If you are looking for things to do in Cusco before or after your trip to Machu Picchu and are looking for an area with history, art, scenery, food, nightlife, accommodation, or all of the above: look no further than the San Blas neighborhood in Cusco.
San Blas, formerly known as the “artisan’s quarter” is an intimate area within Cusco’s historic center that maintains its original classic status, with narrow stone staircases and intact houses that date back hundreds of years. Visitors can easily access and explore this popular Cusco destination located only 4 blocks from the city’s main square.
At the time of the Inca Empire, it is believed that the San Blas neighborhood was originally inhabited by mitimaes (from the Quechua word “mitma”, meaning resettlement), which were groups of people resettled by the Inca government for a specific economic, cultural, political or social purpose.
The main purpose of the mythmaes of San Blas was to teach local goldsmiths and silversmiths to create gold sculptures (many of whose techniques would later be applied in the construction of the infamous Qoricancha temple). At that time this place was called T’oqokachi (salt cave in Spanish) by the colonizers.
Many years later, around 1550, the San Blas Church was built over an ancient Inca sanctuary dedicated to Ilapa, the god of thunder and lightning. It boasts a simple cross-shaped structure originally built with adobe, but after many natural disasters, it had to be reinforced with stone.
The Church of San Blas is still the oldest church in Cusco, but that is not the only reason why it is such a popular Cusco tourist attraction.
The history and art of San Blas neighborhood are very interrelated. The Church of San Blas may be simple on the outside, but the Baroque style interior offers an incredible altar with gold leaves and several paintings and oil paintings from the Great School of Cuzco Art (here many of its founders included several indigenous descendants of this area)
The most famous one in the church is an elaborate pulpit (known as “The Pulpit”) carved from a single cedar tree. This extremely delicate and intricate piece of art is considered one of the greatest wood carving masterpieces in the Western Hemisphere.
Outside the church, art still has obvious cultural importance within the neighborhood. You will find boutiques and galleries that fill Carmen Alto and Tandapata streets. The Plazoleta holds a craft fair every Saturday and Sunday.
The popular Cuesta de San Blas is perhaps the best-known artistic area, composed of several silver stores, fine sculptures, delicate handmade dolls, among other things.
At the end of the narrow and steep street (cuesta means “hill” or “slope” in Spanish), is the gallery of the renowned Cusco artisan Hilario Mendivil, famous for his sculptures and long-necked figures.
In addition to its rich artistic contribution, if you continue up the Cuesta de San Blas and the Plaza you can also get spectacular panoramic views of Cusco. Just turn left on Tandapata Street and right on Pasñapakana Street to reach the Mirador de San Blas, a beautiful closed park area overlooking the entire city.
Alternatively, you can climb the steps over the foundation right in the center of the Plaza San Blas to sit and enjoy the city skyline as well as the mountains behind them.
This wonderful landscape does not end with the pictures: nowadays the architecture of the San Blas neighborhood reflects a traditional Cusco style, with curved streets, picturesque doors (and windows and balconies), against white Spanish style walls and red tile roofs. A walk down any street will make you want to take a picture.
Food and nightlife
Like everything in San Blas, the cuisine of the area is deliciously rich and diverse. Whether you are looking for some traditional Peruvian food, an evening kebab, a good curry dish, or even a vegetarian option to help break up all the meat dishes, San Blas is the place to be.
An exclusive place to taste the famous and traditional Peruvian guinea pig dish, Pachapapa Restaurant offers a warm outdoor/interior seating atmosphere with several Peruvian classics such as lomo saltado and ceviche.
The Korma Sutra boasts of being the only Indian restaurant in Cusco, while the Cuse Smokehouse offers authentic American barbecue dishes.
The Durum satisfies your nightly kebab fix and Juanito’s gives you fun twists on sandwiches with flavors ranging from local to international. Jack’s Cafe and The Meeting Place offer breakfast places, and La Bo’M offers crepes directly from the French owner’s recipes.
Finally, if you’re tired of all the meat and potatoes, try a quinoa burger or a spring roll at the Green Point vegetarian restaurant.
As lively as the food, San Blas is full of bars and after-hours evening events. KMO is a small bar that fills with music enthusiasts from around the world to listen to live music every other day (and every weekend).
Muse, Too is a relaxed café for its fashionable sister, The Muse, and Siete Angelitos has a more local Cusco atmosphere, offering live music as well.
With the abundance of art, historical sites, and events, why not make San Blas your favorite area to stay in as well? San Blas’ hotels and hostels preserve the old colonial charm of the neighborhood while offering various price ranges for every type of traveler.
We recommend the Pantastico Bed And Bakery for a cheap stay and it is considered one of the best bakeries in San Blas at your fingertips! Mother Earth Hostel offers you beautiful views of the city while maintaining a lush green and earthy atmosphere inside, and has adjoining rooms for larger groups.
You can also visit Amaru Inca for a more affordable version of other colonial-style hotels right on San Blas Hill. And if you’re looking for something a little more luxurious, try the enchanting Casa Boutique Spa with its rooftop terrace and various spa treatments after a long day of exploring.
Cusco offers a great deal of cultural exploration, beautiful scenery, and artistic expression that cannot be missed. The San Blas neighborhood is a beautiful combination of all this and more, so start planning!!!!
I am founder and content creator of Lorenzo Expeditions, since 2006 I started with the Inca Jungle tour, guiding and serving thousands of tourists in a personal way to get to know Machu Picchu in a unique and authentic way.