best things to do in cusco

21 Best Things To Do In Cusco: The Ultimate Guide 2023

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Tucked in the Andes near the Urubamba Valley, Cusco is one of the most popular destinations in Peru. Its proximity to Macchu Picchu ensures a steady flow of visitors year-round, but there are way too many other cool things to do in Cusco besides the UNESCO-listed Inca ruins. Cusco boasts a blend of Spanish and Incan cultures, fantastic landscapes, mouthwatering cuisine, and great shopping.

Once you spend a few days here, you will likely want to stay longer.

While Cusco is known for museums and tours of its many historical treasures, the former Inca has other things. It also boasts a lively nightclub and bar scene, and you can watch folkloric performances after roaming the cobblestone streets and shopping in the colorful markets of Cusco.

21 BEST Things To Do In Cusco

1. Explore Cusco on foot

Taking time to explore the historic center is one of the best things to do in Cusco if you visit the city for the first time. The city boasts thousands of years of history, so it’s a good idea to get some understanding of how the city inhabited by the Incas came to be what it is today. The best way to learn about Cusco’s history is by taking a guided tour that includes stops at the main highlights around Cusco.

Best guided tours of Cusco

2. Learn to cook Peruvian food

Peru is a foodie paradise!

The country boasts thousands of years of cuisine with many flavors and fusions in different regions. One of the best things to do in Cusco is to learn the techniques of the Andean kitchen from a professional chef, and you can do it by taking a Peruvian cooking class.

The class includes a visit to the local market where you get to shop for ingredients and later cook everything together. A Peruvian cooking class is a cool experience where you learn the authentic way of cooking local food and taste Pisco sour, a traditional Peruvian drink. 

3. Take a trip to Chincherro

Chincherro is a colonial town about 28 km west of Cusco.

Chincherro boasts a beautiful colonial church where you can observe people from surrounding villages come to interchange their produce every Sunday – a practice that dates back to the Inca times.

🙂 Click here to book a day trip of Chincherro and Sacred Valley!

Another highlight of Cusco is its textile demonstration centers, where you can learn the exact process of wool extraction, dyeing, and making clothing. You can buy handmade clothing right on-site! I loved my time in Chincherro and highly recommend it if you want to take a half-day trip from Cusco.

4. Visit the Inca Fortress Sacsayhuaman

The ancient fortress of Sacsayhuaman is made up of huge stones that were used to protect Cusco when the Spanish invaded.

To get to Sacsayhuaman, you can walk directly up Pumacurco, which should take you about 30 minutes. Another option is to take a taxi from the center of Cusco for just a few soles. Other ruins on the outskirts of Cusco are PukaPukara, Tambo Machay, and Qenko, which are in the archaeological park Sacsayhuaman.

5. Visit Cusco Planetarium

When you visit Sacsayhuamán, stop at the Cusco Planetarium in a small adobe building. The planetarium has interesting guides and offers a chance to observe the clear sky. Here you can also find an interpretation center for Incan astronomy that has a unique personalized experience.

6. Explore the San Blas neighborhood

One of the highlights of Cusco is the charming San Blas neighborhood with narrow cobbled-stone streets, gorgeous ornaments, and painted blue doors.

San Blas is also the oldest neighborhood in Cusco which is home to many local artists who sell their work here. Many tourists come to take photos of San Blas and sip coffee and grab a bite in one of the cute cafes. Bring your camera because this is one of the most beautiful parts of Cusco. 

7. Enjoy a panoramic view of Cusco

Cusco has many overlooks from where you can enjoy a panoramic vista of the city. Take a 15-minute walk up from Plaza de Armas toward the Mirador de San Cristobal, Plaza Santa de Santa Ana, or the Mirador de San Blas, from which you can enjoy the 360 views of the city surrounded by the impressive mountains. 

  • Cristo Blanco – The Cristo Blanco (white christ) is an 8-meter status, located on one of the hills surrounding Cusco. The statue was a gift from the Palestinian community to the city in 1945. 

8. Shop in San Pedro Market

Shopping in the colorful San Pedro Market was one of my favorite things to do in Cusco.

San Pedro is Cusco’s biggest open-air market 10 minutes away from the main plaza. Here you can buy tourist classics like ponchos, hats, colorful bags, produce, and some household items like pottery. Here you can try a variety of local produce like chicha morada, a sweet purple corn beverage typical to this part of Peru. 

9. Visit the Inca Museum

The Inca Museum (also known as La Casa Del Almirante) boasts has an impressive collection of artifacts from the Inca culture. This museum is considered one of the most important cultural centers of Cusco, it was the residence of Huáscar, governor of Tahuantinsuyo and son of Huayna Cápac in pre-Columbian times.

The museum is open from Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays and holidays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are 10 Peruvian soles for foreigners.

10. Check out Coricancha

Walk along Av. Sol in the opposite direction of Plaza De Armas, and you will arrive at the Coricancha complex (or the Convent of Santo Domingo). What looks like a typical historic building today was the most important temple of the Inca Empire: La Casa del Sol.

If you are traveling on a budget, appreciating ancient architecture is one of the best things to do in Cusco. When the Spaniards arrived in Cusco in 1533, they were amazed at the gold that covered the walls of the temple. As with most things, they used the stones from the complex to build the city’s cathedral and the convent of Santo Domingo. 

11. Check out Cusco’s artisan markets

Shopping around local artisan markets was one of my favorite things to do in Cusco. Here you can find everything from traditional Peruvian snacks to hand-crafted souvenirs and gorgeous alpaca sweaters. Artisan markets in Peru are known for all the colors and handmade stuff that they sell.

12. Visit Regional Historical Museum

One of the most important cultural centers of the Inca capital, this museum is in the former house of the Peruvian writer Cuzco Garcilaso de la Vega. The museum has 13 rooms that showcase pre-Columbian art and tells the history of Cusco from its early days to the current times. 

  • Address: Heladeros Street, near Plaza Regocijo
  • Hours: 8 a.m.- 6 p.m. Monday through Sunday

13. Visit the ruins of Ollantaytambo and Pisac

Located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Pisac is mostly known for its Inca ruins and colorful artisan market. Despite being home to just 10,000 people, Pisac packs on plenty of adventure, so it’s no surprise that Pisac has become one of the most popular day trips from Cusco.

Most visitors combine their visit to Pisac with the Ollantaytambo archaeological area, and you can do the same by taking a guided day trip from Cusco accompanied by one of the local guides.

14. Hike to stunning Humantay Lake

Humantay Lake is one of the best day trips from Cusco if you want to escape the busy streets of the Inca capital and spend a day in the serene alpine environment surrounded by Andean peaks.

When reaching the lake, you will be at a staggering altitude of 4,200 meters and to reach the lake, you need to make your way uphill. The uphill climb is well worth it: The lake is unlike anything you’ve seen before, and it sits right between Salkantay Mountain and Humanity Mountain.

Cheap & Free Things To Do in Cusco

Cusco is one of the most popular destinations in Peru, where many prices are geared toward tourists. That doesn’t mean you can’t visit Cusco on a budget, as you can take advantage of the free things to do in Cusco. 

15. Admire Plaza de Armas

Plaza De Armas is the heart of Cusco and you will spend time during your visit to the city.

While you can get more insight into how Plaza De Armas came to be during the guided tour, taking a walk around this historical area on your own is one of the best free things to do in Cusco. The Plaza is home to Cusco Cathedral and the Church la Company de Jesus. 

The plaza covers part of the area that used to be The Great Ince Square (or Haukaypata) and has colonial Spanish buildings many of which were built on top of the Inca’s constructions. Many events take place on Plaza De Armas throughout the year. One of the most famous ones is Into Raymi, the Inca festival of the sun that takes place in summer. 

Also around the plaza, you can find many vendors who sell everything from guided tours around Cusco to souvenirs to daily excursions to Macchu Picchu. 

16. Take a photo with alpaca

When you walk around the streets of Cusco, you will see the local ladies in their colorful Peruvian clothing with small alpacas. Most of the time, they are there for tourists, and for a small tip, you can get an amazing photo! Although it’s technically not one of those free things to do in Cusco, it’s one of the most authentic experiences in the former Inca capital!

17. Choco Museo Cusco

Choco Museo looks more like a fun chocolate store rather than a museum, and that’s exactly what draws so many people. Here you can find out about how delicious Peruvian chocolate is made and taste its incredible flavor. Visiting this museum is one of the best things to do in Cusco after you finish the usual stuff like guided tours and artisan markets. Visitors get free samples of chocolate, hot tea, and other sweet treats. 

  • Address: Calle Garcilaso 210, one block from the Plaza de Armas
  • Hours: every day from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • Entrance is free

18. Coffee Museum

  • Address: Calle Espaderos N° 136, next to the Plaza de Armas!
  • Hours: Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
  • Entrance is free

19. Museo Pisco Peru

If you want to learn about Peru’s national drink, head to the Pisco Museum where you can learn about its history and production. You can also chat with one of the local experts aka “Pisquero,” who can recommend the best brands of Pisco and talk about their difference.

  • Address: Santa Catalina Ancha 398, in front of the Marriott Hotel.
  • Hours: Monday thru Thursday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday thru Saturday from10 am to 11 p.m.
  • Entrance is free

Things to do in Cusco At Night

20. Attend a live show

Enjoying a traditional show of Cusco with dance and folklore is one of the best cultural experiences in Cusco. The Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo performing arts center is one of the best places in Cusco to watch Andean musical performers and dancers. Another great place for enjoying Peruvian performers is El Paisa Restaurante that’s known for its traditional peña shows, with good food and live music.

  • Address: Av El Sol, 604, Cusco, about 9 minutes from Plaza de Armas by walking
  • Price: from 8 USD
  • Hours: 6:30 to 8:15 p.m. every day

21. Have a fun night out

Besides its history and culture, Cusco is also known for its vibrant nightlife.

When it gets dark, one of the best things to do in Cusco is to get out and explore the local bar scene. The city has quite a few bars with different themes like the Irish Paddy’s pub or the Cross Keys, an English bar. Norton Rat’s Pub is popular with locals and tourists, where you can have a drink and enjoy a great social atmosphere. 

Top Tours in Cusco

Machu Picchu

It’s impossible to come to Cusco and not visit Machu Picchu! One of the Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO-listed Heritage Site, Machu Picchu is the reason why so many people come to Peru.

The incredible historic site is perched above the Urubamba River Valley between two peaks, Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu.

👉 If you are visiting Peru for the first time, this private tour of Machu Picchu is the best option.

Most visitors come to Machu Picchu and leave the same day, but it’s also a good idea to spend a night in one of the hotels in Aguas Calientes, the closest town to Machu Picchu.

The train ride to Aguas Calientes is one of the most amazing scenic experiences in Peru 💛

Rainbow Mountain

Also known as Vinicunca, Rainbow Mountain stands at whopping 17,060 feet (or 5,200 meters). In the last five years, this mountain has become one of the main attractions of Peru, and now thousands of visitors come here daily in the peak season.

The Rainbow Mountain sits in the heart of the Peruvian Andes 62 miles southeast of Cusco. While the name suggests seven colors, there are probably a lot more shades here with hues of brown, red, orange, and yellow all mixed in a colorful palette. 

Visiting Rainbow Mountain is possible only with a guided tour. The mountain has become one of the most popular places to visit in Peru in the last 5 years, and now hundreds of people come here to see the incredible colors of this mountain. 

Maras

The salt mines of Maras are more than 3,000 salt wells located over the slopes of Qaqawiñay mountain, 50 km from Cusco, near Chinchero.

The mines have been used for salt production since the Inca Empire, but today they are popular tourist attractions with dozens of visitors coming here daily to take photos of dozens of salt mines. Right near the overlook of the terraces, you can buy locally produced salt and chocolate.

Moray

Another popular stop in the Sacred Valley, Moray is a series of circles that go into the earth. Each of these circles was used by Incas for planting one type of corn and potato, from the outermost to the innermost.

Maras are about 38 km northwest of Cusco and are often combined with a stop at salt wells.

😃 Click here to book a fun tour of Maras and Moray!

Salkantay Trek

Salkantay Trek is a good alternative to the popular Inca trail that requires a fair amount of stamina and physical fitness. This challenging trail will take you high to the mountains and give you a glimpse of the Peruvian Andes.

Inca Trail

One of the most popular ways to reach Machu Pichu is the Inca Trail which takes between 3-5 days to complete. Along the way, you will cross mountain passes, and cloud forests and will check out several impressive ruins before arriving at Machu Picchu. 

😃 Click here to book one of the best Inca Trail tours!

Where to stay in Cusco

📍Best Budget Spot Selina Plaza De Armas Cusco: If you are looking for a nice social atmosphere, good co-working space with wi-fi and location in the heart of Cusco, look no further than Selina.

📍Best Mid-Range Spot (include affiliate link) Antigua Casona San Blas: A gorgeous hotel in San Blas neighborhood, Antigua Casona San Blas boasts delicious breakfast, welcoming staff and gorgeous interior design. Guests leave great reviews 😊

📍Best Luxury Spot (include affiliate link) – JW Mariott El Convento Cusco: One of the best hotels in Cusco if you are looking for a combination of amenities, central location and wonderful buffet breakfast.

FAQ: Cusco Travel Tips

  • Allocate enough time for your trip – You need enough time to enjoy some of the best things to do in Cusco, which means you can’t cram your trip into 3 days. While most people head to Machu Picchu and spend a few days in town, there is way too much to do here to make Cusco just a quick pit stop on your way to the World Wonder. Take a couple of days to explore the city and do at least a couple of days from Cusco to learn about the region.
  • Don’t underestimate the altitude – Peru is located at the altitude of 3400m (11,154ft). Many tourists arrive in Cusco from Lima, which sits at sea level. If you are one of them, take some time to get used to the local altitude, because all the places that you will visit near Cusco will be only higher! My first stop in Cusco was Rainbow Mountain, which was a bad rookie mistake, as I ended up with a pretty bad headache. I recommend starting your Cusco itinerary with a trip to Sacred Valley and proceeding from there.
  • Learn some Spanish – Most people who work in tourism in Cusco speak English, but being able to speak some Spanish could be immensely beneficial. Not everyone speaks English in smaller towns like Pisac or Chicherro, and there could be times when you won’t be able to find an English-speaking guide or driver to get around. Pick up some Spanish ahead of your trip to Peru. 

What is special about Cusco?

The high altitude, history, and jaw-dropping landscapes are a couple of the reasons why you’ll never forget your Cusco adventures.

The former capital city of the Incas, Cusco is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Americas and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The ruins of the old Inca city became the foundation for the Spanish architecture you see today, and many of the stone walls that line the streets were built by the Incas.

Towering, snow-capped mountains rise over green valleys and small mountain towns. Cusco’s location in the Andes and proximity to the jungle make it one of the most unique places in the world. 

How many days should I spend in Cusco?

If you are serious about enjoying the best things to do in Cusco, plan between 5-7 days for your stay. It’s a good amount of time to explore the city at your own pace, visit Cusco museums and ruins, take an obligatory day trip to Machu Picchu and get more adventurous in places like Lake Humantay and Rainbow Mountain. 

What is the best month to visit Cusco?

The best time to visit Cusco is from June to mid-September.

Though temperatures hover in the mid-to-upper 60s throughout the year, the city sees fewer rain showers during its winter months. Still, this is peak tourist season, so expect plenty of fellow trekkers beside you as marvel at iconic sites. Plus, if you visit in June, you will also be able to enjoy the summer festival of Inti Raymi that’s dedicated to the God of sun.

Is Rainbow Mountain worth it?

Yes! Rainbow Mountain is one of the most popular day trips from Peru.

Although it’s become very touristy over the last 5-7 years, it’s a beautiful place to visit and offers a stamina test. Spend a few days in Cusco to acclimatize because Rainbow Mountain is located at an altitude of feet, and you can get altitude sickness if you come from sea level. 

Things To Do In Cusco, Peru: Final Thoughts

Cusco is one of the most popular destinations in Peru thanks to its proximity to Machu Picchu. But besides its proximity to one of the Wonders of the World, there are many other things to do in Cusco. Make sure to spend some time in the Inca capital to enjoy its flavorful gastronomy, rich history and shop at colorful artisan markets.

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