Welcome to the Around the World Interview series on Ordinary Traveler! Every so often we have a new guest who has either lived or spent an extended amount of time in a particular country. Each guest will give valuable insights and tips to a different destination around the world.
This week, Flip Flops Abroad shares her Cusco travel tips!
Cusco Travel Tips: Everything You Need to Know
Budget tips for Cusco?
Cusco is one of the pricier cities to visit in Peru as it’s the major jumping off point for much of Peru’s archeological sites (Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley, Sacsayhuaman). Most people stay in close proximity to the city center, or Plaza De Armas.
To minimize costs try staying a bit further away in one of the barrios such as San Cristobal, San Blas, or San Pedro. You’ll walk a bit further to the main square but you’ll also have a more authentic experience.
Favorite place or favorite experience in Cusco?
The highlight of my stay in Cusco let alone South America so far was hiking the Inca Trail to visit Machu Picchu. It’s a 4 day grueling hike over passes and into valleys walking along the original stairways the Inca built centuries ago.
I can’t imagine going to Cusco without seeing Machu Picchu and more so I can’t imagine going to Machu Picchu without hiking the Inca Trail. It’s some of the most beautiful scenery and affords you the opportunity to see additional Inca sites some almost as grand as Machu Picchu.
What is the food like in Cusco?
Since Cusco is a tourist hub you’ll find everything from Thai to Chinese to pizza to McDonald’s …oh and there’s local Peruvian food too. Peru’s national dish is ceviche and it’s one of the better meals you’ll have in Cusco. In addition there are a variety of ways they prepare and eat Alpaca meat. It has a sweet taste that reminds me a bit of pork tenderloin and is absolutely delish!
The delicacy in Cusco however is Cuy, otherwise known as Guinea Pig. Many people have quandaries about eating guinea pig but I’m one who’ll try just about anything one. Sadly, I can only report it tasted like chicken….and overpriced chicken at that.
Any dos and don’ts regarding customs in Cusco?
Nothing too specific to Cusco. One common courtesy is to always ask before taking pictures of locals. People in and around Cusco seem particularly sensitive to this.
Do you have a favorite hotel, hostel or campground in Cusco?
For a backpacker budget I would recommend the EcoPackers Hostel. It’s only a few blocks off the main square and has excellent food.
For a more budget conscience traveler and especially couples or groups, I’d recommend the Amaru Hostel I. It’s in the San Blas district and has an amazing view over Plaza De Armas, not to mention a fabulous breakfast including fresh fruit and eggs.
Must-do activities or must-see sites in Cusco?
Sacsayhuaman is an Inca site pitched overlooking Cusco and is a great way to work on acclimating to the altitude. You can walk there from most areas of the city around the square and it affords you excellent views of Cusco below. Make sure to wonder to the back of the site where there are natural slides in the rock faces. Fun for kids and adults alike!
Safety tips, warnings or things to be aware of before traveling to Cusco?
Generally Cusco is a very safe city. I was even comfortable walking in most areas of the city at night alone as there are many people out and very little rumblings of crime. One minor annoyance to be aware of is that all retailers will scrutinize any foreign currency you try to use.
The American Dollar is widely accepted but only if it is free of rips, tears, holes, and writing. If even the smallest defect is present no one will take the bill. It’s just an annoyance but it made me make a few ATM trips during my stay in Cusco.
Best and cheapest times to visit Cusco?
I found November to be the sweet spot for visiting. It’s just out of the high tourist season but the rainy season hasn’t gotten into full swing just yet. That means you’ll get marginally better prices and have most of the good weather that higher prices would afford you in the dry season.
Packing Tips for Cusco?
Rain gear is a must if you visit between November to March. Generally you’ll need a mix of clothes so plan to pack and dress in layers as the temperatures can be quite warm during the day but get chilly at night or when it rains.
The other option is to pack light and buy some souvenirs You can easily pick up locally handmade hats, gloves, scarves, and sweaters all made from alpaca wool. Very warm!