While Peru in general isn’t an expensive country, I was surprised when in Cusco to see how many backpackers didn’t take advantage of free and budget-friendly tips and attractions. To help you make your trip to Cusco as inexpensive as possible, here are some tips.
If You’re A Student, Get An ISIC Card
In Peru, it’s rare that a normal student ID is accepted. More often, it must be an ISIC card. This card will bring you major savings on your packages and visiting Machu Picchu. For example, to buy a ticket to visit eight archeological sites and six museums is regularly 130 Nuevo Soles (about $50); however, with an ISIC card it’s only S/. 70 (about $26). Moreover, the price to enter Machu Picchu gets cut nearly in half, and many companies give you a decent discount on the Inca Trail itself.
The Salkantay Trek
Hiking the Inca Trail can often cost you over $800 once you factor in gear, porters, and tips. For those who want beautiful scenery, Inca sites, and an ending in Machu Picchu, an alternative option is to do the 5-day Salkantay Trek. It can save you a couple hundred dollars from the Inca Trail price, and you don’t have to book it in advance. Moreover, you still end at Machu Picchu, and get to see Inca sites like Salapunku, Qorywayrachina, and Torontoy along the way.
Hike To Cristo Blanco
While you’ll need to pay S/.70 (about $26) to hike the archeological sites near Sacsayhuaman, hiking to the Cristo Blanco is completely free. At the admission entrance for Sacsayhuaman, veer right and you’ll see a small mountain. You won’t be able to see the site from the base, but once you hike up you’ll be amazed at by the immense structure.
Take The Free Walking Tour
Instead of signing up for an expensive city tour with one of the local travel agencies, take advantage of Free Walking Tour Peru‘s free Cusco walking tour. The first pick-up is each day at 11:50 am. You’ll learn about the city’s history, as well as take in sites like the Botanic Garden, Incas architecture, Handicraft markets, Bohemian party streets, the Temple of the Sun, Cusquenian stab city, Wall of history, and much more.
Eat At Non-Touristy Restaurants With A Set Menu
The places I ate at when in Cusco literally had no tourists…ever. I loved it. For S/.4 (about $1.50), I would get a huge bowl of soup and filling entree like rice, beans, and beef, chicken and rice, or rice, fried plantains, eggs, and fries. Sometimes they’ll even give you dessert and/or tea. It was actually cheaper for me to eat out then cook. Two of my favorites we’re right next to each other, on Belen in between Matara and Tres Cruces. There was another good one on Matara near Ayacucho.
Get A Quality Yet Cheap massage
Walking around Cusco, you’ll see tons of people trying to sell massage and spa treatments. While most are advertised at S/.30 to S./50 ($11 to $18), I found a great place offering an hour long hot stone massage, or “Inca massage”, for S./15 (about $6). It’s called Spa Hampi Maki, and is located at 250 Marquez Street, on the 2nd floor of the “Artesanias El Solar Dorado” building. The massage is very relaxing, with incense, calm music, a private dimly lit room, and comfortable table.
Indulge Your Sweet Tooth At The Chocolate Museum
While you need to pay to enter many of the churches and museums, it’s free to enter the Chocolate Museum, also known as ChocoMuseo. Located on the 2nd floor of 210 Garcilaso, you’ll learn all the secrets of your favorite treat, and even get to enjoy some hot chocolate or a chocolate tasting with Peruvian coffee while take in the beautiful view of Plaza Regocijo. The museum also offers a 2-hour chocolate workshop, where you can learn to make your own.
San Pedro Market
Skip the fancy retailers and restaurants around the plazas and head to San Pedro Market, located on Santa Clara near Santa Clara Church. Here you’ll find everything, from handicrafts and accessories to food and hallucinogens, all at a cheap price. Make sure to bargain, as they always offer you the highest price first.
Chill in Plaza de Armas
Hanging out in the beautiful plazas of Cusco is always a free yet worthwhile activity. Plaza de Armas was my favorite, with beautiful flowers, comfortable benches, and a surrounding of Spanish and Incan architecture.
Buy A Tourist Ticket
Check with your hotel or hostel about combining site tickets for a discounted price. For example, instead of just paying the 70 S/. admission to the Saqsayhuaman site trail and then the ticket price for the Inca sites near Pisaq, you can buy one ticket for all them, and even get free admission to the city’s museums. Here is the site for the tourist ticket, but you can simply purchase it from your hotel or a travel agency in Cusco when you arrive.
While you’ll often have to pay to enter the big churches of Cusco, it’s usually not too expensive. Likewise, it’s completely free to walk around the city and admire the architecture of these places of worship from the outside.
Take Advantage Of No Cover And Happy Hours
Don’t think you need to spend a fortune to have a fun night out. Almost all the bars feature a discounted happy hour, sometimes late at night. For example, Paddy’s Pub offers 2-for-1 cocktails around 10:30 pm. Moreover, clubs like Inca Time feature free admission and a free Cuba Libre cocktail.
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