Cusco Nightlife | The 11 Best Bars And Clubs in 2020
Make no mistake about it…Cusco nightlife is some of the best in Peru. Hell, maybe even Latin America.
Fiestas locas. Rumbas salvajes.
Nestled high in the Andes near the famed Inca site of Machu Picchu, this mountainous colonial town isn’t the kind of place you’d expect to find debaucherous nightlife.
So what makes the party scene in the city so insane?
Lots and lots of cashed-up gringos on vacation who are looking to let off steam. Pretty much everyone who goes to Peru goes to Cusco, and a large proportion of those hit the bars and clubs while in town.
Sure, Cusco’s nightlife is touristy. But if you’re looking to get loose with your fellow pasty-faced compatriots, then few cities in South America can match Cusco’s drinking scene.
Now, normally I’m not that much into the backpacker party scene.
But Cusco is an exception. The fiestas here are a damn good time, pretty much every night of the week. And if you check out a few of the clubs I’ll mention later in this article; you’ll learn there’s plenty of attractive locals looking to mingle with the foreign contingent.
Need I say more?
Another great thing about having such a foreigner-centric party scene is the fiesta rumbles and roars every night of the week. Anyway, enough with my fluff. Let’s get to the nitty-gritty of what makes Cusco such a party-hearty place…
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What to Expect From Nightlife in Cusco?
If you’ve never been to Cusco, there are a few things you should know before planning a big night out.
Keep the following factoids at hand to make the most of your party time:
Altitude is a bitch
Cusco is high. And I’m not talking about the party favors the taxi drivers sell around in town — I’m talking about altitude.
At 3,339 meters, that’s 11,200 feet in freedom units, above sea level, the air here is paper-thin, and you’ll likely suffer the ill effects of altitude. It’s common to experience symptoms like headaches, nausea, fatigue, and loss of appetite.
And the worst part? Drinking alcohol makes the symptoms more severe.
So unless you’re already acclimatized by coming from other high altitude destinations, i.e., La Paz or Puno, then I’d recommend you lay off the liquor your first day or two. Coca leaves work pretty well to mitigate the effects; either chew them or drink them in a tea. Other than that, it’s really just a matter of taking it easy.
As the locals say: toma pocito, camina lentito, y duerme solito. Aka “Drink only a little, walk slowly, and sleep alone.”
You’ll meet people from all other the world
As I’ve mentioned, the Cusco party scene is full of foreigners. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend your whole time with fellow Americans (or Brits, or whatever), because Cusco attracts peeps from all over the world.
Most of the hostels and clubs I went to had a sizable contingent of South American party animals–think Chileans, Colombians, Argentinians, etc. And because Cusco is so ‘mainstream,’ you’ll meet folks from South Korea to South Africa and everywhere in-between.
Put simply, the party scene in Cusco is international AF. And that’s a good thing if you ask me.
Drugs are everywhere
Cusco is awash with drugs. Walk into any club after 1 am, and you can guarantee every second backpacker is on coke.
If that’s your thing, you won’t have any trouble finding some floating around. Either a fellow foreigner will agree to share some of their stash, or one of the taxi drivers will offer an illicit sale.
Of course, cocaine is highly illegal in Peru, and the consequences of getting caught are severe. Be wary of pushy street pushers, who have been known to work in cahoots with the police to extract bribes from unsuspecting gringos.
The party hostels dominate Cusco nightlife
Once upon a time, the bars in Cusco and other top South American destinations were bursting at the seams. Nowadays, however, it’s a different story–the party hostels have taken over the scene. And Cusco has its fair share of rowdy backpacker lodgings.
In fact, last time I breezed through, there were seven to choose from: Wild Rover, Loki, Milhouse, the Point, Pirwana, Pirwa, and Kokopelli.
These venues–especially Wild Rover and Loki Hostel–attract the lion’s share of the party-mad backpacker crowd in Cusco. And all of them throw parties every night with super-cheap drink specials, particularly during happy hour. The shindigs tend to stop around midnight, so other guests can sleep, at which point everyone spills out into the street and hits up a club. Thus, the clubs in Cusco rarely kick off until the hostel-crowd arrive around midnight.
I’m not much of a hostel guy, but I’ll admit these joints are a good laugh for some pre-gaming. Non-guests can enter into the bar area, although they may ask for ID.
NYE is a fantastic time
If you happen to be in the area around New Years, then check out the party in Cusco. The end of the year fiesta is the best in Peru, closely followed by Mancora.
The tradition here is to buy and wear as much yellow stuff as possible because the color represents good luck for the year to come. On the stroke of midnight, everyone runs circles around the plaza in a manic display, popping off fireworks along the way. Be sure to don yellow underwear; that’s said to give you good luck between the sheets 😉
Just keep a close eye on your stuff because pickpockets are notorious for praying on drunk gringos.
There are plenty of Peruvians looking to meet foreigners
Given this is the tourism epicenter of South America, it should come as no surprise to learn Cusco is chock-a-block full of [email protected]. I’m talking young and attractive men and women who would jump at the chance to snag a wealthy-looking foreigner.
Of course, nothing in life comes free. These charming and sometimes manipulative folks see us pasty-white gringos as their way out of here — a one-way ticket to a more comfortable life abroad.
You’ve been warned.
Where to Stay in Cusco?
Where should a party animal sleep to make the most of Cusco’s rowdy after-dark action?
Simple…somewhere near the Plaza de Armas.
Pretty much all of Cusco’s debaucherous party scene focuses around its central plaza, usually within a radius of a couple of blocks. So if you can grab yourself a hotel within easy walking distance of the square, then you’ll have no trouble getting around town on a big night out.
Bohemian types will tell you San Blas is where it’s at, with its cool cafes, vibrant street art, and bustling galleries. And while it may well be the top spot for hipsters, you can’t go past Centro Historico if partying is on your mind.
The issue with finding where to stay in Cusco? The city can be packed at times. It’s a tourist mecca for backpackers and travelers from around the world.
I’d recommend checking Airbnb if you’re planning well ahead, but options can be slim on the site.
Personally, I’ve found hotels and hostels preferable while in Cusco — mainly due to the sheer number of tourists. You’re bound to find some solid boutique hotels and hostels.
Which I did…
Lots of them in fact:
In fact, at my favorite hotel in Cusco, you’ll find incredible amenities mixed with the absolute ideal location. Here you’ll find modern decor, stunning Cusco vibes, great views, and more.
The breakfast is wonderful and filling. Hell, the wifi even works well here, which isn’t always a given in Cusco, Peru.
Overall, I couldn’t recommend the Tierra Viva Hotel enough.
If you can afford it and are staying in Cusco for less than a week, this hotel is absolutely ideal. You’re within walking distance to dozens of bars and clubs, in a safe area of the city.
Ready to book the best hotel in Cusco? Just click here.
Now, I do understand some people are looking for the social interactions that hostels provide too. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Especially when nightlife in Cusco is on the mind.
If that’s you, then my top boutique hostel recommendation is going to be right up you’re alley.
See, I’m a huge fan of Selina Hotel/Hostels ever since I stayed in there Buenos Aires location awhile back. These places feature modern designs, social events, stunning views, and co-working spaces with fast wifi.There’s even tons of private rooms and dorm options for every budget.
What else could you need?!
The Selina Plaza de Armas in Cusco is no different. Here you’ll find amazing amenities, social events, the perfect location in the city, and so much more.
If you're looking for a hostel in Cusco...Selina Plaza de Armas is my top pick!
Nightlife in Cusco | How Much Will It Cost You?
Remember how I said Cusco was the epicenter of South American tourism?
Well, it stands to reason prices would be a little higher here than elsewhere in the country. Having said that, the average price of a beer or cocktail is still lower than the upper-class hangouts of Miraflores in Lima.
So exactly how many soles do you need on a night out? That depends on where you go and how much you drink. Consider the following as a rough guide:
- Beer: US$2-5 per small bottle
- Cocktails: US$3-9
I could dive into bottle prices, wine, and all that jazz. But the reality is, you won’t be buying bottle service in Cusco, Peru. This is a beers and drinks type of spot catering to tourists and backpackers.
The backpacker hangouts tend to serve some of the cheapest booze in town, so go there to pre-game if you’re looking to get loaded on the cheap.
Happy hour specials on liquor are especially tempting, although they certainly won’t be serving you the good stuff.
Best Bars in Cusco, Peru | Top 7
Enough of all me damn fluff, though. Let’s dig into the good stuff. Why you’re reading this bad boy in the first place.
Below you’ll find some of the top bars in Cusco, including a few hostel haunts…
This Irish owned and run hostel is as rowdy as they get. Expect a crazy party pretty much every night of the week. Some punters start boozing outside in the afternoon sun, so you can bet things will be pretty loose by the time it closes around midnight. Best of all, the beer is cheap as chips and you don’t have to be a guest to hang out at the bar.
If you’ve spent time on the Peruvian backpacker scene, then you’ve already heard of Loki. The party hostel franchise has a reputation across the continent for throwing insane fiestas night after night. Its business model is the same as Wild Rover, so expect an army of young backpackers and crates full of cut-price drinks. Non-guests are welcome to drink at the bar.
This American-run dive bar comes packed full of patriotic memorabilia, so it’s a top spot to suck down some Budweiser if you’re feeling a little homesick. Of course, if you fancy real beer, then there’s plenty of ice-cold Cusqueña and a few imported European beverages as well. The food is good, and the outdoor terrace has top-notch plaza views. There’s also a pool table and a darts board to keep you busy between drinks.
A boozy backpacker favorite, La Chupiteria specializes in serving up tasty and exotic shots. A wide range of liquors are available to slam down your gullet, and the small venue has a cozy and welcoming vibe. Bar games like Jenga make it easy to mingle and make friends. Be sure to try the Shotski, which involves inhaling four consecutive shots from a tiny wooden ski (or not).
Proclaims to be the highest Irish bar in the world, although a few folks in La Paz might beg to differ. Nevertheless, it’s a proper traditional pub, packed full of shiny wooden decor and a solid selection of Guinness. Try their full Irish breakfast to settle the stomach on a hangover–it goes down a real treat.
Tired of Cusqueña? This place is your one-stop-shop for a much-needed craft beer fix. Several different varieties of the sweet amber nectar are available, many of which are crafted in house. Be sure to give the pizzas a try, which are delish and go down a treat alongside frothy cerveza.
Fancy something a little…fancy? This upmarket establishment specializes in Pisco Sour, Peru’s national drink…or was it Chile’s? It’s notably pricier than other joints around town, but worth the splurge if you want to suck down this delicious cocktail in a classy locale. This is also an ideal spot to go for a date with that cute persona you met partying the night before.
Best Clubs in Cusco, Peru | Top 4
Here’s the thing about clubs in Cusco, Peru…
There’s only a few of them! This is because the backpackers, travelers, and locals alike all tend to visit the same haunts every weekend.
And the best part, you don’t need any variety because these spots do a damn good job. Te lo juro.
So here the best clubs in Cusco:
You haven’t been to Cusco until you’ve shimmied to Latin beats in Mama Africa, the city’s most infamous late night club. Open every single evening of the week–sometimes as late as 5 am–there’s pretty much always a party popping off at Mama Africa. The mix drinks are heady and cheap; just be sure to double-check your change. Keep an eye out for the local lasses here, who have a well-earned reputation for being a bit promiscuous 😉
P.S: This club was featured in my guide on the best nightlife in Peru…the whole country!
If you want to mix your partying with a culture fix, check out this lively venue on Plaza de Armas. Ukukus plays a mix of rock and Andean folk songs every night of the week, so it’s a fun spot to enjoy traditional Peruvian tunes. Psychedelic murals and vibrant Inca artwork add immeasurably to its happy-go-lucky vibe.
Salseros will want to make a beeline for this busy club as it’s by far the best–often the only–spot to dance salsa in the city. Newbies can rock up between 9 and 11 pm to partake in free lessons before the hordes descend on the place around midnight. If you’re not into the sensual Latin dance, then give it a miss.
Another top choice in the center of town, Chango packs out with a young and exuberant crowd. You’ll hear more international music like rock, pop, and EDM than Latin tunes. Live bands bring the house down earlier in the evening before DJs hit the stage to keep the night rolling on a high. Drinks here are a wee bit cheaper than most other clubs in town.
Is Cusco Safe at Night?
Worried about getting rolled in Cusco? Wondering whether it’s wise to indulge in a big night out?
Well, the good news is all of Peru is safe…enough.
Then relax, because Cusco is pretty chill by South American standards. Most of the nightlife centers around Plaza de Armas, which is relatively safe after dark. Of course, it’s wise to walk with company in the wee hours as there often isn’t anyone around. If the streets look deserted, grab a taxi home instead. It won’t cost more than a couple of bucks and beats taking an unnecessary risk.
Pickpockets run rife in the center during the day, so always be mindful of your stuff. Petty theft skyrockets during crowded festivals and events.
Sketchy looking characters will offer to sell you drugs late at night. From what I’ve heard, these dudes are pretty hit and miss–sometimes they’ll rip you off, or the police will suddenly appear and demand a bribe. Purchase at your own risk.
Overall, you shouldn’t have any issue. Cusco thrives on tourists, so the city strives to keep tourists safe.
Best Nights to Party in Cusco, Peru? | 2020 Edition
Because it’s such a traveler’s town, you’ll find a fiesta pretty much every night of the week in Cusco, especially during the high season — May to August.
You needn’t worry about finding the party here. No matter the night of the week, you can always check out the party hostels like Loki and Wild River for a cheap, fun pre-game. Before heading off to Mama Africa and Chango for the heavy hitting part of the night.
Things are a little less rowdy in the low season, but that means there’s room in the clubs to move.
Now, the city does quieten down a fair bit on Sundays and, to a lesser extent, Mondays. But if everywhere is looking dead, then make your way to the backpacker party hostels for some decadent debauchery.
Speaking Spanish in Cusco?
Throughout most cities in Latin America, it’s fairly important to speak some Spanish when traveling. English levels are notoriously bad in many big cities throughout the region.
Yet, Cusco is a bit different…
Since tourism is the lifeblood of the economy in Cusco, you’ll be perfectly find maneuvering through the city with just English. Spanish can certainly help here, but it’s far from a requirement.
Which can be in contrast to other parts of Peru, where Spanish is a MUST.
With that being said, I still recommend you pick up a little Spanish before you make your way to Peru and Cusco. Why? Because the trip will be a bit more enjoyable if you do.
You’ll have better interactions with locals and potentially save some money if you can converse in the local language.
Ready to start learning Spanish now? This is the best place to start!
Cusco, Peru Nightlife Guide | The Verdict
That’s all, folks.
Everything you need to know about the nightlife in Cusco, Peru.
I’m generally not one to relish in the backpacker party scene, but Cusco is a little different. There are enough people here to create a super fun vibe, and there’s at least one place going off every night of the week. Couple that with cheap alcohol and quaint colonial architecture, and you’ve got a perfect excuse to paint the town red.
Here’s hoping you have a killer night out.