Getting to know Cusco like a local (the things you won’t find in a guide book!)
Explore My City Guest Blogger Ariana Svenson
Nestled deep in the Andes Mountains, 11,000 feet above sea level is the city known as the gateway to Machu Picchu. Cusco, the historic capital of the Inca Empire is not just a stop over on your way to visit the 15th-century Inca site but should be considered a destination in itself well worth exploring. Guest blogger Ariana, a Western Australian with Peru in her heart, explains why she loves bringing her children to Cusco and how to keep your kids entertained when planning a trip to the Sacred Valley.
Just weeks after my first arrival in Cusco in 2002, a local family with a little baby generously took me in. I later became godmother to this little girl, read her story books at night, and attended her school events. Now, the girl has passed her Quincenera (15th Birthday party). When I think back to those early days in Cusco, I learnt so much about Cusco and the local culture together with my god-daughter, and now I have been able to return and share these activities and learning with my own children.
None of the activities here are expensive, nor complex… the average Cusco family doesn’t have a lot of money. So go out and enjoy the beauty of this city. Collating this list of family-friendly activities has been wonderfully enjoyable, as has been the reminder that simple things are very rewarding!
1. Pasear = means to walk
In Cusco, you go out to Pasear – to walk without any real destination, but to enjoy the outing. Cusco is set up perfectly for such ambling, and it’s one of our favourite activities. You might stop for a while to enjoy the stunning Plaza de Armas, or head up to Plaza San Francisco to listen to the joke tellers on a Sunday afternoon. Or, walk down Avenida Sol to look at the Pachar Fountains.
2. Enjoy one of many Playgrounds
Cusco has a lot of playgrounds; each neighbourhood has a modest one with swings and patch of grass. On the weekends, especially Sundays, Cusco’s best playgrounds are packed full of local families enjoying their time together. Our two favourites are Urpicha, near the Statue of Pachacutec, or Marianito Ferro near the Confraternidad. Colorful and bright, these playgrounds may not meet Western safety standards, but we’ve always had a lot of fun with them. About 30 cents entry fee applies.
I’ve included this one because on our second Instagram photo ever, a mother commented that “There were no playgrounds in Peru”; I nearly cried… Cusco is full of them; you just need to know where to look.” (Please if anyone reads this blog and can’t find a playground in Cusco, send us a message!)
3. The Markets
No, not the tourist markets; the markets where the locals shop. Molino is a huge conglomeration of new goods just below Cusco’s main bus station. Once considered a black market, these days it’s had a facelift and is clean and safe… and a great place to pick up household goods and DVDs. Our personal favourite is Plaza Tupac Amaru Saturday market which incidentally has great places for kids to run and play. Finally, the Baratillo is a huge sprawling Saturday market which is full of curios… and pickpockets. (Do not take valuables – the pickpockets are there for the locals – tourists are easy pickings.)
4.Fresh Food Market and Street Food
The Fresh Food Market remains the place where many Cusco folk shop; it’s a wonderful place to discover a whole range of fruit and vegetables. The fresh juices made by the juice vendors are made in front of you and delicious! In Cusco the San Pedro market is visited by tourists and we’ve never heard of someone getting sick from a juice. On the streets, our kids have eaten bucket-loads of popcorn and churros without a sick stomach…
Planning a longer Peru Trip? Check out this detailed Peru Itinerary
5. The Quinta Restaurant
A Quinta is another popular Weekend tradition for Cusco folk; they are restaurants generally found on the outskirts of town, with big grassed areas and delicious typical plates of food like pork, deep fried pork (chicharron), oven cooked trout, stuffed hot peppers, and of course – CUY – guinea pig!!! This is the kind of place that in younger years we might have kicked back for a couple of beers… these days we enjoy a limonada and the kids play on the grass or equipment, depending on the Quinta. We love Vallecito in San Sebastian.
6. The Polleria (The Chicken and Chip Restaurant)
Peru has a National Grilled Chicken Day – which gives you an idea of HOW popular chicken n Chips is in Peru. There are chicken restaurants on every corner, and it’s one of the more special outings. Good thing if you are travelling with kids – because chicken and chips with a side plate of salad usually goes down a treat. Some of the bigger Pollerias have games areas too!!! Our favourite in Cusco is Los Toldos.
7. Fiesta time… all year round
Cusco likes to party like few other places in the world. There are 15 major saints and churches in Cusco itself, not to mention the surrounding areas.
On Saints Feast Days there will be an enormous celebration with much eating, drinking and colourful dancing around the church. The party can go on for a couple of days. Early in the day (while the celebration is not too bawdy) follow the procession, watching how the various groups of devotees (organised in dance groups) dance, take turns carrying the Saint and more.
Love your festivals? See this in-depth guide to Cusco events
Not related to the Catholic Calendar, is the Fiestas of Cusco, the 10 days leading up to the touristy event of Inti Raymi on the 24th. On the 23rd June, everyone spends time on the streets celebrating and wears a typical Andean Poncho; a truly wonderful day to be a Cusqueno (a person from Cusco.)
8. Soak in Natural Hot Springs
With plenty of geothermal activity, hot springs are abound in the Cusco region. An outing to hot springs is a once in a year event for Cusco families; you pack lots of food and drink and then spend the day in and out of the hot pools. Conoc and Matacancha are popular for day trips; otherwise, an overnight trip to Lares is the absolute best.
Thanks so much to Ariana for sharing some of her Peruvian life with us. Ariana’s webpage is jam pack loaded with information of what to do with Kids in Peru. One of her mustn’t miss posts is her best tips for Visiting Machu Picchu with kids and her guide on where to stay in Aguas Calientes if you are visiting Machu Picchu with kids.
You can also follow along with Ariana’s worldwide adventures on
Want more insider tips for exploring the world with kids? Check out the rest of our Explore My City series
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© Our Globetrotters All images © Ariana Svenson