Traveling back in time.
This is the surreal feeling of traversing the cobbled streets of Cusco’s Historic Center. Each avenue is unique, surrounded by colonial verandas with touches of Inca empire stonework, clashing in a mesh of architectural genius.
A mixing pot of cultures and influences, Cusco’s Historic Center, established itself as one of the most important destinations in South America, or dare I say the world. Busy plazas lined with souvenir shops, tourist agencies and cafes coexist within a colonial backdrop and astounding church complexes.
The Heart of the Puma
Since its inception in the colonial times (1534), Plaza de Armas has been the main public plaza, center of commerce, folkloric, religious & (now) tourist activity in the Cusco.
This area was important during the Inca reign as well because it served as the religious and administrative center of the empire. As the capital of the empire, all roads extend outward from here reaching as far as Ecuador, the Pacific Coast, the Amazon, Chile, and Argentina.
At the center of Plaza de Armas is a swan fountain and a gilded statue of Pachacútec, the 9th and most important Inca ruler. Lush lawn, manicured trees and beautiful flowers decorate the plaza, enclosed by rows of green benches on stone cut walkways.
It is bustling with activity during the day. From the faithful attending mass in the morning to droves of tourist sneaking a good selfie at every opportunity and the hordes of vendors they attract. Be prepared to politely say “No, Gracias” to some of them a couple dozen times.
East of Plaza de Armas
Cusco Catedral (Catedral Basílica de la Virgen de la Asunción)
Churches in the Centro Histórico were built on the ruins of Inca palaces and temples. This transition is evident on the walls that shows huge blocks of stone below and adobe on top.
The Cusco Cathedral is the primary church of the Catholic Archdiocese of Cusco where gatherings for important religious celebrations are held. During the time of the Incas, it was the temple of Viracocha, the great creator deity of the Andes. The inside is as grand as it can be, with small chapels each decorated with gilded altars and immense statues.
Entry to all churches requires masks, proof of vaccine, and hand sanitizing. During religious services it is prohibited to walk around, tour and take pictures inside the churches. (April 2022)
Archbishop’s Palace and the Twelve-Sided Stone
Continue East on Triunfo St to reach Herrajes St where the Palacio Arzobispo del Cuzco (the most elegant balcony in town) and a Centro Artesenal Arte Inka (shops with local handicrafts) are located.
Past the Archbishop’s palace will be Piedra de 12-Angulos. We have learned in one of the tours that this stone is just one of the angled stones in Cusco Peru, and that there are stones with more sides in other ancient ruins. The 12 sides have no significance whatsoever, but it shows the level of the architectural ingenuity they possess during their time.
Stop by for Free Tasting at the Choco Museo, then look for the “puma” wall before heading off Hatunrumiyoc, another cobblestone street lined with more crafts, on the way to the San Blas neighborhood.
Going North to end of Choqechaka St.
To the west is Siete Borreguitos, a narrow alley/stairway decorated with cute art, hanging planters and cafes leading to the San Cristobal church viewpoint.
To the east is the Acueducto Sapantiana a hidden spot with a view of waterways, art, flowers, and vegetation.
Detour to la Plazoleta de las Nazarenas
Head back south to Choqechaka St, then take the narrow alley called 7 Culebras. From here you will emerge between two colonial structures, The Palacio Nazarenas and San Antonio Abad Monastery that is now both 5-Star hotels. We always loved to sit and drink coffee in the Plazoleta de las Nazarenas right in front of these buildings.
Continue East to Cuesta San Blas.
Take your time as you climb up this picturesque road (often depicted in local street art) and visit more shops on the way. On top you will reach the Iglesia de San Blas (under construction, April 2022) and the Plaza San Blas. Here we stopped by the free Museo de la Coca to try some coca leaf derived products.
Go to Tandapata St up the fountain, then head south. Enjoy more street art and try out the small cafes along the way before reaching the Mercado de San Blas. This market is open daily from 8am to 5pm, offering a variety of local produce, flowers, seeds, fresh juices, and affordable meals for s/. 10 – 20 ($2 – 4) a serving. The budget traveler’s heaven!
On the following trial retirement posts we’ll walk around more beautiful streets in the Historic Center. We will wander along the narrow streets, lost in a sense of freedom of spending the day as we wish. Taking back a piece of our time, then filling it up with colorful experiences. Enjoying a life lived with intention.
Got hungry from all that walking!? See our top picks for restaurants close to Plaza de Armas!
More Cusco Peru videos!
Trial Retirements are periods of time we dedicate traveling to beautiful countries to know if they are perfect for us when we eventually retire. The time spent outside of work will serve as a preview of our habits and behaviors when we reach Financial Independence, and of course, our way to recharge after months of hard work.
Anything we missed? Questions? Violent reactions? Let us know on the comments below!