24 hour trip to Cusco? This how your day must look like

Terra Explorer
September 16, 2021

Here at Terra Explorer, 24-hour trips to Cusco are not unheard of—we are luxury travel operators, short escapades are part of the job too. For times when stays are limited to one day only, we’ve collected the must-dos in Cusco. So stay tranquil—ridden from the anxiety of missing something out—as we mince through the perfect one-day trip to this city.

 

First in the morning: Sightseeing Cusco through a lens.

Cusco: High in altitude, rich in history, and abundant in sights. The rising sun shines a soft pastel light on the reddish stones of the colonial buildings. The city is just awakening, the streets, still. This is the scene that Diego del Rio, a famed local photographer, shoots over his lense. He will be the one accompanying you on this leisurely walk along the streets of Cusco: filled to the brim with Inca and colonial monuments and sites—which, under Diego’s inquisitive eyes, become frameable stills, the greatest memorabilia from this short voyage.

 

Breakfast at Mercado de San Pedro

Probably listed on every googleable site on the internet, this market is—more often than not— invaded by throngs of tourists (including one’s group). Still, this quaint historical place has been able to retain a people’s market feeling—instead of the sometimes gruesome touristy atmosphere.

Head to Mercado de San Pedro for the perfect breakfast. An infinite line of puestos (kind of mini restaurants, each nested within a handful of square feet) provides an equally infinite variety of eatables. Sanguches (Peruvian-style sandwiches) and lamb soups are part of the morning culinary experiences in Cusco

Myriads of fruits are piled on top of each other, hats, ponchos, herbs, even shamans are found on the market. Walk around, get some rustic sommeliers from there. But above all, visit this market if you want an earnest food tour in Cusco. 

 

Architectural highlight: Qoricancha

qoricancha

One of Cusco’s top attractions and probably the most representative building of Inca genius—that is after Machu Picchu, of course— Qoricancha was once a temple dedicated to the Sun god. Doors, as well as some interiors and exteriors, were covered in gold sheets. Gold and silver statues and artifacts were abundantly placed throughout the complex gardens. To the Incas, gold was the sweat of the Sun, thus, the extensive use of the precious metal. 

Cusco, the almighty capital of the Inca empire, was the architectural epicenter of Precolumbian South America. There, minimalist-minded indigenous architects commissioned perfectly-cut polished masonry to be fitted together without any mortar—much like legos. These walls have withstood the pass of time in perfect condition, while colonial buildings have succumbed to a multitude of earthquakes and fires. A testament to ancient architectural ingenuity.

The Christian monastery of Santo Domingo was built on top of the complex (quite literally), no doubt, in a deliberate attempt to signify that one religion had been replaced by another. The contrast in architectural and artistic styles—one being aboriginal minimalism, the other, Spanish baroque—makes this site a must-see in Cusco, just a few blocks away from the main square. 

 

 

Lunch at Limo

If you have not yet surrendered to the insurmountable flavors of Nikkei cuisine (Peruvian-Japanese cuisine), then this is your chance. Although Maido—one of the best restaurants in the world, located in Lima—definitely is the mecca for all things Nikkei, Limo offers an excellent rendition of it. This restaurant is one of the places to go in Cusco if you’re into gastronomic indulgences. 

Sited along the cloisters of the Plaza de Armas (main square), Limo has a menu featuring the ever-present Ceviche and Lomo Saltado. They also include Andean ingredients like quinoa, rare local potatoes, giant corn, and ajíes (Peruvian chili peppers) into their recipes in a perfect culinary attempt at capturing the environs within a dish. Now you know what to eat in Cusco.

 

 

The best walking tour in Cusco: from Cusco to Sacsayhuaman 

A mere 40-minute walk from the main square—you have to at least walk on the way back— Sacsayhuaman was once both a fortress and religious complex. Incan architects turned to perfectly cut polygonal masonry for a sterile-looking construction (sterile and fortress often don’t go hand in hand, don’t they? Impressive).

During the Spanish conquest, Sacsayhuaman’s role as a fortress became more than apparent as multiple sieges occurred. After the Europeans rose to victory, they made sure to partially dismantle and bury the place to prevent Inca uprisings from taking hold of it. 

Today, although far from its heyday, Sacsayhuaman still retains enough elements to surfeit the aesthetes. The multiple-terrace architecture seems to mirror the surrounding landscapes. Sacsayhuaman resembles—in a distinctively geometric manner—the mountain range behind it. As with all Incan constructions, the land laid the shape and the foundations for the building. To the eyes of an Incan architect, natural features were already mighty enough; building within them should only further their grandeur—now Machu Picchu’s placement makes complete sense, right?

If still early, take some time for the MAP museum for a quick rundown of Inca and pre-Inca lavish art. It is just a couple of blocks away from the Plaza the Armas—no excuse for not making this part of your Cusco art tour.

 

 

Dinner at Cicciolina, then, a light stroll around the bohemian streets of San Blas

Cicciolina cusco

Among the storied streets of Cusco, there is Cicciolina, a quirky yet glitzy little restaurant known for its everybody-is-friend-of-everybody kind of ambiance. This “great little find”—as described by other goers—serves an exquisite array of Mediterranean and local dishes: quinoa salads, scallops, osso buco, tapas, pasta, alpaca, even guinea pig. You read right, guinea pig. Cuy (guinea pig in Quechua, the language of the Incas) is a scrumptious delicacy in the Andes—so unless you’re an unbendable vegan you better try it, it is one of the fun things to do in Cusco.

The restaurant has two sections, each with its distinctive character. Maroon-painted walls intensify the feeling of coziness, small tables urge you to converse. This—in tune with the bohemian lay-back vibe of nocturnal Cusco—is much needed after a long day of feet-fueled adventures. 

Cicciolina’s bar makes the perfect excuse for staying long after the dishes are gone. After a couple of drinks, roam around the San Blas area, mingle with cusqueños, stop by some random places. There is no hurry, the day is done. 

 

Where to spend the night? Palacio Nazarenas is the one

From the moment you step into the property, there is a profound sense of calm. A serene courtyard welcomes you, the fountain in the middle makes its way into your ears. From the upper floors, windows perfectly frame an ocean of ochre tiles from which towering churches emerge. This hotel features a spa and quiet heated pool within its finely restored premises—they date back to the 1600s (pause for a gasp). This is an unpaired end for a day of fun commotion through the once almighty capital of the Inca Empire.

This is what your 24 hours in Cusco must look like. If you’re looking for tailor-made experiences, contact us. We have a team of experts: art historians, celebrated chefs, seasoned rock climbers, even daredevil motorcyclists. They will further enrich your adventure to your liking.


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