Machu Picchu: an in-depth guide for travelers on a time sensitive budget (with video)



Recommended Lodging:

I stayed at the absolutely adorable (and affordable) Niños Hotel and Hacienda ( Besides being exactly what I pictured a Cusco hotel being, the story behind this hotel was what sold me. The proceeds benefit a local charity called the Niños Unidos Peruanos Foundation, which works to feed, educate, and promote social skills to local children in need. You can read more about the program and even schedule a guided tour of the project on their website. 

For $54/night I had a single room with private bathroom (a real bonus to me), but cheaper room options are available. The hotel is securely gated which is important to me as a solo female traveler, and there is a wonderful restaurant and cafe located at the hotel which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. They’ll bring your food and drinks directly to your room if you’d like, but I recommend hanging in the cafe by the fireplace. 9 times out of 10 the other guests are also stopping in on their way to or coming from Machu Picchu, making them a great source of information and stories. ninoshotel2

The location of the hotel is also a plus. It’s only about a 7-minute walk to the city’s center but far enough away from all the action that it remained quiet enough for even my light-sleeping habits. I happened to stay at the Niños’ Hotel Meloc, which is actually one of two different hotel locations they offer.  According to traveler reviews and the hotel’s website the two locations are supposedly identical as far as aesthetics and offerings are concerned, so I assume a stay at Hotel Fierro would be equally pleasant. If you visit their website you can get a full overview of accommodation options, which also includes apartments for rent and a hacienda for large groups. 


Recommended Sights: 

plazadearmes3Plaza De Armes-

Known as Cusco’s city center, this plaza has been the location of many historical events for the city. It’s where, in 1533, Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro proclaimed his conquest of Cusco, and thus completing his conquest of Peru and the Inca Empire. The Spanish would eventually built stone arcades around the Plaza de Armas for protection, much of which can still be seen today. (This according to a book I read at my hotel’s cafe). 

The three main structures in the plaza are the main cathedral, the Church of La Compañía, and the controversial Inca statue that graces the Plaza de Armas fountain. The plaza’s beauty is no secret therefore definitely worthy of a leisurely stroll. I recommend grabbing a cup of coffee, packing your camera, and sitting at the fountain for an afternoon of people watching and picture taking. 

cuscomarketSan Pedro Market-

What traveler doesn’t love rows and rows of local (sometimes scary) cuisine, souvenirs, and indigenous clothing & accessories? Well I sure as heck do… So I was in tourist heaven at the San Pedro market, or ‘Marcado Central de San Pedro’ for those of you down with Español. 

I won’t write much because the pictures will do more justice… but here are my four takeaways: 

– The fresh juice/smoothy stands are a must (there are a ton, all side by side, and the owners cat-call you in to sit & drink – do it!) 

– You can haggle like any other market or swap-meet 

– You can buy a doll in a bread blanket 

– Check your soles (Peruvian sol or soles = local currency) . Apparently it’s common for sellers to give tourists fake, aka ‘falso’ coins as change, only for the next seller to tell you they won’t take it. So be sure to double-check that your change looks like the rest. I’m sharing this tip from experience, twice over. 

Fugazi change, funky smells and all, San Pedro market is a must if you’re in Cusco. 


cuscoartSan Blás Art District- 

I didn’t realize art was such a flourishing part of the Peruvian culture, especially in Cusco. Apparently the city is littered with art museums and galleries that pay homage to its ancient Andean roots and Spanish/European influences. The art here is notable for the historical details used to portray the indians, conquistadors, and other important aspects of Peru’s mystical ancient culture (I clearly overheard a tour guide say this so I thought I’d throw it in to sound knowledgable). 

As sophisticated and mature being “into” art sounds to me, I’ll admit I’m not much of an art-buff… Hell, I’d be lying if I said I’ve ever enjoyed going to a museum or gallery. The dead silence, the people walking around with their hands behind their backs, the feeling that everyone sees something I don’t – it all makes me feel unworthy of the art behind art. But there’s something about an outdoor setting, where artists and musicians showcase their talents in real time that I resonate with. That happens to be an art subculture I can get into. 

I highly recommend strolling the hilly streets of the San Blas district with some coffee in hand to see how “artsy” it makes you feel. 

plazalunchRecommended Dining: 

 I’ll start by recommending the more green dining options – as I always try and throw a little “eco” into every leg of my travels.

First, I can’t rave enough about Green Point, where for around 10 soles ($3.60 give or take) you can have one of the best four course vegan lunches you will ever have. I personally recommend mixing in the pumpkin cream soup, vegan lasagna, and chocolate cake. The restaurant itself has a homey-vibe that includes upstairs outdoor seating and is located right outside the main square of San Blás (hey, maybe check it out after strolling the art district). It’s a great place for lunch or a casual dinner. To see the full menu check out their website (

For those that need more than a vegan menu I recommend Marcelo Batata restaurant located near the Plaza Nazarenas. The Peruvian fusion menu averages about $13 for main courses and offers traditional dishes such as pork adobo and alpaca saltada. However the must try dish in my starch-loving opinion is the Andean twice baked potato. Compared to similar options the ambiance here is more on the romantic side (probably not important if you’re a solo traveler like me), yet offers a cool rooftop dining area that’s a little less dimly lit. It also has an awesome bar area with one of the better pisco sours you will find in the city. 

Last but not least if you’re looking for dining with a view and good food, definitely check out Restaurant Papillon. The restaurant overlooks the city’s main center, Plaza De Armes, so be sure you request an outdoor table if you want to enjoy it. The menu is reasonably priced ($10 will get you full) and made up of traditional Peruvian dishes as well as more tourist friendly offerings (i.e. hamburgers and fries). The quinoa tabouli salad was the best fresh dish I had in Cusco hands down, so if you’re up for a lighter meal this comes highly recommended. And just a little inside scoop for you night owls, the late night dining experience here is said to be one of the best in the main city center. (Keep Reading)