KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
LANGUAGE: Spanish. Brush up on common phrases to help while exploring the city. We downloaded a translation app, which was very useful in the markets and outside of the touristy areas.
CURRENCY: Peruvian Sol. Restaurants, hotels, and larger store fronts will accept a credit card, but cash is the preferred method of payment. You will need cash for shopping in the markets, tips for your porters and guides and taxi fares.
WHEN TO GO: The winter (May-September) is the dry season and the most popular time to visit Peru. The summer (December- March) is the warmest time of year but marked with frequent storms and rain showers.
ELEVATION: Altitude sickness is a concern when traveling to Cusco as the city is at an elevation of over 11,000 feet above sea level.
SAFETY: Travel around Peru is safe. Poverty is a widespread problem which opens the door for petty crime including pick pocketing and theft.
RESTAURANTS: Limo (excellent ceviche and views of Plaza de Armas), Marcelo Batata (alpaca steaks)
TRADITIONAL DISHES: Cuy (guinea pig), Alpaca, coca leaves
Cusco, the historic capital of the Inca Empire, is a beautiful city perched high in the Andes Mountain range. Spilling with Spanish inspired architecture, the city is a perfect central location for exploring the Sacred Valley of Peru. (If you plan on hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, it is recommended you spend several days in Cusco to help acclimate to the high altitude.)
Start your day in Plaza de Armas, the main square and heart of the city. Buy a ticket to tour Cusco Cathedral and climb up one of the towers for a panoramic view of the square and an ideal photo spot framed by the double windows.
If you are hungry, stop at Limo overlooking the square for their delicious ceviche.
Next, take a tour of the Museo Inka. The archaeology museum traces Cusco’s history from the Inca period to the 20th century.
Following your museum visit, book a textile tutorial and learn about Alpaca wool production. Local women will explain how the wool is harvested, cleaned and turned into yarn. The most interesting part is how the dye is created using local plants and natural elements to make the vibrant colors.
Now that you are versed on the production, spend the rest of the afternoon souvenir shopping in the markets. Here you will find all things wool: blankets, scarves, hats, socks, sweaters, bags in every color imaginable.
To wrap up you first day in Cusco, head to Marcelo Batata for dinner. One of the restaurant’s house specialities is a grilled alpaca steak served with your choice of homemade sauce. Have your party each order a different sauce and topping to sample and share.
On your second full day in Cusco, arrange for a private tour of the sacred valley. (Alpaca Expeditions arranged our tour and we would highly recommend their services!)
First stop of the tour is the Hawana Cancha Alpaca Farm. You will have the opportunity to feed the local llamas and alpacas and learn about the different breeds. Careful, the animals will spit!
After the alpaca farm, you will move onto your first Inca ruin of Pisaq. Urubama, Ollantaytambo and finally, Chinchero will round out your day before heading back to Cusco. We would recommend booking a private tour for your group as it does involve several hours in a van traveling from town to town. Chinchero back to Cusco will take around 1.5 to 2 hours, the longest car ride of the tour. The private tour would give your group more flexibility in your day.
If you see a red flag waving in front of a home or building along your tour route, this means someone is selling chicha, a corn-based beer. If you dare to sample, be warned, it is sour!
If you are feeling brave for dinner, try the local dish of cuy, more commonly known as guinea pig. In many places around the world guinea pig is a cute fluffy pet, but in Peru, guinea pig is a delicacy. The guinea pig is usually fried or baked, and served whole (head, paws and all!) on a platter with potatoes and vegetables.
This itinerary hits many of the highlights of Cusco and the Sacred Valley. If you have one more day in the area, catch the train to Machu Picchu or consider hiking the famous Inca Trail. Our Peruvian journey continued on along the trail. To read more about our hike, check out our Guide to Hiking the Inca Trail.