WHAT TO DO IN CUSCO (IN A DAY)

You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go… – Dr. Seuss

My time here is Cusco was short. It’s a charming town, and I wouldn’t mind staying longer, but I have too much to see in Peru and only a week.

I did my homework, and spent a wonderful day here in Cusco. If you have only limited time, my suggestions for what to do in Cusco follow.

WHAT TO DO IN CUSCO

ARRIVAL

Book a CMV Remisse Taxi through your hotel. It costs a little more than simply winging it at the airport, but a few bucks is not a lot to pay for a decent vehicle and the assurance of safety. Don’t be fooled by your first impression of Cusco driving through the less-than-scenic main city: it improves dramatically as you approach the historical center.

If you collect Marriott Rewards points, staying at the JW Marriott is a no-brainer. The hotel is new, stylish and ideally located in the San Blas neighborhood, close to nice shops, galleries, restaurants and the city’s main square, the Plaza de Armas.

JW Marriott Cusco Peru

Alternatively, if money is no object, you could stay just a few blocks away at the very swanky Hotel Monasterio. A former monastery surrounding a grand courtyard, the vibe here is dark, sexy and mysterious (just like I like my men). The occasional piped-in Gregorian chants echoing through the halls and eery paintings of devils and demon creates a sort of Poesque atmosphere. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a rival skeleton or two slumping deep within these old, concrete walls, observing us with envy and cursing Montresor.

Fallen Angel Cusco Peru

THE PLAZA AREA

Walk a few blocks downhill to the Plaza de Armas and scope-out the churches and Cathedral of Santo Domingo.

Cusco Cathedral Peru

The tourism office iPeru is located in the BCP bank building on the plaza, should you have any questions about navigating and exploring the country.

If you’re a foodie, curious about other cultures or just harbor a healthy morbid fascination (yes, yes and yes in my case), continue in the same direction, walking an additional 10 minutes to the San Pedro Market for all sorts of weird and wonderful things.

San Pedro Market Cusco Peru

SAN BLAS

Now reverse your steps. If you’re looking for decent, more traditional food with a view of the plaza, eat lunch at Inka Grill. For a good, dependable meal head back uphill to Jack’s Cafe (it’s on the way to your next stop), a local favorite judging by the line outside the door. Breakfast is served here all day.

Now walk through San Blas, stopping here and there to do a little shopping (or, if you’re like me, to ostensibly do a little shopping but actually pausing to catch your damn breath.) Unlike most touristy towns, the majority of stores here don’t sell touristy crap: the alpaca clothing and jewelry are something a semi-fashion-minded person would actually wear upon returning home after the vacation high recedes.

And, of course, don’t forget to stop into one of the many shaman shops for all your shaman needs.

SACSAYHUAMAN ARCHEOLOGICAL PARK

I despise steps as much as you (if not more), and they’re especially no picnic at 11,000 feet, but reaching the Sacsayhuaman is worth the pain. If you opt instead for a taxi, iPeru recommends Llama Taxi (222000) and Alo Cusco (222222). And they say coming here alone is safe as long as you avoid early morning or night. There’s an admission fee, and if you’re continuing on to the ruins of the Sacred Valley later, buy the pricier Boleto Turistico ($55) now.

I don’t feel as though I’m suffering from altitude sickness 95% of the time. Between the diamox and ibuprofen I took prophylactically, I feel completely normal and healthy going about my daily activities despite the elevation. Only when I attempt to climb stairs do I suffer the effects of the altitude: I am winded and feel as though I’m pushing through water.

Sacsayhuaman in Cusco Peru

Sacsayhuaman offers a spectacular view of Cusco.

View of Cusco from Sacsayhuaman

PLAZA DE ARMAS

Time to reward yourself for climing all those damn steps! Back at the Plaza de Armas, head to Norton Rat’s Tavern on the corner (sorry, you’re in for a few more stairs to get to the second floor), grab a cold Cusqueña beer (it’s not bad stuff) and plop yourself down on the balcony for some people-watching, which is pretty interesting as some Peruvians still wear traditional dress.

Traditional Peruvian Dress

That 4:30 connection this morning! All those effing steps! The high altitude! That second Cusqueña beer! It’s time for a nap.

SAN BLAS

When you awake from your mini-coma and feel like yourself again, walk a few blocks to Cicciolina  (on the second floor of an old colonial house located midway between the JW Marriott and the Hotel Monasterio) because it is The. Place. to go for either a enjoying a formal dinner or just noshing on tapas and sipping Chilean sauvignon blanc at the bar.

Cicciolina Restaurant Cusco Peru

And my final recommendation for what to do in Cusco… Top off your evening at Fallen Angel, just across the street from the Hotel Monastero, for a pisco sour (why stop at just beer and wine?) and some trippy decor.

Fallen Angel Cusco Peru

So that’s that: my recommendations for what to do in Cusco if you have only one day. What’d I miss?

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2 Responses to WHAT TO DO IN CUSCO (IN A DAY)

  1. Cassie 06/23/2013 at #

    Thanks for using our post to recommend Cusco’s San Pedro market. It’s my favorite public market in the world, actually! So many interesting things to see.

    We were in Cusco for two and a half days and we did less that you did in your one day! We didn’t do anything our first day because we spent most of the day sleeping off our altitude fatigue (but we were fine the second day). I wish I’d had the chance to get up to Sacsayhuaman. Excited to read more about your travels in Peru!

    • Esme 06/23/2013 at #

      Thank Cassie. I arrived in Cusco in really good shape (I started in Miami, so it was a pretty easy trip) and the altitude only bothered me when I encountered steps. Loved you blog post on the San Pedro market — realized I missed some things (good and not-so-good).

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