Ahhh…Cusco, the city that can literally take your breath away! At 10,560 feet above sea level, most people notice the effects of the altitude when they arrive at this gateway to Machu Picchu.
As a result, most tours plan the first day as a day of rest. They pick you up at the airport and drop you off at the hotel. You are then on your own to wander about town or hang out at your hotel and sip the ubiquitous coca tea.
But, what if you are one of those lucky people who are not affected by the altitude? Surprisingly, if you are over 50, you are more likely to be in this group. Or, what if you prepared for the altitude by taking Diamox and you feel just fine?
There are a number of things you can see and do in Cusco while your fellow tour participants down aspirin to deal with that altitude-induced headache.
ChocoMuseo—Calle Garcilaso 210
The Chocolate Museum is a recent addition to Cusco. You can browse the museum’s exhibit on the history of chocolate. You can also sample various chocolate products. Better yet, why not sign up for a chocolate-making class and pick up your creations the next day?
Casa Concha—Santa Catalina Ancha
This recently opened museum houses artifacts from Hiram Bingham’s expedition to Machu Picchu. The museum looks small when you first enter. But, leave plenty of time to explore, as the museum has multiple rooms on two floors. I found the information in this museum a fascinating prelude to my visit to Machu Picchu.
Coca Shop—Calle Carmen Alto 115
The Coca Shop in Cusco is one of my favorite places. I can’t seem to get within its vicinity without stopping by to sample the free treats on display. The brownies here are to die for! Alas, the Coca Shop doesn’t have regular hours. It is definitely worth the walk to see if they are open, though.
Museo de Inka—Cuesta del Almirante 103
I first went here with my Dad when a strike sidelined our plans one day. The museum is an ornate colonial home that contains an interesting collection of Inca jewelry, ceramics, textiles, gold and silver artifacts, and mummies. The museum is not usually included in the standard Cusco city tour. So, you don’t have to worry that you’ll end up here again when your tour commences.
Museo de Arte Precolombino—Plaza de las Nazarenas 231
This museum contains items handpicked from the famous Larco Museum in Lima. You’ll see an exquisite array of gold and silver objects, jewelry, paintings, and ceramics. The MAP Café next door is the perfect place for a snack. I love their hot chocolate!
Plaza de Armas
The Plaza de Armas is Cusco’s main square and the heart of the city. I love to perch on a bench here and people watch. If the kids selling artwork or the ladies hawking textiles make you uncomfortable, take a stroll to look for the rock that is the last vestige of Inca construction. Then, watch the sunset from the steps of the Colonial Cathedral.
San Blas is Cusco’s bohemian neighborhood. Many well-known artists have their studios here. You’ll find several fine examples of paintings done in the style of the Cusco school of art.
Stone of 12 Angles—Calle Hatun Rumiyoc
San Blas also has the famous 12-angled stone. Ask locals where to find it and the stones that form the shape of a puma just around the corner.