Food, people, places and llamas, that’s how we remember Cusco. One of our favourite cities in the world. Since visiting Peru ten years ago, it has been our dream to go back. When cheap airfares come up it’s too tempting not to snap them up. Our trip starts in Cusco spending a couple of days acclimatising to the altitude before the Lares trek and then catch the train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu before heading to the jungle.

Local lady in Cusco with her llama
Local lady in Cusco with her llama

Cusco

We arrive in Cusco and feel the effects of the high altitude in the way of slight breathlessness when walking uphill. Drinking lots of coca tea helps us to feel better. Cusco is elevated at 3400 metres and our highest pass on Lares trek is 4680 metres so there’s a way to go!

Friendly locals in Cusco
Friendly locals in Cusco

We’re crazy about this captivating and enchanting city which was once the capital of the Inca Empire. We love the narrow-cobbled streets, the historical Incan colonial buildings, the vibrance and burst of colour when locals from the villages visit, adorable llamas, elaborate churches and the quaint local restaurants.

The charming and captivating streets of Cusco
The charming and captivating streets of Cusco

In the heart of Cusco, Plaza de Armas, tourists, touts and locals all blend in together with the crowds. On one side of the square stands the cathedral and on the other the baroque church. When the Spanish invaded Cusco in the 16th century they preserved most of the design but built churches and cathedrals over the ruins of the Inca city.

The view of the main square from San Cristobal Church at night
The view of the main square from San Cristobal Church at night

At night, we go up to San Cristobal Church and view the city from here which looks like a fairy-tale. It’s a steep walk and getting a taxi is a good idea, especially if still getting used to the altitude. The taxi is about 12 soles to take us there, wait for us and take us back to Plaza de Armas.

San Pedro markets in Cusco
Locals at San Pedro markets

At the local Cusco markets in San Pedro, we sample fresh strawberry, pineapple, banana and papaya fruit juices. Stalls of fresh ripe fruit, vegetables, chocolate, herbs, spices and picarones – Peruvian doughnuts made from pumpkin and sweet potato line the stalls in the open-air market. The market is about a 10-minute walk from Plaza de Armas.

"<yoastmark

The Food

We love our food and Cusco doesn’t disappoint with vegetarian options. One of the best parts of our time here is eating the food! Though Peruvian dishes are mainly based on meat there are traditional vegetarian dishes. Between these and the Western style vegetarian there is plenty of variety, especially in Cusco.

Vegetarian pizza at La Bodega in Cusco
Vegetarian pizza at La Bodega

Our Favourite Restaurants

LA BODEGA

A gorgeous local pizzeria which serves mouth-watering thin-crust pizzas fired up in an adobe oven, organic salads, chilled wine and craft beers.

JACKS CAFE

The All-Day Breakfast choices of pancakes served with fresh fruit and the strawberry and banana french toast are delicious. Their menu is small, but what they have is mouth-watering. We had to walk past this cafe when walking to and from our hotel and it was always a temptation to go in again.

GREEN POINT MY VEGAN RESTAURANT

Green Point is the only 100% vegan restaurant in Cusco and is fantastic value. They offer a set lunch every day which includes a soup, a choice of two main courses, a salad buffet, a dessert and a drink for about $5. (Don’t confuse with Green’s Organic).

Vegan chocolate cake at Green Point My Vegan Restaurant
Vegan chocolate cake at Green Point My Vegan Restaurant

Around the main square, restaurants serve a variety of Peruvian and Western dishes with choices of vegetarian. Most of the menus look the same but the location and the balcony seating overlooking the square and Plaza de Armas is beautiful and worth it just for the view.

Drinks and a meal overlooking the square and Plaza de Armas.

Sacred Valley

We tour Sacred Valley which includes the ruins and markets at Pisac and Chinchero. The Pisac ruins sit high above Pisac with plummeting gorges on both sides. The views of the valley are stunning and it’s a great place to explore and gives a little taste of Machu Picchu. It’s considered the second most sacred site in Peru after Machu Picchu.

The Inca terraces at Pisac ruins
The Inca terraces at Pisac ruins

Pisac and Chinchero markets preserve their charm no matter how many tourists because of their location and the locals. Pisac market is touristy and undercover with handicrafts, local art, souvenirs and gifts dominating the bazaar. Chinchero is less touristy and more traditional with locals buying and selling their produce in the open air with the backdrop of the snow-capped peak of Salkantay. We couldn’t resist buying a gorgeous handwoven rug with llama designs.

colourful locals in cusco
A little entrepreneur

We love the dazzling markets full of friendly locals and tourists and we easily spend the day here. Some local entrepreneurs have learnt tourists can’t resist taking photos of them in their eye-catching traditional dress and have turned this into a way of making money. Adults and children alike will ask for a few coins when taking their photos, which is fair.

The colourful Pisac markets
The colourful Pisac markets

Our Accommodation

Our accommodation at the quaint Rumi Punku Hotel is in the historical centre of Cusco and only a 5-minute walk to the Plaza de Armas. Though it’s close to all the excitement, once inside the historical Inca doors, it’s a cosy retreat. The bedrooms are warm and comfortable with heaters and thick soft blankets. A nice buffet breakfast is served in the mornings.

Rumi Punku Hotel
Rumi Punku Hotel

We travelled with Alpaca Expeditions, an awesome local Peruvian company, committed to social projects and improving the lives of children in Peru. Their guides are the best in Peru. Thank you Malka, for the greatest tour of the Sacred Valley!

The view from San Cristobal Church
The view from San Cristobal Church
Read More of our Peru Blogs

Lares Trek
Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu
Our Amazon River Journey
Peru: 100 Essential Tips to Make the Most of Your Visit

10 Responses to “An Enchanting Stopover in Cusco: Cuisine, Culture and History”

  1. SteveandLouis

    Amazing photos!! The colours are just beautiful & your people shots are incredible. Great stuff as always from a talented couple. Cusco looks like an amazing place & will be on our South America list for sure. Love how you always use local companies such as Alpaca Expedtions. These local companies can often get great deals on accommodation too. Can’t wait to see the Lares trek blog.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comments Steve and Louis. Definitely make sure you have this on your South America list! Alpaca Expeditions is a fantastic local company and yes we probably couldn’t have done the trip for less, if we did it ourselves. Lares was incredible!

      Reply
  2. Barbara King

    This is such a timely and exciting article! My husband and I leave for Peru in less than two weeks! We’ve scheduled our all our tours with Alpaca Expeditions including Cusco, Sacred Valley and the Lares Trek!!!! (We booked 10 months ago!) WE ARE SO EXCITED. Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos and wonderful article!

    Reply
    • Hi Barbara. Amazing! You are doing exactly the same as us! We will have our blog and images about our Lares trek in a few days. It was the highlight for us. You will absolutely love Peru and Alpaca Expeditions. Thanks so much for your comment. It’s much appreciated.

      Reply
  3. Gorgeous Photos – thanks for sharing! Especially love the diversity of shots you capture here, showing the beauty of this Cusco city. My favorite photo is the first one “Local lady in Cusco with her llama”.

    Absolutely Awesome! Thank You.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comments Karan. We had a lot of gorgeous subjects in Cusco! It is a beautiful and diverse city.

      Reply
  4. Noela Christina Curry

    Once again you have made my day your photos and your words take me there. The colour of the people is so beautiful which you pick up so well, I know I will never go there but I feel I have been there after sharing these amazing photos with you thank you again

    Reply
    • Thank you, Noela. We are glad our photos make you feel like your are there. It’s a beautiful and colourful place, with many of the locals preserving their culture and traditions. Even off the beaten path, away from the tourists many are dressed in their colourful traditional clothes.

      Reply
  5. Amazing impressions of Cusco and its colorful daily life. I love the photo of San Cristobal Church at night 🙂 During my trip in April I went to a bar in San Blas from where you could see the entire city, just beautiful!

    Reply
  6. Dear Ray and Sue,

    I am planning to visit Peru since a long time, but couldn`t find the perfekt tour yet.
    Could you sent me maybe your exact dayplans so the planning is much more easy.
    The Amazonas area is not in my plans.
    Did you not visited Lima, Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Titicaca and Puno?
    Would you suggest 3 weeks in August or 2 weeks in Oktober?

    Greatings Yvette

    Reply

Leave a Reply