If you are a traveler who seeks to truly understand the culture of every place like me, this article is for you. In this opportunity, I want to recommend you 4 things to do in Cusco that I consider will give you the big picture of the Andean culture of Peru. Here is my travel guide:
1. Appreciate the beauty of the principal churches
This is definitely the first thing you have to do in this magical town. Located in Cusco’s main square in the center of the city, there are three beautiful religious buildings with Spanish architecture. To begin, you can appreciate in the front of the main square The Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin or Cusco Cathedral. It was built in 1560, and it is considered a Minor Basilica and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
To the right of The Cathedral, is located The Church of Triumph, the first church built in Cusco`s main square, in 1536. Its name represents a surprising victory of the Spanish conquerors against the Incas. They believed that Saint James, their patron saint, descended from heaven to defend them from the Incas. Take a look at the statue of Saint James located inside the church! The Temple of the Holy Family was the third church built in the Plaza de Armas, right on the left of The Cathedral. It has an amazing baroque altarpiece and walls of polished stone with lime plaster.
2. Try the Andean Cuisine
Peru is divided into three geographical regions: The Coast, Highlands, and Jungle. Each region has its own traditional food. Cusco is located in the Highlands that is a mountainous area dominated by the Andes. The Andean cuisine is synonymous with variety and includes meats, soups, stews, drinks, and deserts. Canchas, papas a la huancaina and chicha are offered on almost any restaurant in Cusco, they are the most common accompaniments. Canchas are roasted corn kernels and papas a la huancaina are potatoes in a spicy cream sauce. To drink, you have to try the Chicha. This was the traditional beverage of the ancient inhabitants of the Andes. You can choose between Chicha Morada made from purple corn, Chicha de Jora made from yellow corn or Chicha de frutilla made mixing strawberries, sugar and Chicha de Jora. Cusco has a wide variety of restaurants where you can find its traditional food. I recommend you to choose the ones on the main square or close by it if you want to be sure of the quality of the dishes. Make sure you eat an Alpaca steak at Calle del Medio restaurant, located right in front of The Cathedral. This was absolutely the best thing I tried in this city. This luxurious meet is served on a bed of soft mashed potatoes creating the perfect combination of taste.
Another great option to visit is Morena Peruvian Kitchen in Calle Plateros, just a block from Plaza de Armas. If you are not going to visit any other cities besides Cusco, why not to try Peruvian flavors from the two other regions while you stay here. This restaurant offers delicious dishes from The Coast, Highlands, and Jungle, like Causas, Ceviches, and Anticuchos.
3. Appreciate traditional dances at Cusco`s main square
This is definitely one of my favorites! When I first arrived in Cusco I went to the Plaza de Armas and found the cutest thing I`d ever seen: Kids of all ages and adults dancing together with beautiful costumes all around the main square. It seemed that they were practicing for something, so I asked someone and he told me that they were going to dance in the Corpus Christi Festival that is held every year around June, nine weeks after Holy Week.
I have to say that I was shocked when I realized the energy and effort they put for this festival. I saw them dancing all day long for the two weeks I stayed in Cusco, even on Friday`s night! This shows that preserving their own culture and costumes is a big principle of the educational system. But don`t worry if you also want to participate in this festival and you are not going in June, this city has different events during the year. If you are going on the first semester, they celebrate the Adoration of the Kings in January, the Holy week in March or April, and the Festival of the Cross in May. And if you are going on the second semester, you can be part of the Independence Day in July, the Andean New Year in August, Cusco`s tourist week in October, All Saint`s Day in November, and Christmas in December. There is one festival almost every month, and those I mention are not the only ones!
4. Buy Peruvian handicrafts, textiles, and jewelry
Peru is a country with an abundance of minerals and semi-precious stones that have allowed locals to develop metalwork. Additionally, its textile production started around 10.000 years ago and it has become a technique that is been passed down from generation to generation. The most popular place to buy these traditional souvenirs is the Centro Artesanal, located in Avenida el Sol, the principal street in Cusco, but you can also find them all around Cusco`s streets. For the textiles, there is an offer quite wide of materials, but my favorite is the alpaca wool, it is beautiful and soft. And if you prefer to take some jewelry back to your country with you, there are gorgeous earrings, and bracelets representing and honoring Pachamama, the Mother Earth.
Besides being the start point to begin an adventure to one of the seven wonders of the modern world (Machu Picchu), I want you to remember Cusco for its beautiful architecture, its amazing cuisine and its people that preserve their history, culture, and legacy with handwork, music, and dances. I really hope you have founded this article interesting and you take advantage of your stay in the Capital of the Inca Empire!