The San Blas area of Cusco is tucked away up to the north and northeast of Plaza de Armas. After the Spanish conquest it became a colonial parish with many colonial architectural influences. It is an area quite different to the rest of Cusco. It does has a lot of tourist footfall but it just seems to be that little bit quieter. It is now known as the barrio de los artesanos (artisans´ quarter). If we were in London it would be known as quite a “hipster hangout”. It is pretty in parts, with nice cafes and views but in a lot of parts it’s just not all what it’s cracked up to be!
Is The Walk to San Blas More Enjoyable?
If you take any of the little calles (streets) to the north of Plaza de Armas you´ll find yourself going up! Steps, steps, steps! But trust me it’s worth it especially if you take the ancient Incan road, Hathunrumiyoc (Quechua for “great stone street”) towards San Blas. Don’t just walk down this street though, take it in! You will be surrounded by ancient Incan history. You will see the famous 12-angled stone, set into one of the best-surviving walls in Cusco. This is definitely one of the most beautiful streets in Cusco. As you come to the end of the street and before you start to ascend the steps of Cuesta de San Blas you will happen across Jack´s Café, possibly the best café in Cusco. Jack´s Café is an Irish owned café with some seriously mouthwatering food. It offers tasty sandwiches, hearty soups, delicious mains for really fair prices and probably the best chocolate brownie you will ever eat in your life!!
So What’s Up There?
After you´ve filled up on Jack´s and got your shot of caffeine you´ll have no problem making the last ascent to Plaza San Blas. You’ll then reach the tiny Iglesia San Blas famed for its intricate pulpit. The church was built in 1544 over the old Incan Temple dedicated to Illapa, the god of thunder and lightning. It is the oldest parish church in Cusco. If you’re thirsty after the walk up you´ll have a choice of bars and a plethora of cafés to pick from. A good choice for coffee and homemade cakes is The Meeting Place. This is a nonprofit café and a book exchange. KM0 is up the hill to the left side of the church. It has live music most nights of the week and a good food menu. Even if you don’t fancy eating or drinking it´s enjoyable just to wander the quaint streets and just take it all in. Around the side of the chapel there are benches, some grass and a waterfall that make it a perfect spot to sit and people watch.
If you have the energy to keep walking up and in a westerly direction away from Plaza San Blas, up some more windy streets, round some bendy corners and obviosly more steps, you will eventually get to a large cathedral, San Cristobal. This is the cathedral you can see high above overlooking Plaza de Armas. Whether you get to it in the morning or late at night you will have one of the best free views of Cusco and the Cusco region. You’ll notice the cobble streets from Inca time similar to those on Hathunrumiyoc. But if you’re lucky enough to be there when it rains you’ll witness an Inca method of getting rid of the water from the higher land back down to the lower ground. There are small viaducts built into the cobble pathways that allow rainwater to flow downwards. An amazing ask when you think about how it was all done by hand hundreds of years ago!
There are many talented people living in the San Blas area. One such talent is Sabino Huaman. He is a luthier, one of only two in the whole of Peru. He makes many instruments; percussion, string and wind. One special instrument is the 16-string marimacho (mandolin-type instrument). He hand makes all of these instruments in his home and happily invites people in to listen and to also learn. He might even let you play his guitar made from an armadillo! The Mendivil family are a famous family that live in the San Blas barrio. They are mostly famous for their sculptures of religious icons. Hilario Medivil (1929-77), San Blas´s most famous artist, is most famous for his religious sculptures depicting long necks. There is a small gallery in this area with this religious art on show and also a shop selling Mendivil style work.
San Blas offers many hostels and hotels for different types of budgets. Hidden away up here you´ll find somewhere to rest your head after a day of walking the streets of Cusco or trekking to Machu Picchu. But do be weary, the further you go up the sketchier it gets!
Entrance Times and Costs
Iglesia San Blas
Mon-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 2-6pm
Plazoleta San Blas 634, Cusco.
Mon-Sat 9am-1pm and 2-6pm
Entrance is free