Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, is often overlooked by travelers on the way to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. However, just spending one day in Cusco reveals ancient temples, colorful markets, and some of the best food in Peru. Here’s how to make the most of 24 hours in Cusco.
Morning: Dive into Local Food Culture
Begin your day the local way at the bustling San Pedro Market. This colorful market sells a huge variety of food and souvenirs and makes for an interesting stroll, especially on a tour designed to introduce you to more unusual products. Travelers with a passion for food can join a morning cooking class, which typically begin at the market and culminate at a local home or cookery school, where you’ll try your hand at creating traditional Peruvian dishes such as ceviche (raw fish marinated in lime and chilli) and lomo saltado (beef stew).
Afternoon: Explore the City’s Sights
Now, with a full belly, it’s time to embark on a tour of Cusco’s many historic attractions. Sightseeing tours, which are designed with time-pressed travelers in mind, shuttle you between top Cusco sights such as Plaza de Armas, home to Cusco Cathedral (Catedral del Cuzco), and the sacred Temple of the Sun (Qoricancha), which showcases the extraordinary engineering skills of the Incas. Many tours also visit the charming artisans’ quarter of San Blas and include a bus or car ride to the fortified Inca complex of Sacsayhuaman, which lies just outside of the city.
Night: See the City by Night
As night falls and Cusco’s cobbled streets begin to light up, the city takes on an entirely new character. This is a great time to embark on another wander through the city’s streets to browse shops selling handicrafts and sample budget-friendly street food. Evening walking tours lead you to the best markets and provide illuminating insights; some even include a Pisco Sour-making lesson at a local bar. Another evening option is to visit Planetarium Cusco for some stargazing; small-group tours provide a stress-free way to visit and often include dinner and a drink.