Once the center of the Inca Empire, modern Cusco is a relaxed mountain city surrounded by natural beauty, and one of the best spots in Peru for digital nomads.
Once the capital of the Inca Empire, this city in the Peruvian Andes is best known for its archaeology and history. Half a million tourists come to the region each year to see Machu Picchu, the most famous of the many historical sites in and around Cusco. The city is so steeped in history it’s easy to feel like you’ve stepped back in time, and life in Cusco happens at a more relaxed pace than you’ll find in other world cities. Though its cobbled streets can give Cusco the feel of a village, its population is over 400,000--the seventh-largest city in Peru. Its location in the mountains gives the city a unique climate and prevents it from sprawling, ideal for those who prefer walking to driving. While most people associate Cusco with mountain hikes and natural beauty, its popularity with backpackers also gives it a surprisingly active nightlife.
Where to live in Cusco
Compared to other cities in South America, Cusco is relatively compact and you can navigate easily on foot. You don’t have to worry about feeling stuck in whatever neighborhood you choose. The areas close to Plaza de Armas are the busiest, and where you’ll find the most active nightlife and entertainment scene. You don’t have to go too far from the center to find quieter, more residential neighborhoods, though. The topography of the city provides more separation between neighborhoods than you might find in other cities.
Best Neighborhoods in Cusco
The first question you’ll want to ask yourself is what level of immersion you’re looking for. If you’re a Spanish speaker and want to jump headlong into local life, living in a more residential neighborhood like Lucrepata or San Cristobal can give you a more authentic experience. The highest concentration of expats tend to live in San Blas, so you may find that the most comfortable neighborhood if you’re not confident in your Spanish skills. The Plaza de Armas is the most tourist-heavy area, and also where you’ll find the most entertainment options and the best nightlife.
Quick Facts About CuscoCusco was the capital of the Inca Empire at its height, and was later colonized by the Spanish. Both influences can be seen and felt as if you walk through the modern city. While many travelers see Cusco as a home base for exploring the region, the city itself is also well-worth exploring. Here are some quick facts to get you started.
There are hundreds of trails nearby (and they don’t all lead to Machu Picchu)Most hikers want to hit the Inca Trail their first time in Cusco but that’s just one of many trails you can hike near Cusco, and each offers its own unique topography and breathtaking views. Just make sure you give yourself a few days to settle in before attempting them, as some take you to an even higher elevation than Cusco.
Vegetarians won’t go hungryThe meat-centric cuisines of many South American nations can be frustrating for vegetarians. In Cusco, though, it’s much easier to find organic, veggie-only fare at the cafes (though there’s plenty for the carnivores to enjoy, too).
Cusco stays open lateEspecially in the area around the Plaza de Armas you can find bars and restaurants to hang out in any time of night. Many local nightclubs don’t start getting busy until at least midnight and stay open until the early morning.
The high altitude takes some getting used toCusco’s elevation is over 11,000 feet. If you’re coming from an area closer to sea level, you’ll likely experience altitude sickness for a couple of days until your body adjusts. Cocoa tea is a popular local remedy if you experience symptoms. The altitude also makes water take longer to boil and can affect times and temperatures for baking, something to keep in mind if you plan to cook during your stay.
It’s okay to haggleHaggling is common practice at the outdoor markets in Peru, to the point most vendors label their goods with a higher price than they think the item’s worth. If you’re not sure what price to ask for, you can start negotiations by asking if they’d be willing to sell it for less.
Inka Kola is the soda of choicePeru is one of the few nations where Coca-Cola doesn’t dominate the soft drink scene. Inca Kola was invented in Peru in the 1930s. Its main ingredient is lemon verbena, giving it a sweet, fruity taste that many first-time drinkers describe as similar to bubble gum.
Its artists are world-renownedThe handcrafted goods available in the shops of San Blas range from statues and paintings to musical instruments and alpaca wool clothing. Many famous artists’ workshops are here, including sculptors Antonio Olave and Edilberto Merida.
Public transportation out of Cusco can be confusingThere are a lot of places to explore in the area around Cusco and you don’t need a car to reach them. The colectivos, or mini-buses, transport people between local towns and tourist spots. They don’t all stop in the same places or run on the same schedule, though, so make sure you do your research before planning a day trip.
Work in Cusco
Tourism plays a significant role in Cusco’s economy but don’t take that to mean the only jobs are in hospitality. It has historically been a farming and mining region, and the proximity to the Camisea Gas Fields makes it important to the energy industry, as well. Peru’s economy is one of the strongest in South America and Cusco has a relatively low unemployment rate. It’s a great place to find work in resource management and development or finance, especially international banking. Of course, if you are interested in a job in tourism, there are plenty of those available, too, especially if you’re multilingual.
How good is Cusco for Digital Nomads or Remote Work
Remote work is changing how the global workspace operates. In a trend that is showing no signs of slowing down, remote work is rapidly on the increase all around the world—especially in a place like Cusco. And about 25% of remote workers describe themselves as digital nomads—those who like to travel or stay in cities around the world while they work. So, how good is Cusco for both of these growing movements?
Average Internet SpeedYour internet connection might feel a bit slow in Peru compared to the speeds you’ll find in large cities elsewhere in the world. The average peak connection speed is around 48Mbps, while the all-around average is only about 6Mbps. Public hotspots are available, mostly in the cafes and hostels in the city center.
Work-friendly Coffee ShopsFinding the right cafe to work in can be tricky in Cusco, especially if you’re looking for peace and quiet during the busy tourist season. Here are our top spots where you’ll have the outlets and Wi-Fi you need to camp out for hours (and tasty coffee to drink while you work): Cappuccino Cafe: This spot in the heart of the city has great views of the Plaza de Armas. There are multiple rooms to choose from so you’ll always find a quiet spot to work, and most tables have outlet access. Museo del Cafe: Tucked above an art gallery, this cafe and coffee museum is spacious and offers lots of cozy seating options. They also have excellent food, including vegetarian fare. Laggart Cafe: This funky cafe in San Blas has fast, reliable Wi-Fi and an eclectic vibe, thanks in part to the local art hanging on the walls. Their food is both delicious and cheap, helpful if you’ll be camping out all day.
Coworking SpacesCusco’s popularity with remote workers means you’ll find a good variety of coworking offices to choose from. The highest concentration is in the city center, though you’ll also find spaces in the Wanchaq district, near the airport. Our top picks: Selina CoWork Cusco: Located close to the Plaza de Almas, this friendly coworking space offers flexible memberships ranging from 1-day passes to private offices. Members can access the office any time, as well as utilizing unique amenities like a yoga studio and meditation room. Ayni Center: Ayni Center is perfect if you want to find a collaborative community. Memberships are flexible and affordable, and there’s an outdoor terrace for when you need some fresh air. La Oficina Cusco: This comfortable coworking space offers some of the best amenities in the city, including an onsite restaurant and child care facility. The community events and workshops offer members lots of opportunities for networking. One interesting thing to note is that many of Cusco’s coworking spaces are dog- and cat-friendly. This is great news if you’re an animal lover, but something to be wary of for allergy sufferers.
Suitable Level for Digital NomadsCusco is an affordable place to live, one of the reasons it’s attractive to digital nomads. The weather is also fairly mild year-round, and though it gets chilly at night you don’t need to worry about extreme weather. Those who like hiking and exploring nature will love living in Cusco, though it’s not the best city for those who want a dense, urban energy. While you can find places to socialize, the overall vibe is more low-key, especially in the low tourist season.
Visa RequirementsThe easiest option is often to enter Peru on a tourist visa then obtain a work visa once you’re in the country. A tourist visa lasts between 90 and 183 days and is automatic for some countries, including the United States, as well as most countries in Europe, North America, and South America. If you plan to stay longer than that, a temporary work visa will allow you to stay in the country for up to 3 years, though it also requires you to spend at least half the year in Peru. In some cases, a rentista visa may be a better option for longer stays. You can apply for one if you have a steady, permanent income of at least $1,000/month. They’re often better for digital nomads than temporary work visas since there are no requirements for how much time you spend in the country.
Food and Drink in Cusco
The flavors in Peruvian cuisine are built on local ingredients, primarily peppers, corn, and potatoes, giving it a flavor unique from anywhere else in the world. Local favorites for traditional cuisine include El Huacatay, Pachapapa, and Cafe Inkaterra. For a more luxurious take try Chica, which is run by Gaston Acurio, one of the biggest names in Peru’s culinary scene. Limo in Plaza de Armas puts a different twist on classic dishes, whose fusion of Japanese and Peruvian flavors creates menu items like ceviche-style sushi. Cicciolina has a varied menu with both Peruvian and international options, and the sophisticated decor makes it a great spot for a nice dinner. Fallen Angel is another spot whose quirky decor is only matched by the innovative menu, featuring dishes like beer-marinated duck or risotto served in a banana leaf. If you want to drink like a local, get accustomed to the taste of Pisco. This brandy-style liquor is the base of most local cocktails, including the Pisco sour and Chilcano. While you can find these drinks on most bar menus, you’ll find the best cocktails at the Museo de Pisco, a 3-story bar that specializes in the local liquor. For live music while you drink, check out The Muse or KMO in San Blas.
Top 6 Things To Do in Cusco
The trails and ruins around Cusco offer tons of variety for those who like to explore. Favorite stops include Koricancha, the Sacred Valley, the Pisac Ruins, and--of course--Machu Picchu. For attractions in the city, Cusco has simplified things for tourists. Entry to the museums, ruins, and other cultural sites are under the same ticket, called a boleto turistico. It lasts 5 days and costs less than 50 US dollars, so if you have an interest in history that’s something you’ll want to take advantage of. Favorites include the Coca Museum, the Museo de Arte Pre-Colombino, and the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco.
Cuesta de San Blas 618 618, Cusco
Iglesia, Museo y Convento de San Francisco
Plaza San Francisco S/N, Cusco
San Pedro Market
Calle Garcilaso 210, Cusco
Plaza San Blas
Cuesta de San Blas, Cusco