You've arrived at the Navel of the World en-route to Machu Picchu. Stay a few days (if not more) and enjoy this fascinating city on foot:
1. French Breakfast:
a. La Buffett Francés: Enjoy the best bakery in Cuzco for a croissant, croque-monsieur, cheese and café
2. Plaza Nazarenas:
Sit on one of the benches and people/Alpaca/Llama¹ watch
Museo de Arte Precolombino (MAP): extensive collection of pre-Columbian ceramics
Belmond Hotel Monasterio²: a former Jesuit seminary (for impoverished sons of the conquistadors) built on Inca foundations for the palace of the last Inca ruler (Sapa Inca Túpac Amaru). Venture inside the courtyard to view the 350 yr. old cedar tree and the baroque-style chapel.
Walk up the street to Divinia Comodia (DC) and make reservation for dinner and opera
Sacsayhuaman (“saxy woman”) and Cristo Blanco are up this street @ 30-45 min (depending on your cardio-vascular health) – mañana:
Sacsayhuaman is an immense Incan citadel used for ceremonial and defensive purposes. After the Siege of Cusco, the Spaniards used it …as a source on stones for building Spanish Cusco
Cristo Blanco is an 8 meter high statue that was gift to Cusco from WWII Palestinian refugees (w/spectacular views of Cusco)
3. Inca Museo: The best museum in town for those interested in the Incas. Packed with a fine collection of metal and gold-work, jewelry, pottery, textiles, mummies, models and the world’s largest collection of queros (ceremonial Inca wooden drinking vessels). There’s excellent interpretive information in Spanish and English-speaking guides are usually available for a small fee. The museum building, which rests on Inca foundations, is also known as the Admiral’s House, after the first owner, Admiral Francisco Aldrete Maldonado. It was badly damaged in the 1650 earthquake and rebuilt by Pedro Peralta de los Ríos, the count of Laguna, whose crest is above the porch. Further damage from the 1950 earthquake has now been fully repaired, restoring the building to its position among Cuzco’s finest colonial houses. Look for the massive stairway guarded by sculptures of mythical creatures, and the corner window column that from the inside looks like a statue of a bearded man but from the outside appears to be a naked woman. The ceilings are ornate, and the windows give good views straight out across the Plaza de Armas.
Downstairs in the sunny courtyard, highland Andean weavers demonstrate their craft and sell traditional textiles directly to the public.
4. Plaza de Armas³: Cusco has banned garish advertising to help retain its stately colonial air:
a. Cusco Cathedral (Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin): is mother church for the diocese of Cusco: built with Incan stones from Sacsayhuaman and Viracocha. The left bell tower holds the largest bell in Peru.
i. Enter the cathedral via the adjoining Inglsia du Jesús y Maria(on the left of the cathedral)
ii. Iglesia del Triunfo: on the right of the cathedral is actually Cusco’s oldest church
b. La Compania Jesus: Built in 1651 by the Jesuits. Rebuilt after a 1650 earthquake with a baroque façade more impressive than the Cathedral. The bishop complained to Rome, but by the time Pope Paul III ruled in the bishop’s favor it was too late, construction was already complete.
c. LIMO cocina peruana & pisco bar(L): Next to Perurail. Lunch on ceviche⁴ while sitting on the balcony overlooking the plaza.
d. Walk diagonally across the square stopping at the fountain to take it all in
5.Mercado San Pedro: sells everything from chicken feet to coco leaves, no tchakis if you please. Look for the steam and try some Inca corn⁵ (Peruvian or Cusco corn). Exit out the right side then go around back to catch a glimpse of the real Cusco.
6. La Merced: Destroyed in the 1650 earthquake, but quickly rebuilt. To the left of the church, at the back of a small courtyard, is the entrance to the monastery and museum. The church on the far side of the cloister contains the tombs of two of the most famous conquistadors: Diego de Almagro and Gonzalo Pizarro (brother of Francisco). The museum’s most famous possession is a priceless solid-gold cross 1.2m high and covered with rubies, emeralds and no fewer than 1500 diamonds and 600 pearls. Ask to see it if the display room is locked.
7. Norton Rats Tavern: not much to see inside, get yourself a Cusqueña Lager⁶, grab a seat on the outside balcony and take in the great views of the Plaza.
8. Palacio Arzbispal: Inspect the craftsmanship of the foundation which was built by the Incas – note how all the stones fit together perfectly. Have your photo taken with the 12 sided stone (where everyone else is having their photo taken) and at the apex of the wall.
9. Bench in Alley is a good place to take a breather on the way to San Blas Plazaleta. If you hear music then enter the door on the right and listen to a youth music center. The Casa San Blas Boutique hotel is a good place to get a massage.
10. San Blas Plazaleta: Check out the Inlesia San Blas, famed for its intricate pulpit. Built in 1544 over an Incan temple dedicated to Illapa, the god of thunder and lightning.
11. Limbus Restabar: try to arrive just before sunset. Sit on the patio and enjoy amazing views of Cusco while having a Pisco Sour (2 oz. Pisco⁷, 1 oz. simple syrup, ¾ oz. lime juice, egg white, shake, garnish with bitters)
¹ Alpacas have shorter ears & face (“smooshed in”), are smaller in height & weight, are more skittish and have nicer fur. Alpaca meat is quite tasty.
² this hotel and its neighbor Belmond Palacio Nazarenas are managed by the same company that manages the Hiram Bingham (the high end train to Machu Pichu)
³ Plaza de Armas (Weapons Square, or Parade Square) is the main square in many Hispanic American cities. Most cities constructed by the Spanish conquistadores were designed with one vacant block. Surrounded by governmental buildings, churches, and other important cultural/political structures. A refuge in case of an attack upon the city, from which arms would be supplied to the defenders.
⁴ Peruvian ceviche is made of chunks of raw fish, marinated in fresh key lime or bitter orange (naranja agria) juice, with sliced onions, chili peppers, salt and pepper
⁵ large-kernel field corn from the Andes (Peru, Bolivia and Colombia). Kernels have a chewy/starchy texture. Can be toasted/salted (bar food)
⁶ Cusquena is the Budweiser of Peru. Brewed by Backus & Johnston Brewery (part of the SabMiller). Enjoys a de facto monopoly over Peruvian beer consumption
⁷ colorless brandy (distilled wine) produced in Peru and Chile. Developed by 16th century Spanish settlers. Popular during the California Gold Rush