This former Inca capital is not only one of the most popular tourist locations in Peru, but it is also where most visitors and hikers begin their journey to Machu Picchu. Spending time in this bustling city may make choosing from the many archaeological sites, museums, markets, views, and other attractions difficult. To make your trip more accessible, we've compiled our top fourteen suggestions for things to do in Cusco.
Let's dive into the names of the fantastic things to do in Cusco.
Here are several activities you will love to enjoy in Cusco.
Built in the west, Sacsayhuamán is a complex of spectacular walls and buildings that date back to the 15th century. With being the most prominent building in Cusco, it is a must-see destination. Its zigzagging main wall's stones reach a height of 16.5 feet (5 meters) and weigh anywhere from 90 to 125 tonnes! Moreover, you can reserve a half-day guided excursion that includes Sacsayhuamán and a visit to Cusco's main square. A native guide teaches you all about Inca history, and you can visit Cusco Cathedral to witness the city's oldest still-standing mural. The tour costs USD 79.
Machu Picchu is a benchmark for Inca ruins, and if you've traveled to Cusco, you must explore the renowned Inca city. The old town was constructed in the 1400s and abandoned when the Spanish started exploring South America. Machu Picchu was ignored and unknown as the Spanish ruled the area in the 1500s.
As the Peruvian government has set strict guidelines, booking an all-inclusive trip from either Cusco or Aguas Calientes is the best way to follow them. You can take a shuttle from there or walk a short distance to Machu Picchu.
Ensure you are familiar with the fundamentals before venturing into the ruins alone.
Formerly covered in ice, the rainbow mountains are now visible during the appropriate season due to climate change. This alarming fact made the mountain summits' numerous colors—created by metals—visible.
One of the must-do activities in Cusco is seeing the famous Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain in Peru. It draws more than 1000 tourists daily, who must walk 5.200 meters on a rocky trail for three hours.
4. Strolling Around in San Pedro Market
San Pedro Market is a sight, with 30 kiosks selling freshly squeezed juices and fruit, vegetable, and meat vendors. The freshest items are sold first because there is no refrigeration, so if you want to buy something, go early.
Products are displayed outdoors.
Several empanada and tamale vendors can be found at the market, and there are other food stands selling males, a very affordable two-course dinner. Get a bag of coca leaves if you're struggling with the altitude.
Trying some of the local cuisines in Cusco is among the fantastic things to do here. Fabulous Peruvian cuisine includes ceviche, delicate alpaca, and crispy cuy. You'll also be astounded by the enormous variety of maize and potatoes.
Visit the Museum of Natural Factory Plants and Products of Peru if you don't eat meat or seafood.
If you eat fish, you can have ceviche. Alpaca steak and roasted guinea pig are local delights to try if you like meat.
The Museo De Arte Precolombino, located in Plazoleta de las Nazarenas in Cusco, is a museum devoted to artwork before the Spanish conquest.
You can tour the history of early Peruvian arts and crafts, such as jewelry, sculpture, and ceramics, for 20 sols. It displays artifacts from the Incas and the Nazcas, Mochica, Huari, Chacay, and Chimu civilizations and spans 1250 BC to AD 1532. If you want to eat dinner after visiting the exhibition, there is a cafe in the museum.
7. Enjoy the Great View of Cusco.
Take in the best views of Cusco while sipping a pisco sour or an excellent beer. If you still need to acclimate, the breathless climb to Limbus Restobar, with its expansive outdoor seating area and floor-to-ceiling glass walls, may be taxing. However, the views are worth it for themselves; drinking here is one of the people’s favorite things to do in Cusco after walking 15,000 steps around the city.
View House provides fantastic views, potent cocktails, and a cooler, more backpacker rooftop ambiance just a little further up the hill and to the right. Be aware that there may be a long line for sunset cocktails at Limbus, so View House is an excellent choice if you don't want to wait.
8. Experience Cusco’s Nightlife
Peru's party epicenter, Cusco, boasts one of the continent's busiest nighttime scenes. Many backpackers visit the bars and clubs surrounding the plaza since affordable hostels are nearby. Mama Africa, the most famous club in Cusco, plays electronic, hip-hop, and dance music till 5 or 6 in the morning.
Another favorite venue, Ukukus, has DJs in addition to local performances and live bands. The late-night pizza bar at Ukukus is excellent for getting pizza after partying until the wee hours.
You can trek the Salkantay Trail rather than traveling by car or train to Machu Picchu as it is less expensive and simpler to reserve; this walk is a fantastic alternative to the Inca Trail.
Indeed, the Salkantay Trek follows the same path to Machu Picchu that the Inca spiritual leaders did. They were supposed to get closer to the gods on the way. Offering breathtaking mountain views, it ascends to more than 13,000 feet/4,000 meters. Though more complex than the Inca Trail, it is well worthwhile.
You can spend the night at Llactapata, an old ruin across from Machu Picchu, as part of your guided tour.
10. Visit the Sacred Valley
Sacred Valley is one of the main things to do in Cusco, which features some of the most magnificent Inca architecture in the entire nation. The Sacred Valley is 100 kilometers long and is home to several attractions worth seeing; however, Machu Picchu is its most famous landmark.
The valley is close to Cusco, and you can easily take a taxi or drive to several regions to explore. Many Inca sites, small towns, and breathtaking landscapes can be found in this region of Peru.
For a 12-hour guided tour, the cost is only around USD 95, which is a beautiful deal.
11. Traveling to Qorikancha
One of the most incredible things to do in Cusco is to visit Qorikancha, also known as Coricancha.
The most significant temple in the Inca Empire, honoring the sun god Inti, is there. It is believed that the Incas coated the inside walls in gold to make them glow like the sun.
The dark, rounded structure at the building's base is the foundation of the Inca temple, which is still visible. The brickwork is done in the ashlar style, which entails carefully fitting cuboid stones. There is a museum on the property where visitors may explore the interior of the complex's Inca-built foundations and learn about its past.
12. Drink a Pisco Sour
Going out on the town in Cusco is only possible by drinking the city's most well-known cocktail. The pisco sour, regarded as Peru's national beverage, was invented in Lima, Peru, in the 1920s by a barmaid. It uses pisco, a grape brandy made only in Peru and Chile. Usually, the fragrance overpowers the taste. If you have excellent pisco, it should be smooth and nearly taste like burnt wine.
The pisco sour is a concoction of pisco, simple syrup, key lime juice, egg white, and Angostura bitters. With the tartness of the lime juice and a fluffy egg white, it has a citrus flavor. It's a tasty way to celebrate your time spent in Cusco.
13. Venture through the Andes on a Horseback Riding tour.
One of our top recommendations for experiencing Peru is on a horseback riding tour if you want to see Cusco from a different angle. This excursion shifts you from the bustle of the city to the serene Andean wonderland. See breathtaking panoramas of the city and the surrounding countryside.
You can choose from several locations and a half-day or full-day vacation. Although it may not be for everyone, horseback riding is one of the best ways to see Peru.
14. Visit the ruins of Tambomachay.
One of the numerous Cusco ruins near the city's outskirts is Tambomachay, called El Bao del Inca or the “bath of the Inca.” This magnificent archaeological site has a network of canals and aqueducts that lead to waterfalls fueled by local natural springs. Although its purpose is unknown, history buffs must include it on their list of places to see.
Cusco, Peru is worth every effort! Add it to your list, enjoy your vacations, and make them the best of your life.
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.