream beats. When the clubs are full the table tops (and furniture) are famous for being used for dancing and the bartenders flipping bottles often join in too.
Cusco’s most popular club, Mama Africa, blasts electronic, hip-hop, and dance music; Ukukus, another favorite spot, includes live bands and local acts; Mushroom lounge & Bar; Paddy´s Irish Pub; London town; Rock house café; El Duende; Indigo, etc.
There are many places/activities to see and do in Cusco City, be part of it!