Cusco is definitely worth more than the few days that people give it, often as a pit stop to or from the nearby main attraction, Machu Picchu. In reality, the city has a charming historic center with the grand Plaza de Armas as a central meeting place, interesting museums and churches, a circuit of impressive ruins and – most importantly – many culinary delights, if you know where to look! Sure there is a well-established “backpacker trail” here, with the accompanying pubs, pizzas, mass produced souvenirs and cheap massages. But not to be overlooked are great options for foodies in the markets, street stalls and even cooking classes.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Budget Eats in Cusco: Street Food
If you’re on a budget or just looking for a snack, look no further than the streets! Around the mercados and plazas you can often find stalls dishing out small plates of local favorites like arroz con huevos (a fried rice dish topped with egg), sopa de pollo, trout ceviche, boiled quail eggs, popcorn, churros, seasonal fruits and even chicha.
In the evenings, you can often find my favorite snack – anticuchos – for just a bit more than $1. Anticuchos are skewers of meat, usually topped off with a boiled potato and drizzled with spicy aji sauce, if you’d like extra flavor. The classic anticucho is corazon (beef heart) but I’ve also seen kidney, chicken, sausage, and regular beef. The most reliable spot, usually with 2-3 stalls open each night, is on the steps near San Francisco church.
>> If you want to go where the locals do for anticuchos and aren’t afraid to venture a bit further, check out this recommendation from CuzcoEats.com: Anticucheria Condoritos. Highly recommended!
Budget Eats in Cusco: Mercado San Pedro
Mercado San Pedro is only a short walk from Cusco’s main square, yet it’s a bargain destination for inexpensive meals, produce and fruit juices. Here you can also stock up on items like dried fruit, chocolate, coffee or quinoa and you’ll even see souvenir items for less than you’d pay in a boutique a few blocks away.
For lunch, head all the way to the back of the mercado and check out the offerings at the various stalls. (Tip: if a stall is empty, there may be a good reason, so be prepared to wedge in shoulder-to-shoulder at the most popular places, which is a good sign that the food is tasty!) Main items ordered ala carte generally run between 10-15 soles, but portions are large enough you might want to consider sharing.
If your Spanish is limited, you can always just take a look at what people are eating already. For the least expensive and most filling option, ask for the “menu completo”. Prices usually fall between 4-8 soles or so, including a soup, a drink (often a tea or juice), and your choice from a few “segundo” or main course offerings, in a slightly smaller portion than if you ordered a la carte. Don’t expect gourmet fare, but it should be a filling meal for just a couple of dollars. On the way out, stop by the row of stalls near the front selling full pitchers of fresh blended juices starting at 3 soles ($1).
Where to Drink in Cusco: Museo del Pisco
So those soles you’re saving by eating in the mercados or on the street? Take them and head over to the Museo del Pisco, which (despite the name) is really a bar and temple to all things pisco. With literally hundreds of bottles of pisco lining the wall above the bar, you’ll quickly see what I mean!
If you’d like to channel your inner bartender, you can get behind the bar by taking a pisco cocktail class (30 soles) or try a pisco degustation (45 per person, 60 per couple) where the excellent staff will lead you through a tasting of the various types of pisco and the pisco-making process, which also happens to be detailed in a huge mural above the main bar area.
Or, if you prefer, just pull up a chair and read through the extensive menu of pisco (and non-pisco) cocktails available. If you’re unsure what to get, you’ll be in good hands putting it up to your server or bartender. I especially loved the classic pisco sour and the pisco passion, a variation made with maracuya (passion fruit) juice.
>> If you’re looking for something fun to do, especially early on in your stay in Cusco, I’d highly recommend a lunch or dinner cooking class with Cusco Culinary. Check out my review or visit their website to make your reservation.
>> For photos from my time in Cusco, check out my Cusco Photo Gallery.
>> For more recommendations of things to do, see and EAT in Peru, visit my Peru Destination Guide.