When visiting Cuzco, Peru, you will be overwhelmed by the amount of tourism agencies and street vendors selling tours to Machu Picchu, Moray, Ollantaytambo, Sacsayhuaman, Q’enqo, Puca Pucara, Templo de la Luna and the various other Inca ruins. While seeing these sites is an important part of the culture and getting to know the area, there are days you may want to do something different. Here were some of the things I enjoyed doing when in Cuzco that didn’t involve Inca ruins.
Explore Pisaq Market
Pisaq Market (shown right) sells handicrafts, jewelry, minerals, herbs, spices and local foods and is the biggest market in Cuzco. Sunday is the best time to go, when locals from hours away come to attend church and buy and sell goods. This is also when you can see locals dressed in traditional clothing from the church procession that takes place in the town. Even if you don’t buy anything it’s a good way to learn about the local way of life, get a taste of how herbal medicine works, see how paints and dyes are made using natural minerals and sample the various local foods. Make sure to try the choclo con queso, a regional strain of corn on the cob topped with cheese and chili sauce.
For something closer to the downtown area of Cuzco, you can also visit the San Pedro Central Market located on Santa Clara near the Church and Monastery of Santa Clara. The market is enormous and sells an array of traditional and offbeat items. You can purchase handicrafts, beauty products, fresh fruits, ornate flans, sweet breads, traditional llama fetuses, colorful masks and even hallucinogens.Get A Massage
Walking around the streets of Cuzco, you’ll be bombarded by hundreds of people selling massages and spa treatments. While most will sell these at 30 to 50 Nuevo Soles (about $11 to $19), I found an excellent place called Spa Hampi Maki at 250 Marquez Street, on the 2nd floor of the “Artesanias El Solar Dorado” building. They gave me a 60-minute full-body massage with hot stones for 15 S/.$ (about $6). It was very relaxing with a dark, private room, gentle music and comfortable table.
While you’ll find plenty of worthwhile Inca and history museums in Cuzco, one that stands out from the rest is the Chocolate Museum, officially called the ChocoMuseo. The museum is free to enter and features chocolate and cocao history, facts, old advertisements, videos, tastings, workshops and the chance to make your own chocolate. They also offer a Cacao Farm Tour. Moreover, the chance to indulge in delicious chocolate delicacies, like cacao tea, fondue, iced chocolate and a chocolate tasting with Peruvian coffee, can be done in their cafe. Note: The museum is a bit hard to find. It’s located at 210 Garcilaso, on the 2nd floor. Simply walk through a small hallway into an open courtyard to find the stairs leading up to the entrance.
Take A Cooking Class
What better way to get to know a culture than through food? Cusco Cooking offers Peruvian cooking classes where you not only learn how to make traditional dishes, but also how to navigate the markets and create cocktails. Some of the meals you’ll make include crema de choclo, a corn-based soup, arroz con pollo, chicken and rice, lomo saltado, a spiced and marinated beef dish and Pisco Sour, the national drink of Peru. You can choose between three menu choices. The classes take place in the ChocoMuseo at 210 Garcilaso everyday at 5:30 p.m. Prices range from $33 to $42 per person, depending on the size of the class.
Plaza de Armas is a big plaza in the downtown area with numerous small gardens, benches and statues. Numerous churches and shops with charming stone architecture surround it, which adds to the aesthetics of the area. The ambiance is charming and peaceful – the perfect place to relax and lie out with a good book.
Explore The Art Of Cuzco
Walking around the city, you’ll find numerous galleries that are free to enter. Here, you’ll find cultural pieces, many of which also incorporate Inca traditions. The works are amazing, with vibrant colors, life-like portraits and landscapes that seem to jump off the page. My favorite galleries were in a building called the Centro Artesanal Arte Inka, located at 392 Triunfo, near Plaza de Armas.
While you’ll need to pay 70 Soles (about $26) to enter the archeological sites nearby, it is free to hike to Cristo Blanco. It’s located to the right of the admission booth for Sacsayhuaman. Trek 11,811 feet up Pukamoqo Hill, and you’ll come face-to-face with an enormous statue of Christ. The piece was a donation in 1945 from the Christian Palestines who were living in Cuzco as refugees. At night, you can see Cristo Blanco all lit up from the downtown area of the city.
Get Religious At One Of The Town’s Places Of Worship
Cuzco is full of beautiful churches, cathedrals and convents. Near Plaza de Armas is the Cathedral, La Compañia de Jesus, the Convento de la Merced and the Church and Monastary of Santa Clara. Moreover, next to the Parque de la Madre, you’ll find the Church and Monastary of Santa Teresa. My favorite, however, was the Templo de Santo Domingo, with a beautiful manicured lawn and expansive facade, located on the corner of Avenida El Sol and Arryan.
Chichubamba is a small village in Sacred Valley that is home to 14 families, each of whom have a special talent that you can learn about and experience. When I was there I visited Celia, a woman who makes chicha, or corn beer. I learned about the production process and got to play a local drinking game, where players toss heavy coins into the mouth of a metal frog. Moreover, I visited a family of ceramics makers, and saw how high-quality pottery was made, even getting to roll the clay, create the base and paint a pot myself.
Experience The Nightlife
Cuzco has many options for bars and clubs. The best part: it’s easy to get a buzz on a budget, as a full-priced cocktail will only set you back about $4 to $6. Paddy’s Pub is a lively Irish bar with a great happy hour, although you’re more likely to find Pisco Sours and Cuba Libres on the menu than Magners. However, they do have Guinness. If you want to experience the best club in town, Mama Africa is a favorite among tourists and locals. Other popular bars and clubs include Real McCoy, 7 Angelitos, Groove, Mythology and The Frogs.