Cusco, On the road, Peru

On the road… Backpacking Cusco

Last Updated on August 14, 2019 by Bryony Clapperton

I’d like to pretend that after arriving in Cusco I didn’t spend most of my days in bed dying of altitude sickness and feeling like I was going to die.

But, most of my time in Cusco was spent dying a serious death of altitude sickness.

However, I was able to pull myself together enough to explore the city of Cusco and get to know this Peruvian backpacker favourite.

Here is a quick guide to Cusco backpacking.

Cusco, Peru

First of all I’d like to say that altitude sickness is not a myth.

I was once naive enough to think that people made up such horror stories, but having experienced it first hand I now know the truth.

Disclaimer – the myth part is a joke. However, I wasn’t able to experience Cusco in the way I would have liked due to sickness. So here’s a very quick guide to backpacking Cusco.


Where is Cusco?

Cusco is located in the Andes mountains in Peru. Famed for it’s Inca legacy and transport links to Machu Pichhu, Cusco is a popular destination for backpackers.

Cusco is located at 3,400 meters above sea level which is why a lot of people get hit with altitude sickness when arriving.

We flew from Lima (at sea level) to Cusco which is why my Cusco backpacking adventure was cut short when I arrived.

The surrounding area of Cusco and the Andes is the gateway and capital of the ancient Inca Empire and has a lot of historical significance.

Most people choose to visit Machu Picchu from Cusco as it has the best transport links to Ollyantetambo and Aguas Calientes.

There are also great transport links across the Andes, South America and the Amazon from Cusco. If you want to visit The Amazon for a few days from Peru, find out how by La Viva Vida.

Cusco plaza de armas

How to get to Cusco?

I flew from Lima to Cusco, big mistake! This meant I wasn’t able to acclimatize to the altitude (3,000 meters above sea level).

The better way to get to Cusco is by bus. But it is a lengthy journey with the quickest option being around 18-20 hours.

From Lima to Cusco you have a couple of bus operators and routes to take. If you are short on time you’ll likely pay more to take a shorter journey.

You can also travel from the likes of Nazca, Puno or Arequipa in Peru to Cusco or stop off in any of those destinations from Lima to cut down your travel time.

Backpacking Cusco guide

Although my Cusco backpacking adventure was limited by altitude sickness it’s easy to see why so many people love it here.

Many travellers arrive in Cusco and are captivated by surroundings of the Andes and fresh clean air at this altitude.

The amazing setting high in the Andes along with the many bars, pubs and hostels makes Cusco a very popular backpacking destination.

As mentioned the transport links in the local area also makes Cusco backpacking extremely popular.

Photos from Cusco, Peru

Where to stay on a Cusco backpacking trip?

There are a few main hostel chains in South Ameirca you should take note of if you are backpacking Peru or other countries.

Wild Rover and Loki are the most popular among the backpacking community.

This is no different with the Cusco backpacking community, and it’s likely you’ll end up staying in one of the two. When backpacking Cusco check out the following hostels;

Loki Cusco

The Loki hostel chain is fun and a home from home when you are backpacking.

The social atmosphere, events and party vibe allow travellers to have fun and get to know each other.

Most of the rooms in the Loki hostels are dorms, with small 3/4 person dorms and larger 12 bedroom dorms. The hostels are usually cashless too, with all guests using pre-paid top up cards or wrist bands.

Wild Rover Cusco

Wild Rover Cusco is another of the popular backpacker spots. With a slightly different vibe to the Loki chain Wild Rover hostels are also very fun and full of life.

The food at Wild Rover hostels is always great and you can find a lot of home comforts if you are British.

Things to do in Cusco

There are loads of things (other than getting altitude sickness) you can do when backpacking Cusco.

Iglesia De Santo Domingo
Iglesia De Santo Domingo

Iglesia De Santo Domingo

You’ll want to check out the amazing Iglesia De Santo Domingo or Iglesia De Santo Domingo.

We booked a small tour through the church and grounds – there are some great photo opportunities.

There are a few alternative names for this church including Coricancha so don’t be surprised if you hear it called this Koricancha or even Qoricancha.

This is due to it’s importance the the Inca Empire as it still remains one of the most important temples of the empire.

Coricancha, Cusco
There not just any walls…

Visit the Christ Statue

For the best views of the town visit the Cristo Blanco statue that lives on the hillside looking over the city.

A taxi here is very inexpensive and worth a visit for anyone spending time in the city of Cusco, Peru. A taxi driver will usually wait for you to take your photos.

The journey through the winding town is also a nice way to experience the local culture.

Cristo Blanco Cusco
Cristo Blanco
Views of Cusco from Cristo Blanco

Other top things to do when backpacking Cusco include;

  1. Check out the Plaza de Armas and experience the ‘warriors square’ during the midday rush.
  2. Restaurants in Cusco are aplenty so you can eat well here and usually only for a few Peruvian Sol if you know where to go.
  3. The “highest” Irish pub in the world (apparently) is in Cusco and we made it our very first place of interest to visit. Paddy’s Irish Pub should be on your Cusco backpacking to do list.
  4. Check out some of the local artwork and artisan craft shops – there are loads all over the city so you can spend a lot of time exploring.
  5. Along with the artisan craft shops there are plenty of market shops and stalls throughout Cusco so this should also make your Cusco bucket list.
  6. Eat like the locals do. Possibly eat some guinea pig… Not for me but if it’s what the locals do right?
  7. Take in the architecture. The buildings in Cusco are stunning, most have very photogenic doors and balconies especially those around the Plaza de Armas. Keen photographers take note.
Cusco photos
Paddys irish pub cusco
Paddys Irish Pub, Cusco
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5 thoughts on “On the road… Backpacking Cusco

  1. Oh no! Altitude sickness sounds like no fun! Great to keep in mind though, we'll be visiting South America next year. At least you managed to take some great pictures! 🙂

  2. Ha it seems there is an Irish pub in the most unusual places. Great post. Cusco sounds amazing but seems the altitude sickness is a real struggle.

  3. Wow! Cusco is a gorgeous city. I've wanted to hike the Incan trail and see Machu Picchu as well. I went to Quito, Ecuador, which has similar altitude to Cusco, and I was so worried that I would be affected. But I didn't feel a thing, just a little more out of breath when climbing stairs. 🙂

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