Cuzco (also "Cusco", or "Qosqo" in Quechua), located in the Southern Sierras is a fascinating city that was the capital of the Incan Empire. Cuzco is a Unesco World Heritage Site and is one of Peru's most visited cities as it is the largest and most comfortable city from which tourists can begin visits to Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and other Incan sites in the region.
Cusco is a beautiful city with well preserved colonial architecture, evidence of a rich and complex history. The city itself represents the center of indigenous Quechua culture in the Andes, and by merely walking the streets one sees the layers of history. Spanish colonial buildings erected directly atop Inca walls line the square, while the modern tourist nightlife flourishes in their midst.
The city is surrounded by a number of ruins, the most impressive being Sacsayhuaman, the site of the 1536 battle in which dozens of Pizarro's men charged uphill to battle the forces of the Inca.
Nowadays, Cuzco is known for its indigenous population--often seen on the streets in traditional clothing--and its substantial tourist-fueled night life.
Museums and galleries Cusco Peru
- Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporáneo, located in the Municipal Palace at Plaza Regocijo. Has exhibitions of contemporary art. Admission with the boleto turistico
- Museo Historico Regional, located in the home of the Inca historian Garcilaso de la Vega. Many paintings from the 17th and 18h century.
- Museo del Sitio del Qoricancha, Av Sol. With information about the different pre-Columbian cultures and fragments of ceramics and textiles of the Inca culture. A very small museum, the showcase room includes three mummies and skulls modified by the Incas with holes or sloped foreheads. Allow an hour to an hour and a half. English explanations are present but lacking.
- Museo de Arte Popular, located in the basement of the OFEC office. Displays a collection of popular art.
- Galleries; the stunning scenery of the Cuzco area are often very well depicted by local artists. It is possible to find cheap prints that are of surprisingly good quality if you're prepared to shop around.
- Santa Catalina Convent, also a collection of religious art. Admission with the boleto turistico.
- Qoricancha, the Sun Temple, was the central site of worship for the Incas. Like so many other testimonies of Inca fantastic architecture it was severely devastated by the conquistadores, the Spanish conquerors, who built their Christian church, Santo Domingo, on top of the ruins. Yet most of the bottom part of the temple is fairly well preserved and makes the site worth several hours of your time, and is one of the best in Cuzco, or Qosqo in the Quechua language, containing both Catholic and Inca heritage with stunning views of the surrounding area. Viewing the outside from Avenida del Sol you get a perfect view of the church standing on the temple and to see the differences of the Inca and the Spanish way of building. Qoricancha also is the starting point of the yearly processions at Inti Raymi, the Sun Festival, to the rememberance of the Inca tradition of celebrating the winter solstice. This procession then moves all the way up to Saxayhuamán. In order to understand, especially the remarkable remains in the Inca section, a guided tour is advisable. Located 4 blocks from Plaza de Armas on Av. El Sol. Admission 10 soles.
The Cuzco area has some extremely good international food with tasty options for all budgets. Best pizza ever at the end of the Av. La Cultura. There's no need going to the expensive restaurants (which often only serve foreign food anyway), go to the restaurants that serve local food. Be sure to try an alpaca steak (don't forget a llama/alpaca is normally kept and used for its wool - so only old animals will be slaughtered.
But cuy (guinea pig) is the absolute traditional holiday food of the region. A must when visiting a market is to enjoy, in the cold season, "once frozen" / cooked potatoes.
If you are looking for traditional Peruvian food try Lomo Saltado (beef tips with tomatoes, onions, and spices, over a bed of french fries and rice), Aji de Gallina(chicken in a very good yellow sauce with olives and hard-boiled eggs), or Papa Rellena (stuffed potato with beef, olives, hard-boiled egg, vegetables, and spices)
Also, try eating at a Chifa. This is the Peruvian version of Chinese food. The neighborhood of Wanchaq has many Chifa restaurants.
Try Inca Kola, a bubble gum/tutti-frutti flavored soda. This drink outsells Coca-Cola in Peru; (though it's actually a subsidiary of the Coca-Cola company). Also, Chicha Morada is a Peruvian specialty. It's a spiced drink made out of purple corn.
The soups are amazing. Try Sopa de Zapallo (a type of pumpkin soup)
- El Balcon offers a soup, main course, and desert (no drink) for s/10 which is about $3.33. If you're looking for good quality food for not a lot of money, this is the place to go.
- Inka Grill, on the Plaza de Armas, is a good restaurant. Well known and frequented by tourists but not a trap. I had a very good meal there, with good service, and a nice selection of wine. Good place to try Cuy (guinea pig), though it is a bit pricey (60 soles) here, and some people have reported mud butt after eating it, it is tastily done and served without the head so eating doesn't remind you of your pet hamster. Try the appetizer tiradito de trucha. Alpaca also on the menu if you must try it.
- Cuy" the regional specialty, roasted guinea pig
- El Empridore has two restaurants within the city, both are very reasonably priced. They have a 13 page menu with all sorts of foods from around the world. Try the pisco sour tall, it's the best in the city.
- There are huge and cheap breakfasts at Yaku Mama at the end of the Gringo Alley.
- The sister restaurant Yaku Mama Grill on Plaza de Armas has some really good dinners, and a cheerful English-speaking waitress called Yolanda, but is a bit short on the alpacas.
- Jack's Cafe by the South American Explorers clubhouse at Choquechaca 188 (on the corner) serves fantastic food. Also probably the best coffee in Cusco. This is the best place to get a big breakfast complete with eggs, bacon, avocado, toast. You name it... and they probably have it. Try the homemade lemonades, superb!
- Right outside of Jack's is an empanada stand which has the best rocoto (a spicy salsa that goes well on the cheese or meat-stuffed pastries.)
- MAMA Amerika (former Mama Africa) which actually is everything on 3 levels: snack, cafe (rooftop), restaurant (with a good cheap menu), 2 discos, the latest movies on DVD. Some of the decorations and paintings are by the owner/artist.
- The Cross Keys Pub looking onto the central square is a pub serving European food to tourists. Skip the Fish and Chips.
- Kukuly, Nuaynapata 318, is a cozy place with friendly prices also attracting locals, ran by a Swiss guy. Daily menu for 4 soles.
- If you want some late night food after clubbing go for Los Angelos a very good fast food type restaurant close to Ukuku's near the Plaza de Armas
- "2 Nations" on Huaynapata, not too far and not too close to the Plaza de Armas, is a new restaurant opened up by an Australian named Matt. The food is excellent (coming from a very large, multi-ethnic menu, with an amazing cook to boot), and the service is not just service; chances are you´ll find yourself chatting with Matt himself for half the night. This place is a certainly one of the best restaurants in Cusco, and it will definitely be in all the next travel books. Great prices too!
- If you are not brave enough to try the empanadas on the street, stop by Meli Melo's near Limacpampa and order an empanada or a Bolivian saltena.
- Victor Victoria on Calle Tsesequocha, just off Calle Tigre, is fantastic. Super friendly service. Great salad bar buffet included in all main dishes. Gorgeous garlic trout with rice or potatoes for 10 soles (including the salad bar buffet and lovely fresh bread). Great value breakfasts. Huge glasses of freshly squeezed juice for 3.50 soles. Also they have a proper espresso machine for good coffee in the morning.
- Govindas vegetarian restaurant near Plaza de Armas. Not great. You pay 6 soles for a lousy glass of orange juice mixed with water. Food is just ok, pretty overpriced.
- Moni Cafe Restaurant, San Agustin 311, has been getting rave reviews for its vegetarian take on Peruvian food since 2001, great stuff.
- Cicciolinia's, Calle Triunfo 393 (at the end of the alley by the 12-sided stone), is a very tasty place to go for breakfast!
- If you want something truly more local (and very cheap) and are willing to take risks of not the best methods of cleaning dishes, head over to "El Mercado". It's a roofed market where they sell delicious local bread, herbs, juices, souvenirs, DVDs, etc. At the end of the market are the food stands, where they serve local food. For 2 soles you can get soup, an entree, and juice. El Mercado is in front of the train station, all the locals know where the train station and El Mercado is. This is where the local workers go for their meals, not exactly a tourist place, but they are friendly towards tourists anyway.
- El Fogon, Plateros 365 (Just off of Plaza de Armas, top floor), ☎ 233596. Nothing fancy but great cheap food: for 10 Soles (about US$3.50) get a meal deal that includes a plate from the salad bar, a selection of soup, a selection of main dish, a dessert and a beverage. Or splurge with their more expensive menu offer for 20 Soles. Very tasty Peruvian food. Friendly staff too! edit
- Bagdad Cafe, (left of the cathedral). This small restaurant seems to produce everything themselves. Local food is extremely good, in the evening small performance groups enter the restaurant and give excellent performances. The prices are mid-range, but it is sure worth it. The daily menu lunch special is more like a snack. edit
- Chifa Status. At Av. La Cultura, close to "El Mega" supermarket. Is a good quality and very cheap Chifa. Dishes for 2 or 3 Soles. edit
- Puerto Atico, (Perú Steet between Mateo Pumacahua and La Infancia). "The best cevicheria" as a local said to me. The "pueto atico" ceviche that is Pejerey with Pulpo, and the Jalea de Mariscos are the must try