We came to Cusco, Peru, for two reasons: One, we’ve heard great things about the colonial town set high up in the Peruvian Andes, and two, it’s the gateway to Machu Picchu.
Walking around Cusco’s historical center reminded me of our time in Europe. Its Spanish colonial architecture is elegantly stuck in time.
Once the capital of the great Inca Empire, Cusco’s pebbled streets have centuries of stories to tell.
What To Do (Within the City)
There are plenty of sights to see in and around the Cusco region. Since Guil and I were primarily here to visit Machu Picchu — a pretty expensive feat — we kept to the city itself.
Free Walking Tour
Our favorite way to get to know a city is by doing a free walking tour. It’s a fun, efficient and inexpensive way to get your bearings when you arrive somewhere unfamiliar.
We joined a 2-hour walking tour with “Free Walking Tour Cusco,” whose logo is Machu Picchu on a black background.
Our tour guide gave us a sweet Inca history lesson: We learned about their incredible engineering feats, their faith and their eventual downfall.
The city of Cusco was once the capital of the Inca Empire. The word “cusco” means navel, signifying that for the Incas, this Peruvian city was the navel of the world.
Our tour began with a tasting of freshly grilled alpaca meat and ended with a pisco sour lesson.
Plaza de Armas
The main square in the city is surrounded by Spanish colonial architecture and beautifully designed churches.
The vibrant plaza is probably the most touristic part of Cusco but it’s also the center of activity. Here you’ll find a number of restaurants, bars and tour agencies.
San Pedro Market
Cusco’s local market sells everything from patterned scarves to cafeteria-style meals.
It’s teeming with locals and tourists alike sipping fresh fruit juice and sampling Peruvian cuisine at the many “restaurant” tents within.
Guil and I picked up two mango juices to go, and they were absolutely delicious.
Take a stroll around Cusco’s bohemian neighborhood.
Stop at a quaint local bar for a drink. Appreciate the sweeping views as you’re walking up the steps that lead you deeper into this vertical community. Slide into a cafe if it starts raining.
Oh, and shop. Get lost in the colors of each artisanal boutique and pick up a few gifts for friends and family.
Where to Stay
Guil and I stayed in a cozy hostel about 15 minutes outside the city center called Hostal Cusi Wasi.
We usually focus on four things when choosing a place to stay: cleanliness, affordability, comfort and location.
Cusi Wasi hit all four.
The beautiful decor was an added bonus. If you’re looking for an Instagram-worthy spot, this is it.
Located within a large and airy colonial home, Hostal Cusi Wasi gave us everything we’d need to feel comfortable during our time in Cusco. The bed was warm, the shower hot and the breakfast delicious.
The outdoor (covered) courtyard is a hidden tropical oasis in the middle of a bustling city!
We loved laying out on the couches every afternoon sipping on Coca tea, which the staff provides to help with the high altitude. Breakfast was served in the courtyard every morning as well.
We arrived at 5 a.m. but luckily there seemed to be someone working the reception desk at all hours. Our private, double-room with private bathroom was not only clean when we arrived, but it was also cleaned daily. Yes, fresh towels and bed sheets!
We virtually had the place to ourselves due to it being low season, which made the stay that more enjoyable.
It was the ideal spot for us to relax in Cusco before making our way up to Machu Picchu. (Check their rates here.)
We received a complimentary stay at Hostal Cusi Wasi, but all opinions are our own.