Renowned as the artisan quarter of Cusco, San Blas is famed for producing some of the most celebrated handicrafts in Peru. Effortlessly blending ancient Inca walls and colonial architecture with a knack for modern tourism, the area retains a bohemian feel and despite the plentiful tourist souvenirs, there’s still an abundance of genuine talent to be found.
Just a short wander uphill from the central Plaza de Armas, the Plaza de San Blas is a lively hub of family-owned art galleries, small shops selling local handicrafts and local artisans hawking their works from makeshift street stalls. Climb the steep cobblestone streets, where you can peer into the artist’s workshops and admire the longed-necked figurines that the area is famous for, alongside hand-woven dolls and patterned clothing knitted from alpaca wool – flashes of color against the backdrop of white adobe houses and red tiled roofs. The most exquisite works include intricately carved woodworks, handmade jewelry and paintings and sculptures by Cusco’s most famous artists – Hilario Mendívil, Edilberto Merida and Antonio Olave.
Once the ceremonial center of the Inca city Q’osco, San Blas’ main landmark is the Iglesia de San Blas (Church of Saint Blaise), estimated to have been built in 1544 and among the oldest in Cusco. Over the years, earthquake damage has seen the simple adobe façade reinforced with stone and a post-1950s bell tower has replaced the original, but the building still retains much of its old age charm.
Thanks to a number of budget, backpacker accommodations opening up in the area, San Blas also comes alive in the evening hours, as hikers returning from trekking to nearby Machu Picchu take to the streets for a well-earned drink. Irish-style pubs, cheap cocktail bars and a variety of cafés and restaurants serve a cosmopolitan menu, alongside a number of more traditional offerings, and many shops and galleries stay open long after sunset.