Most first-time visitors to Cusco are surprised to find that this Andean city with such a pervasive, gentle Amerindian influence and colonial atmosphere also has such a rollicking nightlife. It's not as diverse (or sophisticated) as Lima's, but the scene, tightly contained around the Plaza de Armas, is predominantly young and rowdy, a perfect diversion from the rigors of trekking and immersion in Inca and colonial history. Some older visitors might find the late-night, spring break party atmosphere a little jarring in such a historic, stately place. But even for those with a lower-key night in mind, Cusco is especially entrancing in the early evening, as lights twinkle in the hills and the street lamps in the Plaza de Armas give a golden glow to the square.
Even though the city is inundated with foreigners during many months of the year, bars and discos happily aren't just gringolandia outposts. Locals (as well as Peruvians from other cities, principally Lima, and other South Americans) usually make up a pretty healthy percentage of the clientele. Clubs are in such close range of each other -- in the streets just off the Plaza de Armas and in San Blas (where the city's artsy bars and cafes proliferate) -- that virtually everyone seems to adopt a pub-crawl attitude, bopping from one bar or disco to the next, often reconvening with friends in the plaza before picking up a free drink ticket and free admission card from one of the many girls on the square handing them out.
For those who are saving their energy for the Inca Trail and other treks, there are less rowdy options, such as Andean music shows in restaurants, more sedate bars, and English-language movies virtually every night of the week.
If you really just want to chill out and have a coffee, a beer, or some dessert, drop into one of the city's comfortable cafes. The following are all good places for a light meal during the day, but at night they tend to take on some of that smoky Euro-cafe sheen, and travelers get all metaphysical about their treks through the Andes.
Café Ayllu, Almagro 133 (tel. 084/232-357), is a busy little place, a traditional Cusco café drawing as many locals as gringos. It's known for its ponche de leche (a milky beverage, often served with a shot of pisco) and lenguas (a flaky pastry with manjar blanco crème in the middle). It also offers good breakfasts, sandwiches, and the mainstay, coffee. Trotamundos, Portal de Comercio 177, second floor (tel. 084/239-590), has an excellent balcony on the main square, facing the cathedral. It also has an open fireplace, which is perfect for cold evenings, and a convenient Internet cafe. It's a good spot for coffee and cakes, and a lively nighttime bar atmosphere. La Tertulia, Procuradores 44 (tel. 084/241-422), is more of a breakfast and lunch hangout, while Café Varayoc, Espaderos 142 (tel. 084/232-404), is a sophisticated place to read and chill over coffee and excellent pastries and desserts, especially cheesecake.
Removed from the center, but well located if you're making the rounds of Manu travel operators, Manu Café is a chic rainforest-style cafe, very swish for Cusco; it's attached to Manu Nature Tours at Av. Pardo 1046 (tel. 084/252-721). It serves excellent coffee (including imported roasts from around the world) and light meals, and there are racks of foreign newspapers for your perusal.
There aren't many traditional cinemas in central Cusco, but there are a number of places showing movies, mostly to entertain international visitors in need of a break from trekking and sightseeing. Probably the best selection of international films, ranging from classic to art house to children's flicks, but mostly American, is found at The Film Lounge & Danish Café, Procuradores 389, second floor (tel. 084/123-236); it's got a cute little bar, serves food and drinks, and has three screenings daily (S/4). Other screens showing movies on a daily basis are Garabato Video Pub, Espaderos 135, third floor (tel. 084/620-336); and Ukuku's, Plateros 316 (tel. 084/227-867).
An excellent counterpoint to the town's ubiquitous bars, discos, and half-hearted tourist musical programs, Kusikay at the Garcilaso Theater, 117 Calle Unión, presents a superb music and theater program that's equal parts Broadway theater, Cirque du Soleil, and modern dance. The engaging production (the second-season program is called "Paukartanpu"), set in a beautifully renovated historic theater with superb sound and brilliant costumes and choreography, tells an Andean fable through song and dance, and the Spanish and Quechua dialogue is translated into English on an overhead screen, like in some opera houses. It's an excellent outing for families, though some very small children may be frightened by the costumes. For more information, visit www.kusikay.com, call tel. 084/255-414, or look for one of the brochures in hotels and around town. Tickets are $35; shows are Monday through Saturday at 7:30pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.