If you have the time and interest in history, Cusco is one place where you should absolutely hire an experienced guide to give you a full tour and explain all the city’s hidden secrets. We also understand that sometimes you just have a free day or half day to kill while you acclimate to it’s 11,000+ feet of altitude. If you’re looking for the best places to see around the city at your own pace, here are some of our favorite spots you should definitely not miss:
- Plaza de Armas – This bustling square is the heart of Cusco for good reason. Not only is it surrounded by incredible architecture, restaurants, and shops, but it’s the hub for your introduction to Inca/Quechua culture. Each street off the main plaza still has its original Quechua name and the locals can tell you what was once sold on that street through its translation.
- San Blas – Known for its artisan shops and markets, the San Blas neighborhood is THE place to find your unique Peruvian souvenir. Just a short walk (up a steep hill!) from the main plaza, you’ll find a small church and tons of shops and restaurants to peruse at your leisure.
- Qorikancha – This is a historic landmark and one of the most important temples in Inca culture. It was mostly destroyed by the Spanish, but the foundation remains, and the building and catacombs are a museum today. If you don’t want to pay to go into the museum, take a 5-minute walk from the main plaza down the Avenida El Sol. You can see the building of Qorikancha and the impressive Jardin Sagrado (Sacred Garden) on your left from the street.
- San Pedro Market – While it’s still one of our favorite places to get breakfast, San Pedro market has so much more to offer than just food. You can find any handicraft, food, fabric, or article of clothing Peru has to offer inside this impressive space. Don’t be afraid to bargain with the locals – they love to chat and make a good deal.
- San Cristobal – Plan to start or end your day at San Cristobal Church for sunrise or sunset. It’s a steep climb up the street or stairs to get here (depending on what direction you’re coming from), but the view over all of Cusco is incredible and worth the effort. You have to pay to visit the church or continue up the mountain to Sacsayhuaman, but the view from the little plaza here will only cost you a few deep breaths.
- San Francisco Plaza – There is a lot to see in San Francisco Plaza – a smaller plaza 2 blocks west of the Plaza de Armas. Lined with native Peruvian plants, it’s the perfect square to find a bench to rest and people watch. Grab a coffee and pastry at one of the bakeries along the square to enhance the experience.