14 Things to do in Cusco, Peru
Cusco, Peru, is situated at an altitude of 3,200 meters. During your first one or two days, take it slow and give your body the time to get used to it.
1. San Blas District
San Blas is the trendy, creative district of Cusco and away from the main tourist area. Wander around at Plaza San Blas and discover the streets filled with cafes, clothing shops, and some of the city’s best restaurants.
2. Palccoyo Alternative Rainbow Mountain
The rainbow mountains have been hidden under ice, but due to climate change, they are now visible in the right season. This unfortunate truth revealed countless colors (formed by metals) on the mountain tops.
The popular Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain in Peru is one of the things you must do in Cusco! It attracts over 1000 visitors each day that all have to hike a narrow path for 3 hours to 5.200 meters! (17.000 feet)
Not an ideal situation, and that’s the reason why the Palccoyo Alternative Rainbow Mountain is starting to get more attention. It is a relatively easy 1.5-hour walk to the top at 5,000 meters; you will see three rainbow mountains, and the best part – there are only a handful of tourists.
3. Qoricancha Temple in Cusco
Qoricancha (or Koricancha or Corikancha) was a holy temple covered in pure gold of the Inca people. The Spanish forced them to change religion and built a Christian monastery on top of the Qoricancha temple.
Nowadays, it is possible to visit the Santo Domingo monastery, where you read and see everything about its impressive history and relax in its garden. The entry ticket for Qoricancha is 15 Soles (~ 5 USD). It is closed on Sundays, and expect to spend 1-2 hours inside. We recommend booking a city tour that includes Qoricancha and other Cusco highlights.
Whilst walking towards Coricancha, make a little detour to this huge street art painting.
4. Coffee on a balcony
Overlooking the beautiful streets of Cusco while drinking a delicious Peruvian coffee. Your list of things to do in Cusco isn’t complete without tasting one of the world’s top coffee producers. Many cafes in Cusco have balconies that make your morning coffee experience even better. Two great spots are L’Atelier in San Blas and Cappuccino Cusco on Plaza De Armas square.
5. Discover the Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley holds some of the best-preserved Inca architecture in Peru. Most of the land was being used for farming, and the structures built, helped them do so. The most affordable and best way is to book a multi-day tour with Exploor.
Machu Picchu’s little brother, the Pisac Ruins, is just 45 minutes away from Cusco, Peru. It overlooks the entire Urubamba Valley, and the terraces are still in use today.
Moray — something you must do in Cusco
The man-made terraces in a circular shape named the Moray Ruins were an agricultural laboratory. They could experiment with different lighting and temperature conditions for growing crops. Moray is one of the reasons Peru has over 2000 species of potatoes today.
Maras Salt Mines
The Salineras de Maras are thousands of shallow salt pools tucked away in a valley. During your visit, workers are still doing the hard work of scraping off the salt to be sold as one of the most expensive salts in Peru.
Discover the picturesque old town of Ollantaytambo and its impressive ruins overlooking the village. It is one of the most-visited ruins since it is close to Machu Picchu and the main train stations towards Machu Picchu. Nevertheless, Ollantaytambo ruins are very much worth your time.
6. Trendy local clothing
Shopping isn’t one of the world-famous things to do in Cusco, but that should change. Cusco has thousands of great textiles and hundreds of shops on small streets. Traditional clothing is great to stay warm during your hikes but wait until you visit the boutique shops and concept stores where they mix Incan with trendy nowadays fashion! The modern-age shops advertise sustainability and no child labor, which isn’t the case everywhere. Our favorites: Isa Luna & Pushka.
7. Sacsayhuaman – most popular thing to do in Cusco
A 30-minute walk uphill from Cusco town is a large wall Inca site named Sacsayhuaman (pronounce it as ‘sexy human’) The wall is made of stones, and each one weighs around 300 tons! Only think of the method to move a single stone!?
To visit Sacsayhuaman, a Cusco Tourist Ticket is required. The partial ticket costs 70 soles (21 USD) and 130 soles (40 USD), including the Sacred Valley. Alternatively, book an organized tour that includes transportation, entry, and a guide.
It is situated at 3.700 meters, so before you walk up, consider you taking a taxi if your condition isn’t great or if you haven’t gotten time to get used to the height. Tip: Drinking Coca Tea helps with altitude sickness.
8. Cusco’s Historical Center
Cusco’s historical center is a mix of Spanish and Andean buildings. The main square, Plaza de Armas, is a lively place with plenty of restaurants and iconic buildings like the Cusco Cathedral. It is a great place to spend your sunset moment in Cusco.
Tip: In the center, sellers will try to sell artwork or sunglasses. Kindly say ‘No gracias’ and they will leave you.
9. Taste the best restaurants in Cusco
Cusco is a paradise for foodies! The variety of products available in this area is the reason why there are so many types of great restaurants. Italian, Japanese, Vegan, and Peruvian, all world-class! We listed our favorite restaurants in Cusco.
- Morena (trendy & delicious)
- Green point (incredible vegan food)
- Takysan Sushi (best sushi in Cusco)
- Qura Bowl Bar (poké bowls)
- Avocado, toast & more
- Rucula (try the pizza)
10. Chocolate Museum
Peru is one of the world’s biggest cacao producers. A delicious and fun thing to do in Cusco is to visit a chocolate museum or Beans to Bar, learn about the cacao, taste pure cacao, or do a chocolate workshop. Cacao gave farmers a chance to transform from coca (raw material for cocaine) to cacao farms.
12. Viewpoints sunset
The best view from Cusco is from the top. It is a great thing to do in Cusco to walk up to one of the many viewpoints. During sunset, the golden light will cover the entire valley and makes it incredibly picturesque.
Some of the best viewpoints in Cusco are:
13. San Pedro Market
See, smell, taste, and eat at the overwhelmingly big San Pedro Market. This go-to shopping market for locals sells fruits, veggies, cheese, meat, fish, souvenirs, and so much more. You can even buy your lunch at one of the stands.
At an altitude of 4,200 meters is a blue glacier lake named Humantay. Snowy mountain tops enhance this scenic lake view as a backdrop. A somewhat steep 2-hour hiking tour is rewarded with a gorgeous lake. One of the unique things to do near Cusco! Please do not use the poor horses at Humantay and walk instead. Book your tour to Humantay Lake from Cusco.
Where to Stay 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 walk to the city center.
Personally, we would recommend the San Blas neighborhood. You can also find great hostels all around the city (search for a hostel here).