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
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.
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.
THE PLAZA AREA
Walk a few blocks downhill to the Plaza de Armas and scope-out the churches and Cathedral of Santo Domingo.
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.
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 offers a spectacular view of Cusco.
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.
That 4:30 connection this morning! All those effing steps! The high altitude! That second Cusqueña beer! It’s time for a nap.
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.
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.
So that’s that: my recommendations for what to do in Cusco if you have only one day. What’d I miss?