Travelers' Tips for Cusco
Cusco's Main Square, the Plaza de Armas, has security cameras and regular patrols throughout the evening and night. Because of its high concentration of bars and clubs, there are crowds through the early morning. San Blas is another high-traffic, well-lit, and therefore relatively safe area. Outside of the main square, especially at night, you need to realize that you could be a target and take the necessary precautions- know your surroundings, and call for a taxi or ask for one before leaving your local to avoid staying out too long in the street and unregistered taxis. Cusco is a relatively safe city, having quite a low violent crime rate. Petty theft, however, is alarmingly common. Watch your pockets, bags, and especially any small electronics which attract thieves: cell phones, cameras, mp4 players, laptops, etc. Even in your hostel, lock your electronics and other valuables up while not in use.
Altitude Sickness (soroche), caused by reaching a much higher altitude in a short amount of time, varies in intensity. Mostly it leads to headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, and shortness of breath. You can try to plan your trip to allow for acclimatization, going from sea level to incrementally higher cities, ending at the highest-altitude cities. Or, you may try Diamox (also available as a generic drug) a day before your trip, continuing the pills as directed until day three. The day before traveling, avoid alcohol, sleeping pills, and tranquilizers. During the trip, take it easy the first day and drink lots of water and, if you'd like, some coca tea (the local remedy). Consume a good amount of carbs, and potassium-rich foods like bananas are a great choice.
If these preventive measures don't work, you can try the sorojchi pills sold in local pharmacies, but they're mostly aspirin and caffeine, so if your issue is mainly headaches, Ibuprofen or Paracetamol are probably a better choice. Mini-oxygen bottles are even sold in the pharmacies and tourist-oriented stores. If your symptoms are more severe and include vomiting, you might be one of those rare cases that requires medical attention- you may need an oxygen tank and IV. Severe cases left unattended are very dangerous- know the symptoms, and seek help if you need it.
Climate & Weather
Cusco's climate is surprisingly variable. Due to the variability of the climate, although the mornings, evenings and nights can be quite cold, the afternoons can still be very sunny and very hot. The weather cools considerably from June through August, when the mornings, evenings, and nights are very cold. During the rainy season, the rains are quick but very frequent. There will still be some scorching afternoons, but you should be prepared for cold rains every day.
The majority of the vehicles on the street in Cusco are taxis, so you'll find it easy to hail a cab just by standing on the side of the street and waving one down. Taxis with signs and phone numbers on top, such as Llamataxi, are fully registered and thus the safest choice. There are no meters, so you need to negotiate a price ahead of time. Within the city center, you can take a taxi just about anywhere for S/.3.00 (soles). A ride to the airport or bus terminal is around S/.6.00 (soles) but will cost more if you ask them to enter, as they will be charged to do so. Coming from the airport is a different story, with an average price of S/.12.00 (soles), and S/.8.00 from the bus terminal. Carry as much change as you can, and if you don't have exact change mention this beforehand to ensure that the driver has change or can your bill en route.
The small buses known as combis can get you anywhere you need to go for 60 or 70 centavos, but the routes are understood rather than published, so you would need to consult with a local in order to plan your route. Again, try to have as close to exact change as possible to avoid problems. To disembark, shout "baja, baja" and pay upon leaving the bus. If you choose to try the buses out, realize that they can get uncomfortably crowded and that because of this you must be wary of pickpockets.
Insiders' Recommendations for Cusco
Founded in 1924, the guardians of folkloric culture at the Q'osqo Native Art Center boast a repertoire of 50 dances and a hundred tunes, presenting selections at their nightly shows at Avenida el Sol 604. Another recommendable stop for those looking for an introduction to traditional Peruvian culture is the Teatro Municipal. Here, at Mesón de la Estrella 149, you can see concerts, plays or dance shows showcasing the work of national or international authors- entry is cheap, and at times even free.
Night Life Tips
You'll be surprised to find out that Cusco's nightlife is among the most vibrant in Peru. Yes, there are the restaurants with traditional altiplano musicians in colorful folkloric dress, but Cusco actually boasts a strong alternative scene as well. A great choice for a lively night is to walk the four blocks from the main square to the bohemian neighborhood of San Blas, where you'll find places like Siete Angelitos, hip Km 0 and groovy Nunamachay to chill with a drink. Ukukus Bar near the plaza is a great live music establishment.
The most popular clubs are concentrated in or near the Plaza de Armas. At night, jaladores stand outside the Plaza clubs handing out flyers promising a free drink if you choose their club, so follow the "Ruta de Free Drinks" and save your money for the next trip. Places like Mythology, Inca Team and Mama Africa also offer Free Salsa Classes around 9-11pm. If these more mainstream options aren't your style, Wachuma is the alternative choice for reggae lovers.
Solid Beer Joints
Somehow the Irish make it to all the places around the world, and with 3 traditional pubs, Cusco is no exception! Jump into the expat scene at Paddy Flaherty's, Norton Rat's Tavern or Cross Keys Pub. The flamboyantly decorated Fallen Angel in Plaza Nazareñas about two blocks up from the Plaza is an experience in itself.
Chill Out Lounges
Indigo in the Calle Tecsecocha is a perfect place to hang out, which opens its doors already at midday. Behinds being a laid-back lounge bar, it's also the best place for Thai food in Cusco. The modernist Mushrooms in the Plaza de Armas boasts a cosmopolitan flair as well, though a little less lounge-y and intimate than Indigo Blue.
Fast Food & Cafés
For a quick hamburger fix, bypass MacDonalds and head for the Peruvian version across the Plaza, Bembos, for larger and tastier burgers. For huge burgers more like what you're used to, hit Jack's Café in San Blas, The Norton Rat Tavern or Paddy's. For a cheaper version than these three that you can top off with freshly-made juice, try the Yujuju juguería just a block away from the Plaza de Armas.
A good pizza place is La Pizza Carlo at Maruri 381, a small joint churning out stone oven pizzas even at lunchtime (not common in many local pizzerias) and without a long wait. Other international options include the Indian Buffet at Maikhana on Avenida el Sol just around the corner from the Main Square, and Indigo Blue, the best thai food in town just off the square on Calle Teqsecocha.
Many places in Cusco don't have coffee machines, so they serve cups of hot water with small flasks of a syrup-like, very concentrated, steeped coffee to pour in. Yes, there is now a Starbucks in Cusco. However, for the very best coffee in town- steeped, drip, espresso, whatever your preference- there is the little-known but incomparable Dos x 3 on Calle Marquez near Plaza San Francisco, which takes their coffee seriously.
Cafés, Burger and CO
There's a plethora of food options available in Cusco, from the expensive but renowned Cicciolina near the Plaza de Armas, or Main Square, of Cusco, to the street vendors hawking beef-heart shishkabobs known as anticuchos. Buy from places of demonstrable cleanliness, and if it's your first day, consider sticking to cooked foods- it's the uncooked veggies and fruits, if washed in water that hasn't been boiled or treated first, that's more likely to turn a travelers' stomach.
For upscale Peruvian cuisine in an unforgettable setting the MAP Café is a great, though not cheap, choice, with Inka Grill and Chi Cha being other memorable meals as well as great introductions to Novo Andean cuisine. Slightly cheaper are the other restaurants in the Plaza de Armas and San Blas- they're safe and offer great variety of local Andean specialties and international fare, although they cost more than the restaurants oriented towards locales just a block or two out, which offer set menus for less than S/.10.00 (soles). From affordable set menus to local dishes such as alpaca and cuy (guinea pig), Plus Restaurant inside Pirwa Posada del Corregidor at Portal de Panes 151 in the Plaza de Armas, overlooking the square, strives to provide options for every budget.