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How to Spend ONE DAY in Cusco, Peru: An Ideal 1-Day Itinerary

How to Spend ONE DAY in Cusco, Peru: An Ideal 1-Day Itinerary

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One of the best places to visit in Peru is the historical city of Cusco. We were lucky enough to stay here for several weeks while volunteering in the Amazon, and have been back many times since.

One of the biggest draws to this area is Machu Picchu, but there are plenty of other things to do in Cusco as well. There are countless Inca ruins, delicious food, and incredible people that make this city a must-see while traveling in Peru.

Even if you’ve only got one day, Cusco is worth exploring, and we’ve got a full itinerary to make this visit one for the books!

Don’t have time to read the full article? If you only have a day in Cusco, we recommend checking out the nearby sights like Sacsayhuamán, exploring the local ruins, and doing a little souvenir shopping. A perfect way to finish the day is by enjoying dinner and a show at a local restaurant!

How to Spend One Day in Cusco

Visit the Sacsayhuamán Fortress and Cusco City tour (morning)

The Sacsayhuamán Fortress in Cusco, Peru
This place is so cool to see, the stonework is fantastic!

On the outskirts of Cusco is the famous archeological site of Sacsayhuamán. This ceremonial fortress was most likely used for religious purposes during the reign of Emperor Pachacuti. It was constructed in the 15th century and historians believe it took over 20,000 men around 90 years to build.

One of the most notable features is the amount of stones used to construct Sacsayhuamán. These stones were most likely carried from over 12 miles (20 kilometers) away, and many weigh well over 100 tons. Given that these were moved without the use of modern tools or vehicles, the fact that they were moved at all is quite impressive. While the Incas were highly skilled in masonry, the fact that they carved these stones to sit so perfectly in layers without cement or mortar is some next-level artistry.

Another important aspect that continues to boggle the minds of archeologists and visitors alike is the height of the stones which range from 6.5 feet (2 meters) to 29.5 feet (9 meters)! I’m sure watching Sacsayhuamán be built would have been quite the sight.

Unfortunately, like most of the ruins of the area, this site was largely destroyed during the 1500s when Spanish forces overtook the Incan Empire. Many of the stones used to create Sacsayhuamán were removed and relocated to make buildings in Cusco.

Inca ruins like Sacsayhuamán, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu are such an important part of Peru, and continue to reveal the impressive culture, knowledge, and habits of this ancient civilization.

Visiting Sacsayhuamán is a Peruvian highlight you don’t want to miss, even if you’ve only got one day in Cusco. Also, it’s situated on a hillside that offers outstanding views of the city, so it’s a perfect spot to take some memorable photos of your trip.

The ruins are located 1.5 miles (2.5 km) from the Main Square (aka Plaza de Armas) in Cusco, so it’ll take about 10 minutes if you’re traveling by car. Sacsayhuamán is open from 7 am to 5:30 pm, and tickets cost about $20 USD and include admission to the nearby ruins of Qenqo, Pucapucara, and Tambomachay as well. It’s also possible to walk here, or you can take a tour.

We personally love joining tours especially when we’re visiting a place for the first time. This half-day sightseeing tour takes you to Sacsayhuamán, nearby temples, and on a guided walk through Cusco where you’ll get to see the oldest surviving painting at the Cusco Cathedral.

To make the most of your day, we recommend taking the 8:30 am private tour which costs $119 USD each for two people (or cheaper for larger groups) and includes round-trip transportation from your Cusco hotel, entry fees, and an expert guide. You can book this tour stress-free with Viator, which offers the option to cancel up to 24 hours before the tour free of charge.

Related Read: If you have more time, add on a hike up Machu Picchu Mountain for incredible views of the ancient ruins!

Rucula Peruvian Restaurant (lunch)

Rucula Peruvian Restaurant meat dish
It’s fancy Peruvian food. @Rucula Peruvian Restaurant
Rucula Peruvian Restaurant meal with a view of Cusco
@Rucula Peruvian Restaurant

After your fun day trip from Cusco to Sacsayhuamán, it’s time for lunch at Rucula Peruvian Restaurant.

Rucula is a bright space with beautiful traditional artwork adorning the walls. The staff are super friendly and the food is AMAZING. It’s clear that Rucula takes Peruvian food seriously and their passion comes through in their colorful and delicious dishes. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there and are counting down the days until we can go back.

We highly recommend getting Papa Rellena to start. It’s a potato stuffed with meat, eggs, and vegetables and it is perfection on a plate. We also loved the Seafood Rice and the Strip Roast Stew which is one of their slow-cooked options so you know it’s good. They use local produce, a lot of which comes from their farm, so the freshness is unreal.

Rucula also has alpaca burgers and fish sandwiches, and they offer vegetarian and vegan options as well, so there’s something for everyone. Oh, and definitely don’t skip dessert! We got the Cheesecake de Lucuma and it was other-worldly. I still dream about it.

There’s also plenty of cocktails and wine, so it’s a perfect place to celebrate a midday break in Cusco. The prices are great as well, with appetizers and desserts averaging $8 USD and main dishes around $15 USD. You won’t regret eating here, trust us!

Rucula is located near the main square, so it’s easy to walk to if you’re staying in Cusco. We can’t recommend this place enough and consider it to be one of the best Peruvian restaurants in the city.

We do want to mention that there are stairs in the restaurant, so this facility is not wheelchair accessible. But if you want to try their menu, they do offer takeaway.

Rucula Peruvian Restaurant is open every day from 11 am to 10:30 pm, and we suggest making a reservation especially if you want a seat with a view.

Wander the streets, see Inca Ruins, and visit the Museo de Arte Precolombino (afternoon)

The Twelve-Angled Stone in Cusco, Peru
It blows my mind that they carved these stones so perfectly!

One of the reasons Cusco is one of the best places to visit in Peru is the amount of ruins that are accessible here. While Lima is the capital of Peru, Cusco was the capital during the Inca Empire, so it makes sense that there are so many of these archeological sites here.

If you’re a history buff, we suggest taking this half-day tour around Cusco. A local guide will take you to different sites and discuss the temples and rituals that were performed at each place. You will also get to visit an alpaca sanctuary to learn about the wool that is used to create local goods and clothing. This tour costs $40 USD and we recommend signing up for the 1:30 pm option so you can catch this tour after lunch!

We also love walking around the city, so if you’d rather wander the streets on your own, we will highlight some of our favorite spots to visit below.

Calle Loreto  

Just a 3-minute walk from the Main Square is Calle Loreto. It won’t take long to walk down this narrow street but we recommend paying attention to the intricate walls that are made of hand-carved stones from the Incas. Much like the stones used to build Sacsayhuamán, this is just another example of the skills this ancient civilization mastered.

Twelve-Angled Stone 

Another 6-minute walk will take you to the impressive Twelve-Angled Stone. While having 12 angles is impressive on its own, this stone is significant because it was used to form part of a palace wall. These stones were carved so precisely that not even a piece of paper can fit between them, and their perfection has lasted centuries. We want to mention that this is a pretty popular site, so there will most likely be a crowd during the afternoon.

Kusicancha 

Walk another 6 minutes and you’ll arrive at Kusicancha. This area was a neighborhood with courtyards and houses during the Inca Empire, most of which were destroyed during the Spanish invasion. Recently, Kusicancha has been partially restored so people can wander around this area and get a feel for what Cusco was like during the Inca’s reign.

Qorikancha Temple  

Another must-see in Cusco is Qorikancha. This is just a 5-minute walk away, and it housed one of the most sacred temples of the Inca Empire, the “Temple of the Sun.” The name Qorikancha roughly translates to “walls of gold,” which is fitting since the walls and floors were covered in layers of gold and filled with treasures. Sadly, this site did not escape the invasion, and most of these treasures were sent back to the King of Spain and Qorikancha was largely destroyed.

Afterward, the Spanish built the Santo Domingo Church on top of this historical site, but the foundations of Qorikancha are still visible. We recommend adding this site to your agenda. It only costs about $4 USD to enter, and Qorikancha is open Monday through Saturday from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm.

Museo de Arte Precolombino

Museo de Arte Precolombino 
Some of the clay artifacts are really detailed!

After visiting some of Cusco’s famous ancient ruins, we’re headed over to the Museo de Arte Precolombino (MAP) to learn more about the culture of the Incas.

This museum houses hundreds of pre-Columbian artifacts that were made by men and women over 500 years ago. These pieces are displayed in rooms based on the material used to make them, like gold, shells, and wood, and are all tied to religious, spiritual, and even political elements from that time.

The artwork here is internationally recognized as being the best of its kind, and the MAP is working with local foundations to promote the education of Inca culture through art to preserve the history of this ancient civilization. Places like this museum are one of the reasons Cusco is one of the best places to visit in South America.

Museo de Arte Precolombino Cusco is located in the city center, so it’s very easy to get to. They provide audio guides in English, Spanish, and French, and there’s a gift shop with local Peruvian items as well.

The price of admission is around $5 USD, and this museum is open every day from 8 am to 10 pm.

Related Read: Another city in Peru with great museums is Arequipa!

Go shopping (afternoon)

Local handmade goods at a street stall in Cusco, Peru
We bought so much stuff in Cusco!

After exploring the Inca ruins, it’s time for another one of my favorite things to do in Cusco – shopping!

Honestly, there are a lot of street vendors and artisan markets around, so you can set out on foot and enjoy the views until you find something. One of the popular materials used here is alpaca wool. There are bags, sweaters, blankets, and lots of other things. I still wear my alpaca sweater from the first time I came to Cusco, and they make awesome gifts as well.

One of our favorite places to shop is Plaza San Blas, which is about a 10-minute walk from the main square. They usually have markets on the weekends where you can buy unique items like hand-made jewelry and painted dishware. It’s a great place to people-watch, and there are usually artists making their crafts out in the open, so it’s a fun place to walk around even if you aren’t looking for souvenirs.

We also enjoy walking down Avenida el Sol. It’s one of the artisan hubs in Cusco, so you’ll have no problem finding souvenirs like alpaca goods, paintings, and everything in between. It’s about 0.8 miles (1.3 km) from Plaza San Blas, so it’s another easy street to walk to.

Another thing worth noting is it’s commonplace to haggle in most of the markets and stalls, and even some of the shops will give you a discount if you’re lucky. Just remember that tourists will almost always get a markup, but we’ve been able to negotiate within reason.

Shops and markets are typically open Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm. Many places open earlier, and some even stay open later at night depending on the season. While there are stores that are open on Sundays, it’s best to plan your shopping on other days since so many areas are closed on Sundays.

Cusco Tunupa Restaurant Folk Show with Dinner (night)

Cusco Tunupa Restaurant Folk Show with Dinner
So cool to see the traditional dance!

For our last stop of the day, we’re off to enjoy dinner and a show!

After an eventful day of sightseeing, plenty of walking, and maybe even a little shopping, we think you deserve to relax and enjoy this dinner and folk show which includes hotel pick-up and drop-off, a 3-course meal, and a 1.5-hour folk show with live Peruvian music and dancing at Tunupa Restaurant in central Cusco.

Cusco is one of our favorite places to visit and easily one of the best cities in Latin America, so enjoying a local performance and a meal sounds like the perfect way to wind down. The food here is absolutely delicious, and the restaurant offers some of the best views of the city, so it’s a great spot to help round out the whole experience. We think it’s a fantastic way to reflect on your busy day in Cusco before heading to your next destination.

Tickets cost $49 USD per person, which includes your meal, entertainment, and transportation, but there is a minimum of 2 people needed to make a reservation for this option. If you’re interested, you can get tickets for this folk show and 3-course dinner right here.

Related Read: If you’re looking for options for your next Peruvian adventure, read our itinerary for spending one day in Lima.

Where to Stay in Cusco, Peru

the courtyard at Palacio del Inka
This hotel is simply gorgeous! Photo Credit: Palacio del Inka

Whether you have one day, two days, or three days in Cusco, you’ll need a good place to stay. If you can, we recommend planning to stay a few nights so you can explore the city and leave enough time to see the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.

There are plenty of options for accommodations, from reasonably priced hostels to more luxurious hotels, depending on your budget. These are the places that top our list of recommendations!

Palacio del Inka, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Cusco – $$$  

If you can spend a bit more during your stay, soak up the incredible architecture and location at Palacio del Inka located in the city center. This luxurious hotel offers delightful amenities like an internal courtyard perfect for stargazing, excellent dining options, and onsite staff who go above and beyond. There is also an indoor swimming pool and fitness center for an additional fee. The interior design combines bold, traditional works of art with modern-day comforts like Wi-Fi and cable TV. If you’re feeling the altitude, oxygen and coca tea are available by request.

The price tag here starts at around $380 USD per night. You can check availability and book Palacio del Inka online here.

Casa Matara Boutique – $$  

For a mid-range option, we love Casa Matara Boutique for its central location – it’s within walking distance to the main square and lots of top attractions. The breakfast here is excellent, the staff is amazing and so willing to help with everything, and the whole place gives off a cozy and charming atmosphere.

Rooms here are around $90 USD a night. To snag this deal, check availability and book Casa Matara Boutique online here.

Selina Plaza De Armas – $ 

The Selina Plaza De Armas is a budget-friendly option that offers shared dorm rooms, private rooms, or even unique outdoor tent accommodations. It’s only a short walk from Plaza De Armas, so you’re staying right in the action. The hotel also has a beautiful lobby with a glass-covered patio you can relax in.

Dorm rooms are around $30-$50 USD per night, and the teepee tents are under $100 USD. You can book a stay at Selina Plaza De Armas on HostelWorld.com or through Booking.com.   

Thanks for reading!

Bailey and Daniel take a photo on the Salkantay Trek in Peru
Thanks for reading!

Phew, we did it! That was a busy day in Cusco, and we’re so grateful you took the time to read our blog. Thank you so much! There are so many amazing things to see and do (and eat!) in Cusco, and we hope this blog has helped plan your adventure.

If you’re planning on traveling more, we hope you’ll read some of our other posts. We’ve been all over South America, including many places in Peru. We’ll leave some articles below if you want to find out more!

13 BEST Tours in Lima, Peru

13 Things to KNOW Before Visiting Rainbow Mountain, Peru

13 BEST Places to Visit in Chile