Despite unpleasant things we heard about Cuzco (it’s expensive and overrun with tourists), we found ourselves unexpectedly charmed Cuzco’s architecture and alleyways.
It turned out that Cuzco is not as expensive as we were led to believe either: Our hostal and food cost is not any higher than the average we’ve been spending in Peru.
The thing is: it’s easy to spend a lot money in Cuzco.
Especially on food and tours.
Every other building in the Cuzco’s Old Town seems to be selling overpriced comfort food that reminds us of home: pizzas, burritos, hamburguers, etc.
There are hundreds of tour agencies in Cuzco offering everything from “meh” city tour to treks around the Sacred Valley.
Fortunately, good value on food can still be found in Cuzco.
Eating in Cusco
Cuzco is big enough city that there’s a big range of choices of restaurants to pick from. Just to give you an example: a lunch at Jack’s Cafe, a popular gringo cafe in Cuzco, will easily set you back about 20-25 soles. Literally next door is a restaurant selling set menu that includes soup, main dish (a selection between Peru’s comida tipica: lomo saltado, aji de gallina, trucha frita, etc), and drink for a whopping 5 soles (less than $2).
Other good places to eat that became our staples are:
The market – The cheapest food in town can be found in town’s market – about 10 min walk from Plaza del Arma. Not necessarily the best in cleanliness or even taste, but it’s good value. Egg sandwich (1.20 soles), fresh juice (2.50 – 4 soles), and a plate of rice with fish (3 soles) is our breakfast staple. Try the quinoa drink (1 sole). It’s made of blended quinoa and apple (and maybe milk) – drunk warm it’s quite filling.
Hanaq Pacha – 10 soles set menu comes a variety of appetizer and main course to choose from, desert, and drink. The food leans towards Western influence – it’s a good value if you’re craving something other than ‘comida tipica’. Delicious food and friendly service.
El Encuentro – Right next door from Hanaq Pacha this place serves good and plentiful vegetarian menu for 7 soles. It comes with DIY salad bar, soup, entree, and tea. The entree is usually a version of stew/curry of some sort of beans.
Prasada – A late found, this hole in the wall place is a treasure. Serving vegetarian snack food such as pizza, falafel burger, vegetarian tacos, etc. The portion is decent, the service is friendly, and a really good value for the price (5 – 6 soles).
Jack’s Cafe – not quite budget, but a good value if you’re craving comfort food. They make the best cappuccino (seriously) and their breakfast dishes (huevos rancheros, pancakes, etc) are large enough for 2 people. Food from 15 soles.
Maikhani – Indian food buffet for 15 soles. Delicious curry dishes (when it says spicy, it’s really spicy). The vegetarian dishes are less stellar than the meat dishes, but still pretty good. Especially after you’ve gone curry-less for 5 months.
Things to Do in Cusco on A Budget (ruins free)
Jack and I choose not to get the boleto turistico since our interest in ruins is limited. If you’re a ruin non-enthusiast like us, the following activities are relatively cheap, do not involve ruins, and we found to be worth our time.
Maras and Moray – Of the two, we think the salineras of Maras is the one worthy of visit. Unfortunately, the transport from Cuzco is bundled in with a visit to the ruins in Moray which we thought was just ok. Interesting, but not worth the 10 soles admission. Any tour agency in Cusco offers this. 20 soles (not including entrance fees).
Ollantaytambo as a day trip – Doable as a day trip from Cuzco, we enjoyed Ollantaytambo as a fun place to walk around. Apparently it’s one of the few continuously inhabited pre-Incan sites in Peru – and if you know what you’re looking for, you can see characteristics of Incan masonry on the walls and on the foundation on the houses in Ollantaytambo. By the way, the hike up the pre-Incan granaries (across from the Ollantaytambo’s main ruin is free and provides a nice view of the town.
Chincero – known for its Sunday market, it’s a lot more traditional than the one in Pisaq. It’s not yet swarmed with kids dressed up in traditional clothing and hound tourists for photo ops.
Salsa lesson – Salseros Cusco on Colla Calle offers group salsa lesson for 10 soles for 1 hour every Monday, Wednesday and Friday (beginner 5 – 6 pm, intermediate 6 – 7pm, advance 7 -8 pm). Highly recommended. Many bars around Plaza del Arma offer free salsa lessons as well, but the quality of the lesson is lacking.
Chocolate Museum – Even though they weren’t as liberal with free samples as we were led to believe (bummer) we did walk out knowing more about this awesome fruit than before. The 7 soles sample (3 chocolate pieces and an espresso) was a good deal. Great view of Cuzco’s rooftops from its balconies.
Laguna Yanacocha – beautiful lake (more like a pond) surrounded by forests, little known in the area. How to get there: take a Cusco – Urubamba combi (that passes through Pisaq), then get off at Wayohari. The trail starts from the pueblo (ask around for the start) to the laguna takes about 1.5 -2 hour.
Budget Stay in Cusco
We stayed in quite different spots while we were in Cusco. We paid 40 soles for a private double room that include en-suite bathroom in all of these places.
Hospedaje Sambleno – decent room, hot showers (when it works), but fast wifi.
Casa de Los Cerezos – small room, good shower, very fast wifi, and a kitchen. It’s next to Plaza San Blas, past a an artesanal market.
Samanapata Backpackers – large room, good hot shower, wifi was just ok even though we were right next to it.
Spanish School in Cusco
We went and did private Spanish classes in 3 different schools in Cusco. Two of these I really enjoyed:
San Blas Spanish School – I had Gustavo and Jose as teachers. They’re awesome. 23 soles per hour.
Proyecto Peru – I had Angie whom I also liked very much. 25 soles per hour.
See the places on the map
Green – hostales
Blue – places to eat
Red – places of interest
Magenta – spanish school
View Cusco Budget in a larger map
We don’t consider ourselves ‘budget travelers’ in a regular sense – chasing pennies and eating peanut butter sandwiches all day (funnily enough – peanut butter is expensive here so the stereotype doesn’t really work). But we do enjoy getting good value for our money (who wouldn’t?).
Even though, we – mere mortals – allow ourselves to give in to temptation every now and then as well.
For more on traveling in Peru, check out this guide.
I'll be in Cuzco for 5 days before my trek in a couple of weeks, and was wondering how long your Spanish class was. Do you think it would be worthwhile for me to spend at least the 4 days before trekking taking a class? Thanks in advance for any advice. I've found your blog both fun and informative whilst preparing for this trip.
Hi there, mine was a private intensive class… 4 hrs every day. The places I mentioned offer different types of classes from an even more intensive (8 hrs I believe) to a private one-on-one for however many hours you'd like.
Whether or not it'll be worthwhile, it's all up to you. If I were you, I'd take a class in the morning and leave the afternoon free for sightseeing (check out Maras salt pond, it's beautiful). But then again, I love learning new languages. There's enough tourism in Cuzco that you can get by without knowing Spanish, but you can get so much more out of your trip if you know the basic language.
I guess to answer your question, if you want to learn Spanish for the fun of it and you see yourself visiting more Spanish speaking countries in the future, I'd say go for it.
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Glad to know someone else recongises that spending is so easy here in Cuzco. We were lucky enough to find a hostel for 15 soles each for a private room with bathroom…we're currently huddled together trying to keep warm!! Great tips on food, thanks a lot
Thanks for the information and map as we are heading there in the morning, just a FYI your map link is broke now on the page, but easy to figure out all the same 🙂
Thanks for the heads up. The map has now been fixed.
…one of the first sites that I've come across that has an honest and realistic breakdown of the cost of travelling in Latin America. Everyone I meet down here stretches the limits of hyperbole when it comes to how much things actually cost here. I met a fellow traveller in Huaraz who told me that he was able to feed 19 people on 3 soles because he bought everything at the local market instead of the supermarket, where things are more expensive.
"a lunch at Jack’s Cafe, a popular gringo cafe in Cuzco, will easily set you back about 20-25 soles. Literally next door is a restaurant selling set menu that includes soup, main dish (a selection between Peru’s comida tipica: lomo saltado, aji de gallina, trucha frita, etc), and drink for a whopping 5 soles (less than $2)."
This is hilarious… when I traveled to Cuzco with my parents a few months ago they wanted to go to Jack's but the line was too long, so I convinced them to go to the menu next door. It was their first day in Peru so they weren't used to "local" dining yet, but by the end of the meal they agreed it was a very good (and delicious) deal.
That said, we did end up eating at Jack's as well, which was also very tasty with servings big enough to keep us full all day.
Cusco is wonderful! Our favorite city in Peru. A lot of people came to Cusco and were bothered by the constant hassling by the touts. Coming from Morocco, Cusco is a peaceful oasis by comparison.
Thanks for the post. We're going to Peru next year to do the Inca Trail. This post would come in handy.
I love Cuzco! Spent 2 months there during my visit to Peru last year and I agree – Jack's Cafe has the best cappucino!
We're in Cusco right now. We looove the market with all of the fruit juice stalls. And Jack's cafe smoked trout sandwich? To die for. Thanks for sharing this useful post.
Thanks for the info. This will be very useful when we arrive in Peru next month.
So is your salsa dancing as good as your spanish now? :o)
[…] at a budget-friendly price. For example, in their blog Jack and Jill Travel the World, the bloggers talk about how a lunch at Jack’s Cafe, a popular […]
[…] restaurants that can give you delicious food at a budget-friendly price. For example, in their blog Jack and Jill Travel the World, the bloggers talk about how a lunch at Jack’s Cafe, a popular tourist restaurant, will cost […]
Thanks for the awesome tips. Me and the wife are in the planning stages of our Central/South America trip. Your blog rocks!
Great recommendations, guys! Your website will be our bible when we get to South America 🙂
Really informative post on a great blog.
By the way how does one guess the location of the colour coded 'places' on the map?!!
It's OK – I've answered by own question by expanding the map. Silly me!
Great practical post! We'll be in Cuzco in about 3 weeks so we'll definitely check out some of your recommendations.
Glad you find it useful. If you find other gems while in Cusco, do let us know!
Ahhh I miss how cheap Latin America is. This is a great post filled with good tips. I love the pictures too… I think my next big adventure will be a year or longer in South America alone. I wanna see it all…lol!!!
We've been here for 6 months and barely scratched the surface.
Another extremely practical post!
Thanks for another excellent 'how-to'!
Aaw, you're too kind, Erik. Thanks!
Nice post with loads of good advice. Really miss Cuzco, quite a special place and with an unbelievable, fascinating history.
We didn't find Cuzco too expensive, but i guess if one's doing one of the more expensive treks to MP, having to buy heaps of gear for that and have a uncontrollable desire for western food (after weeks / months in e.g Bolivia it might not be too surprising..) i am sure it can be a budget breaker. But yeah, i guess that goes for most of the big backpacker Hubs around the world.
Anyway, safe travels 😉
So are you two salsa dancers now??
And just reading that brief mention of huevos rancheros is making me crave the dish so bad…
Lol – yeah, well – we like to try to pretend we know what we're doing on the dance floor. Btw, Jack's makes the best huevos rancheros we've ever had (although rumor has it Mexico is the place to be for it)!