Most people who come to Cusco don’t stay very long. They’re typically passing through on their way to the Inca Trail, stopping for only a night or two before making the trek or catching the train to Machu Picchu. And we think that’s a shame. Cusco is a positively charming small town in the Andes and more than just a gateway to the trail. Sure, there are lots of backpacker bars and touristy shops for all the hikers passing through, but there’s also a relaxed vibe, charming cobbled streets, tasty restaurants and several small museums worth exploring. Here are five things you should do in Cusco before you leave town.
There’s no better way to appreciate the real Cusqueño way of life than by visiting the local market. Locals head to San Pedro, close to the city centre, for their shopping — everything from fresh meat to bread to produce. You’ll likely find a few dishes you might not be used to as well, such as guinea pig (cuy) or toad soup. Practice your Spanish skills as you shop for treats like locally made chocolates or sample native fruits like granadilla or chirimoya.
Deva Restaurant Tipico features dishes made entirely with products native to Peru, specifically to the Cusco region, and using recipes traditional to both the Inca and colonial periods. Serving both lunch and dinner, it’s a pretty simple place, but the food is beautiful — excellent flavours, passion in the cooking, and delightful combinations of local ingredients. Dig into grilled alpaca or quinoa soup or baked guinea pig stuffed with chili pepper, washed down with homemade beer or a pisco sour mixed table-side.
The Museo de Arte Precolombino (MAP) features a mix of archeaological finds and artwork from pre-Columbian Peru. Check out unique jewellery pieces made from gold and silver, ceramic art and woodworking, including examples of queros, which were ceremonial Inca drinking vessels. There are about 450 items on display, taken from MAP’s larger parent museum, the Larco in Lima.
You won’t need to be in Peru long before someone offers you coca tea — especially in the high-altitude regions of the country, such as Cusco. In the neighbourhod of San Blas, the Museo de la Coca follows the history of the sacred plant, with information on its health benefits (it’s believed to prevent altitude sickness, so you’ll be served some daily if you hike the Inca Trail), as well as its uses in Inca and Andean spiritual ceremonies. Browse the artwork and artifacts, then pop into the gift shop where you can buy cocoa teas, chocolates and liquors to take back home.
Go home as an expert in Peru’s most famous cocktail, the pisco sour. Or learn about the other drinks that can be made with this liquor that can be found everywhere and anywhere in Peru (trust us, there are way more alternates to the pisco sour than you think). At the Museo del Pisco, you can play around with different fruit combinations to find your ultimate beverage. Check out their various events such as pisco flights, pisco and chocolate pairings, and pisco cocktail lessons. As you sip, enjoy the live show of typical Peruvian music.