Cusco, Peru: The Ultimate Visitors Guide Cusco, Peru: The Ultimate Visitors Guide

Cusco, Peru: The Ultimate Visitors Guide

Cusco, the ancient Inca capital, is a mix of Incan and Spanish architecture and history with picturesque cobblestone stairs to climb up the narrow one-way streets. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the starting point to the most spectacular things to do in Peru like Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley.

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Itinerary Cusco Peru

Cusco is a fantastic city that functions as the perfect base for day trips to the Rainbow Mountain or Sacred Valley. Easily fill three to six days with all the things to do in Cusco.

It is a very safe city, a little more expensive than other cities in Peru but the world-class restaurants are worth the extra dollars.

Day 1 – Cusco City

For your first day in Cusco, take it slow and let your body adjust to the altitude. Wander around in the San Blas District, sip a Peruvian coffee on the balcony of L’Atelier, and have lunch at Greenpoint

With your bellies filled with the finger-licking good food of Greenpoint, roll downhill to Qoricancha, the former Incan temple.

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Cusco, Peru: The Ultimate Visitors Guide

Finish off by visiting the local San Pedro Market where they sell everything from fruits and veggies to souvenirs. But wait, don’t buy your dinner at the market. Eat a Ceviche at Morena – it will be the best one you have in Peru!

Day 2 – Sacred Valley

Our guide to Peru’s Sacred Valley will show you the best things to do in the area of Cusco, the former Inca’s empire. Explore the beautiful ruins of Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Moray, Saqsaywaman, Chinchero, or Maras Salt Mines.

The Sacred Valley holds circular stone terraces, salt mines, and possibly the best scenic valley views of Peru. Visit Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Moray, and the Maras Salt Mines on a full-day tour from Cusco.

Day 3 – Rainbow Mountain

Wake up around 3 AM and sleep a little more in the 3-hour drive towards the Rainbow Mountain. A 1 to 2-hour trek at 5000+ meters brings you to yellow, orange, blue and red mountain tops. Visit either the Vinicunca or Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain.

Day 4 – Cusco City

After two early mornings, sleep in a little bit and take it slow by exploring a bit more of the city. Start by visiting Saqsayhuaman, an old fortress with a great view over the entire valley. Make your way down to Cusco’s Historical Centre where the cathedrals and Plaza de Armas are located.

Relax with a delicious lunch at Rucula but don’t eat too much as up next is a Chocolate Museum. If you are into shopping; the boutique shops are worth your time! Around sunset, walk up to one of the many viewpoints overlooking the city and have dinner at Takysan for some incredible vegetarian Sushi!

Day 5 – Machu Picchu

A visit to Machu Picchu, the lost Incan city is a highlight of everyone’s Peru trip. From Cusco, you are able to do a day trip by taking the scenic train ride from Ollantaytambo. However, if you want to see the sunrise at Machu Picchu, then head there one day in advance and spend the night in Aguas Calientes.

Day 6 – Humantay Lake

Your last day in Cusco is a hike to the pristine blue Humantay Lake located at an altitude of 4,200 meters. A 3-hour drive and 2-hour hike will take you to the end of your time in Cusco. Please do not use the poor horses at Humantay and hike instead.

How to get to Cusco, Peru

The relatively small city of Cusco is best to reach by comfortable night bus or via Cusco’s international airport. 

By Air – There are direct flights to Cusco from Lima (1h), Arequipa, La Paz (Bolivia) or Bogota (Colombia). From the airport, it is a short 15-minute taxi ride into the city center.

By Bus – The bus, on the other hand, allows you to slowly get used to the altitude. The best route to take is from Arequipa to Cusco (12h) inside the super comfortable night bus. The bus cannot enter Cusco’s main city center so from the bus stand you will need to get a taxi or Uber. 

How to get around Cusco, Peru

By foot – Getting around Cusco is simple. Most of the city’s sights are within walking distance just remember to take your time at the sloping streets as you will feel the altitude while climbing up the stairs.

By taxi – Taxis are a good choice in Cusco as they all charge the same standard rates of 3-6 Soles per trip. (~ 1-2 USD) 

Best time to visit Cusco

Cusco has clear skies and comfortable temperatures from May to September which is their winter. Try to avoid June to August as these are the busiest months tourism-wise. The best time to visit Cusco would be in April and May or September and October.

Best Restaurants in Cusco

The popularity of Cusco attracts many great chefs to the city. Cusco has some of the best restaurants in the country from Italian, Japanse to Peruvian. And if you’re a vegan; Cusco is vegan heaven!

Fun fact: Due to the altitude, it takes longer to boil water. So be a little more patient when ordering food (and showering).

These were our favorite restaurants in Cusco, Peru

  • Morena (trendy & delicious)
  • Green point (incredible vegan food)
  • Takysan Sushi (best sushi in Cusco)
  • Qura Bowl Bar (smoothie & poké bowls)
  • Avocado, toast & more (all about avocado)
  • Rucula (try the pizza)

Altitude sickness in Cusco

At 3,400 meters (11,200 feet) it is very likely to get small symptoms of altitude sickness no matter how fit and healthy you are. Symptoms like pain in the back of your head, heavy breathing, dizziness, and you’re having a hard time to sleep.

The best way to deal with the altitude is by slowly going higher. You can do this by staying in Arequipa at 2,400 for a couple of days. If you don’t have this option, take it slow in Cusco for two or three days. Make coca leaf tea or use altitude sickness tablets. For most people, the natural coca leaves do the job.

Best Hotels in Cusco

Whether you are on a backpacking budget or looking for a little more luxury, Cusco offers every kind of accommodation to suit your needs. There is no wrong area to stay in as long as it is 15 – 20 minutes walking to the city center. Personally, we would recommend the San Blas neighborhood.

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