Throughout our, nearly, three months in South America we have seen many cities, but there has been only one in which I left a bit of my heart: Cusco. There are places in the world where you arrive and immediately feel at home, and Cusco was one of those.
During our time in Peru we came back several times to Cusco and spent almost two weeks discovering the city and it’s beautiful natural surroundings, creating some unforgettable memories.
There are three main reasons why we loved Cusco: the energy, the food scene and the outdoor activities. During the two weeks we spent there, not one day went by without the city having some sort of celebration.
Even local people told us with a grin that Cusquenos like to ‘party’! The city is always alive and this energy transmits to the visitors. During the day you will always find parades and crowds of people dressed in mesmerizing colorful local dresses, dancing along with upbeat peruvian music.
Plaza des Armes
The first time we visited we had the pleasure of witnessing the Corpus Cristi religious celebration. While the next time we were in town, students all of ages paraded and danced through the streets.
Even on those few days when the city was quiet, the dazzling Plaza des Armes, adorned with Spanish colonial architecture, is bustling with locals and tourists. At sunset, make sure to take a walk through the square, to see the sunlight warm up the Cathedral and the Compania (the two main churches), creating an unforgettable show.
Cusco is famous for its Spanish colonial architecture and art mixed with its original Incan soul. This two cultures blended together during the Spanish colonization, creating a hybrid city, spectacular in its uniqueness.
A couple of must see sites in the city are the main Cathedral (UNESCO World Heritage site) and la Compania in Plaza des Armes, both magnificent examples of 17th century spanish colonial architecture. Along Hatunrumiyoc street, you will find the well-known 12-sided stone. The stone belongs to a wall of the palace of the sixth Inca, Inca Roca.
It is a perfect display of a technique known as polygonal masonry. To discover more about the Incan history and the Andean culture, make sure to visit the Inka Museum, where you will find an area dedicated to the typical colourful textiles. Finally, the San Blas’ neighborhood, with it’s bohemian feel, narrow alleyways packed with organic coffee shops and colorful houses. The perfect place where you can get lost on a sunny afternoon.
Food in Cusco
The food scene in Cusco is bustling. There are copious amounts of restaurants, cafes and bars offering different types of cuisines at all types of prices. During these three months of travelling, I struggled with finding good, healthy and vegetarian food. Cusco, however, was such an incredible experience as it had the widest offering of vegetarian and vegans shops.
For a tasty and healthy launch, make your way to Las Frescas. This lovely designed little shop serves fresh, customizable salads, poke and acai bowls and organic juices. Everything is prepared right at the moment, in great portions and starting at 20 PEN for a bowl.
L’Atelier by Grid
For coffee and cakes, we discovered two favorite spots in the bohemian and artsy neighborhood of San Blas. L’Atelier by Grid is a clothing and jewelry shop with an upstairs coffee shop that serves the best coffee in town and the most delicious vegan cakes. You can sip your drink sitting on the balcony, overlooking the cobblestone streets and dream about all the clothes and jewelry you want to buy from the store.
If you fancy to try a typical south american sweet called churros, the cafe and vegan bakery called The Churros is the perfect place. In a homely space with a puppy dog chilling around, you can eat homemade churros filled with chocolate, sip on coffee and tea and also refill your water bottle following the owner’s motto ‘no single use plastic’.
For dinner, in between infinite great options, we recommend Organika or its ‘brother’ restaurant Rucola. This small, unassuming restaurant is one of the most famous in town. It offers peruvian dishes reinvented in a modern key and prepared exclusively with the produce of their organic farm located in Urubamba, in the Sacred Valley.
The salineras de Maras
Even though you might be tempted to spend all your time in the city, make sure to dedicate one or two days to explore the surrounding areas. Beside the famous Rainbow Mountain, there are two others sites which are unmissable: the salineras de Maras and Moray.
The Salineras de Maras (Maras salt ponds) have been in use since the pre-Inca times to obtain salt by evaporating salty water from a local subterranean stream. Each pond is property of a family and it gets handed down from generation to generation.
If you visit at sunset, you will be able to admire the light tinting the ponds in different shades of gold, a truly magical show.
Even if it’s not certain, it is believed that the concentric circles of Moray were used by the Inca as an agricultural research center. By planting crops at different levels they would study the conditions and results, to then apply them to their fields.
Coming back from Moray make sure to stop on the road to take pictures of the impressive landscape. Golden fields stretch for kilometers within the backdrop of the snowy peaks of the Andes and Mount Choicón.
We definitely left a bit of our heart in Cusco, its energy, beauty and authenticity are one of a kind. We hope you will love this city and the rest of Peru as much as we did!