Insider’s Guide: How to Spend 24 Hours in Cusco, Peru
Situated high in the Peruvian Andes, Cusco is one of the world's most historic cities — with many layers (literally) to explore. Follow this suggested itinerary from a local tour guide to see the best of the city in one day.
South America’s oldest continuously occupied urban centre most notably served as the capital of the Inca empire from the 13th to the 16th centuries. The old centre is packed with Spanish colonial-era churches, monasteries, and monuments — many of which were built on top of existing Incan structures.
With just a day to explore, we enlisted local guide David Arce Nunez to show us around. Here are David’s top tips for how to spend 24 hours in Cusco.
9am: Make for the markets
Our first stop of the day is the lively Wanchaq Market for a taste of the amazing fresh produce available in Cusco. It’s also a chance to learn about the Peruvian superfoods craze sweeping the world — grains and legumes grown in high-altitude micro-climates, which are packed with antioxidants.
11am: Explore the Plaza de Armas
From there, David escorts us over to the centre of the old city — the Plaza de Armas — a large cobbled square framed by churches and colonnades. The plaza is home to Cusco Cathedral, which was constructed by the Spanish on the site of an Inca palace around the mid 1500s. Entry to the cathedral costs 25 soles and it’s money well spent to see the collection of colonial art inside. Note the replica of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, depicting Jesus and the apostles feasting on guinea pig (a traditional local delicacy).
12.45pm: Take a coffee break
Directly opposite the cathedral, Cappuccino Café is a top spot for a much-needed morning coffee. The entrance is hard to find amongst the tour touts working that side of the plaza, but persevere. Go through the small door on the square and up the stairs to the left to the second floor. If you’re really lucky, one of the balcony tables will be available.
1.15pm: Mosey around a museum
There’s no shortage of museums to explore in Cusco. The Museo Machu Picchu Casa Concha is a relatively new option and houses a collection of relics from Machu Picchu. They were taken to the USA by Hiram Bingham following his discovery of the lost Incan citadel in 1911, but were recently returned to Peru. If you’re planning to visit Machu Picchu, this is a fitting introduction to the epic archaeological site.
2.30pm: Feast on a local speciality
Lunch is done late in Cusco and David suggests that we eat at one the several small restaurants along Pampa del Castillo. It’s an opportunity to try traditional dishes like chi charon — pieces of deep fried pork, and cuy — roasted guinea pig. The former is delicately seasoned with rosemary and basil, and served whole on a platter. It’s delicious.
4pm: Try a pisco sour
We have time to squeeze in another museum visit — this time with a difference. The excellent Museo del Pisco is dedicated solely to pisco brandy — Peru’s national drink (bordering on national obsession). It’s the main ingredient in the ubiquitous and very popular pisco sour cocktail.
6pm: See the city shine
Cusco’s plethora of plazas and squares come alive at night by lamp light. Take a stroll along any of the cobbled thoroughfares that branch out from the Plaza de Armas and soak up the festive atmosphere. Alternatively, head for the hills at the foot of the Cristo Bianco statue for a stunning view of the city lights.
8.30pm: Dine in a former colonial casa
There are hundreds of restaurants in Cusco, but one must-try is Cicciolina. Located just off the main plaza (behind the cathedral), it occupies the second floor of what was originally a colonial mansion. The menu of tapas dishes is extensive, as is the wine list.
10.30pm: Enjoy a nightcap
Drop by any of the small bars along Cuesta de San Blas for a nightcap. Salut!
Browse our full range of Cusco tours and experiences here.
Do you have any suggestions for how to spend 24 hours in Cusco? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of Top Oz Tours and Travel Ideas, and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger, and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.