During my trip to Peru we spent six days in Cusco. We arrived Friday morning and left the next Thursday morning, and had plenty of time to see the city and go to Machu Picchu.
We stayed at the Flying Dog Hostel, which was located close to both the San Blas area and Plaza de las Armas. The rooms were comfortable and cute, there was internet available 24/7, a great kitchen and community areas for hanging out and watching movies.
San Blas is up the hill from the historic center of Cusco, around the Plaza de las Armas. In San Blas, one can find the coca museum, lots of restaurants and hostels, and shops selling anything from art, coca goodies like chocolate and cookies, and alpaca fur sweaters and hats. The area is a maze of tiny streets, we spent a good amount of time exploring and finding new shops to stop in.
Cusco could easily be called the city of churches. Founded by the Spanish, there are a dozen or more churches in the historic center alone. Plaza de las Armas is the main plaza of historic Cusco, and there are two giant cathedrals flanking one corner. In the middle is a fountain, flower gardens and benches to sit- a great place to people (or tourist) watch. Immediately adjacent to Plaza de las Armas is a smaller plaza, also with a church. Further down from this plaza, is a gorgeous arch leading to a third plaza which naturally has its own church but also is the location of a great market.
The market has a small section for artisanal goods like sweaters, hats and purses, but the food is the main attraction. There are hundreds of stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, eggs and cheese, nuts and spices, and baked goods. My favorite part was the almuerzo and juice stalls. For 3 soles (about $1) one can get a full almuerzo- soup and main dish, or a great bowl of food.
For example, there is arroz cubano: rice, fried banana, and a fried egg. Or salchipapas, hot dog and fried, potatoes over rice. There are also typical Peruvian dishes such as lomo saltado: alpaca meat with red onion and red peppers, over rice, with or without a fried egg. My favorite dish was what I affectionately like to call a heart attack in a bowl: rice, onion-cucumber-tomato salad marinated in vinegar, fried potatoes, fried banana, hot dog (which had basically been deep-fried), and a fried egg. I covered the entire thing in aji salsas (plural) and it. Was. Delicious.
There is a lot to see in Cusco, and the way we tackled the city was by riding bikes. We rented them from a place off of the Plaza de las Armas which usually caters to mountain bikers going into the Sacred Valley for 30 soles for the entire day. I would not recommend this method, but it was pretty fun. Traffic in South America is crazy, and there are not bike lanes or sidewalks, so saying that cars are not friendly toward bikers would be an understatement.
Cusco has its own soccer stadium, which we discovered on our self-guided bike tour of the city. We were lucky enough that there was a soccer game on Easter Sunday between Cienciano Cusco and Leon de Huanuco, two Peruvian teams. We were even luckier to get to go with two of the guys who ran our hostel, die-hard Peruvian soccer fans who got really into the game.
While we didn’t try out the night life to its full potential, there are a lot of bars and discos surrounding the Plaza de las Armas and lots of smaller hole-in-the wall places with live music in San Blas.
Cusco is a city full of history, gorgeous scenery, and great food. Six days was a perfect amount of time for us to enjoy the city and see Machu Picchu at our own pace, but more motivated tourists could probably fit in more adventures than we did.