Cusco is one of the world's most historic urban centres, with many layers (literally) to explore. Here we bring you an insider's guide to how to see the best of this fascinating city in just one day...
South America’s oldest continuously occupied city — and one of its most significant archaeological sites — has plenty to offer visitors. The old city is packed with historic churches, monasteries, monuments and museums, while at night Cusco offers a fabulous dining scene and exciting nightlife.
We enlisted local guide David Arce Nunez to show us around the former Incan capital. Here are David’s top tips for how to spend 24 hours in Cusco.
First stop of the day — a visit to the lively Wanchaq Market for a taste of the amazing fresh produce available in Cusco. This is also a chance to learn more about the Peruvian superfoods craze sweeping the world — grains and legumes grown in the unique micro-climates of the highlands that are packed with antioxidants.
We make our way to the centre of the old city — the Plaza de Armas — with its gorgeous colonnades. The plaza is also home to the imposing Cusco Cathedral, constructed by the Spanish on the site of an Inca palace around the mid 1500s. Entry costs 25 Soles — well worth the price for the collection of colonial art inside, including a replica of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper depicting Jesus and the apostles dining on guinea pig — Cusco’s traditional dish for special occasions.
It’s time for a coffee and David recommends Café Ayllu in Marquez Street — a Cusco institution. If you’re taking a coffee break in the Plaza de Armas, head for the eclectic Cappuccino Café directly opposite the cathedral. The entrance is hard to find amongst the tour touts working this side of the square, but persevere. Go through the small door on the square and up the stairs to the left. Snaffle one of the balcony tables for great views.
There’s no shortage of museums in Cusco. The Museo Machu Picchu Casa Concha is a relatively new option, housing a collection of relics from Machu Picchu that were taken back to the USA by Hiram Bingham following his discovery of the overgrown citadel in 1911. They’ve recently been returned to Peru. This is the ideal warm-up to your visit to the ancient city.
Time for a late lunch and David suggests any of the small traditional restaurants along Pampa del Castillo, for the chance to try chi charon — pieces of deep fried pork, or cuy — better known as roast guinea pig, which is served whole on a platter. The meat is delicious. It’s delicately flavoured with rosemary and basil.
Time for another museum visit, with a difference. The newly opened Museo del Pisco is dedicated to Peru’s national drink (bordering on national obsession), which generally comes in the form of the ubiquitous — and very delicious — Pisco Sour cocktail.
At night, Cusco’s wonderful plazas and squares come alive. Take a stroll down the narrow cobbled streets between San Blas and the main square, or for stunning views of the city lights head for the hills at the foot of the Cristo Bianco statue.
There are hundreds of restaurants to choose from in Cusco. Try Cicciolina behind the Cusco Cathedral, just off the Plaza de Armas. It’s on the second floor of a colonial mansion. Great wine selection and tapas. This restaurant also features traditional Peruvian cuisine with an emphasis on produce from the Sacred Valley. Anything grown there has got to be good for you!
Choose any of the small bars along Cuesta de San Blas for a nightcap. Salut!
Do you have any suggestions for how to spend 24 hours in Cusco? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Australia, Europe, Asia, North America, parts of South America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the Tour the World travel TV series on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.