Cusco quickly became the touristic city by excellence. This happened even before Machu Picchu got recognized as a World Wonder.
As the capital of the Inca empire, Cusco kept the charm that the Incas found here to make it their most important city and at the moment keeps on being one of the most beautiful cities in South America.
Cusco can amaze and wonder every kind of person due to the amount of activities that can be done based on the tourist likes, trekking, city touring, gastronomical touring, night live, Cusco has it all!
Of course Machu Picchu is the highlight when travelling to Cusco. Witnessing the World Wonder is on everybody’s bucket list.
No trip to Peru is complete without a tour to Machu Picchu, the majestic, ancient city of the Inca Empire. Learn all about the Inca’s rich history as you explore the hills of Cusco. Soak in the wonders of the Sacred Valley and meander through the multitude of historical sites, museums, ruins and markets. Let one of our local guides lead you along a historic trail as you savor the surrounding beauty and learn all about the area.
See the Heart of Peru with a Tour to Machu Picchu
Our comprehensive 7-day itinerary is perfect for all ages. First, you will be guided through the incredible city of Lima. Next, you will be taken to bustling Cusco and the Inca ruins that surround this amazing city. Finally, you will be able to roam the Sacred Valley and see Machu Picchu. Your trip is an adventure that many wait a lifetime to experience.
There are so many things to see and learn on your tour to Machu Picchu. However, if you do not have the right person to guide you, you may miss something! Our guides don’t want you to miss out on your chance to see anything when you are exploring the 7th Wonder of the World. Therefore, as you travel, do not be afraid to ask your dedicated tour guide any questions you may have. They will be delighted to shed some light on your experience.
Why Choose Alpaca Expeditions to Guide Your Tour to Machu Picchu?
Our friendly and helpful guides are local to the area and extremely knowledgeable about the rich history of the Inca Empire. Plus, the guides have a lot of experience leading tourists through Machu Picchu. These experts show their groups everything that this magnificent area has to offer. There’s a reason why we are the leading tour operator in Peru. Everyone on our team goes out of their way to ensure that your journey to Peru leaves lasting memories!
Take a tour to Machu Picchu and you will have an awe-inspiring experience. We want you to savor every minute and ensure that your trip is a remarkably enjoyable one. Contact us today to find out how we can arrange your tour to Machu Picchu, one of America’s oldest cities!
Alpaca Expeditions will operate the best treks and tours the city has to offer but also want to show you the things you can do in your spare time, the secrets that can make your Cusco visit the highlight of your whole vacation.
Things to Do in Cusco (Other Than Machu Picchu)
Mysterious and visually stunning, seeing the well-preserved Inca city of Machu Picchu is a trip of a lifetime. But a trip to this beautiful part of Peru shouldn’t only be about seeing Machu Picchu. Here are five things to do in Cusco other than to visit the famous Machu Picchu.
1. TAKE A TRAIN RIDE
Travelling by train is an amazing way to see Peru. The most convenient way to get to Aguas Calientes, the community at the foot of the mountain upon which Machu Picchu is perched, is to hop on a train. It’s an unforgettable experience—picture the fast-flowing Urubamba River with its green embankments, craggy peaks of the Andes mountains high above, and Inca ruins spotting the countryside. Opt for a late afternoon itinerary to catch the sunset and get an early start at Machu Picchu the next morning. Most trains leave/arrive at Ollantaytambo which is well worth a visit. Ollantaytambo is the starting point for the Inca Trail and has Inca ruins of its own. Insider Tip: Land a seat on the left hand side of the train to Aguas Calientes and on the right on the way back; you’ll get the best views from the train’s panoramic windows. And be sure to buy your ticket to Machu Picchu before you book your train trip as tickets to Machu Picchu are limited and can sell out.
Being let off a bus at the entrance can make you feel like you missed out on the adventure of hiking the Inca Trail. If you want to earn your visit to the Inca city but don’t have three days to spend on the trail, opt to hike Huaynapicchu, sometimes called Wayna Picchu, the sugarloaf mountain that towers above Machu Picchu. This arduous, vertiginous hike up a steep, narrow set of Inca-carved stairs takes between 2 and 3 hours roundtrip. Only 400 people are allowed up Huayna Picchu per day at two entrance times (7-8 am and 10-11 am) and admission must be purchased at the same time as your entrance ticket to Machu Picchu. Note: you must buy your Machu Picchu plus Huayna Picchu ticket at the same time, you cannot add on Huaynapicchu later. If you plan to hike Huaynapicchu, book tickets ahead of time. Aside from the impressive quad burn that says you’ve been there, done that, you’ll get an amazing new perspective on Machu Picchu from the various mirados (landings) along the trail.
Treat Huayna Picchu like any other day hike and bring water and snacks but don’t overburden your pack. Take it slow due to the altitude. Wear hiking boots, sunscreen, and a hat and dress in layers as mornings can be chilly but the afternoon sun is unrelenting and there is very little shade. Most importantly, don’t forget your camera.
Bring your passport with you to Machu Picchu—they’ll stamp your passport once you descend Huayna Picchu and one when you leave Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu mountain
also offers amazing views – the best view during beautiful weather. This hike is 1.5 hours to the top and higher than Huayna Picchu. This can be done anytime as long as you start before 11 AM and availability is typically not an issue.
If you have arranged with our office to have tickets, once your tour of the ruins are over, your guide will show you where to begin. This hike is typically done on your own (without the guide) unless you requested assistance. The permit for Huayna Picchu is $75 per person to hike unless you are doing one of our Inca Trail treks.
Unfortunately, if you are trekking the Inca Trail, no matter how long of a trek you chose, it will be $75 per person to climb Huayna Picchu. Why so much more for Inca Trail trekkers? When we purchase your permit for the Inca Trail, the permit includes entry to Machu Picchu. You don’t need a physical ticket into the Lost City of the Incas. But Huayna Picchu can only be purchased with an entrance ticket, forcing us to purchase an additional entry into the ruins to obtain this permit. This is something required by the Park office and not something done by Alpaca.
When choosing to purchase this extra hike, please remember that it is challenging, and quite steep. While the views are extraordinary, they are similar to the Sun Gate which is free to access. Also remember that we do not control the weather and if it’s cloudy, your view will be affected. But if you choose to do this hike, and the weather cooperates, you will have your Facebook profile photo for life – the views are incredible.
Please let us know if you have any further questions about Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu mountain or the Sun Gate.
3. VISIT AN INDIGENOUS COMMUNITY
Under an hour from Cusco, there are indigenous communities that preserve an ancient way of life few visitors are granted access to. Alpaca Expeditions actually visits one of these villages during the Lares tour and spends a lot of time with the children, helping them with providing school supplies and other treats. The additional income these communities receive via limited tourism allows them to continue to live in a traditional manner. Visiting them gives a lasting impression of a quickly disappearing way of life and really adds depth to any trip.
Insider Tip: Be sure to bring cash in small denominations of nuevo soles to purchase hand-woven dolls, textiles, bracelets, bags, and belts from the community of weavers.
Sample Local Food and Visit a Market For a slice of Peruvian life, head to any produce mercado (market)—there’s one in virtually every town. You’ll find only-in-Peru fruits, like aguaymanto (gooseberry), cherimoya (custard apple), and lucuma (eggfruit) to name a few. Quinoa, a grain that has made its way to North American shores and is touted as a superfood, comes in a variety of colors and is widely available here. Some local specialties to try: Ceviche, typically made with raw river trout bathed in lime juice, which “cooks” the fish, hot pepper, red onions, cilantro, and topped with choclo (corn) and sweet potato cubes.
Pachamanca, a traditional dish of marinated meat and potatoes cooked in a hole in the ground lined with hot rocks. The meat is first marinated in Andean herbs such as chincho, hierbabuena, and paico and is wrapped in banana leaves. You can’t leave Peru without trying a pisco sour, the national drink made with pisco brandy. There are many opportunities to learn how to make it (2 or 3 shots pisco, 1 shot lime juice, 1 shot simple syrup, 1 shot egg white, shaken with ice, dash of bitters) and discover pisco macerations, which include everything from local fruits like aguaymanto to coca leaves. Locals drink coca tea and chew coca leaves to cure soroche (altitude sickness) but the coca leaf is also held sacred and used in spiritual rites.
Attend a festival with colorful costumes, marching bands, religious processions, and fireworks—when Peru celebrates it’s a sight to see. Cusco’s Corpus Christi festival in June is a deeply religious affair with mass in the Plaza de Armas surrounded by fifteen statues of virgins and saints. The statues are brought from churches in nearby districts, which come to Cusco to be blessed. In the early afternoon, the beaded, brocaded, 15-foot statues are hoisted onto the shoulders of teams of men and promenaded around the plaza, genuflecting at various altars and ending at the Cathedral. It’s a day-long party where the whole city crams into the Plaza de Armas to watch the parade, eat, drink, and make merry. Other spectacular local festivals include Cusco’s Inti Raymi festival on June 24, which marks the winter solstice, the Fiestas Patrias, Peru’s Independence Day on July 28-29, and Ayacucho’s Semana Santa (Holy Week) Easter celebrations.
Insider Tip: Cusco’s Plaza de Armas has many restaurants and bars with a view of the action if you want to stay above the fray. Go early for the best views.
When to Go: High season is June through September. January is the height of the rainy season and the Inca Trail is closed in February. For near-ideal weather and manageable crowds, consider a spring or fall trip. But just in case you may wonder which celebrations occur in specific dates, we are going to let you know.
Calendar of Festivities in Cusco
One thing that Peruvians are really good at is celebrating! There are a dizzying number of festivities which combine the rituals of the predominantly Catholic population with colorful indigenous Pachamama-based festivals (Mother Earth), frequently interwoven throughout the symbology and celebrations and offer an absolute sensory symphony. Peruvians have roots which deeply connect them with their “Pachamama” (Mother Earth). So much of Peru is based on an agrarian culture, ensuring good harvests and fertility of their herds is of paramount importance. The majority of the celebrations are joyous in nature and strengthen social bonds and hope for the future.
Let’s start with one of the main ones which is ‘’All Saints day’’
There are very few holidays that are as widely celebrated around the world as Halloween. It is one of the world’s oldest holidays and definitely the most fun. But Halloween in Cusco is just the beginning of a three day celebration.
All Saints Day, which begins on November 1st, is spent celebrating the Living. Relatives and friends come together to feast and rejoice. Saints are remembered and thanked for the contributions they have made. November 2nd begins All Souls Day focusing on the faithful departed where people spend time praying for their loved ones they lost.
These are celebratory days with lots of parades full of color. Since the focus is on remembering the dead as they were when living, Peruvian graves are a live “scrapbook” of the deceased. Often, the grave will be gifted with the favorite food or drink of the deceased–it’s not uncommon to spot a beer, a soda or even a bottle of pisco inside the framed glass enclosures that mark an individual’s grave in Peru. These glass enclosures are a window into the life of the deceased. Even as a stranger from another country, you can get the sense of how someone lived, what they liked and who they were from the meaningful display in front of their grave.
You may see some interesting looking bread for sale during these days called TantaWawas. They are often shaped like a baby including a small plastic face and they are also commonly left at gravesites and also enjoyed during our feasts.
You can pick some TantaWawas up yourself at San Pedro market. They are a great snack and really special during these days.
Enjoy these days if you happen to be visiting us. It’s really special to participate in another culture when days like these, celebrations, are occurring.
Aside from “Saint’s Days” which happen daily all over Peru, announced by the blasting of firecrackers in the early hours of the morning and frequently by parading a statue of the Patron Saint of the Day through the streets often followed by a brass band, there are many other festivals and holidays to navigate. It is estimated that there are as many as 3,000 folk festivals throughout the year in various parts of Peru, hundreds of which are celebrated in Cusco. So many opportunities to feast and dance based on the date you will visit the city!
Here are a few of the more popular ones based in Cusco:
CARNIVAL – Variable days in February – starts 40 days before Easter Sunday
One of the largest festivals in South America, made famous by the parades in Rio, Carnival is celebrated a bit differently in Peru. The biggest show is in Puno (an 8-hour bus ride south of Cusco) with dazzling costume competitions and parades honoring The Virgin of Candelaria, where they play music and dance in the streets until they quite literally drop! In Cusco, Carnival is celebrated more with water. If you are in the plazas, expect to get drenched with water blasters and balloons, and sprayed with silly string and foam. No one is immune, but if you are armed with any of the afore-mentioned items, you are considered fair game! Join in the fun – and bring a change of clothes!
SEMANA SANTA (Holy Week/Easter Week) all of Peru but most notably in Cusco and Ayacucho
This is the week before Easter, and in Cusco starts on Monday with “Señor de los Temblores” or Lord of the Earthquakes – also known in Cusco as The Black Christ. In 1650 there was a terrible earthquake in Cusco with much damage and many aftershocks. Particularly interesting is this holiday’s fusion of Catholic and Inca beliefs. The Black Christ is housed inside of the Cusco Cathedral, built upon the ancient Inca foundations of the Wiracocha Temple (Wiracocha is the Inca Creator God). In 1650 the Black Christ statue was carried in procession through the streets, just as the Incas used to parade the mummies of their Incas and high priests before the Spanish outlawed this custom, and miraculously the earthquakes stopped. So many candles were burnt beneath the statue in gratitude that it is now permanently blackened. Today The Lord of the Earthquakes is still paraded through the streets while the onlookers throw bright red ñucchu flowers (salvia esplendes), as they did in ancient times as an offering to their Pre-Colombian god, Wiracocha, now symbolizing the blood of Christ. The Main Plaza in Cusco is jam-packed with people during Monday evening with barely room to move! Peruvians love to celebrate!
In many cultures traditional fasting as a ritual. In their truly festive style, the Peruvian people FEAST instead of fast! Holy Friday is actually the most celebrated day in Semana Santa, much more than Easter Sunday. Most businesses are closed and the Peruvians are all at home with their families feasting upon their Doce Platos – 12 special traditional dishes (excluding red meats) representing the Twelve Apostles!
Q’OYLLURIT’I – The Snow Star Festival – coincides with the full moon at the end of May/beginning of June
The ancient Inca used the Southern Cross constellation, visible in the Southern Hemisphere, as a guide as to when to sow and reap their crops. In April, this constellation disappears under the horizon, and to the Inca this symbolized a time of chaos. With the full moon in May/June, the Southern Cross constellation reappears on the horizon and the Q’oyllu Rit’i festival was originally in honor of this, bringing order again to their world. However, in 1780 a miraculous image of Christ appeared on a huge rock in the Sinakara Valley (15-16,000 feet above sea level) where the festival is held. The rock has since been embellished and had a church built around it. Christ is now considered by many to be the “Lord of Q’oyllurit’i”, and this celebration is considered to be the largest pilgrimage of indigenous nations in the Americas, with tens of thousands of people (many estimate 70,000) making the pilgrimage during the 4 days that it takes place 8 kilometers outside of the town of Mawayani, at the foot of Ausangate Mountain (21,000 feet elevation). There is a fascinating ritual held by “ukukus” – the Quechua word for “bear”. He is a mythological creature deemed to be fathered by a bear and mothered by a human. The people who want to become Ukukus must climb the High Andes mountain to the glacier and survive the night to earn the right to be an Ukuku. They then wear special costumes and masks and are the policing body of this festival, using whips to call into line anyone who is seen to be acting in a disrespectful manner. Historically they cut blocks of ice from the glacier to bring back to Cusco, which when melted was used as holy water. There are virtually no facilities in this valley, so it is a camping event. There is non-stop dancing, music and firecrackers for the 4 days that this takes place – bring earplugs if you intend to sleep!
CORPUS CHRISTI – Body of Christ – 60 days after Easter Sunday
This festival has been celebrated all over Peru since Colonial times, but reaches its peak in Cusco. It takes place 60 days after Easter Sunday. The ornately dressed statues of 15 saints and virgins are all brought from their respective churches in Cusco and paraded around the Main Plaza. They enter the Cathedral one by one to spend the night in the Cathedral to greet the Body of Christ, embodied in the Sacred Host which is housed in an enormous gold goblet. The processions and the excitement and fervor of the citizens are an amazing show.
INTI RAYMI – The Celebration of the Winter Solstice – June 24th
Inti Raymi is the second largest festival in South America (after Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). It is the celebration of the winter days starting to become longer – the solar new year. In Cusco the celebrations begin on June 1st (no kidding – they celebrate ALL MONTH) with various dances in the plazas, art festivals and an endless list of performances and events. This is considered to be the most important expression of folklore in Cusco. The Spanish outlawed this celebration due to its “pagan” identifications and it was lost for 100s of years. In 1944 a group of scholars and artists in Cusco got together and it was decided to reintroduce it based on the historical record. The peak of this week’s-long festival starts at 8AM on June 24th at the Q’oricancha, The Temple of the Sun (now a Dominican church – Iglesia de Santo Domingo). Hundreds and hundreds of people have roles in this theatrical performance on the green front lawn of what was the Temple of the Sun, which was sheathed in gold when the Spanish arrived into Cusco in 1532. They are all making various offerings of chichi (corn beer), potatoes, corn and flowers. Everyone in the Four Quarters of the Inca Empire, known as the Tawantinsuyu, is represented – from the Inca military to the jungle dancers. They make their way up Avenida El Sol around noon with a spectacular entry into the Main Plaza of Cusco. Actors representing the Inca (King) and Qoya (Queen) are carried on litters above the crowd who throw flower petals as they pass by in procession around the Plaza. The entire procession then ascends the steep mountain streets to Saqsaywaman, the famous Incan ruin overlooking Cusco for the final chapter of this most spectacular affair.
PACHAMAMA RAYMI / MOTHER EARTH DAY – August 1st
This is an Andean ritual which pays tribute to Mother Earth in honor of all she gives us. A key concept in the Andean culture is that of “ayni” or sacred reciprocity. This is a day set aside to symbolically give something back to Mother Earth. A beautiful mandala is created using many items from nature – seeds, coca leaves, dried fruits, flowers, rice, incenses, sweets and many other items. It is infused with the love that the people of Peru have, who are so closely connected to their Pachamama and it is offered to the spirits of the Andes Mountains and Mother Earth. This also marks the beginning of the Andean New Year. During the first 12 days of August is a period called “Las Cabañuelas”, brought over by the Spanish, where the weather is watched closely and a prediction is made for the weather for the upcoming year, to help the agricultural communities decide when to plant.
HALLOWEEN IN CUSCO AND CREOLE SONG DAY(OCTOBER 31ST)
As mentioned above, All Saints day is a huge deal in Latin America and Cusco of course but due to the number of tourists and people from all over the World. The popular celebration of Halloween quickly became a festivity to wait for combined with the creole song day which is more celebrated in the coast side of Peru but also a celebration in Cusco.
You will see a large number of kids running through the street in beautiful and cute costumes asking for candies.
The meeting point is always the main square, during the night you will be joining a whole crowd of people, locals and foreigners with costumes ready to have a blast.
Once midnight is coming, all the kids are back home enjoying the products of their quests and the grown-ups are ready to continue the celebration in the clubs located at the center. All of the clubs offer theme parties and all of them are a good option to enjoy the end of the month and also the celebration!
SANTURANTICUY – December 24th
This festival dates back to the Spanish Colonial period and is one of the largest handicrafts fairs in Peru. It takes place in the Main Plaza in Cusco and offers various religious images which are all handcrafted by local artisans, many things that are never seen anywhere else, or at any other time of the year. It is the custom of many Cusqueñans (people from Cusco) to have a nativity scene in their home during Christmas. December 24th, known as Noche Buena, is the big day in Peru, more than Christmas Day itself. On the 24th at midnight, a small figurine of Jesus is placed in the manger, and everyone goes to bed happy that Jesus has arrived! During Santuranticuy the campesinos, or country folk, come in from all over the region, selling various native plants, mosses and flowers to decorate the manger scenes. They have no place to stay in town, so they camp out in the Main Plaza and it is the custom of the city folk to bring them hot chocolate and snacks to tide them through the night, and you’ll see them standing in long lines waiting for a cocoa!
NEW YEARS EVE – Dec 31st
In the Main Plaza of Cusco New Year’s Eve is celebrated with festivities and bands playing! One thing that tourists notice with some amusement is that there is yellow underwear being sold on every street corner. The yellow represents gold and prosperity and you will even see people wearing their yellow underwear on top of their clothes to pronounce to the world that they are calling in abundance! There is absolutely no doubt when midnight hits as fireworks fill the sky! Everyone turns up in the Main Plaza with their own fireworks and they are going off in every direction! If you are lucky enough to be above the city on one of the mountainsides, looking down – it is a sight to behold! If you are in the Plaza itself – do be careful, as there doesn’t appear to be any supervision whatsoever! The bars and discos are open all night and you can party and dance until dawn!
As you may already have found out, Cusco owns a very vast night live, up to every kind of taste and mostly located at the center of the city surrounding the main square.
A Glimpse of Cusco at Night
Around Cusco there are a lot of great bars that offer a varied nightlife – especially for tourists. However tucked in between these more popular bars there are some true hidden gems. Meeting places for the locals and expats living here and offering a type of entertainment that you won’t find anywhere else.
One of these treasures is called Ukukus. Only about 100meters from the plaza de Armas this bar/club is reached through an unassuming little doorway on calle plateros (the north-west offshoot of plaza de Armas)
You won’t find the normal glitz and glamour of the upscale bars and hotels that seem to cater exclusively to the tourists in Cusco. Here you will find hand painted walls, an eclectic mix of locals and long term travelers and a very intimate vibe. Don’t expect any house/electro or typical Peruvian music that they seem to play everywhere to impress the tourists. The bands here play all kinds of music, though you will see a lot of Rock/alternative fused with Andean rhythms. An amazing sound you won’t find anywhere else. They offer a program most nights of the week featuring art shows, culture shows and of course all kinds of amazing live music. They have a program on their Facebook page – just search for Ukukus Bar.
They refer to themselves as a culture laboratory and that is certainly the feeling you get when you walk in for the first time – the culture seems so different and – dare I say it- alternative that it does feel like an experiment gone right.
This is a perfect place to get to know some of the locals and people from all around South America. The vibe is friendly and very open and everyone seems keen to talk – although a lot of people there may not speak English so a small amount of Spanish would go a long way.
If you want to avoid the throngs of tourists mingling in generic bars, enjoy all kinds of different live music and appreciate a relatively cheap beer (around 10-15 soles although they do have a happy hour) then this is the place for you. Be prepared to dance!
If you prefer places where you can bump into other tourists and will most likely be able to talk in English then here is a list of some fantastic places to visit
Paddy’s Irish Pub – Of course there is one in every town and this is no different. A stylish and traditional Irish Pub, a popular spot for English speaking people this Pub reportedly sells the world’s highest Guinness – unfortunately not on tap. Have a pint here and enjoy the simple but delicious bar food. Also usually shows sports on the TV’s (football and rugby) so come here for important games (located right on the plaza de Armas)
Beer Prices –$5-7 for a pint so a little on the expensive side
Nortons – A self-styled biker bar this is a popular spot with the tourists and has a great vibe. Enjoy one of many local craft beers on the balcony overlooking the Plaza de Armas. Nortons also has an excellent and delicious menu at quite reasonable prices (around 15 soles/5$ for a main course meal). This place will also show all important games though only in football. (located on Plaza de Armas)
Beer Prices – a little cheaper than Paddy’s. Craft Beer will be around $5 a pint and very tasty
Mushrooms and Mama Africa – more of a lounge than a bar, here you will always find a DJ playing a mix of electronic and Hip-hop music. A great place to chill, play some billiard and enjoy some delicious Pisco Sours. (Located on Plaza de Armas)
Prices- Around $8 for a Pisco Sour though they are two for one during happy hour
Faces of Cusco – probably the most chilled out place of all of these. A gathering spot for mostly American expats, here you can watch American football, chill with a local craft beer and have some delicious food. During the day Faces also offer all kinds of activities such as a tour of the local San Pedro market, dancing lessons, cocktail workshops and many more. Thursday night there is live music from local artists. (Also located right on Plaza de Armas)
Prices: Around $3-5 for a beer. Food will be around $10 for a main course but offers the best food on this list.
Eat Like a Local, Street Food in Cusco
Street Food in Cusco
So you’re in a foreign country, everything looks and sounds and smells strange, nothing more so that the food. Fruit reminds you of the fruit back home but there is always some important difference: the colour is wrong, it’s too big or the wrong shape or smells funny. The good news however is that locals have been eating these things for a long time and most of them look almost alive and healthy. So we can assume the food here is safe and perhaps even delicious. Well let me try and convince you that with an open mind and empty stomach Cusco can be exceptionally rewarding. So I have compiled a sample menu that will rival any fancy French restaurant, except here you won’t find any snooty waiters floating around the place and you probably won’t be served swan lightly fried in unicorn tears and served on a bed of moonrock. Also the whole thing will cost you less than $10 and you will get to see and experience a handsome chunk of Cusco.
Where to start? Well you will want a hearty meal to start out with. San Pedro is the place to go for this. A bustling hive of vendors that sell fabrics and trinkets and most importantly food. Food of every sort is found here. Hidden away at the back of the market there is a large space where dozens of tiny food stalls, with a small rickety bench in front of them, serve food of all description. Most of these places will have set menus and for around 4 – 6 Soles you can get a starter (usually soup) and a choice of mains. Served with a little fruit juice. This is the authentic experience. You will sit next to the local workforce, enveloped by the steam and the sumptuous smells from hundreds of bubbling pots. This experience will make you feel like a local. Everything is made fresh and personally this is the one place where I have never gotten sick.
Now that your stomach has stopped rumbling you will want dessert. Remember you are on holiday so don’t count those calories. As such I have collected several post-meal options here because let’s face it: that is all we really wanted anyway. But before we become too unhealthy let us make a quick and nutritious stop. Fruit juices!
At the opposite end of San Pedro a horde of waving ladies wait patiently behind unstable looking mountains of fruit and vegetables. Ready to shred and blend any combinations of fruit possible. They will assist you in picking out delicious combinations. So far the following combinations have proven to be the best: banana, mango, strawberry as a milkshake with honey (this is the rich, creamy sweet option) if you want something else (although I don’t know why you would) then a combinations of strawberry, apple and orange or a combinations of banana, mango and papaya will give you slightly fruitier tastes. Juices are approx. 6-8 Soles.
Now we have assuaged our inner Nutritionist it is time to move onto something more unhealthy. Take a stroll behind the San Pedro market. There you will find a street with an army of vendors shouting and crying, their wares displayed at their feet. Among this beehive of activities and noises you will find one or perhaps several Picarones stands. This is what we have all been waiting for. Sweet dough made from sweet potatoes then quickly deep fried and covered in honey. Go on you’ve earned it. This deliciousness is made fresh in front of your eyes and the smell alone will remain with you for a long time. Around 2-4 Soles.
Now you are probably almost full, your stomach may be hurting since you left self-control behind at San Pedro. Well then the answer is to stop off at an Emolientes stand. These pop up around evening time and you want to walk long to find them. A small cart containing a big pot of hot water and about half a dozen bottles, each filled with a different coloured liquid. This cart looks more like a mobile improvised chemistry lab. Don’t shy away! These are all herbal infusions which are mixed, all together, with hot water and a bit of gelatin. This creates a very thick and herby concoction which will act as an internal heating system for you as well as aid with digestion. This is the least you can do for your poor stomach. Usually around 1 or 2 Soles.
Well there you have it. My menu. Hopefully you are feeling as hungry as I am, luckily this is exactly what I will eat tonight, you will have to make the journey over here too in order to enjoy these culinary treats.
Nuper quisque evolvit praebebat turba hunc viseret foret vultus.
10 Foods to Try While in Peru
Now, not everything can be enjoyed on the streets, there are some dishes that need to be found at restaurants. You can decide if you want to try a local one or even one of the local markets or going to a fancy restaurant located at the city center. There’s everything for every kind of taste.
In recent years, Peru’s eclectic cuisine has earned acknowledgement as one of the world’s finest. But while quinoa and pisco sour cocktails have migrated to become favorites around the world, the best Peruvian specialties are still found in their home country. Here are ten to try en route to Machu Picchu.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it. This staple meat raised in many households of the Andes goes by a different name in the United States: guinea pig. (One indication of how important the dish is to the rural Peruvian diet: In a cathedral in Cusco hangs a replica of Da Vinci’s Last Supper, in which Christ and the 12 disciples are seated around a platter of cuy.) The meat, which is quite bony, is usually baked or barbecued on a spit and served whole—often with the head on. It has a pleasant, gamey taste like that of rabbit or wildfowl.
A visitor to any market in Peru is certain to find two things—hundreds of varieties of potatoes, which may have originated here (Peru’s longtime rival Chile also claims tuber originality), and piles of avocados large enough to toboggan down. A traditional causa layers these two ingredients into a sort of casserole, which is sliced and served cold. Other layers might contain tuna, meat, or hard-boiled egg.
A hundred years before anyone had heard of Asian fusion cuisine, boatloads of Chinese immigrants arrived in Peru looking for work. The ingredients and techniques they added to Peru’s food vocabulary are probably best exemplified by this hearty hybrid stir-fry, in which beef, tomatoes, peppers, and onions are blended in a pan with soy sauce and fried potatoes. Not a dish for the carb-phobic; it’s usually served over white rice.
Aji de Gallina
The yellow aji pepper lends its color—a hue similar to Tweety Bird’s—as well as its mild kick to several Peruvian dishes. Among them is this rich, velvety stew made with chicken and condensed milk and thickened with de-crusted white bread. A vegetarian alternative with a similar flavor is the ubiquitous papa a la huancaina, boiled potato with creamy yellow sauce.
These skewers of grilled, marinated meat (much like shish kebabs) are served everywhere in Peru. High-end restaurants offer them as entradas, or appetizers. Street-cart vendors sell them slathered in a garlicky sauce. While almost any meat can be prepared this way, the most traditional—and best—anticuchos are made with beef heart, a practice believed to trace back to the days when Peru’s Spanish conquerors would consume a cow’s choicest cuts and leave the organs for their slaves.
The icy Humboldt Current that flows through the Pacific Ocean just off Peru’s coast supports one of the world’s untitled most bountiful sources of seafood. If Peru had an official national dish, it would probably be this preparation of raw fish marinated in citrus juice. The acid in the fruit “cooks” the fish, giving it a delicate flavor and slightly chewy consistency. The dish is usually spiced with red onion and aji pepper, and served (typically at lunch) with sweet potato or choclo, a white Andean corn with dime-size kernels. Bold gastronomes can drink the leftover citrus marinade, which is known as leche de tigre, tiger’s milk.
This dish is typically associated with Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city, but it is served everywhere. What appears to be a plain-old red bell pepper is actually a fiery Capsicum pubescens (at least ten times as hot as a jalapeño when raw, but boiled to reduce its thermonuclear properties), stuffed with spiced, sautéed ground beef and hard-boiled egg. This is topped with melted white cheese, baked, and served whole.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the name alpaca refers to expensive wool used to make sweaters and socks. In the Andean highlands, this camelid (a smaller cousin of the llama) has also been a source of meat for centuries. The taste is similar to buffalo or other grass-fed meats: somewhat gamier than beef and very lean. Alpaca’s lack of greasiness makes for excellent jerky, which coincidentally is another ancient Peruvian culinary innovation. (The name comes from the Quechua word charqui, meaning “to burn.”)
While Peru’s cuisine is most famous for its spicy and savory dishes, Peruvians adore sweets, too—as evidenced by the popularity of Inca Kola, a teeth-melting bubblegum-flavored soda. Lucuma is a tree fruit that looks like a mango, but it has a custardy taste akin to maple syrup. It’s usually used as a flavoring in desserts, and is justifiably popular as a variety of ice cream.
Pollo a la Brasa
This Peruvian-style roast chicken is so delicious—and popular—that it’s now available in cities around the globe. The secret is marinating the bird in soy sauce flavored with red peppers, garlic, and cumin, which gives the meat and skin a smoky, salty taste. Outside Peru it’s typically paired with French fries, but the more traditional accompaniment is fried yuca, a waxy tuber that has a pleasant chewiness and holds its own against the spicy dipping sauces with which pollo a la brasa is typically served.
Things to do on your own
Cusco is filled with natural and cultural beauty that you can discover while wandering around the city. Most of these places don’t require to be done with an agency or guide, just basic knowledge of what you are seeing.
Here some examples:
San Blas neighborhood
Located in the center of the city, is the oldest neighborhood in Cusco. To get there you need to climb up the uphill called Cuesta San Blas and you will have the whole area to wander and enjoy. This neighborhood is full of restaurants, cafes and bars with amazing views of the streets or the city. You can visit the temple and also take some pictures next to the fountain at the main square.
Saint Peter Market (Mercado San Pedro)
This traditional market combines the whole experience of touring and also being a local. San Pedro market is to date a functional market where local people go and do their shopping. A part of this maret became very touristic so you can find souvenirs, fresh made fruit juice and also some local food. We advise to visit this market during day hours since it can get a bit unsafe once it’s dark.
The 12 angle stone
Located in Hatunrumiyoc street. This is a must when you get to Cusco and are walking around the center. The 12 angle stone as its name commands it, it’s a carved stone located at the middle of an Inca wall and due to the work made it has 12 angles showing the ability the Incas had to work the stone in their constructions. There is no fee to get to see this but you need to pay attention to the rules the authorities will give to you when passing through this street.
Plaza de Armas
Or main square, this is the most known place of the whole city and the point of reference to get to any place you want to get in the center. It’s the biggest square of the whole city and also holds 3 different churches being one of them the Cathedral. Around the square are restaurants, cafes, ATM’s and you can take a seat while relaxing and watching the fountain. You can find people from all over the world, making this the only thing not that appealing, that gets to be too crowded.