Experience magnificent Cusco on foot

23 June, 2020 | Reccy Guide

The city of Cusco is a thriving hub of contradictions. It’s colonial centre speaks of European refinement and ambition, of Spanish troops determined to reap the riches of the South American continent. This golden architecture is stacked directly atop the pristine stonework of its Incan founders, who built the city as the empire capital towards the start of the 1400s.     

But when the Spanish invaded Peru in 1533, the city was captured, and was turned into a playground for rich Europeans hoping to strike it rich in the Americas. These ruthless invaders changed the face of the city, converting Incan temples into Catholic churches, and building on every corner in the classic colonial style. 

Huge Baroque churches sit wall to wall with ancient Inca temples. Carved wooden balconies overlook grand plazas. Cobbled streets, paved in the 15th century, wind through artsy neighborhoods, where IPAs are served alongside pisco sours. Inca stones cradle the golden arches of a thriving mcdonalds. The music, the culture, the disparate architecture, come together in a harmony which is distinct to Cusco, and has earned the city its reputation as king of the Peruvian south.

Cusco is nestled deep in the Andes, surrounded on all sides by lush, sweeping valleys, snow capped mountains, and the scattered remnants of ancient Incan sites. The city enjoys an enviable location close to some of the country’s biggest tourist attractions, and is a pleasant drive away from Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain, and Manu National Park. Every year millions of visitors flock here on their way to the Sacred Valley, and are quickly convinced to stay longer than planned in order to spend more time exploring its captivating streets. 

The best way to get beneath the skin of this captivating city is to join a local guide for a tour. Even better, dedicate a day to walking the city. Your guide will be able to provide unrivaled insight into the history, daily life, and fascinating culture of Cuzco, and reveal a side to the city you might otherwise miss. 

Walking tours are the ideal way to slow down and spend quality time understanding Cuzco. The selection of tours available is as varied as the city itself, and the best one for you will depend on your budget, available time, and interest area. 

For the thrifty traveller, there is a whole host of free walking tours. One of the most popular is by Inkan Milky Way, a tour company which organizes free tours all over Peru. The tour lasts around 3 hours, and covers major sites including Plazoleta Regocijo, Saint Claire Arch, Plaza de Armas, and the Sun Street. Monday through Saturday tours leave three times a day, at 10am, 1pm, and 3pm. The experience will include an intside visit to the Palace of Pachacuteq if you join the 10am or 1pm groups. 

Guru Walking Tours operates a “pay what you can” system, where Cuzco natives act as guides. There are currently four different volunteers listed in Cuzo, including Camila, whose tour focuses on Peruvian food and drink, and Arnaldo, who pays a visit to the Museum of Sacred, Magical and Medicinal Plants.

Wild and Free Walking tours has a number of guides, all born and raised in Cuzco. Tours leave three times a day at 10am, 1pm, and 3pm, with slightly different itineraries for each time. Depending on which tour you join you will have the option to learn more about Alpaca wool, try Peruvian fruits at San Pedro Market, or taste Pisco at a local bar.

All of these companies also have the option to book a private tour with a guide, meaning you have their undivided attention. While these aren’t free, they are an excellent way to ask specific questions, and to gain a more in depth understanding of your areas of interest. Normally these groups will have a maximum of 10 people, compared to the 30+ often found on standard free tours. 

If you want to explore the city at your own pace, then check out GPS My City. This clever online tool has a collection of suggested routes, with downloadable maps, which include a museum walking tour, a religious Cusco tour, and a walking introduction to Cusco. 

There is also the option to select up to 15 key attractions, which the tool will shape into a tailor made walking tour for you. Options include the iconic San Blas neighborhood, the Phaqcha de Agua, and others not usually included on your standard walking tour. 

A number of companies also offer specialist walking tours, which focus on a specific aspect of Cusco life. Curious Monkey Food Tours run a walking street food tour, stopping at various vendors for Peruvian snacks. 

Airbnb has photography focused walking tours, led by professional artists, which span the San Pedro, Santa Ana, San Cristóbal and San Blas neighborhoods looking for shots.

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