When visiting Cusco, Peru, prepare to be mystified. The majesty of the former capital of the Incan empire is not lost upon the 1.5 million tourists who visit the city every year, drawn by the adventure of the Incan Trail as well as the epicurean twists and turns of the Sacred Valley.
Where to Stay:
This 500-year-old mansion set in the center of Cusco’s historic district faces the most important temple of the Incan empire—the Qoricancha, or the Temple of the Sun. Combining modern amenities with old-world Peruvian culture, the Luxury Collection Hotel’s accommodations are cozy and well-appointed, with luxurious red and gold tones evoking colonial history.
As the name suggests, the Monasterio Hotel is set inside a former monastery whose history dates back some 500 years. The hotel sits a bit of a hike above the main city square but results in stunning views of the city’s rooftops below. Rooms are unique and meant to reflect the hotel’s history, with classical wood furnishing and antique art.
Where to Eat:
For internationally inspired Peruvian cuisine, check out this approachable upscale restaurant that fuses classic Peruvian dishes with flavors from the Mediterranean. Melding cultures is part of the restaurant’s DNA, given that the owners are Peruvian-Australian, while the Argentinian chef has Lebanese and Italian parents. The eclectic menu includes tuna carpaccio, tomato tarts, and risotto nero.
Check out creative Peruvian food at Nuna Raymi, whose name is a Quechua (the indigenous Incan language) term meaning “celebration of the soul.” All ingredients are locally sourced from the Sacred Valley, and the dishes pay homage to the Peruvian culture, with offerings like native potato and chili tastings.
Where to Drink:
If you’re willing to hike through the stunning artist’s neighborhood of San Blas, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views and excellent drinks at Limbus Bar. Check out the phenomenal happy hour, where pisco sours are two for the price of one.
Don’t be fooled by the name—this is not a museum but a bar specializing in one of the most famous liquors to come out of Peru. This bar whips up fantastic pisco sours and awesome chicanes, the less strong of the pisco cocktails you’ll frequently find in the city.
Where to Visit:
A visit to Cusco is complete with a visit to Machu Picchu. You can get there on foot (the most popular trek is four days and three nights) or via an automobile. We recommend the train for the best views. Once you’re at the stunning city, be sure to leave yourself ample time to explore the Incan ruins thoroughly.
This ancient Incan complex continues to draw visitors despite the steep climb, which originates from the heart of Cusco City. Tight-fitting stone walls, the remains of an ancient fortress, are particularly notable for their conspicuous lack of mortar.
Deemed the Protector of Cusco, this stunning statue from local sculptor Francisco Olazo (whose grandson’s work can be found in San Blas) is just adjacent to Sacsayhuaman. It provides unbelievable views of the city below.
San Blas Neighborhood
Stroll through the beautiful artists’ neighborhood in Cusco, and you may find yourself with an original watercolor or some hand-embroidered shoes. Check out the unadorned address at 584 Cuesta San Blas for original ceramics and oil paintings, the art cafe at Xapiri Ground, or the Traditional Textile Center of Cusco. For amazing views, check out the lookout just before the Templo del San Blas or take a break at Kaldi Coffee.
Templo de la Luna
Another stunning hike (with a little less elevation) in Cusco takes you to the Templo de la Luna, a site somewhat off the beaten path of the many other Incan ruins in the city. On your way to this ancient site, you may wander past wild horses and sheep kept by the local farmers.
Salineras de Maras
Just over an hour away from Cusco, this salt basin is one of Peru’s most “Instagrammable” spots.