Tips for traveling Cuzco, Peru, on a budget

traveling on a budget through cusco, peruWhen traveling in Cuzco, Peru, it can be easy to spend more money than you budgeted for, especially with the myriad tour agencies offering treks and sightseeing adventures as well as the many restaurants offering overpriced comfort food. Luckily, there are still ways to save money on food, activities, and accommodation while traveling through this popular city.

Eating on a Budget

One thing to remember is that while you may be drawn to the big, touristy eateries because they are familiar and comfortable, you are going to end up paying the price. Look around a bit and you’ll see that there are plenty of smaller restaurants that can give you delicious food at a budget-friendly price. For example, in their blog Jack and Jill Travel the World, the bloggers talk about how a lunch at Jack’s Cafe, a popular tourist restaurant, will cost about 20 soles, while at the eatery right next door patrons can order a soup, a main course, and a drink for only 5 soles.

Some other venues to try if you are eating on a budget in Cuzco, Peru:

  • The market- About a ten minute walk from Plaza de Armas, you can fill up on an array of foods here without spending much money. For instance, an egg sandwich will cost about 1.20 soles, while a meal of rice and fish will be about 3 soles.
  • Prasada– This ambient vegetarian eatery is located in San Blas, Cuzco, and serves delicious fare and decent portions at a cheap price. Some menu items include vegetarian tacos for 5 soles, pizza for 3.50 soles, and lasagna for 5 soles.
  • Chifa StatusChifa is a word used to describe a fusion style of food that mixes creole Limean food with Chinese-style cuisine. Some examples of chifa-style fare include wontons, fried rice, and noodles, which often include different types of meat. At Chifa Status, which is located near El Mega Supermarket on Av. de la Cultura, you can get delicious chifa dishes for 2-3 soles.
  • Kukuly– Located on Calle Waynapata 318, this cozy little eatery offers a daily set menu of soup, a meal, and a drink for 6 soles.
  • El Encuentro– This vegetarian restaurant is located at Santa Catalina Ancha 384 in the Plaza de Armas and serves a set menu that includes a make-your-own salad bar, soup, an entree (usually a stew or bean dish), and tea, all for 7 soles.

salt pans in maras, peruCheap Activities in Cuzco, Peru

While there will obviously be some worthy activities that will be expensive, for example, hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, there are still many fun things to do in Cuzco that will not cost a fortune. Here are some examples:

  • Visit the colorful salt pans of Maras and the ruins in Moray– Maras is located about 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) north of Cuzco and is located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The salt pans have been used since pre-Incan times to extract salt from the local subterranean stream. Moray is an archeological site located about 50 kilometers (about 31 miles) northwest of Cuzco. Here you can see unique Incan ruins that form terraced, circular depressions in the Earth. You can visit these sites by doing a day tour, which will cost about 20 soles for transportation, 5 soles for admission to Maras, and 10 soles for admission to Moray.
  • Learn to salsa dance- If you are looking for a free and fun activity, many bars around Plaza de Armas can offer free salsa lessons to anyone interested. However, if you are serious about learning salsa and want a truly quality lesson for a reasonable price, Salseros Cusco on Colla Calle offers group lessons for 1 hour each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with class times varying by skill level. Classes cost 10 soles.
  • Take a day trip to Ollantaytambo– Know as the “living Inca city”, Ollantaytambo is located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas and is a modern day city as well as a pre-Incan site. There are many things to see here, such as impressive ruins, the Temple of the Sun, the Lagoon of Yanacocha, the rural community of Willoc, and much more. If you’re into the active outdoors, you can hike up the pre-Incan granaries (across from the town’s main ruins) for a complimentary view of the city.
  • Learn about Chocolate at the ChocoMuseo– Located in the Plaza Regocijo, you will not only learn about chocolate itself and the production process, but also its history since the Maya were around 1,000 years ago. You can enjoy free chocolate samples, participate in chocolate workshops where you make your own chocolate, and visit a cacao planation and talk to the farmers who work there. Admission to the museum is free.
  • Browse the Sunday market in Chincero- If you’re looking for a more traditional market, this one is a lot less touristy than the market in Pisac. From 9AM until just after midday, you can come here to buy local produce and handicrafts. If you still want to shop later on in the day, from 4PM until 5:30PM the town also hosts a market catered to tourists in the city’s main plaza located right near the church.

cheap hostels and accommodation in cuzco, peruCheap Accommodation in Cuzco

The following hostels all offer rooms for under 20 soles and come with high overall ratings on hostelbookers.com:

  • Ecopackers– With a 92.8% rating, this accommodation offers both shared and private rooms (although a private room will cost you about 43 soles, which is still very inexpensive). Luggage room, linen, and breakfast are included, internet is available, and there is a game room and 24-hour reception.
  • The Point Cusco– Rated at 90.2% with 6, 8, and 12 bed dorms available (there is also a 6 dorm room with an ensuite bathroom). Luggage room, linen, and breakfast are included, and if you need airport pickup this can be arranged for 20.40 soles. Services at this hostel include internet, 24-hour reception, a bar, restaurant, lockers, game room, lounge area, tours desk, and currency exchange. Credit cards are accepted.
  • Backpacker Bright Hostel– This hostel comes with an 83.1% rating and includes shared and private accommodation (private will be about 31 soles). Expect free luggage room and linen, as well as an on-site restaurant, tour desk, lockers, and 24-hour reception.
  • Wild Rover Backpackers Hostel– This hostel comes with a 90.9% rating and features free luggage room, breakfast, and linen. Other facilities include a bar, restaurant, tours desk, lockers, lounge, pool tables, and 24-hour reception. Dorms range from 4 to 14 person dorms, many of which include an ensuite bathroom.
  • Dream Hostel– Rated at 81.3%, shared and private accommodation are available (private will be about 30 soles). This hostel includes free luggage room, breakfast, linen, and towels. Other features of the hostel include a bar, restaurant, lounge area, car park, tours desk, 24-hour reception, internet, washing machines, and lockers.

Look for menus in the city’s native language – Dining out tip

When traveling to a foreign city, you can usually find the cheapest and best-tasting food by looking for menus that are written entirely in that city’s native language.

Generally speaking, these venues are frequented by locals and are found off the beaten path. Travelers will find that restaurants catering to the local population are far less expensive than their tourist-orientated counterparts. Often, the food will be fresher and better prepared, as it has to cater to the discerning local.

Not only will you find the best and cheapest food – it will add to the overall cultural experience of your destination.

Pick a dish randomly – Dining out tip

It’s always great to research restaurants beforehand. But sometimes it’s also fun to leave it up to chance. Be adventurous! Don’t be afraid of picking a restaurant without an English menu… the waiter and other patrons can always help. Or, maybe they won’t. So what?

During your vacation, pick one item randomly off the menu for your meal. One of the most memorable meals we had was in a little restaurant in Japan that didn’t have an English menu. We blindly picked several items, and I ended up with one of my favorite Japanese dishes that I would’ve never ordered if I had an English translation: ochazuke, or green tea with rice!

Pro tip: If you’re concerned about picking an unfamiliar dish, be sure to do it on a night you’re “venue hopping.”

Collect take-out menus when dining out – Souvenir tip

One of the best parts of traveling is the different types of food you get the chance to try.

When dining out, consider photographing the restaurant and your meal. If the meal was memorable, request a copy of the menu and make a note while it’s still fresh in your mind what you ate — to go with your corresponding picture. Upon your return home, your menus may help you seek out restaurants in your area that serve the same dishes… or even allow you to give them ideas for new ones.

Bonus: if you have friends visiting the same destination, you can share your menus with them and help them to have a wonderful meal. Consider giving them a travel debit card before they leave town, so they can enjoy dinner out on you.

Unconventional autographs – Souvenir tip

Really loved your dinner? Get the Chef’s autograph on a napkin or a copy of the menu. Thought your hotel was great, get the Hotel Manager’s John Hancock on a brochure. This way you can remember not only what made your trip special but who made it special.