I was in Cusco for over a week, but it took less than a day for me to fall in love with this one-of-a-kind city. It was once the capital of the Inca empire and is now one of Peru's most popular destinations, a destination that I believe should be on every traveler's bucket list. Here are ten easy ways to fall in love with Cusco.
1. See the city from above
Cusco is a sprawling city full of interesting things to see and do, but it isn't until you get up into the neighboring hills that you realize how massive Cusco really is. By getting out and getting a new perspective, you can see what makes Cusco so impressive. Plus, you're bound to be blown away by the lush nature that surrounds the city.
2. Visit the sites
I'm not always big on tourist sites. They're often over-rated and underwhelming. But that's not the case in Cusco. Between the ancient Incan structures and the early Spanish architecture, there's a lot to give any traveler bug eyes. You can buy the tourist ticket, which gives you admission to most of the Sacred Valley sites and a few of the museums and sites within the city, or you can pay for admission individually to the cathedrals and famous sites throughout Cusco. Either way, prepare to be amazed.
3. Shop local
From hand-knit sweaters made of llama wool to intricate flutes and drums, you will have no trouble finding unique souvenirs to take back home. There are quite a few shops in Cusco that sell a wide array of handicrafts, but you can find them for cheaper (that is, so long as you're willing to bargain) at markets like the San Pedro market and the Pisac market, located within the city and the Sacred Valley respectively.
4. Explore the side streets
While I do really love the main plazas in Cusco and I think most of the mapped tourist sites are worth a visit, I am a big proponent for wandering off the beaten path. While the streets of Cusco may be windy and steep, they are full of exciting finds. From unexpected bakeries to shimmering crystal shops to profane fountains, it's only by exploring the side streets that you can discover Cusco's hidden gems.
5. Hang out in San Blas
My favorite place in Cusco was San Blas. The cobblestone climb from the main plaza to San Blas is no joke, but it's worth the trek. This little plaza is home to a beautiful church, a weekly handicraft market, and my favorite café in the city (The Meeting Place). It's also just a few streets away from The Yoga Room and Green Point, a yoga studio and a vegan restaurant that stole my heart. San Blas is to Cusco what Williamsburg is to NYC. It's hip and modern and tons of fun.
6. Walk around after dark
There are a lot of cities where walking around after dark is inadvisable, but as far as my experience went, Cusco is very safe (maybe thanks to all the tourists). It's pretty easy and comfortable walking around at night, and it's definitely worth your time. There are few things as beautiful as the glow of Cusco's gorgeous architecture under the soft golden lights. If you're lucky, you'll catch some of the local bands practicing their performances. And who doesn't love a free show?
7. Dine on fine cuisine
Between the all you can eat Indian food for 15sol and the incredible vegan feast at Green Point (pictured), we ate well while in Cusco. There's a lot of cheap, delicious street food and the markets are perfect for those on a budget or staying somewhere with a kitchen. Still, it's worth treating yourself at least one night, because the best food in Cusco is mind-bogglingly delicious.
8. Make your own chocolate
The Chocolate Museum was on the way to our hostel, so it quickly became a habit of ours to stop in for some free samples. We even splurged and bought some of their chocolate liqueur. Still, it wasn't until my very last day in Cusco that we gave in and did the chocolate making workshop. I was a little embarrassed with myself, paying for someone so touristy, but when I smelled our roasting chocolate beans, I felt more than okay with my decision. I went home with a bag full of homemade chocolates and my mouth still waters at the thought of them.
9. Spend a night at Loki Hostel
I'm not usually a big fan of party hostels. Their loud and crowded and just not really my scene. Which is why, while I was in Cusco, I stayed in a the very quiet and peaceful OkiDoki Hostel. Meanwhile, one of my friends was staying up the street at the famous Loki Hostel and they convinced me to come for the black light party. It was a ton of fun and though I still wouldn't stay at Loki if I returned to Cusco, if you're looking for Cusco's nightlife, Loki is a good place to start.
10. Set food in the famous Sacred Valley
Cusco is probably most famous for the area just beyond the city, and once you step foot in the Sacred Valley, it's no wonder why. All of the ruin sites took my breath away, but it's the emerald hills and sapphire skies that really make it so incredible. Climbing up and down the valley is a lot of work, but the vistas are worth the effort and with views like this, how could you not fall in love?