7 free or low-cost activities to experience on your visit to Cusco
28 February 2020
On any trip, costs can add up. Every traveler loves to find savings and stretch their budget by finding interesting places and fun activities that are free, or at low cost. And Cusco offers great values. Yes, to visit the main attractions, you’ll need to pay entrance fees, transportation, and the normal costs of tourism. But if you’re flexible and adventurous, Cusco offers many things to do and places to see that are cost-free or quite inexpensive.
Relax and people-watch at the downtown squares
Your first few days in Cusco city, it’s a good idea to take it easy so the altitude doesn’t affect your health. The Plaza de Armas, Plaza Regocijo and several others others are excellent for relaxation and fascinating sights. So, why not spend a part of your day at a charming downtown plaza, where visitors from around the world sit and hang out with local Cusquenos? And you’ll find plenty of cafés and restaurants everywhere you go downtown.
Wander the San Blas neighborhood
Walk up from the Plaza de Armas along a narrow street (the first block is called Triunfo, but each block has its own name). On the second block you’ll pass by a huge stone Inca wall where you’ll find a famous symbol of Cusco- the 12-angled stone or Hatunrumiyoc, it’s a great place for photos.
Continue uphill on Cuesta de San Blas, lined with small handicrafts shops, and finally reach the San Blas Church and next to it the Plazoleta, with its wonderful wide fountain. The neighborhood is great for unwinding, browsing small shops, visiting the studios of Cusco’s most renowned artisans (no obligation to buy), and has many low-cost eateries.
Visit the San Pedro market
A large, bustling popular market, it has dozens of stands, selling everything from handicrafts to excellent fresh fruit juices (worth the price!), and all kinds of common and exotic foods. A visit to San Pedro is a full sensory experience- all the sights, the smells and the sounds of traditional Cusco culture swirl about you. Unforgettable!
Cusco is a photographers dream!
Whether in Cusco’s downtown, the San Blas neighborhood, at the various Inca sites and especially in the Sacred Valley, opportunities for unique and beautiful photos abound in the Cusco region – it really is one of the most picturesque destinations in the world. A couple of caveats- photographs are not allowed inside most colonial churches. And yes, it is polite practice to ask local people permission to take their photo, especially traditional native people. And most will be happy to pose for you. However, some are traditional working “photo models” and will ask you for a tip.
Hike in the lovely hills surrounding Cusco
This great outdoor activity is best done with a local hiker who knows the trails well. Just outside of Cusco there are numerous easy trails ideal for half-day hikes. You can even hike to nearby Inca sites from the edge of town. How to find such trails? If you don’t have a local friend who knows where to go, please ask us at Andean Lodges and we’ll be happy to give you directions. Of course, you can also include guided short hikes on an Andean Excursions acclimatization trip. Ask us about this at andeanlodges.com.
Most traditional festivals in Cusco are free
Inti Raymi, the grand winter sun solstice festival in June, can be enjoyed cost-free in downtown Cusco, although the main ceremony at the Sacasyhuaman complex does charge an entrance fee. For this important celebration of Andean culture, local people prepare for weeks in advance, so you can also view dances and parades around the Plaza de Armas for several days before the main event on June 24th. Other celebrations and fairs in Cusco are free, such as the Carnaval in February, and the very impressive Corpus Christi procession in late May or June. The Santurantikuy Fair on Christmas Eve attendance is also free, although at this fair you might be tempted to spend on some beautiful handicrafts, and many are inexpensive.
You’ll spend a little and see a whole lot of Cusco with the Tourist Entrance Pass
If you’re in Cusco, you wouldn’t miss seeing the best of it, right? It is not very expensive to see many of the most important Cusco attractions if you purchase the Cusco Tourism Pass, for about US$40 for the full 10-day pass.
It’s a must, and a couple of versions are sold, including cheaper partial tickets, and discount tickets for students. Sites include the renowned Coricancha or Temple of the Sun, the huge complex of Sacsayhuaman on the hill above the downtown, plus the nearby Inca sites of Tambo Machay, Q’enko, Pukapukara, Tipon, plus the main Sacred Valley sites of Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Moray, plus several museums. When in Cusco, there’s so much to see for a moderate price, and it’s all worth seeing!