What it's like to explore Cusco, Peru
A typical meal in Cusco, Peru may include bread with butter and jam and coffee or tea. Other popular choices include: a chicharrón (fried pork) sandwich, tamale, or empanada.

BREAKFAST IN CUSCO

On my second day in Cusco I had breakfast at La Valeriana, a darling café near the city’s center, filled with pastries and glass cased sweets.

La Valeriana cafe in Cusco, Peru

My tiny table sat next to the window hosting a café mocha and warm empanada de queso that was served with a slice of lime. With my first bite, I realized that Peru’s Andean cheese was something special. Unless you’re lactose intolerant, I advise you to gorge yourself in cheese when visiting Peru.

La Valeriana cafe in Cusco, Peru

Outside my window a parade came drumming down the street. Children walked by in colorful outfits, others danced in costume, and adults wore phallic-nosed festival masks. I wish I knew what the parade was celebrating. Alas!

Parade in the center of Cusco, Peru
La Valeriana cafe in Cusco, Peru

QURIKANCHA

Across the street was Qurikancha, the Incan sun temple topped with gold-plated Catholic renovations. After breakfast I didn’t venture to go inside (it would have cost me $$), but I did enjoy the gorgeous views of the garden. Worth the look. Selfies are encouraged.

Garden below Qurikancha the sun god temple in Cusco, Peru

SAN PEDRO MARKET

The San Pedro Market was a highlights of Cusco for me. It has everything: souvenirs (including those phallic festival masks from the parade), fresh meat, juices, fruit, cheese, bread, grains, ostrich-egg sized avocados, food stands, and more. I spent at least two hours exploring every aisle, and picked up a few purchases along the way. And wouldn’t you know, an old lady tried to short change me on one of my souvenir purchases. Can’t hustle this foreign white girl, nope.

San Pedro Market in Cusco, Peru
San Pedro Market in Cusco, Peru

Queso at the San Pedro Market in Cusco, Peru

San Pedro Market in Cusco, Peru

San Pedro Market in Cusco, Peru

San Pedro Market in Cusco, Peru

LUNCH AT SAN PEDRO MARKET

Toward the back of the building were dozens of food stands with bleacher seat style benches. I walked through every aisle observing people’s plates and bowls for a meal I might want to try. Hmmm.

Being an indecisive person in a foreign country is tough. How can you not make a decision when you don’t understand what your options are?

I saw a lot of soup, a lot of rice, a healthy amount of fried plantains, and a lot of out dated Disney and American cartoon characters selling food from their food banners.

After two vain laps, I gave up in front of I Dream of Genie who according to her banner sold various tortillas.

Food stand at the San Pedro Market in Cusco, Peru

I knew what a tortilla was! Not a corn or flour pancakes like they are here. I’d been to Spain. I was cultured! Tortillas were made of potatoes, eggs, and veggies that were baked up and could be cut into slices like a cake. Easy.

The lady behind the Genie food stand wore thick, dark blue glitter makeup, and no smile. I ordered my tortilla (in Spanish!) and sat quietly.

To my right, a boy was eating his plate of food at the neighbor stand. It looked good: Runny-yolk eggs. Sausage. Fried plantains. Rice.

I could eat that. The boy removed the lid of a large container filled with murky water and a single floating egg. I thought he was going to pull out the egg and eat it, but to my horror he began to pour the water into a plastic cup, and drink.

I looked away. I love trying new food, but hard boiled (pickled?) egg water I can’t do.

Meanwhile, my meal was ready. Glitter eyes handed me my plate, which looked nothing like a slice of egg cake. I saw: Rice, French fries, and pico de gallo topped with a thin, not-folded omelette. An omelette! Not a Spanish tortilla at all.

(Cultural lesson #1: Never assume food is the same in two countries just because they speak the same language.)

Tortilla con verdura at the San Pedro Market in Cusco, Peru
But that’s okay. For a $1.50 USD, my meal was a steal. I finished only half of my plate before I was full. I paid Blue Eyes and then left.

ALTITUDE SICKNESS

(WARNING: THIS SECTION IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART)

True to my previous word, I returned to Museo del Café for a cup of coffee, and stayed for a couple of hours. With great wifi, a cozy atmosphere, and fantastic alfajore cookies, it was a good place to lounge for a while.

Feeling relatively hydrated and noticing that the altitude headaches had subsided, it seemed like a good day to try Peru’s famous Pisco at the bar recommended by many: Museo Del Pisco.

Locals in Cusco, Peru
Plaza de Armas - the city center in Cusco, Peru

I walked across the Plaza de Armas, and peeked inside. No one was sitting at the tiny bar. It was probably too early. I hadn’t had a meal in a while, so I decided to eat dinner first, drink a TON of water, and return later.

Plaza de Armas - the city center in Cusco, Peru

Plaza de Armas - the city center in Cusco, Peru

At 6:00pm, I entered Chola Soy, which specialized in traditional Peruvian sandwiches. I ordered the chicken option and a cup of tea.

Half way through my tasty meal, I felt suddenly and uncomfortably full. I paused from eating to let the feeling pass. But, it didn’t, and things only got worse.

The sandwich itself became a revulsion to my eyes, and the thought of adding any more substance into my body, even tea or water, made me nauseous. Was it food poisoning? Did I accidentally drink the water? Was the rest of my trip ruined? 

I waited 20 minutes and still the feeling did not pass. Then I realized I may need a restroom. In Peru, public restrooms are not easy to come by.

My AirBNB was at least a 30 minute walk away. Could I make it? Probably not.

Taxis are cheap, and would get me home fast. But what if my body betrayed me as I sat in the back seat? I would never live something like that down.

My options were bad. I decided to start walking and hope that I could find a place with a restroom. I double checked how to say “where is the bathroom” in Spanish and started walking. Slowly. Miserably. Down the hill. Obviously no pisco sours were in my future that night.
There were a few moments walking down that busy street, imagining the worst. At any point I could become uncontrollably sick, losing my dignity on a sidewalk in a foreign country. I was less worried about nausea at this point, and far more worried about the increasing stomach cramps.

I began a mantra in my head. You will not get sick. You will not get sick. You will not get sick. You’re almost home.

And you know what? Eventually it worked. By the time I arrived home the waves of nausea and cramps had stopped. I drank a lot of water, and brewed some anise tea to help with the altitude symptoms.

I couldn’t believe how suddenly it had hit me and gone away. Altitude sickness is real, my friends. I don’t know why it hit me when it did, but in hindsight I wish I’d drank more coca tea and water (even though I had already nearly doubled my usual intake). Cusco is amazing, but don’t ever turn your back on the high altitude.

What to do on a trip to Cusco, Peru. On day 2: Visit the San Pedro Market, Plaza de Armas, and what to do during a sudden onslaught of altitude sickness.