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Where To Stay In Cusco: The Ultimate Guide

Thinking of heading to Cusco?

No trip to Peru would be complete without a stay in Cusco, the former capital of the Incan Empire.

What draws most people to this small city is the nearby Machu Picchu. It’s an excellent reason to visit, however, Cusco has so much more to offer.

Arriving into Cusco’s 3,400m elevation, you’re going to need some time to acclimatise anyway (most people do). So make sure to drink plenty of water, or coca tea, and take a few days to soak in the cobblestone streets, culture, history, local markets, traditional food and intriguing mix of Spanish/Incan architecture. I actually loved Cusco so much, I decided to live there for three months. I know this city well.

Some things have changed since then, but most have stayed the same. In this guide, I’ll help you make sure your Cusco trip is a memorable one.

IN THIS GUIDE:

1. WHERE TO STAY IN CUSCO

2. WHERE TO EAT IN CUSCO

3. THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN CUSCO

4. HOW TO GET AROUND CUSCO

5. GETTING A SIM CARD IN CUSCO

6. SAFETY TIPS FOR CUSCO


WHERE TO STAY IN CUSCO?

Cusco has so many hidden alleyways and small cobblestone streets, sometimes you’ll just have to embrace getting a little lost! Luckily there are no shortage of hidden gems to discover as you wander all of the intertwining barrios that make up Cusco.

Cusco is a large city but compact when it comes to best places to stay and things to see. Therefore the best Cusco accommodation will be a short walk from the center of the city, aka the Plaza de Armas. The barrios tend to overlap a bit, and many people may clump them together and simply reference anywhere a tourist may stay as the ‘city centre.’

A MAP OF CUSCO

Above I have mapped and outlined the few main areas (locally termed barrios) you will want to consider staying in. These are the best places to stay in Cusco for a first timer.

Let’s take a closer look at each:


PLAZA DE ARMAS

Plaza de Armas, Cuzco

Directly in the heart of Cusco, the Plaza de Armas has everything you are looking for: cafes, restaurants, nightlife, pubs, churches, tourist information centers, Incan architecture, markets, shopping etc. It is the town square of the city and boasts a very lively feel. Any parade, event, festival or celebration will either take place here or start/end up here. The people watching here is fantastic and a great place to grab a bench and enjoy a sunny afternoon.

Take a few steps in or around the Plaza de Armas and you will be approached about tours, massages, transportation, souvenirs, currency exchange and more. No doubt the most touristy part of Cusco, but it truly does have everything you need and some of the best hotels in Cusco. I would suggest this area for anyone who wants to be a cartwheel away from the most lively restaurants, bars, clubs and general happenings.

So if you are looking to be in the centre of all the action or for one of those cute colorfully dressed baby llamas to take a picture with, look no further!

YOU SHOULD STAY IN PLAZA DE ARMAS IF:

  • You want somewhere central, close to numerous restaurants/bars/shops
  • You want to be in the heart of it all
  • You do not mind hustle and bustle
  • You want somewhere specifically geared towards tourists

WHERE TO STAY IN PLAZA DE ARMAS?

FOR THE BACKPACKER

Stay at Kokopelli. A short walk to the Plaza de Armas, this hostel is colourful, has a great breakfast included and plenty of backpackers to mingle with. Dorms are clean and come with privacy curtains and personal power sockets. The staff is friendly, they have an in-house travel agency and a great upstairs bar and restaurant serving as an easy place to meet other travellers! Definitely one of the best hostels in Cusco. Get the best rates here.

FOR THE BUDGET TRAVELLER

Stay at Hotel Inca Wasi Plaza. Located right in front of Plaza de Armas, I do not think you can get any closer to the main square. The location is what you are paying for here, as you are a stones throw away from all the restaurants and bars you need, but you will also find extra helpful staff, included breakfast and clean facilities here. One note of caution, the luxury of proximity to the square can come at a price aka potential noise late into the night! Cusco’s nightlife is wild and is often active every night. Get the best rates here.

FOR THE LUXURY TRAVELLER

For a bit of luxury, stay at Novotel Cusco. A beautiful hotel situated in a 16th century building a few minutes walk from the main square. This hotel features an enclosed courtyard with a beautiful garden for its guests to relax and enjoy a beverage from the bar. The hotel is decorated top to bottom with beautiful Andean decor and each room is stylish and a generous size.

Very close proximity to the main square yet tucked away to enjoy a bit of peace and quiet. Hands down one of the best places to stay in Cusco! Get the best rates here.


SAN BLAS

Plaza San Blas, Cuzco

Just north of Plaza de Armas you will find the charming barrio of San Blas.

Popular among expats, this is strictly a walkable barrio as cars do not fit down most of the tiny cobblestone streets! San Blas is known as the artisan corner and will have a more residential feel. Take a stroll around this barrio and you will find plenty of galleries, shops and artists selling their handcrafts in the centre plaza. The streets are lined with colorful doors, trendy cafes, awesome bars and healthy restaurants. The character of this bohemian barrio is what makes it my favorite place to stay when I visit Cusco, I actually lived right off the plaza for about a month.

It is only a 10 minute walk to Plaza de Armas yet feels worlds a way, and has some of the best hotels in Cusco, a perfect combination in my opinion! Word of caution, there are a lot of up and down hills in this barrio, which aren’t so trivial at this altitude. Be prepared to burn some calories!

YOU SHOULD STAY IN SAN BLAS IF:

  • You like to eat at vegan/vegetarian restaurants (plenty of other restaurants too)
  • You are not afraid of uphill cobblestone streets (watch your step!)
  • You want to be close to Plaza de Armas but not right in the mix
  • You want some great nightlife (live music, bars, dancing)

WHERE TO STAY IN SAN BLAS?

FOR THE BACKPACKER

Stay at Flying dog hostel. A cozy and colorful hostel with a bar and tv lounge area. This hostel comes with a basic breakfast and a guarantee to make new friends! Close enough to Plaza de Armas but far enough into San Blas to enjoy the quiet. Get the best rates here.

FOR THE BUDGET TRAVELLER

Stay at Amaru Inca. This hotel is set in a colonial house surrounded by plenty of cafes and restaurants. You will have to walk halfway up a slight hill to reach this hotel but it is worth it because you are rewarded with beautiful views right from your hotel! Get the best rates here.

FOR THE LUXURY TRAVELLER

Stay at Antigua Casona San Blas. Aside from the elegant rooms the best part about this place is relaxing by the fire pit located in the beautiful stone walled outdoor enclosed patio. Grab a glass of wine or coca tea from the onsite bar, cozy up to the fire and you are all set. As an added bonus this hotel has it’s own yoga studio as well! Get the best rates here.


LUCREPATA

San Blas

Right next to San Blas, you will find the quieter barrio of Lucrepata. This great little barrio will have an even more residential feel to it with less cafes and restaurants. However it is still only about a 15 minute walk from Plaza de Armas and right next to all the charm of San Blas. Lucrepata is a great option for a quieter stay and a more authentic local feel.

YOU SHOULD STAY IN LUCREPATA IF:

  • You would like a quieter area
  • Are okay with having to walk a little to find more restaurant options
  • You are looking for a more residential area
  • You are okay with some uphill walks

WHERE TO STAY IN LUCREPATA?

FOR THE BACKPACKER

Stay at Casita Libertad Cusco. This is a hostel that has the feel of a homestay. The owner, Maribel, goes out of her way to make you feel right at home. The best part is the price, for $7 you can rest your head here and get a delicious breakfast. Get the best rates here.

FOR THE BUDGET TRAVELLER

Stay El Mariscal Cusco. This may walk the line between budget traveller and luxury… Here you will find very modern rooms equipped with a mini bar and flat screen TV all for a great value of $55-85. The rooms are sparkling clean, spacious and you can enjoy an off menu breakfast item each morning included in the room price! Get the best rates here.

FOR THE LUXURY TRAVELLER

This barrio is very small, you are better off staying in San Blas to find a more upscale Cusco accommodation.


SAN CRISTOBAL

Cristo Blanco in Cusco, Peru

It is all about the views in this barrio, and to get them you are going to have to work for it! A short but steep trek up from the Plaza de Armas leads you to the barrio of San Cristobal. The main attraction here is the San Cristobal church combined with the Statue of Christ who keeps a protective watch over the city below. This location isn’t for you if you don’t enjoy a bit of exercise – it will require a steep walk every time you come and go. But, if views and quiet are your thing, so is San Cristobal.

YOU SHOULD STAY IN SAN CRISTOBAL IF:

  • You are okay with a steep walk in an already elevated town
  • You love a great view with your morning coffee or evening tea
  • You like some peace and quiet

WHERE TO STAY IN SAN CRISTOBAL?

FOR THE BACKPACKER

Try out La Casita Azul Hostel. The owner, Christian, will take good care of you and knows how to make a mean pisco sour. You can enjoy your cocktail while you take in the panoramic view from the rooftop of this quiet hostel. Get the best rates here.

FOR THE BUDGET TRAVELLER

Stay at Hostal Qolqampata. This place is a great find. The indoor and outdoor terrace views are the best part of this charming and unique hotel. You will have all you need for a great value here. Get the best rates here.

FOR THE LUXURY TRAVELLER

Stay at Palacio Manco Capac by Ananay Hotels. A stunning colonial property with a beautiful courtyard where you can even find some resident alpacas! A delicious onsite restaurant and luxurious rooms will make your stay here fantastic, and once again.. it is all about the view. Get the best rates here.


SANTA ANA

On the Road to Puno - Raqchi ruins outside Cusco on the Inca Road - market - IMG_8223

Located Northwest of the Plaza de Armas you will find the barrio of Santa Ana. In this barrio you will find more local families and a taste of their daily life. The beginning of Santa Ana, closest to the city center is where you will want to stay. Make sure not to stay too far into Santa Ana (it is big) as you want to be walking distance to the city center. Here you will find a mix of local and tourist restaurants with great views of the city center.

YOU SHOULD STAY IN SANTA ANA IF:

  • You would like a more local feel
  • You would like to try some local restaurants
  • You are okay with some uphill walks

WHERE TO STAY IN SANTA ANA?

FOR THE BACKPACKER

Stay at Pariwana! I actually stayed here for several weeks when I first got to Cusco, and even returned later when my apartment lease ran out. They seriously have the best beds I’ve ever had in a hostel, plus you get two pillows! It’s huge too – set in an old colonial building, so there’s a big courtyard, computer room, movie room, kitchen and bar, plus lots of cozy places to chill and relax. Not to mention it’s mega cheap. Highly recommended. Get the best rates here.

FOR THE BUDGET TRAVELLER

Stay at Ninos Hotel Meloc. Onsite restaurant, gift shop, terrace and courtyard… this place is a great find. The best part, the owner donates part of the profits to Niños Unidos Peruanos, a foundation that provides food, hot showers and educational tools to 600 underprivileged children of Cusco. You can feel comfortable and good while staying here knowing you are helping those in need! Get the best rates here.

FOR THE LUXURY TRAVELLER

Stay at Tambo del Arriero Hotel Boutique. A charming colonial boutique hotel with lots of character that will not disappoint. The on site restaurant is delicious and the courtyard is a relaxing place to unwind each day. Stay here for a comfortable, luxurious and cosy stay. Get the best rates here.


WHERE TO EAT IN CUSCO

People are continuously surprised with the amount of incredible food options in Cusco. Perhaps it’s because the focus on Cusco always revolves around Machu Picchu, or because Lima is so well known as the cuisine capital of Peru.

Either way, you are in for a treat with all of the delicious food options here. Peruvians are very proud of their country’s delicacies and luckily for us, eager to share them! Cusco is no exception, so get ready for all of your ceviche, alpaca and guinea pig (yes.. guinea pig) dreams to come true!

MORENA PERUVIAN KITCHEN

Everything about this restaurant I loved. Morena Peruvian Kitchen has a traditional Peruvian menu with a modern twist, paired with decor to match! I have to be honest, you do not always get the best service in Peru, however this place was the exception. The staff was attentive, friendly and able to provide recommendations and information on all of the menu items.

I would suggest the ceviche, you have to try it while in Peru, and this was some of the very best I had! The Quinoa Chaufa, a Peruvian style Chinese stir fry was a favorite of mine as well. Definitely save room for dessert too as the Cacao and Churros will be your new best friends! It is located right in the heart of the city and perfect for a special occasion or a regular night out.

MR. SOUP

Mr. Soup has a delicious variety of soups, a perfect remedy to the chilly atmosphere that comes with being 3,400m above sea level.

On the menu you will find a variety of soups including Peruvian, Italian, Thai, Japanese and more. Mr. Soup is located near the Plaza de Armas, I would not be surprised if you find yourself here more than once while in Cusco. A soup will run you anywhere from $6-8, and portions are generous.

MENU DEL DIA

Perhaps my favourite thing to eat in Peru, in fact, I ate it almost every day. The menu del dia is not a specific restaurant…it is a typical lunch or dinner option found in local restaurants all throughout Peru! If you want a taste of what the locals are eating, this is it. It typically consists of an entree, soup, main dish and a drink, and sometimes a dessert too. Often times there are 2-3 choices of a main dish, however sometimes it is simply whatever the chef is making that day, hence the name menu del dia!

In my experience the best menus del dia are found in small locally run restaurants scattered throughout the city. It should not take you long to spot a chalk board or homemade sign outside of a random side street door advertising ‘Menu del dia’ with all the options written underneath. These are the kind of places that do not make it on Google maps and will not speak English, but hey that is part of the fun!

Typical price in Cusco for a menu will be $2.50-3 in total for all three courses. Not bad huh?

SIETE Y SIETE CAFETERIA

Remember those charming cafes I was talking about above in the San Blas barrio? Well here’s one of them. You will not get to Siete y Siete without breaking a sweat though, as you have to climb up a small hill to arrive here. However the view, and the food, is totally worth it.

At Siete y Siete you can find very reasonably priced salads, soups, sandwiches, smoothies and desserts. One of the benefits of trekking up the hill and away from the tourist spots at the Plaza de Armas is you will get better value here. This cafe has a more local feel, lower prices, and while you may not get much English it is a very well run place.

QUCHARITAS

If you have an incurable sweet tooth, be sure to stop by Qucharitas. Holy ice cream heaven! You are in charge here – pick any combination of ice cream and toppings, flavors and fruits you want. I stuck to the ice cream here (because it was so dang good) but there are crepes, churros and other dessert options as well.

This place is one of those happy places, it is so colourful and has an outdoor patio in the back with additional seating. Located right near Plaza de Armas this place is not to be missed!

Cuyeria Sabor Moqueguano

If you had a pet guinea pig when you were young you may want to skip this one. Peruvians see the high protein, low fat of a guinea pig as a delicacy. If this intrigues you, you definitely want to go to the right place to try it. The dish has become somewhat of a novelty to tourists and the locals have caught on. Many tourist restaurants have added guinea pig to their menu to satisfy this demand, however if you want to find the authentically served guinea pig head to Cuyeria Sabor Moqueguano. This will require a cab ride out of the city center, but will let you experience guinea pig the same way the locals have all these years.


THINGS TO SEE & DO IN CUSCO

Not too many tips are needed here, Cusco is simply a lovely city to wander and discover on your own. The city itself is a UNESCO site with a plethora of historic buildings, churches, museums and more, plus very safe to walk around in the daylight hours. Even though tourists come in buckets, it has still maintained much of its local character, and is common to spot local people still sporting their traditional colourful clothing and speaking the native language of Quechua. Make sure to leave time to shop around for locally handcrafted souvenirs in one of zillion local markets found throughout city, just remember to bring your negotiating skills, haggling is always needed to get the best deal.

Here are a few to-do ideas to get you started:

SAN PEDRO MARKET

Cusco - Mercado de San Pedro

If you want to see the local people in their element, head to the San Pedro Market. Here you will find everything one would need from fresh vegetables and fruits, herbs, grains and meats, to colorful flowers, jewellery and handmade alpaca wear. I mean, if you leave Peru without an alpaca sweater, did you really even go to Peru at all?

The market is also an excellent spot for lunch or a fresh fruit smoothie. You can choose from what felt like 35 different vendors offering very similar lunch and smoothie options, at a super affordable price.

Sacsayhuamán

Sacsayhuamán

This is a great introduction to the Incan culture and the historical capital of the Incan Empire. Sacsayhuamán is a citadel located a somewhat steep walk (or cab) up from the city center. You can marvel at the massive rocks and make your own guess as to not only how the Incan’s were able to move them but how they are cut so precisely to fit together, all without mortar.

The impressive ruins are easy to get to and provide a great view of the city below. Perfect little excursion while your body is acclimatising to the altitude!

GET A MASSAGE

Time to relax and treat yourself… especially if you have just gotten back from one of the many treks available in this area of the world. There are dozens of spas and massage parlors located in Cusco, it’s impossible to walk down some of the streets without getting approached about a potential massage. Not all massage places are created equal – make sure it has a proper location, name, brochure or advertisement, and in general simply looks like a well run business. I would suggest taking time to shop around for the best price and value.

PLAZA DE ARMAS

Plaza de Armas, Cusco

The center of all the action! Take some time out to people watch here. This is where many events, pop up shops, parades and live music take place. The architecture is beautiful and you can spend some time exploring the cathedral and church that are located within the square, plus all the little alleyways that run off it.

WANDER AND GET LOST

Everyone Loves a Llama, Cusco Portraits

Cusco is an ancient city full of small alleyways, charming cobblestone streets and hidden pathways. If you’re living in or around the Plaza de Armas, just take a wander each day and see what you find. It’s perfectly safe and something new down every side-street. You may find yourself getting a workout with all the up and down hills, but the shops, galleries, locals, and good eats you’ll discover will definitely be worth the effort. Put your exploring shoes on and see what you find.

PLAN A DAY TRIP

peru-cusco-rainbow mountains

The amount of beauty and ruins accessible from Cusco leave you with no shortage of options. Plus, information centres and tourist offices are located all over town to help you plan day trips to Rainbow Mountain, Humantay Lake, Pisac Ruins and more.

The Rainbow Mountain hike is tough and there is a good chance you will reach the highest elevation you have ever been to in your life. However if hiking is your thing, it’s a great day-hike to add to your list.

A visit to Humantay Lake requires a much shorter hike, and although steep it is not nearly as difficult as Rainbow Mountain. At the top you will find a beautifully colored lake with a glacier running into it. I found this a perfect way to spend a day prepping my body before I headed off to Machu Picchu.

Humantay_29

HOW TO GET AROUND CUSCO

WALK

Cusco is an easy one, you walk. Walking is going to get you where you need to go as everything is not very far once you have arrived in the city center.

TAXI CAB

Taxi cabs are very prevalent in Cusco, you will be able to flag one down almost anywhere. Ask a person familiar with Cusco, or your hotel personnel for the proper fare you should pay, as the cabs are not metered and the fare will need to be discussed up front. I like to try and have exact change as the drivers tend to not always have change (or at least claim they do not). Taxis aren’t expensive, anything more than 4-5 soles for a short ride is too much.

FROM THE AIRPORT

The best way to get to and from the airport is a taxi. You have two options:

An official taxi

Llama taxi’s are the only official taxis you will find at the airport. There is a booth near baggage claim where you can reserve a taxi to the city center for 35 soles.

Unofficial taxi

Just outside of baggage claim you will find a hoard of unofficial taxi drivers offering their services to you. They can be quite loud or persistent, but do not be alarmed. They will start their price around 25-30 soles, however you can get them down to as little as 10. Historically I have found 15 soles to be a fair and attainable price.

Third option – The local bus

There is a local bus option that departs just outside the airport from the neighboring petrol station. The fare is attractive at 0.60 soles however I have gathered it is not the most convenient option. Taxis are cheap enough, so I wouldn’t recommend this for non-experienced travellers.


GETTING A SIM CARD IN CUSCO

Obtaining a SIM card in Cusco is easy and affordable. Head to any Movistar or Claro shop within Cusco to purchase a prepaid SIM without a contract. These are the top brands and widely serviced throughout Peru.

Often times in Peru they will require a passport in order to purchase a SIM so make sure you bring this along. The store clerk will set up the SIM for you after you choose which package you want and you will be up and running.

You can expect to pay around $5 for the actual SIM card, then an additional amount for whichever amount of data you choose.


SAFETY TIPS FOR CUSCO

Cusco is considered a safe town. Thousands of tourists visit each year and keep way too many local families in business for them to want any reputation of crime.

The most common type of crime is pick-pocketing and theft of personal items such as cameras or phones. This being said you should always be aware of your surroundings and keep your belongings on your front where you can see them rather than on your back. Particularly on buses – keep your backpack on your lap! Do not store it under or overhead, these get snatched often in South America.

As further precautions I would suggest using any safes provided by your Cusco accommodation, being cautious when using taxis late at night, and probably leaving any expensive jewellery at home. I would also recommend using ATM’s that are located in banks or vestibules rather than on the street.

Keep your wits about you, use your common sense and you will be just fine.

Enjoy Cusco!

Photo credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12