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Set in the heart of the Sacred Valley, it is hard to imagine any trip to Peru, not including at least one day in Cusco. This city was once home to the magnificent Incan empire and is now the gateway to visiting Machu Picchu. Many travellers spend a few days in this amazing city to acclimatise before starting the hike. But even if you only have one day in Cusco – here is how to make the most of it.
Sitting at an altitude of 3,400m, and was built on the literal foundations of the Incan city. It is a mix of ancient, colonial and modern culture with a very relaxed and laid-back vibe. Who wouldn’t want to visit?
What to do with one day in Cusco
Of course, if you have just one day in Cusco, you’re never going to be able to see it all. So here are some things that shouldn’t be missed, saving the rest for your return trip!
Plaza de Armas – One day in Cusco
If you only have one day in Cusco, then you need to make sure you check out the main square – Plaza de Armas, known in Inca times as Huacaypata. It was a scene for many of the city’s key events during the ages, and nowadays, it is a perfect place to grab some food. Although much of the Great Inca Square has been lost to time, Plaza de Armas is still a perfect way to reflect on the history and former glory of the Inca Empire and gain a better, deeper appreciation for what makes modern-day Cusco so special.
There are also a lot of bars dotted around the square if you want to check out some nightlife. The Irish pub even claims to be the highest in the world.
Boarding Plaza de Armas is the imposing Cusco Cathedral, the main religious centre in the city of Cusco. It was built in 1654 with the idea of removing Incan religious beliefs and is now a UNESCO world heritage site.
Inside, there is a unique Peruvian take on a replica of Da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’ painting. In this version, a guinea pig is painted as one of the plates as the main course, and Spanish conqueror Francisco Pizarro is depicted as Judas the betrayer.
The cathedral houses one of the most significant collections of gold and silver works of the period, elaborately engraved wooden altars, and a beautiful collection of oil canvas paintings.
This is also a great spot to take a seat, relax, and enjoy some great panoramic views of the city.
Mercardo central de san Pedro
The perfect place to pick up souvenirs or get those last-minute items you might need before embarking on the Inca Trail. There is anything you can think of, from alpaca jumpers to hats and gloves, trinkets, mugs, clothes, dolls and everything in between.
There is also the option to buy a few tasty treats if you are feeling brave. It is a good spot for a cheap and authentic lunch. But if you aren’t quite feeling brave enough to eat this locally, then just wander up and down all the aisles and take in the sights and smells. You could spend hours here. It is a couple of blocks from the nearby San Francisco Square and 10 minutes from Plaza de Armas.
An incredibly easy thing to do when you are in Cusco; you just need to wander around! The current city is built on the ancient Incan one. If you look at many buildings, you will see the foundations are enormous stones which fit magically together. These are the original Incan stones, and nobody really knows to this day how they cut them so laser perfectly to fit together. They are slotted so perfectly together that you cannot even pass a piece of paper through them. Interesting to see!
San Blas area
The San Blas area is Located within the historic centre of Cusco. This neighbourhood is the artistic and cultural centre of the city, and here you will find loads of cafes, shops, famous artisans and galleries.
It is a fantastic warren of streets to wander around. Each is very pretty and often with street art dotted around the place. It is quieter than the rest of the city and slightly less busy, so a perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle.
Within the San Blas neighbourhood, you can also find the very interesting Incan aqueducts. It is also known as Acueducto Colonial Sapantiana or Sapantiana Colonial Aqueduct. Built between the 17th and 18th centuries by the Spanish, but until about the 1950s, not many people knew about it. Nowadays, it is increasingly popular to visit – it is free and a short walk in the San Blas area.
Back in the day, it was built to transport water to the city.
Breakfast at Jack’s
Any good day of sightseeing needs to start with the proper sustenance. Jack’s is an incredibly popular brunch spot in the city and for good reason. Large portions, delicious food and lots of variety. It also has good vegetarian and vegan options. Plus, the juices are delicious.
If time allows, then take a trip just outside the city to visit Sasquayhuman. This is the largest and most impressive of the ruins on the outskirts of Cusco. The Incas built it from massive stones weighing a huge amount. In the past, its use was as a military site. Particularly important when the Spanish arrive for the battle of the city in 1536. Nowadays, the ruins offer wonderful views over the city below. It’s quite a long hike to the top, though.
Also spelt Saqsaywaman, and does sound like ‘sexy woman’.
The ruins are open from 7 am to 5.30 pm, Monday to Sunday. The walk from the city should take around 30 minutes, but it is a lot of uphill. Alternatively, there are public transport options!
Although one day in Cusco is never going to be enough time in this amazing city, hopefully, this post helps you hit some of the best posts. And leaving you desperate to return!
I visited Cusco as part of the tour I was travelling with G Adventures. If you are interested, then this is the tour I travelled on: Peru: Ancient Cities and the Andes
Are you heading to Peru? Do make sure to check out all the other posts here.
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