Peru is one of my all-time favorite destinations, especially for a trip on a budget. There are so many options for affordable activities, food, and accommodations. Plus, the culture, energy, and history of an ancient city such as Cusco are palpable the moment you arrive. It takes only a matter of minutes to be swept up into the architecture and ruins of the capital city of the Incan Empire. Journey to this marvelous town with an open mind and stomach and you will not regret it!
The options for accommodations in Cusco are wide. There are hotels and Airbnbs galore but my suggestion would be for a hostel stay on this trip. You can find options for $5-25 a night depending on hostel and room choice. Dorm style is not for everyone but it is a great option for those on a solo adventure or more social travelers. The friendly nature of the hostel environment is unbeatable and you will never have to search hard if you want either suggestions from fellow bunkmates or someone to explore the city with you. Plus, most offer amazing common areas to sit and relax or use the internet to finalize your next activity. Some of the best options in Cusco are Ecopackers, Pariwana, Pirwa (with a few locations in different areas of the city), and Intro.
San Pedro Market
For low cost food options for any meal, definitely take a trip to the San Pedro Market. It offers fresh produce, breads, cheeses, and meats. If you are staying at a hostel, there is usually access to a kitchen which means you can save some money on eating out by picking out groceries and cooking some of your own meals! As well, there are plenty of vendors where you can buy extremely low cost cooked meals. You can get a taste of some local favorites like salchipapas (a sausage and potato dish), ceviche, lomo saltado (a stir fried beef dish), aji de gallina (a creamy chicken dish, rocoto relleno (stuffed peppers), empanadas, and, if you’re feeling adventurous, cuy (guinea pig) or anticuchos de Corazon (grilled beef hearts). For desserts, head to a pastry vendor and taste homemade sweet breads, tres leches, or picarones (sweet potato fritters). Nothing will be over a few dollars and the quality of the food is amazing which means it’s totally acceptable to skip restaurants entirely and eat meals here. As well, this is a great place to pick up souvenirs or locally made Peruvian clothes. Be sure to haggle prices otherwise you will most likely get overcharged for some purchases.
Hiking the Ruins Outside of Cusco
Before hiking outside of Cusco or sightseeing in Cusco, purchase the Boleto Turistico. It is $40/US for a pass that lasts 10 days and gets you into 16 archeological and cultural sites in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. Or you can buy separate one day circuit passes for $20/US. Circuit 1 would get you to all the archeological sites in this hiking tour. It includes –Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo, Pucapucara, and Tambomachay. To do all four ruins would be over 9 miles of hiking that would is strenuous due to the high elevation and steep hills. Another option- for those who want SOME exercise but not 9 miles- would be to hike to Sacsayhuaman and Qenqo due to their proximity to Cusco and each other and then take a quick collectivo or taxi to the remaining sites. It is easy to find a taxi near these sites as they are popular tourist destinations. As well, you can certainly negotiate with one of these taxis for a flat fee to take you to all the destinations and then back to Cusco. It is an affordable option for those who think hiking would be too vigorous. All these ruins are very impressive and interesting from a historical standpoint. However, if you only have time to visit one, the largest and most remarkable would be Sacsayhuaman. There is even a section of the ruins that you can slide down!
City Walking Tour
It’s totally possible to research beforehand or purchase a map (personally I love the maps that Street Smart VanDam makes- they are the perfect travel size, laminated, and affordable) to self-navigate through the city and hit all the highlights. Make sure to check out Cusco Cathedral in Plaza de Armas. It is the biggest church in the plaza and offers a great look at architecture and art. As well, take a walk over to The Company of Jesus Church (Iglesia De La Compania De Jesus) which offers a great view of the plaza and Cusco Cathedral if you climb to the top of the tower. Wandering through the city you will stumble on plenty of smaller plazas and an endless stream of beautiful buildings and cathedrals. The city has no shortage of hidden surprises so definitely take your time exploring even the most unassuming of streets. Though definitely take a walk over to the Avenida de Sol which offers great food and shopping options. Plus, don’t hesitate to make the climb up to the Barrio de San Blas neighborhood that is the more secluded and less touristy part of town filled artsy shops and cafes. It offers great views of the city from its elevated position. This would be a great spot to stop on the way to or from hiking the ruins outside of Cusco since it is on the way up to Sacsayhuaman.
Avenida de Sol, Barrio de San Blas, Qoricancha, ChocoMuseo,
A great stop for history and architecture is to visit Qoricancha (or Qurikancha) and the Convent of Santo Domingo. The Qoricancha was an ancient Incan temple for worshipping the sun god but was taken over by the Spanish after they conquered the Incan Empire. It was turned into a convent which is mainly the type of architecture seen today but it overs an interesting look into how things used to be. It is a great museum as well with interesting artifacts and a great garden view in the back. The Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco is a lovely organization whose goal is to preserve the traditional Peruvian methods of weaving and textiles. The museum shows you the history of garments and textiles throughout Peru’s history. The ChocoMuseo is a great treat for those with a sweet tooth. They offer you a look into the history of chocolate making, chocolate making classes, and chocolate sampling.
Cusco is a truly marvelous city with so much to offer by way of food and culture. Those on a budget would be wise to put this destination at the top of their list. Traveling the world doesn’t have to break the bank. You can easily get a true and amazing experience on just a few dollars a day in this great city. Plus, it would fit perfectly as a stop on the journey to the popular bucket list item, Machu Picchu. The wonders and historic roots of Peru await you!