Although being a small mountain town, Cusco has a lot to offer for a wide range of interests and taste buds. I’ve compiled a guide of a handful of highly rated, affordable, and delicious restaurants, bars, and activities to check out while in town.
You can easily accomplish the list of activities if you only have a few days in the city. Transporation is easy to find to get around, or you can rent a car from the airport; although not necessarily recommended. The streets are very windy and narrow, and it could be dangerous driving yourself.
Food & Drink Guide
This restaurant offers Peruvian fusion dishes with a healthy spin on Peru’s classic recipes. Lomo Saltado; tender beef skewers with onion, tomato, and yellow chiles. Grilled local trout with sautéed vegetables and potatoes.
PerUk had one of the best salads I’ve had in South America so far. Having a fairly healthy diet, I’ve felt as though I’ve been missing out on the green scene since leaving California. There is no shortage of fruit, but finding fresh, safe-to-eat greens can be challenging at times. This salad consisted of arugula and spinach, blue cheese crumbles, toasted pecans, avocado, and asparagus with a citrus- cilantro vinaigrette.
The ambiance here is very nice, and they offer an extensive wine and cocktail menu. The prices are moderate, with dishes costing between $10 – $20.
If you’re looking for a cheaper option, or perhaps a lunch special – this is the place for you. With a birds eye view of the street, perched on a small romantic balcony you’ll be sure to have a one-of-a-kind dining experience.
Mama Seledonia is a small, locally owned restaurant that offered a lunch special with the option of enjoying a pisco sour or a glass of wine to start your meal. Yes, please! I also started off with a bowl of vegetable soup, crema de verduras which was the perfect choice for the cloudy day it was.
After eating ceviche almost every day in Puerto Lopez, I was craving it after a week of not having it (spoiled), so of course I opted for the fresh trout ceviche as my main course. The preparation of ceviche in Peru is slightly different than other countries; most often served with corn and sweet potato.
I stumbled across this restaurant on our first night in Cusco. Having much conversation about craving burgers earlier that day post-Macchu Picchu hiking, the plan had been to drop off our bags at the Airbnb, and wander into town to find a cheeseburger.
Unfortunately, plans usually don’t go as expected. We arrived two hours later than anticipated, and were dropped off at the bottom of the hill with our backpacks. Staring motionlessly to the top of the hill, I turned and Chakruna Native happened to be the tiny hole in the wall “cave” that we were dropped off in front of.
What do you know, this happened to be the cheapest, most gourmet burger I think I’ve ever enjoyed. The dinner special was a juice of the day (passionfruit, my fav) accompanied by a cheeseburger on a brioche bun, and seasoned fries… all for a total of $5. This is a burger joint you can’t miss, located in the San Blas neighborhood. Cash only.
As I mentioned previously, a green meal can be a challenge to find. Much to my surprise, Cusco had a fairly wide selection of different vegan/vegetarian cafes and restaurants. In fact, it seemed as though many of the locals themselves are vegan.
I have to say, although I myself am not a vegetarian (however I do opt to eat quite healthily), the number of restaurants that serve Alpaca as their prime dish was disturbing to me. After befriending a number of Alpacas and llamas at Macchu Picchu, I was very turned off by the matter.
Organika offered a huge selection of salads with an assortment of lettuce grown in their garden. All of their vegetables are locally grown in their farm. It was a refreshing change for my palette to have such a fresh, light lunch; topped off with a pineapple and passionfruit (maracuya) juice.
Organika is tucked back in the hills of San Blas, and is moderately priced offering dishes from $10-$15.
If you’re looking for an outdoor patio that’s not in the center of the plaza, this is the place to go. Pachapapa is the perfect option for a hearty dinner, with an ambiance that makes you feel like you’re out of the hustle and bustle of the touristic center; located in the San Blas neighborhood in front of the church.
They have a patio outside with heaters, as well as cozy indoor seating. I sort of felt like we were on a date with the couple next to us, but it’s all a part of the experience. We enjoyed a couple of local Pilseners, and split a caprese salad.
This was the first restaurant in my month in Peru where I indulged in eating lamb, as I usually don’t eat red meat. It was delicious. The preparation was perfect along with the accompaniment of roasted potatoes and leeks. This meal cost half of what it would have cost in the US, coming out to approx. $30.
This bar is the highest ranked bar on tripadvisor in the area, and for good reason. You’ll quickly learn that Cusco isn’t a large city by any means, but there are a ton of restaurants all crammed together, making it difficult to choose amongst all the options.
Limbus is one of the only restaurants with a view of the entire city, perched on top of the San Blas hill with a balcony overlooking all of Cusco. The bar offers happy hour with a giant selection of cocktails. There is even a section of the menu dedicated to variations on the classic Pisco Sour cocktail.
The best place to stop in for your morning espresso and a freshly baked chocolate croissant. Perfect for a little snack at any time of day with a beautiful view in San Blas. Good vibes, the girls there are super nice and available to help you with anything you need.
Offering a wide selection of baked goods to satisfy the sweet and savory cravings; empanadas, spinach scrolls, quiche, fresh passion fruit pie, brownies, and a selection of “kekes” – banana bread, zucchini/pineapple cake… delicious! They also have a menu of fresh juices.
What To Do
This one is a given, and if it’s not; then you need to know that if you’re going to Cusco, you must find a way to budget yourself so that you can get to Machu Picchu.
Read my guide here on how to get there, how much it costs, which hikes to book in advance, when to go, and many more technicalities of planning your trip!
Located about two-thirds of the way to the Sacred Valley, on the way from Cusco to Pisac you’ll find this hidden sanctuary. Although not very large, there is much to see at Awanakancha that you may not be able to otherwise see unless heading deep into the Andes, and it’s free!
On the farm you’ll see a number of different species; alpaca, llama, and Vicuña. The species are separated by large pens. Alpaca outnumbered the other two species by far, but there are also two different types of Alpaca.
All of the animals are interested in you for one reason; in hopes of receiving a grassy snack. There are no guides on the property, but you’ll clearly see a wheelbarrow of grass and plants that is there for the purpose of feeding the animals.
Past the farm, you’ll see small exhibits where you can see the process of refining the wool to make fabric, tapestry’s and clothing. There are women on site offering live examples of their weaving techniques.
The journey from Cusco to Pisac takes about 45 minutes. In many places in South America, there is a form of transportation called “colectivo” where you hop into a taxi with other travelers (depending on how many people are in your party) and it’s substantially the cheapest option by far to get anywhere outside of the city. The fare is approximately $2/person.
You can also take a taxi if you prefer more comfort; priced around $20 each way.
This market is one of the most famous markets in the Cusco region where vendors from indigenous communities in the surrounding highlands come to Pisac to sell their produce and handmade goods. A large section of the market has souvenirs where you can find everything from jewelry, ponchos, clothing, hats, ceramics, instruments, and alpaca products.
The market is open from 9 am -4:30 pm every day, however it’s only on Sundays when the local communities set up shop in the main square. You’ll be amazed by all the bright, amazing colors throughout the town; it’s truly a picturesque scene. However, some local don’t like to be photographed, so make sure you ask or gesture if it’s okay to take their picture first.
Get Lost in San Blas
After 2 days in Machu Picchu, we had an airbnb in the hills of San Blas for an entire week to follow. This was by far one of the coolest neighborhoods I’ve ever stayed in. There are little cafes and restaurants tucked back amongst the cobblestoned hills – some having an entrance so small you have to bend over before entering into a cave like experience.
There are hidden gems sprinkled all throughout San Blas; bakeries, music venues, bars, cafes, boutique shops. You can spend days wandering the streets and not get bored. Not to mention, there are ladies with baby lambs and alpacas that you can snag photos with (for a very small fee, of course.)
Our Airbnb was about ¾ of the way up the hill. There are a few one way roads that taxis can squeeze through, but we were lucky enough to reside on a street with no cars, which means that you must walk up steep sets of stairs in order to reach the apartment. This is how much of San Blas is, so you best come with your best walking shoes.
Post- Machu Picchu hiking my legs felt like rubber, and my calves burned so badly that I had to side step up and down the steps for the first two days. It may have slowed me down, but it gave me an opportunity to really soak it all in.
It might take a couple days to get used to the altitude, being at 11,500 feet above sea level. Some people are not affected by this (I was), but almost every hotel, cafe, and market has coco tea. The leaves of this plant help to curb the nausea and exhaustion some may experience. Drink lots of water, rest up, and you’ll be fine once your body adjusts!