I’m not going to lie. The majority of travel agencies in Peru have set packages. For example, you’ll find that the Cusco City Tour and Cusco Walking Tour cover similar sites if you compare between Cusco tour operators. That’s what was so frustrating for me when I wanted to customize tours for my parents’ first visit to Cusco and Machu Picchu, and why it was so important to me that my own travel agency be different – see Your Peru.
Even though I live in Peru, I live in a town called Huancayo (also in the Andes but in Central Peru instead of Southern Peru). That means that I’ve had the privilege of experiencing Cusco time and time again with fresh tourist eyes and an open mindset to the question “What is there to do in Cusco, Peru?” These were the top highly underrated places within walking distance of the Cusco Plaza de Armas that stood out to me and that are not typically part of tours. (None of these links are affiliate links and none of these companies know that I’m mentioning them.)
1. The Coca Museum
This tiny museum gives you such a fantastic overview of the history of coca in Peru and surrounding regions, and gives you a much better understanding of the local importance of this misunderstood plant. (It has a bad reputation for being refined into the drug, cocaine).
When my husband and I visited, there was no entrance fee (there hadn’t been since the pandemic started) and no cost to be guided through the museum. At the time of publishing this post, it seems that it’s still free to visit. At first, my husband I opted to tour the mini museum on our own as we can be kind of introverted at times, but the guide won our hearts (not in a pushy way at all), and his sincere passion for the Coca Museum was contagious.
At the end of the tour, there are tons of unique coca souvenirs from candies to chocolates, but you’ll likely have to consume them within Peru as most (if not all countries) won’t allow you to bring coca in. The guide also encouraged us to do a tasting of coca chewing and coca liquors.
Qucharitas is known for their unique ice cream that you can completely customize to your liking. Just check out this range of base flavors that you can choose from:
- Andean Mint
- And the list goes on!
No joke, but there was a span of a few weeks that every single time I was in Downtown Cusco, I had ice cream at Qucharitas. By myself. At a big table. They started to recognize me, which turned out to be to my advantage because when I found out a few visits in that they had loyalty cards, they stamped a few extra for me to make up for the days that I didn’t know about it. Lesson learned – don’t forget to ask for the loyalty card.
Oh! And did I mention that they always give you crayons and a sheet of paper to color in?
3. Tika Chocolates
This little cocoa and chocolate shop gets much less attention compared to their main competitor, the ChocoMuseo (a much bigger brand that has locations even outside of Peru). I think it’s partly because of their location (just outside of the main city center) and because the storefront isn’t flashy. It’s a such a shame because Tika Chocolates is 100% Cusqueño (local to Cusco) and offers a wide variety of top-quality, delicious, unique products from different types of chocolates (such as gooseberry chocolate and spicy chocolate) and jams to cosmetics and liquors, all under the cocoa and chocolate theme.
Every time I’ve stopped by, they’re always enthusiastically offer tastings to everyone. In fact, I read a TripAdvisor review about their service that described my mom to a tee: “Creo totalmente que mi mamá no hubiera comprado tanto si no hubiéramos sido tan bien atendidos…” (I completely believe that my mom wouldn’t have bought so much if we hadn’t been treated so well…) I’ve heard that they also do workshops!
Every time I go back, I buy more cocoa shell tea for my mom. In my humble opinion, it’s a perfect souvenir because it’s unique and matches any palate – it’s naturally sweet because it’s from cocoa, but not too sweet like chocolates or jams.
What is Cusco's elevation compared to Machu Picchu's elevation?
Cusco is at an elevation of 3,399 meters or 11,151 feet. And it's a little known fact that Machu Picchu is actually at a lower elevation than Cusco. Machu Picchu is at an elevation of 2,430 meters or 7,972 feet.
What is Cusco, Peru known for?
Cusco is a major tourist destination known for being the closest urban center to the Machu Picchu archeological site. Although most people come to visit Machu Picchu, the city of Cusco itself is filled with history. It's actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized for being the former capital of the Inca Empire.