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Living Like a Local – The Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide

Pie Experiences / Adventure Travel  / Living Like a Local – The Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide
Cusco travel Guide
6 Jul

Living Like a Local – The Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide

Welcome to the Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide

Introducing our 2017 edition of the Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide.

If you are heading to Machu Picchu, chances are you are flying into the beautiful city of Cusco – formerly an Inca capital now turned tourist mecca.

Furthermore, what many people don’t realise is if you aren’t spending a lot of time here, you could miss out on some seriously amazing experiences that really embody the heart and soul of Peru.

With its (seemingly) never-ending festivals, bright colours, amazing food, cute cobbled streets and locals selling their beautiful handmade wares, what’s not to love about Cusco?

Even though it is known as one of the gateway sites for Machu Picchu (MP), don’t think Cusco doesn’t have some wonderful charms of its own.

Of course, you can plan your entire MP trip from here, but know that there is much more to Cusco.

Hence you should make sure to factor in time to explore unique places to eat, go sightseeing, get some truly original custom-made clothing and really ‘see’ this town through the eyes of a local.

Because you’ll find treasures like incredible handmade chocolates and liqueurs at the Choco Museum (which originated in Cusco), remarkable Inca ruins, including the ‘Sexy Woman‘ (Sacsayhuaman) hill, quality handmade textiles and shoes and so much more.

We will share with your our Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide because, if you are going to visit Cusco, we want to make sure you get it right.

Most noteworthy, Cusco is one of those special places that will remain in your memory long after you actually have left.

Why Cusco?

Aside from being a gateway city to get to Machu Picchu – one of the most sacred sites in the world – there are many other reasons you might want to visit Cusco.

For starters, the scenery is truly something else.

Surrounded on all sides by the incredible Andes Mountains, as you head from the airport into the main town, some of the breathtaking images can be hard to take in.

There are majestic snow-capped peaks, quaint little shops and locals carrying huge brightly-coloured bags up ridiculously steep inclines.

Cusco not only provides a flood of flavours, smells and visual treats, but also an overwhelming feeling that you are in a special place indeed.

While tourism numbers grow every year, the town manages to maintain its unique sense of identity and character, which is what so many people are drawn to.

Oh and did we mention the food?

Cusco has ample restaurants, bars, European-style delicatessens, patisseries and more – including some of the best vegetarian and vegan food we have ever sampled.

Some must-reads about Cusco and Machu Picchu:

Cusco Churche

Our Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide – Travel Tips

Get acclimatised

What many people don’t realise is that Cusco is noticeably higher in elevation than Macchu Picchu.

As a result, this is not only is it a great place to get used to high altitude but it’s also the perfect place to ‘train up’ before you tackle the Sacred Valley.

You will know upon landing in Cusco whether or not you need to take altitude tablets (we recommend the locally made Sirocha) or sip the coco leaf tea before you hit the Inca Trail.

In addition, Cusco is a brilliant base to reach other lesser-known, yet strikingly beautiful, hiking trails.

Most noteworthy, some amazing hikes are nearby which you can do in one day include Rainbow Mountain, Huchuy Qosqo – Lamay, Ollantaytambo – Inti Punku or Choquequirao.

And of course you can plan your epic Machu Picchu adventure from here as well.

How to prepare for Cusco

Some people worry they need to do something special when they are coming to Cusco (due to the high altitude).

However, in reality you can just wait until you get here in regards to managing altitude sickness.

While you do need to be aware of the drop in temperature in the evenings – it can get VERY cold at night – yet this is manageable.

However, thermals, warm clothes and gloves are definitely recommended as part of your preparation.

Most travellers decided to come in the months of June, July and August because the days are usually bright, warm and sunny.

In regards to phones, headsets and other material goods – see below.

Travelling with tech and personal belongings

No Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide would be complete without listing where you can sort your tech out.

After all, it is 2017.

Unfortunately, you won’t find an ‘Apple’ store in Cusco.

Perhaps one in Lima… (but not here).

If you lose a charger, smash an iPhone or have issues with a computer, well then good luck.

Losing your beloved tech gear in South America can be a Western traveller’s worst nightmare (or not being able to repair it).

Luckily for you guys, there is the ‘Electronic Market’ in Cusco, which may be able to help if you didn’t bring a spare phone or parts with you.

Located close to the San Pedro markets (I think it’s on the corner of Calle Nueva and Tres Cruces de Oro), this is ‘techie’ heaven and the closest you are going to get to the Apple store.

Obviously it’s totally not, as you don’t have to pay ridiculously inflated prices – which is a win in my book.

Yet this place is only really encouraged if you have travel insurance on your devices.

Or if you are desperate!

Otherwise, bring a spare phone, extra chargers and cables to save money and hassle.

Safety

Peru has very strict laws around theft.

Serious punishment awaits anyone who steals, plus there are higher consequences for anyone robbing or stealing from a foreigner.

This is obviously good news for tourists, as this law makes Cusco one of the safer towns in South America when it comes to personal safety and material goods.

Hence I haven’t had any issues walking around at night as a solo female traveller.

Main streets are quite well lit, but if you are staying slightly off the main strip it may be an idea to bring a flashlight with you.

Getting to Machu Picchu from Cusco 

There are a few different ways to travel to Machu Picchu from Cusco.
Please note, you will need to pre-purchase tickets for Machu Picchu before you go.
Check out our must-read blog post, Everything you need to know about Machu Picchu – it will ensure you are well prepared.

By car/ bus / walk  (cheaper option but not the safest)

If you have more time than money on your hands, you may want to look at travelling to MP by car or by bus to Hidroelectrica.
From there, you can then walk for a couple of hours to Aguas Calientes (however, please note this can take up to two hours as it’s over 12 kilometres).
Then you can either take a bus up to the top of Machu Picchu or do the hike up to the top (which takes approximately 45 minutes to one hour).
Furthermore, you can book this at any tour operator in the city on any day of the week.
The route from Santa Maria to Santa Teresa is considered one of the most dangerous roads in the world!

Transfer/ train/ bus

Most tour operators will offer you a transfer from Cusco to Ollayantambo.
From there you will get the train all the way through to Aguas Calientes – and return back to Ollayantambo, followed by transfer back to Cusco.
Trains will often book out well in advance, yet it is possible to get tickets on the gate if you are lucky.
Purchase tickets for trains either with Peru Rail or Inca Rail.
There are the same options to get up to the top of Machu Picchu – either bus it up or hike up to the entrance.
Contact us if you wish to come on board our all-inclusive tour to Machu Picchu.
We also offer an incredible luxury experience via the Haram Bingham train – travel in style to one of the most beautiful and incredible sites in the world!

The Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide – Inca Ruins and Museum

So, what are some of the other things to do in Cusco?

Again, there are so many options and attractions in this city – too many to list in this Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide.

But here are a selection of what we think are the best things to do in Cusco.

Please contact us if you think we should include anything else in our Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide!

Visit Inca ruins and museums in the region by buying a ‘Boleto Turistico’ 

You don’t have to travel all the way to Aguas Calientes to see classic ancient ruins.

Because one of the special bonuses of being in Cusco is your chance to purchase a 10-day pass called a ‘Boleto Turistico’.

A full pass costs approximately $50 USD and will grant you entry into five museums in Cusco, as well as access into different sites across the area.

With three different circuits available, you can also purchase a partial ticket if you don’t have time to see them all.

Circuit one contains:

  • Sacsayhuaman Hill
  • Qenqo
  • Puka Pukara
  • Tambomachay

The second circuit :

  • Museos de Arte Popular,  Museo de Sitio Qoricancha (museum only, not the Qoricancha site), Historico Regional and the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo
  • Monumento a Pachacuteq (Pachacuteq Statue)
  • Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo (native art and folkloric dance)
  • Pikillacta
  • Tipon

Third circuit:

  • Pisac
  • Ollantaytambo
  • Chinchero
  • Moray

Finally, Boleto Turistico tickets do not include Machu Picchu, the Religious Circuit (temples), the salt mines, the Pre-Colombian Art Museum, the Inka Museum, the site of Qoricancha and the Casa Concha museum.

Partial Cusco Ticket options (BTCPI) / Circuit I – Saqsayhuman

This partial ticket includes just four entrance fees with the attractions located just outside of Cusco and not in the city itself.

This ticket is valid for one day.

Validity: 1 Day
Price (2014): S/. 70 (US$ 25)
Included: Saqsayhuman, Qenko, Puka Pukara & Tambomachay.

Partial Cusco Tourist Ticket (BTCPII) / Circuit II – City & South Sacred Valley

This partial ticket includes eight entrances; with the attractions listed being the least visited of all in the Cusco region.

Hence places like the Museo Histórico Regional (the original home of Garcilaso de la Vega) and the Inca archaeological site of Tipon are definitely worth a look.

This ticket is only valid for two days.

Validity: 2 Days
Price (2014): S/. 70 (US$ 25)
Included: Museo de Arte Popular, Museo Histórico Regional, Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporáneo, Museo de Sitio de Korikancha, Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo, Monumento de Pachacutec, Tipon & Pikillacta.

Partial Cusco Tourist Ticket (BTCPIII) / Circuit III – Sacred Valley

This partial Cusco Tourist Ticket includes four entrances and includes the most important attractions in the Sacred Valley.

Therefore is the ticket you need to buy if you are only visiting attractions in the Sacred Valley and not Cusco.

Valid for two days only.

Validity: 2 Days
Price (2014): S/. 70 (US$ 25)
Included: Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero & Moray.

Where to buy:

The Boleto Turístico del Cusco is sold and distributed by the Comite de Servicios Integrados Turistico Culturales Cusco (COSITUC).

You can buy tickets from the COSITUC office on Avenida El Sol 103, and from selected tourist offices and authorized travel agencies.

In addition, discounts are available for international students on presentation of their ISIC card.

The Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide – Cusco MUST

Get a photograph in front of the infamous 12-sided stone from Inca times. 

Just off the Plaza De Armas, there is a little side street featuring original Inca stones.
At any point of the day you will see 5-10 people around the wall taking photographs with one special stone in particular.
It’s the one with the 12 sides.
Anyone who is anyone who comes to Cusco needs one of these photographs.
It’s standard Cusco protocol.
As standard as buying a llama (aplaca) jumper.
Fun fact: This 12-sided stone is also featured on the label of the local Cusqueña beer company.

The Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide – Unique Experiences

Meet descendants of the Incas at the Sacred Valley

There are still a few real descendants of the the Incas alive in Cusco.
However, you will have to travel out to the Sacred Valley to meet them.
Consequently you get to learn about their ancient knowledge through their histories and food.
At Pie Experiences, we work very closely with the Amaru Community in the Sacred Valley, so contact us of you interested in this experience!
Weaving experience at Sacred Valley - Yachaqs

Participate in a chocolate workshop at Choco Museo

One of the best things to do in Cusco is to visit the incredible ‘Choco Museo’ – the Cusco Chocolate Museum. Here you can learn how to make your own delicious chocolate, as well as drink and sample amazing high quality cocoa directly from the Peruvian highlands.
Some delicious liqueurs and teas also on offer here.
Find the Choco Museo at Calle Garcilaso 210, Cusco.
Or alternatively, we can organise a private chocolate workshop for you and your family or friends, so please contact us.
Choco Museo - Cusco Travel guide

The Pie Experiences team participating in a fantastic chocolate workshop at Choco Museum in Cusco.

Explore interesting museums and Colonial Houses

If you have already purchased your Boleto Turisitico, you can use this to visit one of many museums in Cusco.

The Museo de Arte Popu, the Sitio del Qoricancha Museo, the Historico Regional and the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo are all ones you can visit as a result of having this ticket.

There are also lots of beautiful churches and buildings scattered throughout the Plaza De Armas that are well worth a look.

Museum Machu Picchu - Casa Concha

Museo Machu Picchu or Casa Concha in Cusco

Enjoy Tapas and Pisco tasting at Pisco Museum

You can’t come to Peru and not try a pisco sour – it is essentially the national drink, after Cusqueña beer.
What is even more fun is learning how to make a pisco sour yourself at one of the many cocktail courses on offer.
We recommend enjoying both tapas and pisco sours at the Pisco Museum (Santa Catalina Ancha 398, Cusco).
In conclusion, you will learn about the history of the pisco sour and more in a relaxed environment.
Pisco Museum in Cusco

Pisco tasting. Photo by Takeeachday.com

The Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide – Art

Create your own ceramic piece of Art

There are lots of different options to create your own art here in Cusco and one of our favourite activities to do is attend pottery or ceramics classes.

Most noteworthy, you might want to visit Tater Vera Ceramics in the main shopping precinct for unique gifts you can take home.

Or, of course, contact us if you would like us to arrange your own personalised pottery class.

Ceramic lessons in Cusco - Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide

Create your own art by taking part in a pottery class in Cusco.

The Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide – Food & Dining

Enjoy a huge variety of gourmet (meat and vegetarian) restaurants

One of the best things about Cusco would have to be the array of amazing restaurants and food outlets throughout the city.

Many offer incredible value three-course lunch specials and the quality is incredible.

Discover alpaca carpaccio, ceviche and many other decadent dishes.

In addition, check out some of the best vegan and vegetarian restaurants we have found.

Meat lovers also won’t be disappointed, with many opportunities to buy quality amazing Peruvian cuisine like cuy (guinea pig), roast pork and more.

Cusco Travel Guide- Map Cafe

Culinary experience at MAP Café in Cusco.

Organic paradise

Cusco has many boutique restaurants to choose from, so it is perfect for that romantic getaway or intimate family dinner.

Fresh organic vegetables, delicious pisco sours, incredible wines from Argentina and Chile – you will be spoilt for choice.

Classic Cusco cooking classes

Well, they certainly love their food here in Cusco.

Learning how to make some traditional dishes will help you impress those you love (or want to love).

So why not try whipping up your very own Lomo Saltado, Papas de Huancaina or even CHIFA in a traditional environment?

MAP cooking school offers incredible classes to tourists who want to take a little bit of Peru back home with them.

These classes run several times a week with options including drink creations as well.

Since we are great at customizing tours, contact us to help set up a culinary adventure for you.

Cusco Travel guide

Cooking Lessons at MAP Café in Cusco.

Try delicious juices at San Pedro Market

Another renowned food and drink haven is the famous San Pedro Markets located in Cascaparo, Cusco.

So head over to buy a range of delicious freshly squeezed juices, snacks, souvenirs and more.

In addition, you can purchase ceviche and other speciality dishes, surrounding yourself in heavenly smells and flavours.

Try authentic Peruvian dishes, exotic fruits, herbs, healing medicine drinks and more. 

Drink Juices at San Pedro market

Fresh and tasty juices being made at the San Pedro Market. Photo by: Cuzco Eats-http://www.cuzcoeats.com/

The Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide – Shopping

Buy unique & colourful souvenirs from exquisite boutiques (or custom order your own) 

You will see handmade crafts on street corners, in tiny stalls and in boutique shops throughout Cusco.

As a result, you can purchase beautiful handmade beaded classic ‘Cusco’ hats, ponchos and high-quality scarves.

Not to mention beautiful tapestries and high-quality gifts.

Due to there being so many exquisite designs and different textiles and colours to choose from, it is truly a shopper’s paradise.

There are also many options to have your own tailor-made garments created if you so desire, with private tailors on hand to help tourists.

Traditional market in Cusco

Colourful local textiles and products sold in Cusco.

Alpaca Heaven

Spoilt for choice in Cusco, this is the place to purchase beautiful alpaca wool garments  – one of the most luxurious materials in the world.

Even more sought after is the soft, subtle and gorgeous ‘baby alpaca’ garments; you can find these in the way of jumpers, coats, scarves, baby clothes, matching hats and gloves.

Cusco is the place to find quality alpaca wool garments as well as high-quality artisan goods ranging from jewellery, pottery, art, designer clothing and more.

Buy artisan handmade Inca shoes

The options to create your own souvenir in the form of artisan shoes start at just 150 soles.

So why not pick yourself up a pair of custom-made boots or brightly coloured hiking shoes?

The prices moves up the scale depending on the level of detail and design you want included, but there are no limits to the imagination here.

As a result, local shoe makers measure you in-store, take requests and get orders back within 2-3 days.

What better way to remember the colours of Cusco than to have wearable art!

In conclusion, you will find an array of shoe retailers around the Plaza Da Armas as well as in the back streets of San Blas.

Peruvian shoes

Stylish Peruvian shoes by Khipu.

The Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide – Accommodation

Stay at the most charming hotels in South America

Cusco also has its fair share of incredible hotels with many options for tourists.

Not only do many come with incredible views, but they also come with top quality food and service.

Most of all, you have the ability to choose from international brands such as the Marriot or from private hotels like the Palacio De Inka, Belmond Hotel Monasterio or the Casa Andina.

Contact us directly for even more comfortable and luxury hotel recommendations.

Casa Cartagena in Cusco

Casa Cartagena – one of the many boutique hotels in Cusco.

The Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide – Wonder of the World

Visit Machu Picchu (of course!)

In conclusion, no trip to Peru, or Cusco, would be complete without visiting Machu Picchu – one of the seven wonders of the world.
And no Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide could fail to mention this huge drawcard.
Choose from many different hikes and trails, or even catch the ride of your life with the Belmond Hiram Bingham train.
Finally, you can read more about our tours to Machu Picchu  or contact us to arrange your own custom tour.

 

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Claire Kelly
Freelance Writer | Shamanic Healer | Yoga teacher | MBIT online spiritual coach

Claire Kelly is a former FIVB beach volleyball player who initially studied journalism so she could travel write and play pro-sport around the world. During the course of her adventures on tour, she became interested in meditation, yoga, healing and spirituality -specifically how to not get injured in the physical by dealing with emotional blocks. One thing led to another and Claire became interested and qualified in many different alternative therapies - studying how to work with and clear the subconscious mind, Body Mind (psychosomatic) therapy, Kinesiology based techniques, RYT 200 yoga teacher, MBIT certified, Shamanism and more. Passionate about learning and experiencing new things, Claire is currently travelling around South America working on her book 'Shaman Skool: Lessons in Living'. She conducts readings, healings and coaching sessions online and can be reached through her website or via Instagram Claire_L_Kelly

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