Wandering and Eating in Cusco, Peru

Cusco was once the Incan capital and has hundreds of churches, ruins and museums to visit, but we did none of it. We chose to spend our time wandering the streets of this beautiful, historic city and enjoying some surprisingly good vegetarian food. It took us a few days to learn to love Cusco as we were initially put off by the crowds of tourists and high prices (compared to Bolivia at least). But we were soon captivated by its ancient beauty and the many hidden plazas that make it easy to escape the tour groups.

Most of the tourist attractions require the expensive boleto turístico ($45) which allows entrance to sites in Cusco and the surrounding Sacred Valley. To make it worth your while you need to visit a lot of the sites, so if you are on a tight budget and aren’t a major history buff than we recommend exploring Cusco the simple way: walk the streets aimlessly without a map.

Wandering

Plaza de Armas, Cusco

Plaza de Armas, Cusco

Plaza de Armas at the heart of the city is likely to be your starting point. This is also the focal point for touts trying to sell you tours or souvenirs, but we found Sunday was the best day to visit. There seemed to be less tourists and touts around and more locals sitting on benches and enjoying the flowers, fountain and two cathedrals of this grand plaza with views of the hills encompassing the city.

San Blas street

Narrow street in San Blas

From the Plaza you can head south through Plazas Regocijo and San Francisco, past numerous churches until you get to the chaotic market where you’ll find cheap juices and hot meals (not vegetarian friendly, but there’s plenty of fruit, bread, cheese and olives).

Or head north via Plaza Tricentenario and Plazoleta de las Nazarenas and up the steep steps to San Blas. We chose to stay in this hilltop area with its narrow cobbled streets, crumbling white buildings and beautiful views of the city.

There are plenty of cafes and artisan shops to explore, and although it’s a popular area for tourists it is still possible to find quiet alleys to yourself. As the city is at an altitude of 3326 metres you’ll want to take it slowly on these steep climbs.

Eating in San Blas (and beyond)

After all this walking you’ll be in need of some sustenance and we found some great places to eat, all with excellent choices for vegetarians. Unfortunately none of these serve Peruvian food, but other than potatoes the meat-free options are limited in this country, so we took the opportunity to indulge in Western cravings.

All of these except one are in the barrio San Blas, which has better eating options than the tourist streets around the Plaza de Armas and some of the best vegetarian friendly restaurants in Cusco.

Jack’s Cafe

Choquechaka 509, San Blas

We were told we had to visit Jack’s and we are glad we did. If only all gringo restaurants could be like this. The international comfort food is delicious with interesting options and huge portions. It’s the first place we have found proper nachos: a plate piled high with chips, cheese, beans, guacamole and salsa.

The gourmet toasted sandwiches, roast vegetable salad, chocolate cake and coffee are all excellent and there’s a big range of all day breakfasts. There are so many veggie options we didn’t get to try them all. It’s a busy place so be prepared to wait. Meals are 12-20 soles (US$4-7).

Prasada

Choquechaka 152, San Blas

Falafel sandwich at Prasada, Cusco

Falafel sandwich at Prasada

Not far from Jack’s is this fantastic little vegetarian take away. There are a few stools at the counter where you can enjoy cheap but generously portioned snacks such as falafel sandwiches, veggie burgers, tacos, quesadillas, pizza and lasagna. We were so happy to find a vegetarian place that wasn’t afraid of making food flavourful. Best of all everything is only 4-6 soles (US$1.40-2).

Korma Sutra

Tandapata 909, San Blas

Surprisingly good spicy curry in this classy little restaurant on one of San Blas’s narrow streets. For 20 soles (US$7) you get two samosas or bhajis, a curry of your choice and ice-cream.

Coca Shop

Carmen Alto 115, San Blas

Chocolates at Coca Shop, Cusco

Chocolates at Coca Shop

A wonderful chocolate shop with a friendly owner who is very generous with the free samples so you can try all the interesting flavours including coca, chilli, cinnamon, maca (an Andean plant) and lúcuma (a Peruvian fruit). 10 soles (US$3.50) for 100 grams.

Pita

Cuesta Santa Ana 528 (few doors down from Loki hostel).

Falafel at Pita, Cusco

Falafel at Pita

Our only listing outside of San Blas is located 5 blocks from Plaza de Armas in the Santa Ana neighbourhood. This simple take away has a few tables and focuses on what it does best: huge pita stuffed with falafel, hummus, spicy sauce, salad, roast peppers, french fries and who knows what else.

While we waited for these mighty creations we were treated to an array of complementary snacks: pita bread, dip, olives, roasted peppers and marinated vegetables. A falafel pita costs 12 soles (US$4.25) and will keep you full for quite some time.

Thanks to Vegan Backpacker for providing many of these restaurant tips.

Trail Wallet

Don’t forget to leave a comment and tell us your favourite things to do and eat in Cusco.

16 thoughts on Wandering and Eating in Cusco, Peru

    • It is expensive especially when you add the cost of Machu Picchu. We just took the train up as you have to book the trail quite far in advance.

  1. We also decided to forgo the boleto turístico and just walked around and enjoyed Cusco. Although the city was touristy, we found that the higher we went the fewer the tourists were :)

    We also ate mainly non-Peruvian food in Cusco, partly because the Peruvian menu options on offer at many of the restaurants were really lame in comparison with what Lima offered. But, we did have some good hummus, falafel and Australian/European food along the way!

  2. Thanks for the tips, I heard the food was a bit more expensive here although I thought it was just because I was in touristy Mancora.

    Were all the treks to MP booked? I was thinking of doing Lares or another small one.

    • Wait till you get to Lima – there are some seriously expensive restaurants there. Huaraz has been the best value for us so far, although if you can eat meat at local restaurants then set lunches are cheap.

      We decided against the trek to MP. You should be able to get on the Lares or Salkantay treks with no problem, especially as it’s off season now. Be prepared for rain though. In Huaraz it rains most afternoons.

    • I’m in Cuzco now and heading to Machu Pichu tomorrow the poor man’s way (bus/hike). I had wanted to do Salkantay but because it is low season not many are doing it and you might have to wait up to a week with some outfits (also the price varies hugely from $170 to $450!). I heard that there are plenty of Inca trail slots open right now so that is actually a possibility and, more so, is what many tour groups are pushing instead of the alternative treks. The problem with the 4-day Inca trek that way though is you don’t get the option of doing Wayna Pichu, which I absolutely want to do.

  3. Your food recommendations make our mouths water, as always :-) San Blas looks like a place we will enjoy, would you recommend the hotel/hostel you stayed at? The Falafel Sandwich at Prasada looks amazing! Thanks for the tips!

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  6. Hi
    Thank you for the practical information.
    Thinking of going over to Bolivia from Peru before flying down to Rio. However we want to include a short journey down Amazon. Can you recommend a particular route avoiding flying as we are on a tight budget and I wnat to see as much as possible.
    PS Your comments inspired me to include Bolivia.
    Thank you
    and all the best wherever you are
    Tracey

    • The cheapest Amazon jungle area to visit is near Rurrenabaque in Bolivia. You can get the bus there from La Paz but it’s a rough 20 hr journey so most people (including us) fly. If you are on a budget the bus will be cheap though.

  7. Hi folks, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but the PITA place and PRASADA in Cusco are closed. I just walked by today. However, Jack’s Cafe is still in business.

    • pita is closed, :( I went looking for one of them falafels today, bit disappapointing after climbing them stairs..but prasada is still open but the prices have shot up! :(

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