Okay, today is the day I announce the long awaited 2019 ExploreCuscoPeru.com Annual Awards for the best stuff in Cusco and the surrounding area! Well, maybe I’m overhyping this just a little bit considering I just came up with the idea this morning, but, hey, why can’t I have a little fun while sharing my favorites?
I was thinking about what to write about while walking to my office (aka, Starbucks) since the almost daily rains keeps my exploring to a minimum during the raining season. I thought about how I am out walking in my city almost every day and how I try very hard to be a part of the living, breathing community that makes up this wonderful place and has for longer than any other city in the Americas.
These are my favorites and I hope you will comment below with yours. Please share you thoughts and criticisms at the end. I always look forward to reading what others think.
#1 Coffee Shop
Starbucks (Plaza de Armas)
Honorable Mention: The Meeting Place (Plazoleta San Blas)
I guess I probably hinted at this above so I’ll start here. This is by far my favorite place to drink coffee, have breakfast, and get some work done.
What makes it so great for me? It’s as international a place as there is in Cusco. People from all over the world flow through here. I’ve met visitors from every continent except Antarctica, of course. (One day I really need to start a list of of all the nationalities I meet here.)
The service is top-notch and friendly. They are patient with the multitude of languages they must deal with and are willing to help with any difficulties that a customer has.
#1 Tourist Restaurant
Jack’s Cafe (the corner of Choquechaca and Cuesta San Blas)
This is the place to eat in Cusco. The food is great, the portions are huge, and the service is the best in Peru. The staff here aren’t just friendly because it’s their job. They really enjoy working there and enjoy meeting people from all over.
You’ll meet all kinds of people including some well-known folks in the Cusco community. If you go in for breakfast, ask if Felipe (me) is there and come say hi. You’re always welcome to join me or let me know and we can meet! I love to share all I’ve learned from so many others about Cusco and the region.
Check out the reviews on all the major travel sites. Jack’s is loved by all for a very good reason.
#1 Photography Store
Photo Studio Nishiyama (Triunfo 346, a few meters above the Cathedral)
This is my “go to” place for photo and video supplies. Owner Diego Nishiyama is probably the best photographer in Cusco and speaks English so he knows knows what he’s doing and can help you with any concerns.
#1 Local Restaurant
Restaurant Salvoren (Calle Ricoleta just south of Calle Retiro)
This was the first local neighborhood restaurant that I fell in love with and is still my favorite. Like so many other places, I’ve become friends with not only all the staff but with their families who also frequent the place.
They have a great lunch menu, which is Peru means a multiple course meal including an appetizer (usually soups), a choice of entrees, and a drink for very little money.
For me, however, there is nothing that compares to their lomo saltado. As my favorite Peruvian meal, I’ve eaten lomo saltado in countless restaurants all over the country, and nowhere comes close to the taste of theirs. What makes it even better is that it is a really large serving that always leaves me stuffed, but happy.
#1 Indoor Market
Mercado San Blas
Honorable Mention: Mercado San Pedro
The Mercado San Blas is a very laid back place that serves not only the tourist community, but also the local community. It is much more representative of a local market than Mercado San Pedro. You can get a taste of what a typical market is like without the stalls selling the same old tourist stuff.
Mercado San Pedro can surprise you, however, if you venture past the narrow, crowded walkways at the front. Go a little farther and you’ll find the “juice ladies” with all kinds of fruit drinks that you really should try. The assortment of fruits just behind them is staggering. (Remember that Cusco lies very, very near the jungle so getting fresh tropical fruit is easy.)
If you want a real taste of an Andean market, go all the way to the back and eat at one of the dozens and dozens of restaurants. Sit on a bench or a stool beside a local person and have a tasty (and very inexpensive) meal. This is a real Peruvian experience that should not be passed up.
#1 Tour Agency
Rainbow Mountain Expeditions (Calle Triunfo 392, 2nd floor # 221)
I’ll admit that I’m partial because Roger Mamani and his wonderful family are friends, but there’s simply no one I would recommend more to travel with — particularly to his specialty, the “alternative” Rainbow Mountain site known as Palccoyo — than Roger and Rainbow Mountain Expeditions.
Unlike so many agencies, Roger is concerned about provided a unique experience for his customers. He grew up in the area and guided for many years before starting his own agency. I know he is equally concerned about safety which should be a consideration which looking for an agency.
CBC Panaderia Qosqo Maki (Av Tullumayu 465)
I consider myself a connoisseur of croissants. (I doubt anyone else does, but I do!) The croissants here are the best I have ever had anywhere, not just in Peru. With a hint of butter, a flaky outside and just the right interior that’s not doughy, I often eat a handful of these for a complete meal. It’s a tiny, but popular place with locals which will tell you how good it is.
#1 Spanish School
Mundo Antiguo (Calle Triunfo 374)
This was the first place I went to learn Spanish and the best place. The teachers are fantastic and they are really attuned to what their students need.
Mundo Antiguo offers all sorts of activities to enhance your experience in Cusco besides language classes. Even though I haven’t been a student in awhile, I still love the Saturday morning group day hikes. The opportunities to learn, share, and experience Peru in a truly family atmosphere is only offered through Mundo Antiguo.
Museo de Machu Picchu (Calle Ruinas)
Honorable Mention: Museo Inka (Ataud 154)
While there are a lot of cool museums in Cusco, I keep going back to the Museo de Machu Picchu probably because of my love and fascination for the famous Inca citadel nearby.
The dioramas are great, but nothing matches the old photos taken by Hiram Bingham over 100 years ago. It’s amazing how different the site is now compared to what Bingham first saw in 1911, and yet somehow the mysetery and majesty of the place hasn’t changed a bit.
The Museo Inka (just above the KFC in the Plaza de Armas), is a massive place and is, to me, only slightly behind. For probably everyone else, it’s probably the best museum to visit for the sheer number of great exhibits.
#1 Place to Fulfill Your Indiana Jones Fantasy
The River Intihuatana (Rio Urubamba near Machu Picchu)
Tens of thousands of people pass within a few meters of this extremely important Inca site every year yet only a handful actually see it. There are no signs and it is definitely hidden in the jungle. It took four trips there to finally see a portion that is only a few steps away from the rest. That’s just how intriguing is this place.
You can read about it at Searching for the Intihuatana and watch this video I shot about my explorations of the site to get an idea how really hidden it is: Searching for the River Intihuatana.
As far as I know, only one research study has ever been done here despite it’s extreme significance in the Machu Picchu region. I was excited to have found some nearby structures that even the archaeologists and academics missed. In talking extensively with the handful of local residents, I found that even many of them have no idea of the extent of the site almost forgotten in the jungle.
#1 “Must See” Ruins Other than Machu Picchu
I visited this ancient, pre-Inca site just a couple of months ago for the first time and was blown away. It’s remote local combined with some of the most stunning scenery in Peru makes it easily my top recommendation if you want to visit somewhere truly special.
I must warn you, it’s a very tough hike, but easily worth all the effort it will take. It’s hard to compare it to Machu Picchu, but I think it might be even more spectacular in a way. While nothing compares to Machu Picchu in terms of grandeur, mystery, and sheer magnificence in its setting, everyone in the group I went with agreed that, literally, there are no words to describe Waqrapukara.
Of course, I tried to describe it in words and pictures at Waqrapukara – Peru’s Most Breathtaking Ruins.
#1 Best Place to Relax and Have a Cold One
Paddy’s Irish Pub (Triunfo 124)
Though I rarely drink much alcohol in Cusco — in the jungle is a different story! — the best place to go and relax is at Paddy’s Irish Pub next to the Cathedral. The beer is cold and the food is good. I really like going there to watch sporting events, especially English Premiere League football when the intimate atmosphere can make for a really fun time.
Hope you enjoyed my Awards list for 2019. If I think of some more stuff, I’ll add it to this or maybe even write a “part 2”!
The weather’s great right now so I’m off to visit the mountains now.
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