If you don’t want to spend the 130 soles (US$47) on a tourist ticket to visit the Inca ruins surrounding Cusco, then don’t despair – there are cheap things to do in Cusco.
After forking out to hike the Inca Trail we really didn’t feel like spending another US$100 on tourist tickets for the two of us and so we sought some free and cheap attractions to entertain us during our short stay in Cusco.
Just a word about Cusco first – we loved this city! Cobbled streets steeped in history, it’s a fascinating place to walk around and spend time getting lost in the maze of streets. The buildings have been well preserved and in some parts of the city you can even see the Inca foundations – which look like enormous jigsaws made from stone building blocks – underneath the more modern buildings.
5 cheap things to do in Cusco, Peru
1. Get pampered
I got a full body massage that lasted for more than an hour, followed by a manicure and pedicure, for just US$20. Complete bargain.
I went to Nueva Vida which is located just off the main square at 341 Procuradores Street. The massage was the best I’ve had in my life. My therapist was strong but didn’t massage so hard that it was painful and I left the room feeling like I was floating on air. It was absolute bliss after walking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu over the prior four days.
I then went next door where I received my manicure and pedicure. For the pedicure they soaked and scrubbed my feet before giving my toes a polish.
I would recommend Nueva Vida because there’s so many people in Cusco handing out massage vouchers that it can be hard to decide where to go – but you want to ensure it’s a good place. Nueva Vida is professional and certainly gets the job done, but obviously for the minuscule price you pay it’s not a spa so forget getting the fluffy dressing gown and slippers.
2. Over indulge at ChocoMuseo
I went to ChocoMuseo’s store first, which is located next to the museum about two blocks from Cusco’s main square. Free samples were on offer so I indulged a little before heading to the museum.
ChocoMuseo is small and includes a workshop area where you can pay US$25 to do a two hour workshop on chocolate making. I skipped this though, and instead had a staff member explain to me the process of chocolate production. (These casual tours are free when you visit.)
After this I browsed the museum, checking out a video on chocolate processing and had a look at the chocolate products on offer – from bars to body lotions. You can also enjoy a hot chocolate and a piece of chocolate cake in their café.
3. Eat a meal at the market
Your stomach might turn when you see some of the butchered animals at Cusco’s Mercado Central de San Pedro, but that shouldn’t put you off from eating there.
When you arrive, spend some time taking a casual stroll through the market and absorbing the atmosphere. There’s fruit and veg, meat, fish and tourist souvenirs for sale and it’s really interesting to take a walk and see where the locals go to do their weekly grocery shop.
There’s numerous juice bars and you can buy a freshly squeezed beverage for as little as US$1. (We get charged around US$8 at home so this is a bargain!)
Dave and I ate here for lunch and it only cost us US$1.80 each. For this we got a vegetable soup and then a main dish of chicken, rice and vegetables. It was delicious and no, we didn’t get food poisoning. Actually, from what I’ve read online tourists eat there all the time and no one seems to get ill.
So it’s certainly worth eating here if you’re looking for a cheap eat and want to experience real Peruvian street food.
4. Marvel at the tapestries at Museo Maximo Laura
More a tapestry shop than a museum (there’s not all that much description in English about the pieces), Museo Maximo Laura is a great place to come and see a local artist’s work. And it’s free!
Maximo Laura creates bright and colourful tapestries through the use of geometric and abstract design. I really liked spending 20 minutes in there exploring his work.
Sometimes Maximo is even in the gallery and it would be amazing to meet him and learn about his pieces first-hand. Unfortunately he wasn’t there when I went but the lady looking after the shop was very kind and didn’t make me feel pressured to buy anything.
(His tapestries cost a small fortune – but so they should with that craftsmanship.)
You can find Museo Maximo Laura by walking uphill from the main square to Calle Carmen Alto 133.
5. Visit the Inca Museum
Visiting the Inca Museum will take around an hour as it’s a small exhibit but worthwhile if you’re about to hike the Inca Trail, as it will give you a better understanding on the Inca culture and history.
Most of the displays have English explanations so do not fear if you don’t know any Spanish.
The best part of the museum for me is the mummies section where you see a selection of mummies in a room in various positions, along with their jewels and gold. It’s creepy and surreal.
There’s also a section that shows you how the local people make their knitted goods. From alpaca to jumper, it’s a long process!
This won’t be the most interesting museum you’ll ever visit but since it’ll cost you US$3.50 to explore, we thought it was worth it.
The museum is located at Cuesta del Almirante 103.