Cusco swarms with tourists, especially in the high season. But you’ll find there’s so much more to see in the Cusco region than just Machu Picchu. Even better this region can be successfully explored on a budget. Here’s how.
The best thing you can do when you arrive in Cusco is buy a multipass called the Boleto Turistico Del Cusco. These can be bought from the Tourist Information Centre on Calle Mantas which runs off Plaza de Armas (Mon – Sat). These multi pass tickets (70 soles students or under 26 year olds, 130 soles adults) last for 10 days and include entrance to the arqueological ruins of Moray, Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Chinchero, Tambomachay, Pukapukara, Q’enqo, Saqsayhuaman, Tipon, Pikillacta. Additionally tickets include entrance in 4 different museums including Museo Historico Regional and Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporaneo. Of couse, weigh up the financial benefit before purchasing the ticket. If you purchase a student ticket be sure to carry your student ID as some sites will ask for this. This ticket coupled with public buses out to the ruins and packed lunches = many cheap days in Cusco.
Ruins, ruins, ruins. You’ll probably never want to see another ruin site by the time you leave Cusco but make the most of it while you can. Click on these links to check out how to do the Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Saqsayhuaman and Tipon ruins with out a guide. We’ve given information about how to get and from these ruins by using local buses.
Although we heard great things, Cusco’s selection of walking tours were not very good. Infact we “lost” our group and went about exploring the city by ourselves. Museo Historico Regional (Casa Garcilaso) has an impressive selection of art dedicated to Peru’s prehistoric and recent formation with a notable focus on the Cusco region. Plaza San Francisco lies one block behind the museum and is most notable for its beautiful church. The church is modest in comparison to others but is notable for it’s enormous canvas and for being one of the few churches to survive the 1650 earthquake. The church has a museum, both are open at varying times depending on the day so its best to check this out before planning a visit.
In the direction of the San Pedro Market is Santa Clara Church which has a curious design, sitting upon bricks stolen from Incan ruins by the Spanish. The walls of this church are mirror clad, supposedly to lure visitors into the Catholic faith. Santa Clara is also a notable stop as it once housed the daughters of some of the Spanish conquerors. San Pedro Church and the San Pedro Markets sit side by side. Although there is a distinct toursity feel about these markets, its a decent market. Get past aisle upon aisle of alpaca jerseys to find a good selection of juice bars, fruit, vege and meat stalls. There is also a decent selection of food stalls offering quick delicious meals. We did notice a shop packed to the rafters with alpaca goods on the pedestrian only street to the side of the market. We were the only foreigners amongst many locals in this shop for a good 20 minutes. If your need to succumb to alpaca products prevails, this is a good shop to check out.
The two main cathedrals are in Plaza de Armas. Compania de Jesus (entry is 10 soles) has an interesting history following the 1650 earthquake. After the destructive event the cathedral planned to be the most impressive in Cusco. The archbishop , however, opposed the grand scale arguing that this cathedral should not surpass the citie’s main cathedral in statuture. The pope was called in as mediation but by the time communications were finalised the Compania de Jesus was all but complete, leaving the grand building that still stands today. Visitors can also enjoy beautiful views over Plaza de Armas but cannot take photos in the church – a CD of photos is included in your entry. La Catedral (S15 student, free audio guide) consists of three sections. The large areas do blend into one another with flag dotting tour guides herding masses of tour groups quickly through the building. Despite the tour groups, the cathedral is simply magnificent. Look out for the “Incan inspired last supper” canvas, taking your time to spot the various famous Peruvian cuisines. Another painting to spot depicts the 1650 earthquake and is the oldest painting in Cusco.
San Blas is a popular district for tourists and a pleasent area to spend part of an afternoon with its quiet plaza and church surrounded by a small selection of cafes and a Sunday market. Museo de Arzobispal is conveniently on route back into the city and offers a large amount of religious art if thats your jam.
Like almost everywhere else, we didn’t prebook our Cusco accommodation. Because we travelled during the high season we did have to move a bit but we were never without a place to sleep. If you’re only here for a short stay its probably best to book ahead.
Dragon Fly Hostal (): S30 per person, 9 bed dorm including breakfast. This hostel is nice, clean and friendly. There is a strict ‘no talking’ in the dorms rule and the communal space is outdoors which makes for some pretty chilly nights hanging out. There is a bar, reasonably cheap in house dinners available, hot water and a good kitchen though so we would recommend this place.
Intro Hostal (
): USD9 per person, 12 bed dorm including breakfast. Spacious dorms with lockers, hot water, computers available. Again the hang out space is outdoors which gets cold but there is a fire pit here and the dorm beds all have individual lamps which means you can hang out in the warmth of a bed at night without keeping others awake. Bag storage available. On the downside the dorm room does face a busy street so expect honking all day long.
Puma Hostal (http://hostalelpuma.com/en): 50 soles, private room, shared bathroom including breakfast. Plaza de Armas is less than 5 minutes away, kitchen available. We considered this to be a pretty decent hostel for a one night stay.
Hostal Kilombo (): S30 per person, 12 bed dorm. We wouldn’t recommend this hostal for an extended stay however its fine for a night or two. The beds are warm and comfortable, breakfast is included. There is no kitchen which is difficult and the outdoor area is not overly inviting to hang out in.
Tapa Tapa y Ole (Calle Suecia 343-C): This was one of the most enjoyable places we ate at during our travels. A bit more expensive at 25 soles for a set lunch menu but well worth it and we would recommend it to anyone!
Chicha (Heladeros next to Plaza Regocijo): This restaurant is run by a famous Peruvian chef, you may also see his restaurants in Arequipa. Its not budget backpacker prices but if you can save up for a night out, you won’t regret it. A meal for 2 (shared entree, 2x mains, 2 desserts, 3x beverages) set us back S211. The quality and price most probably won’t be matched in your home country.
Cafe Snack (Calle Matara): decent set meals for 8 soles. Good atmosphere and friendly staff.
Paddy’s Irish Pub (calle Triunfo next to the main cathedral): Although we try to avoid such examples, Diane particularly enjoyed a Cider after 5 months with only beer and rum in sight.
Getting there from Arequipa:
• In Arequipa return to the main bus terminal (Terminal Terreste or Terrapuerto International are side by side). A taxi here should cost about 8 soles or less.
• Unsurprisingly, buses to Cusco run extremely frequently. We took Tulsa for 25 soles per person, taking 12 hours. Despite arriving 3 hours later than advertised, the bus is passable if you need a cheap bus.
• There is a 2 sole charge to depart the terminal in Arequipa.
• Buses in Cusco arrive at Terminal Terrestre Cusco along Luis Vallejo Santoni. This is about 2.5km from the central historic area. Taxis are available or buses leave from San Martin (the main highway just past the roundabout).
Getting away to the Chilean border:
• If you’re going direct from Cusco to the Chilean border it is a long trip but not as dating as you might think. You do need to change buses a few times.
• In Cusco return to the main bus terminal – Terminal Terrestre Cusco along Luis Vallejo Santoni. This is about 2.5km from the central historic area.
• If travelling onto the Chilean border, we recommend taking a bus from Cusco at about 7pm. This will mean you get to Arica in daylight hours (around 3pm the following day).
• A bus from Cusco to Arequipa takes around 10- 12 hours and costs 70 soles for a semi lie flat seat. Spending this much on a bus sucks but does mean that you can get some sleep over night and keep going the next day.
• You will arrive in Terminal Terreste or Terrapuerto International which are side by side but require leaving the terminal to access the other. Ask for buses to Tacna. Buses start departing at about 6AM. You should be able to make it on the 7 or 7.30AM am bus, taking around 5 hours.
• When you arrive in Tacna, you will be dropped in the national bus station. Head over to the international bus station (next door) and locate a bus for Arica (12 soles, 2 hours depending on border crossing times). These buses leave multiple times ever hour so don’t worry about timing. The bus drivers take your passports and give them back at the border. The bus will stop at the Chilean border crossing where you can complete your passport formalities etc.
•After 2 hours you will arrive in Arica, Chile. The bus stop is located at – Terminal Rodoviarío Arica, . This bus stop is located within a 10-15 minute walk of nearby hostals. Be aware that these hostals aren’t close to the main beach and really have nothing of interest around. There is a supermarket and of course, the bus station is close so are a perfect location if you are using Arica puerly as a stop over.
TIP: Be aware of the one hour time zone difference between Chile and Peru. This caught us out!