Cusco Peru Travel Guide

Planning

Travel Guide to Cusco Peru

A few weeks ago, Jason and I had the amazing opportunity to visit Cusco, Peru – including a trip to Machu Picchu! Of course Machu Picchu was on our bucket list, but honestly I wasn’t sure when we would get there since we have 2 young daughters…getting to Peru is enough work, but then to Cusco and then to Machu Picchu is quite a journey and test of patience for little ones. So, it just didn’t seem like our Machu Picchu aspirations would be realized anytime soon, so….when the opp presented itself for just to two of us to sneak away for a week, we of course said YES! We had an amazing time (definitely also check out our Peru Highlights on Instagram Stories for more videos, etc!).

If a trip that includes adventure, relaxation, history and great food + cocktails, sounds right up your alley, then Cusco, Peru may just be right for you! While we were there, I was surprised by how many DMs I received on Instagram letting me know of your hopes to someday visit and questions of what exactly you should do when you visit. So, to help those of you with aspirations of visiting Peru, I’ve created a closer look at our itinerary to help you plan for your own travels….I hope this helps!!

When to Visit

We traveled the first week of May and the weather was just perfect as it was mid fall for them, but cooler winter weather had yet to arrive (remember they are in the southern hemisphere, so their seasons are opposite from those of us up north). The weather was in the low 60s and sunny during the day and a bit chilly in the evenings (so do pack layers or plan on picking up some warm Peruvian alpaca clothing to keep you warm when the temps dip!). Overall great weather – except for the rain storm we encountered at Machu Picchu but more on that later! πŸ™‚

Getting There

Getting here can be a bit of a trek depending where you are coming from. Since we are in Los Angeles, for the trip there, we flew from LAX –> MIA –> Lima – > Cusco. On the return trip we were able to fly from Cusco –> Lima –> LAX . No matter how you cut it, plan on a very full day of travel likely in the range of 12 – 16 hours of flights and waiting at airports. We flew American for the first leg and LATAM for the rest of the legs. Cusco is in the same time zone as Central Time so that was definitely nice, not too much adjustment for those of us from the US.

The Air Up There

The elevation of this city is no joke…. Cusco is 11,200 ft above sea level, which causes many visitors to experience varying degrees of symptoms of altitude sickness, or ‘soroche’ as it is known locally! For reference Los Angeles is at 285 and Denver is 5,280 ft. We had heard a lot about adjusting to the elevation and to be honest, I kind of thought people were overreacting, but it is LEGIT! Definitely prepare to spend the first day adjusting to the altitude.

The gracious team hosting us at JW Marriott El Convento Cusco was really helpful in this department…..as soon as we arrived, they had Coco tea for us in the lobby, then chicken noodle soup in our room and encouraged we take a nap to adjust….turned out to be a great plan. They recommend drinking this tea if you start feeling dizzy from the altitude. A nice bonus of staying at the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco, they pump oxygen into their hotel rooms to help those of you feeling the altitude to adjust!

Where to Stay

We were hosted by the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco (seen above in the first photo) and stayed 5 nights – which I think was the perfect stay. Just long enough to see everything we wanted to see in Cusco and Machu Picchu, but no so long that we ran out of things to do. It was also about the perfect amount of time to adjust to the altitude before heading home ¯_(ツ)_/¯

The JW Marriott El Convento Cusco is a delightful blend of historic grandeur and modern comfort. Housed in a restored 16th-century convent in the heart of Cusco, the boutique hotel also features two exhibition halls with ancient Peruvian artifacts that they discovered when building the hotel! If you stay here, be sure to take a tour to learn of the Incan structures unearthed when as they planned to open this hotel.

The hotel is in a great location – just a short 5 minute walk to Cusco’s main square – the Plaza de Armas.

panchita alpaca at hotel in Peru

Above is Panchita! She is the cutest alpaca that spends her weekday mornings in the courtyard of the hotel to greet the guests!

Dining at JW Marriott El Convento Cusco

Breakfast was included each morning with our room…..LOVE that! Otherwise we typically end up wandering around for quite a while to find a good breakfast, it’s so much easier when you can have a tasty start to your day where you’re staying.  They had a really great breakfast buffet including: fruit, eggs (made to order any way you’d like!), breads, smoothies, coffee and more. And if you’re anything like us, you’ll be happy to find quinoa and chia everywhere!

There are 2 restaurants at the hotel: Qespi Restaurant and Bar, and the Qespi Bar. We ate at both several times. The Bar is more causal and great for lunch or cocktails. We had the BEST (srsly) empanadas here! I’ve had empanadas a few times before but had never been that impressed….totally changed my mind here and now get what the fuss is! SO GOOD and highly recommend them here if you visit Cusco.

Empanadas at Qespi Restaurant in Cusco

Cocktails at Qespi Restaurant in Cusco

Also LOVED the cocktails here! So creative and delicious. Definitely grab a drink at the bar!

Cocktails at Qespi Restaurant in Cusco

Another fun activity we did at the hotel?

Ceviche making! A chef walked us through the process of making ceviche (they use trout in Cusco!) and we got to eat our hard work, SO tasty! They also offer Pisco Sour cocktail classes that I think would be fun! We ran out of time to try this one but we did drink quite a few Pisco Sours and fell in love with the drink of Cusco!!

Cusco

Cusco is such a lovely town! I loved all the colorful textiles, alpacas around the city and stumbling into cute shops.We took a Walking Tour the second day we were in Cusco which was a great way to see the city. The tour was booked through the hotel and we explored the Qoricancha (seen below) as well as the Cusco Cathedral in Plaza de Armas

Qorikancha in Cusco

baby alpaca in Cusco

Cusco San Pedro Market

Best Market to Explore – San Pedro

One day we explored the San Pedro Market in Cusco. It’s just a quick 15 minute walk from the hotel and you can expect to find a bit of everything here! Lots of food vendors, textiles, art, smoothies and more! I just LOVED all the textiles in Cusco. We bought amazing pillow covers for our patio. Lots of amazing rugs as well! If I had brought a bigger suitcase I think I would have left with a rug as well!!

Textiles in Cusco

Must Try Cocktail – the Pisco Sour!

This is THE drink to try here. I’d never heard of it before but we tried one the first night there and I was hooked! I think I had one (maybe even more πŸ˜‰ every day – ha! The Peruvian pisco sour uses Peruvian pisco as the base liquor and adds freshly squeezed lime juice, simple syrup, ice, egg white, and Angostura bitters.

We went here the last night we were in Cusco. Such an amazing view of the city! It is a bit hard to find in a small alley, but only a 10 minute walk from the hotel. We had a Pisco Sour (of course!) as wall as their Cocaine cocktail (Pisco quebranta, coconut cream, pineapple juice, coca syrup, rocoto, and ginger) which I would highly recommend!! That is the cocktail seen below…

Cusco cocktail at rooftop bar

Jason + I stumbled into this restaurant (after our first choice of Greens was closed for a private party) and it was the best happy accident! The decor was totally our style – a bit boho, a bit beachy, lots of colorful textiles…..we even asked them to open one in LA!

While the decor and vibe is pretty important to me, food is what makes the experience complete….and this place has AMAZING (and so pretty!) food!! It was a modern take on Peruvian, which I loved since it was totally unique from anything I’ve had in LA. We actually went back again for our last dinner here since we loved it so much! The restaurant has 2 floors – the first time we sat on the top floor at the bar so we could watch the chefs prepare the food (always love doing that!) and the second time downstairs which had a super rad vibe as well.

What To Order

  • Cocktails – we had the cocktail of the day which had Pisco and Passionfruit and some other things – yum!
  • Causas – these were so unique and SO GOOD! Seen below….they are whipped Peruvian yellow potatoes layered with different things. We had the Causa Limena (layered with shredded chicken breast and avocado and then topped with olives, eggs and capsicum) and the Causa Andina (this one was topped with crispy fried local trout and avocado and topped with chilli mayo and pico de gallo).
  • For lunch the first day we also had:
    • Pumpkin soup (amazing!!)
    • Beef Anticuchos (Peruvian skewers). Everything was SO GOOD!
  • For dinner the second night we had:
    • the causas again (they were that good and so unique!!)
    • the Lomo Saltado (this is Peru’s famous stir fry!) Beef with onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, and pisco served over quinoa. Seriously getting so hungry writing this….

Morena Peruvian Kitchen

Morena Peruvian Kitchen

Morena Peruvian Kitchen

Morena Peruvian Kitchen

Dried Flowers on the Wall

Day Trip to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and declared one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World,” according to Frommers. – and it’s easy for me to see why…this was the main reason we decided to take the trip and honestly I was worried we would be disappointed, but we definitely were not. I mean…just WOW…seriously awe-inspiring, especially when you realized how hard it is to get here! You could definitely spend the night in the town right outside Machu Picchu…but if you are looking to keep things easy (meaning you don’t want to deal with moving hotels) and you don’t plan to hike to the top (the 8 hour hike), then a day trip is totally do-able and I would definitely recommend!

I got lots of DMs on Instagram about how we did it. Again, JW Marriott El Convento Cusco was amazing helping us out…..we literally booked everything through them so we didn’t have to worry about anything. Be aware, travel to/from along with a tour is a looong day, but again – worth it! We woke up at 4am to hop a 5am car from the hotel to the train station. Our train left at 6:30am and we took the Peru Rain Line . It was a 3 1/2 hour train ride – which yes, this is long, but the ride was super pretty!!

One of the many gorgeous views from our train on the way to Machu Picchu….

Train Ride to Machu Picchu

We arrived in Aguas Calientes (the town below Machu Picchu) around 10am. Our entrance ticket (which we had bought ahead of time – very important to do this as they have a limited number of tickets for each day as they want to prevent overcrowding there) was for 10:30. You get a 4 hour block from the time on your ticket. From the train station we took a bus up to the Machu Picchu entrance. It’s about a 20 minute ride. (Note for you hard core adventurers, you can opt to hike the Incan trail….but that’s a whole other experience that will add a full da to your Machu Picchu visit) Then you are ready to enter!

 When you first enter, you just walk a few minutes and you are greeted with this view…

Machu Picchu

Seriously awe-inspiring, right?!?!

Couple in front of Machu Picchu

We had a guide with us who shared more about Machu Picchu as we walked around the mountains. I loved seeing the ruins up close and personal – oh, and there were alpacas just roaming around!! Yep, loved it all πŸ™‚

alpacas at machu picchu

Couple in front of Machu Picchu

Well, then the rain came! A major downpour which was not my favorite, but luckily we had time to walk around and see the majority of Machu Picchu before the rain began and everyone either ran for the exits or huddled in the ancient structures for cover.

The rain was coming down pretty hard – and we had been there already for about 2 hours – so we ran like crazy and made it out just in time for lunch and well deserved pisco sours. We had a late lunch in town there (unfortunately this was our least favorite dining experience of the trip, so I cannot share a recommendation on where to eat after you’re done exploring) but there are lots of options here. Our train ride back was at 5pm and we arrived back at the hotel around 9pm. And…..on the trip back, I’m not really sure how to explain this….but as we were unwinding we were all surprised by Saqra dancers as they danced their way up and down each car and then turned the event into a fashion show of versatile alpaca that was then available for sale. I’ve never experienced something like this before, but if you take the late train from Mach Picchu you might find yourself a unique buy!

Upon returning to the hotel, had a late dinner at the hotel restaurant to reflect on our day and see if we could understand what happened during the Saqra dance and then called it a night!

Another tip: plan a massage at the Spa at JW Marriott El Convento Cusco for the morning after your Machu Picchu excursion! Perfect mellow way to relax. Love travels where there is a good mix of adventure and relaxation and Cusco is SO PERFECT for that!

Day Trip to the Maras Salt Mines and Moray Ruins

The Maras Salt Mines were another spot I was super excited to visit. Comprised of over 3,000 salt ponds, it’s a pretty amazing view to see this unique quilt work of salt ponds spilling into the Sacred Valley. The Salt Ponds can look different colors (shades of tan, cream or white) depending on the time of year…

We again booked a driver with the hotel for 5 hours and he drove us to the Maras Salt Mines, Moray Ruins and then a quick stop in the town of Chinchero. We drove first to Maras – best to get here earlier since this spot was getting pretty crowded as we left.

Maras Salt Mines in Peru

Maras Salt Mines in Peru

Couple at the Maras Salt Mines in Peru

Maras Salt Mines in Peru

Maras Salt Mines in Peru

Moray Ruins in Peru

Moray is believed to have been an agricultural microclimate laboratory that the Incans used to test how well crops would grow at various elevations. We really enjoyed walking around here as well…so crazy to see this all in person!

Moray Ruins in Peru

On the drive back to Cusco, we stopped in the town of Chinchero for a short break. Maras is a little over an hour from Cusco, then Moray is about 20 minutes away. I would plan to spend at least 30 minutes in each spot. You could definitely spend more, but that is the minimum you would want to spend in each spot. Chinchero had so many cute alpacas so had to grab some more shots of them!! Can not get enough!!

Alpaca in Chinchero

alpacas in Chinchero

Weddings at JW Marriott El Convento

You say you’re adventurous and looking to exchange vows in Peru, then JW Marriott El Convento Cusco is where you must do it! We were lucky enough to attend a vow renewal while there! Of course loved that Panchita (the hotel alpaca) was a guest as well πŸ™‚

Cusco Wedding at JW Marriott with bride, groom and alpaca

Cusco Wedding at JW Marriott El Convento in the Courtyard

The Vow Renewal included the traditional Andean Ceremony which is started by the inaugural cleansing ritual done with incense and floral essences. This cleanse is essential as the couple needs to have open and pure hearts for their union to the Pachamama and to each other to be true and strong to last a lifetime. The Shaman then addresses the couple and explains the importance and significance of the union. Here he will also speak about the commitment of spending life together as a couple and in partnership and blessing of the sacred spirit of the Sacred Mountain (Apu Saqsayhuaman).

An offering to the Pachamama, Mother Earth, is prepared as an act of gratitude for its land, fruits and boundless benefits it grants us. The offering consists of most elements that Mother Earth provides: seeds, sweets, flowers, wool, metal, beans, etc all presented on coca leaves. This ritual allows nature to bless the couple’s union through the customs that our ancestors passed on from generation to generation. The offering is shared with the guests present as witnesses. The Kintu ceremony is culminated with the traditional grouping of 3 perfect coca leaves, done in tribute to all the offering that the Andes convey.

At the end of the ceremony emblematic bracelets woven by hand are given to the couple as a symbol of the ritual and their union. Such a lovely ceremony!!

Cusco Wedding at JW Marriott with bride and alpaca

credits for the wedding photos: photographer: Rebecca Yale Photography // planning + design:MegaWatt Events // linens: La Tavola Fine Linen // paper goods: Fat Cat Paperie — all other photos in this post by Green Wedding Shoes

This was such a fun trip! Thanks again to the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco for hosting us and sharing why Cusco, Peru would be an amazing place to vacation and/or honeymoon!! If you have any questions, please leave in the comments! Have any of you been? Would love to hear your favorite parts of your trip as well!!

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