The Budget Travel Guide To Cusco

Why Visit Cusco?

Cusco is located in the Peruvian Andes and is famous for its role as the capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th to the mid 16th century. It's enormously popular with backpackers for many reasons - principally its location in the 'sacred valley' of Peru, which makes it a useful base for exploring Machu Picchu and other local Inca sites. The city itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features charming cobbled alleyways and attractive historic buildings at every turn.

As well as taking tours outside of the city to places like Machu Picchu, the Urubamba Valley and even the Peruvian Amazon, Cusco is chock-full of museums, galleries and other interesting places to visit. Explore its impressive colonial architecture and haggle for souvenirs at one of the many markets, and don't forget to enjoy a Pisco Sours - the national cocktail of Peru!

Population

As of 2015, the population of Cusco was 434,654

Languages Spoken

Most people speak either Spanish or Quechua, English is fairly widely understood

Currency

The currency is Peruvian Sol. 1 Sol = ~0.29 USD – ATMs dispense either Soles or US Dollars

Altitude/Elevation

At 3,400m above sea level many visitors experience some symptoms of altitude sickness so take care to acclimatise

Climate

Generally dry and temperate.
Dry Season: May-August
Wet Season: December-March

Safety

Typically known as a safe destination, although be careful of pickpockets & other tourist scams.

Places to Visit in Cusco

More Handicraft

San Pedro Market

San Pedro market is located a short walk south of the main square and is well worth a visit. Whether you’re looking for alpaca wool jumpers and traditional Peruvian souvenirs, or to sample some of the local delicacies, you’ll find what you’re looking for here. The market is open every day from 9am to 6pm and is undercover so can also be enjoyed on a rainy day.

Price Guide: £

Plaza des Armas

Plaza de Armas

Cusco’s main central square and always busy, this is a great place to relax and watch the world go by on a sunny day. Expect to see women in traditional Andean clothing wielding llamas – you can get your picture taken with them for a small amount, and be sure to visit the impressive cathedral and church of La Compania.

Chocolate Museum

Choco Museo

Situated two blocks from the main square, and with lovely balcony seats overlooking the Regocijo square, this museum is the perfect place to enjoy some locally produced chocolate goods. Whether you want to take one of the chocolate making workshops, or just enjoy the exhibits and spend time in the cafe, it’s great value for money. The hot chocolate is amazing!

Price Guide: ££

San Blas

San Blas

Head North from the Plaza de Armas up ancient inca streets and stone steps to the historic ‘San Blas’ area of the city. This is the artisan quarter, with cute cafes serving great food and lots of little art galleries and handicraft shops. You’ll also find the Iglesia San Blas church in the small central plaza – the oldest church in Cusco.

Inka Museum

Inka Museum

On the way to or from San Blas, be sure to stop at the Inka Museum – one of the museums that doesn’t require you to have the boleto turistico to enter. The collection is housed in an attractive colonial building, and the courtyard outside offers great views of the city. The museum itself contains Incan jewellery, pottery, textiles and even some ancient mummies.

Price Guide: ££

Coffee Museum

Museo Del Cafe

A personal favourite, this unassuming building is home to a really nice bar and restaurant as well as a small museum that explores the history of coffee in South America. As you’d expect, the coffee is fantastic and they also run workshops where you can learn more about coffee production.

Price Guide: £

Popular Tours Around Cusco

view-from-the-main-gate-2

Machu Picchu

By far the most popular tour in Peru, if not the whole of South America, Machu Picchu is a “must-see” for any visitor. There’s nothing as impressive as seeing this ancient city perched on the edge of mountains deep in the rainforest as the sun rises. You can take the historic train or enjoy one of the many trekking routes to this ancient city – the choice is yours!

Find out more

Price Guide: ~ $935

Moray, Maras & Salientes Tour

Moray, Maras & Salientes

The Moray, Maras & Salientes tour is typically run as a half day tour out of Cusco.  You’ll see the ancient agricultural centre of Moray – where crops where grown in a ring of concentric circles at different heights, producing different temperatures. Following this, head on to the salt mines and learn about the lives of those who work on the 3000+ small wells.

Price Guide: £

Turning up to the Lodge in the Amazon Rainforest

Amazon Rainforest

Journey into the Peruvian Amazon on a trip to Puerto Maldonado. With many different tours available, you can enjoy staying in an eco lodge whilst taking part in activities including nature walks, ziplining, kayaking and more. See incredible wildlife and experience a unique eco system.

Find Out More

Price Guide: ~ $575

Few romances can ever surpass that of the granite citadel on top of the beetling precipices of Machu Picchu, the crown of Inca Land. — Hiram Bingham
View of the rooftops of Cusco

Our Experience of Cusco

We thought that Cusco was one of the nicest cities in Peru. Especially the historic centre where the museums, cathedrals and markets tell a story as age-old as the Incans themselves.

Overall we spent just over 3 weeks travelling Peru, and the majority of that time was in Cusco as we used it as a base for many of the local tours as well as spending time exploring the city. We felt very safe, and enjoyed some great Peruvian food at some of the many restaurants in the town.  It’s very much a tourist destination but it’s managed to retain a lot of its charm, and the colonial architecture and many historic buildings throughout the city are seriously impressive.

Cusco is a fairly small city, and the main sites in the city itself can be seen in a couple of days, but it’s definitely worth taking the time to explore the rest of the ‘Sacred Valley’ more extensively – we wish we’d had time to visit Sacsahuaman and Vitcos as well as those destinations that we did get to see. Machu Picchu is one of our all time favourite places – so that’s our top ‘must do’ adventure if you’re travelling through Cusco.

Where to Eat in Cusco

Papachos

Location: Sta Catalina Angosta 115, Cusco, Peru

Papachos is a hipster style burger chain that’s located in a couple of cities in Peru. The Cusco branch is a great place if you’re looking to spend a bit more money and enjoy a gourmet burger. We had a delicious meal here and the cocktails were also really good.

Price Guide: ££

Paddy's Irish Bar

Location: Triunfo 124, Cusco, Peru

Just on the corner of Plaza de Armes, this is a typical Irish pub, serving hearty home made meals and reasonably priced drinks. It’s famous for being the highest Irish owned pub in the world, and is a great place to meet fellow travellers.

Price Guide: ££

San Pedro Market

Address: Cascaparo, Cusco, Peru.

The San Pedro market is behind the San Francisco cathedral. Through the archway and towards the smaller Church of San Pedro. There are lots of stalls selling fresh fruit, juices and smoothies, as well as outlets serving more substantial meals – traditional Peruvian food at low prices, this is where you’ll find the locals eating.

Price Guide: £

The Journey to Machu Picchu

There are a few ways to get to Machu Picchu but most prefer trekking for a few days. Going through the hardships of the old Inca people. We took the Salkantay Trail, it threads through mountain passes as high as 4,600m.

It takes 5 days to get there but some of the scenery you see along the way is phenomenal.

When you arrive at Machu Picchu you are a little sore, but not too bad after a day of rest in Aguas Calientes the day before. This means you should have recovered enough energy to take on Machu Picchu itself.

Relevant Reading

We found that our day at Machu Picchu was made all the more interesting after reading the book written by its founder Hiram Bingham. Whilst the subject matter sounds dry, it’s surprisingly readable and makes a big difference when you recognise what you’re seeing as you explore the ruins as they appear today.

We’d recommend buying before you arrive as it seems to be very expensive in local bookshops.

Available on Amazon: UK | US

Where to Stay in Cusco

Hotel Esplendor

We stayed here for 2 nights after our Salkantay Trek to treat ourselves. It was incredible. The buffet breakfast is amazing and the hot tub is also worth checking out.

Price Guide: £££

VIP House

We stayed in the VIP house hostel for much of our stay. It’s got a great central location, just 10 minutes walk from Plaza de Armas, and offers a daily ticket that’s valid either for breakfast or dinner. The rooms are comfortable and showers etc clean.

Price Guide: £

VIP House - The Garden

We stayed here also as we noticed it was slightly cheaper than the main VIP House Hostel and features a nice garden. Sadly we didn’t get the weather to enjoy it, but it would be nice on a sunny day with hammocks to relax in. It’s also clean and serves a great breakfast.

Price Guide: £

This article contains affiliates links to various partners. if you were to click onto one of these partners and purchase a service, we may be awarded a small commission.