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If you’re planning to travel to Peru, you’re in for an adventure in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Cusco is one of those unexpectedly great places in Peru filled with incredible things to do. Of course, there’s Machu Picchu, which is why most people come to Cusco, but there’s so much more.
The first time Daniel and I came here, we only planned to spend three days in Cusco. Then, four weeks later, we were still here!
Not only did we just love the city, but we realized that there was so much to see and do! We knew that if we were going to write the blog Cusco deserved, we needed to stay a while.
In this blog, we’ll not only show you what we learned but also share the 33 most memorable things we did while here. From climbing mountains to learning about history, here are the 33 best things to do in Cusco, Peru!
- About Cusco, Peru
- The BEST Things to do in Cusco, Peru
- 1. Visit the Sacsayhuamán Fortress
- 2. People watch in the Plaza de Armas
- 3. Wander the streets and see Inca Ruins
- 4. Visit Machu Picchu
- 5. Hike the Inca Trail
- 6. Hike the Salkantay Trek
- 7. Go on a guided tour of Cusco
- 8. Hike Rainbow Mountain or Palccoyo Rainbow
- 9. Visit the Sacred Valley
- 10. Spend the night in the Skylodge Adventure Suites
- 11. Hike to Choquequirao
- 12. Learn Spanish
- 13. Visit Salineras de Maras
- 14. Go shopping
- 15. Cooking class
- 16. Drink a Pisco Sour
- 17. Wander the Museo de La Coca
- 18. Try coca leaves
- 19. Mirador de Plaza Sán Cristobal
- 20. San Pedro Market
- 21. Humantay Lake Tour
- 22. Visit the Amazon Rainforest
- 23. Horseback riding
- 24. Cusco Planetarium
- 25. Hike up to the Cristo Blanco Statue
- 26. Go white water rafting
- 27. Visit the Alpacas of Awana Kancha
- 28. Chocolate Museum
- 29. Museo de Arte Precolombino
- 30. Acueducto de Sapantiana
- 31. Food tour
- 32. Inca hot springs
- 33. Get off the beaten path at the 7 lakes of Ausangate
- Where to Stay in Cusco, Peru
- Thanks for reading!
- Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
About Cusco, Peru
Cusco is among the oldest inhabited places in the Western Hemisphere. It was the capital of the Inca empire, and the Inca ruins, as well as the Spanish colonial architecture here, are truly showstoppers. Cusco is also the gateway to the most well-known ancient ruins site, the magnificent Machu Picchu, an incredible example of the Inca empire. The remarkable history of this place is why Cusco is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The city of Cusco is located in the Andes at a very high elevation of 11,150 feet (3,400 meters) above sea level. That’s more than twice the altitude of Denver, Colorado, which is known as the Mile High City at 5,280 feet (1609 meters)! Because of the high altitude, it’s best to acclimatize yourself here for at least a couple of days before going on any hikes. It also might be wise to buy some altitude sickness medication if you notice any symptoms after arriving (can be purchased at pharmacies all over Cusco.)
Cusco has a very noticeable mix of culture and architecture. You’ll see Spanish buildings built on top of Inca ruins, and for a good reason. You see, the Spanish couldn’t build strong enough to survive the earthquakes, so they instead built on top of the strong Inca structures after conquering the city. This is just one interesting thing you’ll learn when you visit Cusco.
As we spent more time in Cusco, we discovered the magic of this part of Peru. It’s full of amazing history, astounding Inca ruins, breathtaking hikes, unique shopping, and great food.
The BEST Things to do in Cusco, Peru
1. Visit the Sacsayhuamán Fortress
Built in the 15th Century, Sacsayhuamán is a collection of impressive structures and walls just outside Cusco. It’s the largest structure ever built by the Incas and a Cusco must-do. The incredible thing to remember when you’re looking at this fortress is that all of this was built by hand – long before machines could help – using only ropes, levers, ramps, and plenty of strength.
It’s especially impressive considering the stones of the famous zigzagging main wall are up to 16.5 feet (5 meters) high and weigh between 90-125 tons! History believes more than 20,000 men constructed these buildings by moving stones from quarries located 12 miles (20 kilometers) away.
The ruins are about 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) north of Cusco’s main square (Plaza de Armas). It should take you about 10 minutes by car, or it’s close enough you can walk here. The area is located on a hill with mountains surrounding it, so it’s very picturesque while you’re here.
If you get here on your own, a ticket is 70 Peruvian soles or just under $20 USD. This also includes admission to the other nearby ruins sites of Qenqo, Pucapucara, and Tambomachay. Sacsayhuamán is open every day from 7 am to 6 pm.
You can also book this half-day guided tour that includes Sacsayhuamán as well as exploring the main square in Cusco. You learn all about Inca history from a local guide and even see the oldest surviving painting in Cusco at Cusco Cathedral. The tour is a great deal at $79 USD as it includes all the entrance fees you need as well as transportation from your hotel or hostel in Cusco.
2. People watch in the Plaza de Armas
One of our favorite Cusco activities is really simple – just grab a spot in the Plaza de Armas and soak up the atmosphere. This is the beautiful main plaza of Cusco! Its wide pathways, paved with stones, are interspersed with beautiful gardens and historic churches around the perimeter.
If you’re planning some busy days and hikes, this is a great way to take a break when you first arrive to get a feel for the place. There are lots of benches around the plaza to sit, and people watch or you can grab a spot at one of the main restaurants nearby.
If you’re lucky, there may even be live music or dancing to watch! Make sure you take time to look around as Plaza de Armas is surrounded by churches and temples, including Cusco Cathedral and Church of the Society of Jesus.
There’s a legend that says this main square was chosen as the place to build the Inca Empire when God Inti sent two of his children with a golden rod. Wherever the golden rod sunk into the ground would be where they would settle, and it sunk into the ground here – right where Plaza de Armas now sits.
Another great way to people watch while sightseeing is to hop on this open-air bus tour that rides all throughout central Cusco in addition to checking out some areas on the outskirts. The best part is that it only costs $14 USD for a 2.5-hour ride!
Related Read: Another city with a beautiful Plaza de Armas in Peru is Arequipa – read all about it!
3. Wander the streets and see Inca Ruins
One of the things that makes Cusco so impressive, is the ancient ruins all over the city! Simply wandering down the narrow, cobblestone streets will take you to some fascinating ruins and give you an idea of the Inca and Spanish history in this place.
You could also join this ruins tour for only $35 USD where a local guide will pick you up from your hotel and take you to four different ruins around Cusco. The best thing about having a guide is that you’ll be able to learn so much about the significance of each location!
Only a three-minute walk from Plaza de Armas, you’ll find Calle Loreto. As you walk down this large, narrow street, you’ll be in between enormous Incan walls made of carved stones. It is beautifully preserved, and the construction of these massive walls is something to behold!
An incredible example of the sophisticated stonework by the Incas is the Twelve-Angled Stone. This large stone does have 12 angles, but what makes it unique is that it forms part of a palace wall that was built with no mortar of any kind. Instead, these stones were cut so precisely that even after hundreds of years, they fit together perfectly, and you can’t even get a piece of paper between them!
The Twelve-Angled Stone itself is a great place to take a photo while you’re exploring but come early in the day to avoid crowds looking to do the same thing.
Part of the original part of Cusco, Kusicancha was a residential neighborhood built in a grid with homes facing courtyards. When the Spanish arrived here, many of these neighborhoods were destroyed or used as foundations for colonial structures. Part of Kusicancha has been restored so you can wander through and imagine how it looked when Cusco was ruled by the Inca.
A must-see while walking around Cusco is the ruins of the Qorikancha Temple. It was once the most lavish temple in the Inca Empire, with walls and floors covered in gold and full of incredible treasures. The Temple of the Sun within Qorikancha had 700 square sheets of gold covering the inside and outside walls!
Now all that’s left of the ruins are the stone walls where the Spanish built the Santo Domingo Church on top of. It’s a neat place to visit with some stunning architecture and, of course, history. It costs 15 soles or $4 USD to enter, and it’s open Monday-Saturday from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm and Sundays from 2 am to 5 pm.
4. Visit Machu Picchu
By far one of the most famous things to do in Cusco is to visit the iconic Machu Picchu. Cusco is often referred to as the gateway to Machu Picchu as this is where most tourists begin their journey to the site. These incredible ruins are the reason most people come to this part of the country as it’s the most visited attraction in all of Peru. In 2007 the site was even declared one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Machu Picchu is a city of stone with a collection of more than 150 buildings hidden away northwest of Cusco. It was built at the height of the Inca Empire in the mid-1400s as a large royal estate or religious site and functioned for about 100 years before it was abandoned. It stood untouched during the Spanish invasion, and while a few locals in the area knew about it, it was a secret to the world until American archaeologist Hiram Bingham found it in 1911.
What’s amazing about this site is how many structures are still standing today. The engineering used (without any modern tools) is mind-boggling. The entire ruins stretch 5 miles (8 kilometers) with more than 3,000 steps made of stone that link the levels together.
The site itself is open every day from 6 am to 5 pm. Make sure you bring your passport as you’ll need it to enter, and you’ll get a special Machu Picchu stamp on it when you arrive!
You also should pre-book your entrance ticket here through Viator for $59 USD (offers flexible cancelation) or on the official website for slightly cheaper (but there are no refunds) as this is a very busy attraction with daily number limits.
Getting to Machu Picchu on a tour:
Traveling to Machu Picchu involves a lot of steps as the ruins are close to Cusco, but still require a journey to get there. You also must pre-buy an entrance ticket, which can book up weeks in advance. By booking a tour, it takes all the hassle out of organizing your trip to the ruins. These are a few of our favorite tours to Machu Picchu from Cusco:
- Machu Picchu Day Trip – This one-day train tour takes you from your hotel in Cusco to Machu Picchu and back with all details taken care of. You’ll ride the train and can sit in the Vistadome car surrounded by glass, so you’ll have an incredible view of the mountains. You’ll have a guided tour through the ruins, including a few hours to explore before returning to Cusco. Tickets are around $349 USD. This tour is best for those short on time or who don’t want to hike.
- Luxury Train Tour Day Trip – Take the Hiram Bingham Luxury Train tour to Machu Picchu. You’ll feel like a real VIP aboard this elegant train as you travel through the Andes with live Peruvian music and a three-course lunch, including wine. You’ll also have an expert guide at the ruins as well as free time to explore. If high-end traveling is for you, tickets for this are $1,215 USD per person.
- Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu 2-Day Trip – To see even more of this incredible area, book this two-day train tour of Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. The ticket is only $479 USD and includes all transportation as well as your overnight stay in Aguas Calientes – the town at the base of Machu Picchu. You’ll see amazing archaeological sites in the Sacred Valley and catch the sunrise at Machu Picchu the next day.
- Machu Picchu Adventure Tour 4-Day Hike– Make your adventurous spirit happy with a four-day tour that includes biking, rafting, and ziplining! This all-inclusive trip includes meals and accommodations as you hike to mountain summits, visit Machu Picchu and explore this fascinating part of the world. Tickets for this are $499 USD.
- Inca Trail 4-Day Hike – If you want to get to Machu Picchu the most famous way, then you simply have to hike the Inca Trail. I’ve included more detailed info about the Inca Trail further down in this blog (#5) but just know that this guided tour includes a guide, all meals, stays at campsites with hot showers, entrance tickets, and all necessary transport including hotel pick up and drop off. It costs $798 USD per person but for such an iconic trek it will be well worth it!
- Salkantay Trek 5-Day Hike – The Salkantay Trek is becoming one of the most popular ways to get to Machu Picchu. This is the tour we did and loved! Our tour cost $695 and included everything we needed from an expert mountain guide, entrance tickets, and lodging (3 nights camping 1 night at a 3-star hotel) to delicious meals and bonus experiences to make our trekking experience as enjoyable as it could be. We’ve written all about this popular hike on #6 below in this blog.
Getting to Machu Picchu on your own:
If joining a tour isn’t for you, it’s completely possible to plan your own visit. You’ll need to take a train or bus from Cusco to the small town of Aguas Calientes and plan to leave at dawn. The train ride is about 3.5 hours. From Aguas Calientes, you’ll need to take a public bus to the site – these leave constantly but often have long lines (1-2 hour waits) to get to the site and then to get back down. Alternatively, you can hike up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes but it isn’t an easy trail by any means.
The most popular train companies are Inca Rail and Peru Rail. What I like about Inca Rail is it offers tickets that include things like transportation from your hotel and to the ruins site as well as the entrance fee for Machu Picchu. The all-inclusive package is around $175 USD, whereas a roundtrip ticket only is typically $60-90 USD. Make sure you book early, as tickets can sell out weeks in advance if you’re coming during a popular time like the summer months of June, July, and August.
If you choose to get to Machu Picchu on your own, you’ll need to buy a ticket online in advance. The cheapest official tickets are sold on the government website, and we recommend buying them MONTHS in advance to secure your spot. Buying from the official website means you will not be refunded if you need to cancel so if you want more flexibility I recommend booking these official entrance tickets off of Viator for just a few dollars more!
There are different types of tickets, including the basic ticket to see Machu Picchu as well as options that include the chance to hike one of the mountains in the area like Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain. Remember, there are no tickets sold once you arrive at the ruins. You’ll also need to hire a guide once you arrive to enter the site – you can hire one near the entrance gate.
5. Hike the Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is, without a doubt, the most popular hike in all of Peru. In fact, this is one of the most famous things to do in all of South America. That’s because not only is the hike itself incredibly scenic with jaw-dropping mountain terrain all around you, but you will also pass through 500-year-old villages once inhabited by the Inca people.
Of course, the legendary Machu Picchu is the main drawcard for hikers hiking this challenging route!
This incredible hike is 26 miles (42 kilometers) and is quite challenging because you are gaining 13,828 feet (4,215 meters) in elevation, so a good level of fitness is definitely needed. On average, the classic Inca Trail takes most hikers 4 days to complete.
Because of its popularity, you need to book to hike the Inca Trail well in advance, ideally 9-12 months before! You can’t hike the Inca Trail on your own. Instead, you must book with an authorized tourism agency. Keep in mind that only 500 permits are released daily, and that figure includes the trekking support teams, which are typically around 300 permits per day. This means that only 200 hikers can hike the Inca Trail daily!
This 4-day, 3-night guided hike of the Inca Trail is highly recommended and ethically run. What’s good too is that they offer a true camping experience with comfortable tents and hot showers. This particular tour costs around $798 USD per person.
6. Hike the Salkantay Trek
Instead of just driving or taking the train to Machu Picchu, we hiked for four days on the Salkantay Trek! This hike is a great alternative to the Inca Trail because it is cheaper and easier to book.
The Salkantay Trek actually travels along the same route the Inca spiritual leaders took to Machu Picchu. The trail was said to bring them closer to the gods. It climbs to over 13,000 feet/4,000 meters in elevation and offers spectacular mountain views. It’s more challenging than the Inca Trail, but totally worth it!
On the organized tour I did, we actually spent a night at Llactapata, an ancient ruin that sits across from Machu Picchu. This is not the usual route, but the route I recommend taking.
Plus, after hiking for four days straight, finally making it to Machu Picchu feels that much more rewarding and amazing!
My tour cost $695 which seems pricey up front but it included everything I needed like round trip transport to and from my hotel, entrance tickets and fees, 3 nights camping and 1 night in a 3-star hotel, all meals made from local organic ingredients, a duffle bag to hold my gear, a Pachamanca Cooking demonstration, admission to tour a coffee far, and a train on the way back down to Cusco!
The only things I needed to bring were my sleeping bag, trekking poles, and an air mattress. If you aren’t traveling with these items you can even rent them from the tour company.
If you’re interested in booking it you can do so here.
7. Go on a guided tour of Cusco
While wandering through Cusco, we found it really helpful to have a guide. There is SO much to learn about the city, and it’s hard to fully take it in when you don’t know the significance of all you’re passing by.
A great option for a free walking tour is the one offered by Inkan Milky Way. They offer tours daily that are completely free, but must be booked in advance (and tips are encouraged). You’ll meet a guide here and take a walking tour of the city that lasts about 2.5 hours. This is a fantastic introduction to the city and good to do close to the beginning of your visit. You’ll learn lots and scout out places you might like to come back to later. Note that you won’t actually go inside anywhere, just walk by the outside.
For a more in-depth guided tour that includes admission to some historic sites and transportation from your hotel, book this Cusco Sightseeing Tour. You’ll browse the colorful stalls at San Pedro Market, visit Qorikancha Temple, marvel at Cusco Cathedral, and even stop at the Twelve-Angled Stone. This is a good introduction to the city, and you’ll get to go inside some of the most famous buildings in Cusco while also learning about their significance.
It costs $59 USD and lasts for 3.5 hours.
8. Hike Rainbow Mountain or Palccoyo Rainbow
Hiking Rainbow Mountain has recently become one of Peru’s most popular things to do. The uniquely colored mountains were only discovered recently after melting snow revealed the breathtaking colors caused by different minerals in the rock. Seeing them for yourself is one of the best hikes in South America, and it is a unique experience that is accomplished on a day trip from Cusco.
Although only a day trip, this hike is not for the faint-hearted, as the altitude is challenging. In fact, I got a bad headache on my hike. However, after spending a couple of days acclimatizing in Cusco, you should go for it! The view is totally worth it, and it’s such a unique experience!
There are lots of tours available, but the tour I did only cost $49 USD. It included breakfast, lunch, a guide, and transport. Overall I really enjoyed it, but it was a long day! If you’re worried about the hike, you can do an ATV tour instead for $85 USD, which takes the hard work out of the climb and adds a little extra fun!
A lesser-known option to see the amazing-colored mountains in this part of Peru is Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain. This is a lot less touristy (you may even have the mountain to yourself!), and it’s at a lower altitude, so it’s much easier to breathe.
It’s about a 3-4 hour drive from Cusco and then a 30–40-minute hike from the parking lot to the mountain. This is a great alternative if you want a less strenuous hike as the trail here is flatter than the original Rainbow Mountain, and it takes less hiking time to reach the mountains on the Palccoyo trail.
For a tour of Palccoyo Rainbow, I recommend this day-trip hiking tour, where you’ll be in a small group to explore. The tour includes private transportation, where you’ll see the Andes Mountains and hundreds of alpacas and llamas along the drive. Then you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the gorgeous mountains with lots of time to take pictures. The tour is $165 USD and includes meals and hotel pick up and drop off.
9. Visit the Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley has some of the most spectacular Inca architecture in the entire country, easily making it one of our Cusco must-dos. While Machu Picchu is the centerpiece of the Sacred Valley, also known as the Urubamba Valley, this 100-kilometer-long (62-mile) stretch of land is full of sights you won’t want to miss.
The valley is located north of Cusco, and you can easily drive or take a taxi to different areas to explore. This part of Peru has numerous Inca ruins, tiny villages, and stunning scenery. The valley was called the Sacred Valley because it has some of the best lands in this area for agriculture and was the personal property of the Emperor during the time of the Inca Empire.
If you want to see some of the best of the valley in one day, this full-day Sacred Valley tour will take you to the highlights. It includes transportation from Cusco and visits to Maras, Moray, Pisac, and Ollantaytambo. The tour is only $129 USD which is a great price for a 12-hour tour!
If you’re going on your own, these are a few of the amazing places to see in the Sacred Valley:
The small village of Pisac in the Sacred Valley has Inca ruins perched overtop of the town. The ruins here contain houses, ceremonial buildings, waterways, and agricultural terraces. These terraces were used by Inca farmers to grow crops and are built into the side of the mountain! Hiking up here rewards you with a view of the valley spread out before you that will take your breath away.
Pisac also has a huge market to explore that is one of the best in this area. There’s a general market open daily that sells handmade items, but if you can be here on a Sunday, do it! The Sunday market is massive, and locals come from many surrounding communities to sell items like fruits and vegetables or textiles.
Just outside of the village of Moras, you’ll find the Moray Ruins. At first glance, it looks like a huge amphitheater cut into the ground. These large circular terraces were built by the Inca to grow food with each level of the structure creating slightly different growing conditions.
Here is where it’s believed the Inca experimented with light and temperature conditions while producing seeds that would be distributed across the empire. It’s basically an ancient agricultural laboratory!
The Inca ruins at Tambomachay are a small site dedicated to water that is worth a stop. It’s believed to have been a ceremonial spot or even an Inca spa. You’ll see small waterfalls, canals, and aqueducts as water from a spring makes its way through stonework and underground hydraulics. The construction here is incredible, and it’s a really peaceful spot that isn’t usually very busy.
This old town of Ollantaytambo is known as the final portion of the Sacred Valley you can get to by car. There are lots of hiking trails that start here and finish at Machu Picchu. The town itself houses some impressive ruins, including a fortress and a temple. The temple itself is unfinished as it was under construction when the Spanish invaded and took over the valley.
10. Spend the night in the Skylodge Adventure Suites
The Skylodge Adventure Suites has to be one of the most unique places to stay in the world. Your room here is a transparent capsule that hangs from the top of a mountain in the Sacred Valley! As you can imagine the views from your capsule/room are astounding!
Getting to the Skylodge Adventure Suites is quite a challenge, you must either climb up 1,300 feet/400 meters of Via Ferrata or hike a difficult trail. Getting down after your stay is a lot easier though because you can zipline down!
Each weather-resistant capsule is surprisingly large at 24 feet by 8 feet and comes with four beds, a dining area, and a private bathroom. A one-night stay here includes breakfast, dinner, transportation from Cusco as well as the zipline down. It is priced from $470 USD per person.
11. Hike to Choquequirao
The Choquequirao trek is considered by many to be the best alternative to the Inca Trail. At 40 miles/64 kilometers long, it is recommended to allow at least 4 full days to complete this hike. The archaeological ruins here are about the same size as Machu Picchu and cover 6 square kilometers. These ruins are nestled high on Quriwayrachina mountain, at 10,000 feet/3,050 meters above sea level, and as a result, this hike is rated as difficult.
The route takes you 4,900 feet/1,500 meters down into the Apurimac Canyon, which is home to several unique microclimates. But in order to get from here to the ruins, you must climb up a gigantic 5,900 feet/1,800 meters!
This route begins and ends at Cachora, a small town a short distance from the Apurimac Valley. You can get here by bus from Cusco, this will take 6 hours and costs around $40 USD.
This 4-day guided tour from Cusco includes an experienced guide to help you successfully complete this challenging hike as well as all accommodations and meals along the way. It departs from Cusco, a 6-hour drive from the starting point for the trek.
Because of its difficult nature, this tour is only recommended for those with a high level of fitness. What I like about this tour is that it’s limited to 15 people so it feels personal. Prices start from $577 USD per person.
12. Learn Spanish
If you want to learn Spanish while traveling around South America, Peru is a fantastic place to do it. According to a University of Chile study, Peruvians speak the best Spanish in all of Latin America. The Spanish here is easier to understand and spoken at a slower pace than in other countries.
I have enough Spanish to help me out when I need to order food or ask for directions and believe me – it’s SO helpful. If you’re planning on being in more rural areas or backpacking in Peru, knowing some Spanish is key.
There are lots of Spanish schools to choose from in Cusco for either individual or group lessons. Mundo Antiguo Spanish School and Wiracocha Spanish School are two good options that offer small group classes for $125 USD per week.
Classes at these schools are typically four hours a day, five days a week. You’ll enjoy the close-knit group of instructors and students and the free weekly activities like dinners, salsa dancing, and cultural activities to practice your Spanish.
Related Read: Interested in learning more Spanish on your travels? I really enjoyed taking language classes in Mexico, it’s one of the best things to do in Mexico City!
13. Visit Salineras de Maras
Just 29 miles/46 kilometers from Cusco, the Salineras de Maras is one of the most popular places to check out while in Cusco, attracting hundreds of tourists every day! It’s a photography lovers’ idea of paradise with over 3,000 natural salt wells spread across one side of the valley.
These pools are fed by an underground water spring and were formed over 110 million years ago! Thanks to the high temperatures in this region, the water in these pools evaporates, leaving behind stunning salt pools.
Collecting and then selling the salt is a profitable business for the locals here, and it is these local miners who maintain the area for tourists.
The best way to see Salineras de Maras is on a guided tour from Cusco. This full-day tour (allow 12 hours) also includes stops at some of the best sights in the Sacred Valley, including Moray, Chincheros, Ollantaytambo, and Pisaq. Pick-up and drop-off from your hotel in Cusco are included in the price, as well as a local professional guide. Prices for this tour start at $144 USD per person.
14. Go shopping
Browsing the streets looking for gifts and mementos is one of the Cusco activities that I like the most. There are so many unique little shops, interesting markets, and stalls that you’ll pass by.
If you’re looking for something you won’t easily find anywhere else, make sure to pick up something made from alpaca wool, like a sweater, blanket, or bag. I absolutely love my alpaca sweater, and I still wear it to this day!
Head to the San Blas area right behind the cathedral for some good shopping. On the weekends, there’s usually a craft market that’s perfect to buy handmade gifts like silver jewelry and hand-painted cups and plates. You’ll also see street artists making items right in front of you, like jewelry and wooden beads.
Make sure you also wander down Avenida el Sol – one of Cusco’s main streets. It’s a hub for artisans, so you’ll find everything from paintings and jewelry to alpaca clothing and souvenirs.
If you’re up for some negotiation, haggling is normal here at markets, street stalls, and even some of the shops. You can typically get up to 20 percent off an item if you’re willing to bargain. Most shops are open Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm. Some of the popular gift shops will also be open later and on Sundays.
15. Cooking class
What better way to take a little piece of Cusco home with you than by learning how to cook some amazing Peruvian food! I absolutely love taking a cooking class taught by a local chef when I’m traveling. It’s a fun way to learn more about the culture and get some tasty new recipes.
In this Peruvian Cooking Class, you’ll choose to either make lunch or dinner. You’ll meet in San Pedro Market to pick out ingredients with your Peruvian chef. Then, you’ll learn how to make local dishes with a modern twist, taste a pisco sour (more on that below!) which is the national drink, and even have some dessert where you’ll try a variety of exotic fruits.
The entire experience is $59 USD which is a great deal as it includes a meal!
16. Drink a Pisco Sour
You can’t go for a night out in Cusco without trying the most famous cocktail. The pisco sour is considered the national drink of Peru and was created back in the 1920s by a bartender in Lima, Peru.
It uses pisco, which is a grape brandy exclusively produced in Peru and Chile. The smell is typically stronger than the taste. It can have almost a burnt wine flavor, but if you have good pisco, it should be quite smooth.
The pisco sour is a really popular drink here made by combining pisco, simple syrup, key lime juice, and egg white and topped with Angostura bitters. It has a citrusy flavor with tartness from the lime juice and a fluffy froth on top from the egg white. It’s a delicious way to toast your time in Cusco!
If you want to learn how to make the Pisco Sour for yourself so you can recreate it after your travels in Peru are over I’d highly recommend joining this Pisco Sour lesson that takes place in the evening at one of the local bars. The tour also includes a Peruvian dinner and a guided walking tour around central Cusco and through some of the most interesting neighborhoods all for the price of $99 USD.
Related Read: Going on a Pisco Sour tour is also one of the best things to do in Lima, Peru!
17. Wander the Museo de La Coca
Learn about the science and history of the coca plant in the place where it has been grown for more than 5,000 years. Coca leaves have long been used in Peru as part of rituals and celebrations and for health benefits like treating altitude sickness.
At the Museo de La Coca, you’ll find out more about the coca leave and plants. The coca leaf is very important to Peruvians and this museum will help you understand that. The museum explains how coca is medicine, a drug, and even a flavoring for one of the most well-known drinks in the world – Coca-Cola.
The museum is open every day from 9 am to 9 pm, and admission is 10 soles or about $2.75 USD. Once you’ve learned more about the coca plant, you can stop at the shop attached to the museum to try out different products made from coca, like candies.
18. Try coca leaves
While you’re in Cusco, you’ll be able to buy and try out coca leaves yourself. Big bags of leaves can be purchased from markets, stalls, and shops across the city for less than $1 USD. One of the most popular markets you can get coca from is the San Pedro Market (see activity #20 for more info on the market!).
If you’re trying to adapt to the high altitude here in the city, coca leaves can help. Consuming them either raw or as part of a coca leaf tea can make your symptoms (like bad headaches for me!) completely disappear.
To eat the raw leaves, simply take a handful and pop them into your mouth. You can chew the leaves for about a half-hour. The leaves can taste quite bitter, so making tea is another option. You’ll boil water and steep the leaves in the water for around 5 minutes. You can add some sugar or honey to sweeter the taste.
Now don’t worry, eating a coca leaf in its natural state has no health effects related to the drug. While made from coca leaves, the drug has other additives, and eating the raw leaves is not the same at all.
19. Mirador de Plaza Sán Cristobal
For a scenic view overlooking the city of Cusco, make sure to stop at Mirador de Plaza Sán Cristobal. This beautiful square is only about a 10–15-minute walk from the main central square Plaza de Armas.
Once you’re here, make sure you have your camera! On clear days the view of the buildings and surrounding mountains is incredible. I like to just sit up here for a bit to enjoy the view. It’s not usually too busy, and often locals like to hang around here too.
This is also often a stop on the free walking tours of Cusco, so that’s another good way to visit.
20. San Pedro Market
The San Pedro Market is truly one of the best things to do in Cusco! This colorful market full of sights, sounds, and smells has so much to take in that you’ll have to come more than once. The market is only a couple of blocks from the Plaza de Armas and easy to walk to.
Once you’re here, you may want to spend an entire morning or afternoon exploring. You can buy all sorts of things here including fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, and bread, or shop for clothing, paintings, and little souvenirs. If you’re looking for something made from alpaca wool, this is also a good spot.
I like grabbing some cheap food here, as an entire meal can be only a few dollars. If you’re hungry, the amazing food smells will pull you in from the street! There are also a lot of fresh juices offered or oatmeal drinks in the mornings.
Haggling is common and accepted here, so don’t be afraid to negotiate and ask for a better price while you’re shopping around.
The market is also a popular spot on tours like this private walking tour of Cusco. Because the market is so large and busy, it can be helpful to have a guide who knows where to go! The four-hour tour includes other popular spots and is a nice way to get acquainted with the city. It’s $74 USD and includes all entrance fees and hotel pick-up/drop-off.
21. Humantay Lake Tour
Located about a three-hour drive from Cusco, Humantay Lake is a sight well worth the hike to get here. The view of this turquoise lake at the base of the Humantay Glacier is absolutely unreal! The scenic body of water is really high up, located at 13,779 feet (4,200 meters).
It’s not easy to get here, so I suggest joining a guided tour like this Humantay Lake Tour from Cusco. You’ll not only have transportation and a guide for the strenuous hike but also breakfast before the hike and a well-earned buffet lunch at base camp afterward. Your guide can also tell you more about the lake’s sacred place in Inca mythology while you climb.
This is not a hike to be taken lightly as the elevation and altitude make it extra challenging. Expect about a two-hour hike once you arrive and the lake and about half the time to get back. You will really earn the incredible view of Humantay Lake once you arrive!
The guided tour is only $37 USD per person, which is a great deal for a full-day tour. Just make sure to reserve your spot well in advance here!
22. Visit the Amazon Rainforest
While the Amazon Rainforest spans multiple countries, Peru is an amazing place to see parts of it. In fact, Peru has some of the Amazon Rainforest with the most biodiversity on the planet. That means once-in-a-lifetime chances to see the thousands of plants and animals that live here.
Manu National Park is about 2.5 hours from Cusco, but you’ll need days to see even just a fraction of this beautiful area. I recommend booking an all-inclusive Manu National Park Tour so you can really embrace the experience. This tour spans four days and three nights!
You’ll go birdwatching, visit hot springs, hike through the jungle, go on boat trips, and more. All your meals, accommodations, and transportation are included for under $500 USD.
Related Read: See more of the Amazon Rainforest in Peru in Puerto Maldonado.
23. Horseback riding
Give your feet a break and see some of the most famous Inca ruins in the Cusco area while exploring on horseback. This is such a neat experience and a unique Cusco activity to take part in while you’re here.
Join this horseback riding adventure to see Tambomachay, Sacsayhuaman, Puka Pucara, and Qenqo – four incredible ruins. You’ll learn about the history of these ancient places while taking in views of the mountainous countryside.
You’ll be picked up from your hotel in Cusco and leave with your horse from a nearby ranch. The guides here are super knowledgeable, and you learn so much about the area as you ride with them.
The tour is $95 USD per person and doesn’t include admission to the historical ruins, which is an extra cost. Expect the tour to take around four hours.
24. Cusco Planetarium
Look up and get lost in the stars with the help of the Cusco Planetarium. It’s only 15 minutes from downtown Cusco and is surrounded by the Saqsayhuaman site and Llaullipata ecological reserve. If you come from a busy city where you don’t get to see many stars, this is such a treat!
Once you arrive, there are three different stages to the experience.
- You’ll start in the Interpretation Center to learn about Inca astronomy and how the Inca ancestors observed the sky and their relationship to the universe.
- Then you’ll enter the dome to see a starry sky projected above to see the constellations.
- If the weather cooperates, you’ll have a chance to view the stars you’ve been learning about through telescopes.
Tours generally start at 7:30 pm and are offered daily. Make sure to be at the meeting spot early as they leave at 7:10 pm and can’t wait for late arrivals. During the high season, you can also join at 5 pm.
25. Hike up to the Cristo Blanco Statue
For one of the best views of Cusco, with the entire city stretching out before you, hike up to the Cristo Blanco Statue. The 26-foot-tall (8 meters) statue of Jesus Christ with outstretched arms is quite a sight to see in person.
You can start the hike right from in town – it’s about a 30-minute walk from Plaza de Armas. It’s not too challenging but does head uphill, so bring water with you and take breaks if you need it. There are no entrance fees, and you can access this area anytime.
This incredible statue was a gift from Arab-Palestinians to thank Cusco’s citizens for letting them shelter in Peru during the Second World War. It’s also located on Pukamoqo Hill, which is sacred to the Inca. A local legend says this hill has soil from all four regions of the Inca Empire within it.
If you can, try to time this hike with sunset, usually around 5:30 to 6:30 pm, depending on the time of the year. The statue is lit up in the evenings, and the view of Cusco at dusk is stunning.
26. Go white water rafting
Adventure seekers – here’s a great way to get out of the city for a day and take on some rapids! Whitewater rafting on the Vilcanota River is one of those unexpected Cusco activities that will help make your trip even more memorable.
This combo rafting and ziplining tour picks you up from your hotel in Cusco and departs for the tiny Andean town of Oropesa. This small place is famous for its homemade bread, which you get to sample before your adventure.
Then head out on Class III, III+, and IV rapids to enjoy the epic views of the Andes while navigating the challenging waters. You’ll get wet and have a blast. Once you reach camp, change into dry clothes and have a well-earned lunch that is included in your tour.
Finally, you’ll finish off the experience by soaring through the sky on two different ziplines. The tour is $85 USD per person. Note that it drops you off in the city center afterward, so make sure to plan for that.
Booking your tour online in advance is the best way to reserve your preferred date.
27. Visit the Alpacas of Awana Kancha
Known as the Living Museum of the Andes, a visit to Awana Kancha is a hands-on way to see how traditional textiles are made. Located 30 minutes outside Cusco, this farm has alpacas and llamas as well as workshops you can tour through.
On the property, you can take a short tour that is completely free. One of the highlights for me was seeing all the alpacas and llamas and getting the chance to feed them. You’ll also see the traditional process of how alpaca wool is made into finished clothing – from the spinning, natural dyes, and more.
There’s also an artisan shop here filled with handmade items you can buy. You will pay a bit more here than at a market in town, but they offer more info on where it was made, and you’ll know it’s genuine.
28. Chocolate Museum
While you may think museums are only for art, think again! Satisfy your sweet tooth with a visit to the Chocolate Museum in Cusco. This museum showcases the local production of chocolate and is a tasty addition to your sightseeing.
You can pop into the museum any day of the week from 9 am to 7:30 pm. Short tours around the facility are free, but I recommend taking a workshop if you can.
The top tour here is the Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Workshop. You’ll learn how to make chocolate and get creative to make some of your own. You’ll also learn more about the history of cocoa and why Peru is one of the top chocolate producers on the globe. It’s $25 USD, which includes the chocolate you make and get to take home.
29. Museo de Arte Precolombino
Travel back 3,000 years at the Museo de Arte Precolombino as you learn about the men and women who helped build the Inca Empire. There are 400 objects exhibited here that are internationally recognized as some of the best pieces like this in the world.
You’ll tour through ten rooms with pieces from the pre-Columbian civilizations and see the materials needed to create them. Each room highlights a different material used like gold, silver, and wood, a unique time period or region of Peru.
Museo de Arte Precolombino is located in the center of the city, only a five-minute walk from Plaza de Armas, so it’s an easy add-on to pop into while you’re exploring.
Admission is very reasonable at 20 soles ($5 USD), and the museum is open daily from 9 am to 4 pm.
30. Acueducto de Sapantiana
Located in the San Blas neighborhood overtop of the P’ujru stream, the Acueducto de Sapantiana is a beautiful archway you can visit. It’s only a 15-minute walk from Plaza de Armas and is on your way to Saqsayhuaman if you’re headed that way.
If you’re here in the summer, especially after rain, there will be a steady stream of water passing underneath the arch. It was built hundreds of years ago in the colonial era as part of the hydraulic architecture to allow the easy transportation of water to the city.
Now, it’s really a great spot for photos as you can walk right up to the aqueduct arch. It’s usually pretty quiet and peaceful here too.
31. Food tour
Have dinner plans? Now you do! Snack and sightsee at the same time with this Walking Food Tour of Cusco. You’ll get to sample a bunch of sweet and savory options, including local dishes like papas (potatoes), meats, and sweet treats. You’ll meet and learn from some of the street food vendors as you taste their delicious meals.
What I like about food tours like this one is it gets you out of your comfort zone. You’ll have a guide helping you, so you’ll likely try a few things you might not have if you were on your own. It’s also a good chance to learn about the city and walk around in the evening.
This is a dinner tour that starts at 5 pm and leaves from the central location of Plaza Santa Catalina. It’s $65 USD per person, which includes all the food!
Because this tour is pretty popular I’d recommend booking it online in advance here.
32. Inca hot springs
After all that hiking in Cusco, a day of soaking in the hot springs sounds heavenly! The Inca thermal baths of the Lares Valley are made up of water from the Andean mountains.
Make it a really relaxing trip by booking a tour that takes care of transportation and meals. On this day tour to the Inca hot springs, you’ll have the chance to take a dip in four different mineral pools of varying temperatures.
The water here is full of minerals that supposedly have healing properties to help achy muscles, bones, and joints. Test it out yourself and spend a day soaking in the hot springs while soaking up the incredible scenery of Lares Valley around you. The tour is $159 USD per person.
Related Read: Another popular hot spring in Peru is located in the city of Huaraz in the north.
33. Get off the beaten path at the 7 lakes of Ausangate
Make sure you get outside city limits to see all the beauty this area of Peru has to offer. A great way to do this is by exploring the 7 lakes of Ausangate Mountain on this full-day hiking tour.
You’ll not only get dramatic views of turquoise-green lakes with snow-capped mountains, but you’ll also have the chance to visit local Indigenous communities, see handmade items like ornaments and textiles and visit with a few llamas and alpacas.
It’s an easy way to fill a day with some once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Plus, the $160 USD price tag includes roundtrip transportation along with breakfast and lunch. Just make sure you wake up extra early as this tour departs at 3:30 am.
Where to Stay in Cusco, Peru
Now that you know how much Cusco has to offer, it’s time to figure out where to stay. We recommend planning to stay at least a few days here … although you may end up extending your trip as we did! There are plenty of options for accommodations from the reasonably priced to more luxurious options, depending on your budget. These are the places that top our list of recommendations.
This budget-friendly option offers shared dorm rooms, private rooms, or even unique outdoor tent accommodations. It’s only a short walk from Plaza De Armas and the cathedral, 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. Book a stay on HostelWorld.com or Booking.com.
For a mid-range option, we love this hotel for its central location – super close to the main square and lots of top attractions. The breakfast here is excellent, the staff is super helpful, and the whole place has a really nice charm to it. Ask for a room on an upper floor to get the best view! Rooms here are around $90 USD a night. You can check availability and book MOAF Hotel online here.
If you can spend a bit more during your stay, soak up the incredible architecture and location at this property in the city center. This former monastery was built back in 1592 and has an amazing central courtyard. The rooms are beautifully decorated (each one is different!), and if you’re feeling the altitude, oxygen-enriched rooms are available. The price tag here is $545 USD per night. You can check availability and book Monasterio online here.
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
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SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
Thanks for reading!
Cusco is a destination famous for its history and the perfect place to write some of your own history while you’re here. Whether you are in awe at the incredible ruins, hiking for breathtaking (literally!) views, wandering around the city to see the architecture and beautiful churches or even shopping for something made of alpaca wool at a local market, you won’t get bored in Cusco, Peru.
If Peru is on your bucket list, check out more of our Peru blogs here to help plan your trip. You’ll get lots of tips and ideas to plan your own journey.