With so many things to do in Cusco, the options are endless. Not only is this ancient Inca capital one of the top travel destinations in Peru, but it is also the main jumping-off point for tourists and trekkers on their way to Machu Picchu. Those who spend some time in this vibrant city may find the list of archaeological sites, museums, marketplaces, viewpoints and so on, can be hard to choose from. For this reason, we’ve compiled our top 20 favorite ideas, in no particular order, for things to do in Cusco to simplify your travel.
- Plaza de Armas
- Twelve Angled Stone
- Coricancha and Convent of Santo Domingo
- Qenko Ruins
- Inti Raymi and Other Festivities
- Restaurants and Bars
- Cooking Workshops
- Cusco Planetarium
- San Blas Neighborhood
- San Pedro Market
- Spa treatments
- Horseback Riding
- Rainbow Mountain and Other Day Trips
- Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
1. Pet a friendly alpaca
We’re kicking off this list with one of Peru’s most beloved animals: the alpaca. Known for its expensive wool, alpacas are treasured among Peruvians. These fluffy four-legged animals can be seen on the streets of Cusco dressed in colorful accessories and led by local ladies offering photos for a small price of 5-10 soles. Be sure to set your price before you get a photo to avoid any haggling.
2. Experience the grandeur of the Plaza de Armas
Equally important is visiting Cusco’s most famous plaza located in the heart of the city. The Plaza de Armas boasts spectacular architecture and views of the surrounding mountains. Once the main center for both the Spanish conquistadors and Inca empire, the plaza is now the main hub for tourists where you can find shopping, restaurants and nightlife. Grab lunch at one of the many restaurants with balconies overlooking the plaza. After that, take a stroll through the iconic Cusco Cathedral where you can see a painting of the Last Supper with a guinea pig – the Andean interpretation for the main centerpiece of the meal. The plaza is a perfect place to people-watch and take in the surrounding history while enjoying your Cusco activities.
3. Take a picture with the famous Twelve-Angled Stone
Hidden in the narrow alleyways of the historical district is the Twelve-Angled stone. This architectural mystery has 12 perfectly-crafted angles that fit seamlessly into the Inca wall located in the alleyway of Hatunrumiyoc. The stone itself is relatively large and is part of the wall of the Palace of the Archbishop. You’ll be able to spot it by the large crowd usually surrounding the area. Be sure not to touch it as it is prohibited, but feel free to snap a selfie or take a family photo next to it.
4. Step into the past with a visit to Coricancha and Convent of Santo Domingo
Another addition to your list is Coricancha, the famous Inca Sun Temple located on Cusco’s main Avenida el Sol. This architectural marvel was originally built by the Inca to worship their sun god, Inti. In fact, this famous temple used to be lined with gold before the Spanish invaded. Today you can take a tour through the ancient halls that have both Inca and Spanish-built architecture.
5. Hike the Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman
The stone fortress of Sacsayhuaman was used to protect the Inca capital of Cusco when the Spanish invaded and boasts enormous stones weighing up to 125 tons each. This sprawling set of ruins is one of the Incas’ most impressive constructions and is visible from most places in Cusco, including from the Plaza de Armas. You can hike from the main Plaza by taking the most direct route up Pumacurco, but if you’d rather save your legs the extra 30 minutes, you can go by bus or taxi for just a few soles.
6. Explore the ancient Qenko Ruins
Also located above the city is Qenko, an Inca archaeological site used for worship and ritual sacrifices. This site has a labyrinth of passages and hidden rooms to explore. Many local guides say that on the morning of the summer solstice, the shadow of the main rock at the entrance reveals the outline of a puma, one of the Incas’ sacred animals.
7. Participate in Inti Raymi and other festivities
Every year in June, Cusco transforms into a center for celebration and festivities – the most famous of those being Inti Raymi or the festival of the sun. Cusqueñans celebrate Inti Raymi just after winter solstice on the 24th of June with a full day of processions, traditional dances and a spectacular reenactment of ancient Inca rituals. Thousands of tourists and locals come together to witness this spectacle – one of the best things to do in Peru.
8. Climb to one of the many viewpoints
Another exciting addition to your Cusco itinerary is taking in one of the city’s breathtaking vistas. Just a 15 minute walk up from the main plaza are the Mirador de San Cristobal, Plaza Santa de Santa Ana and the Mirador de San Blas where you can find sweeping panoramic views of the towering Andes and the city below. These are the most accessible viewpoints, but if you’re wanting to go even higher, take a picnic up to Qenko or visit Sacsayhuaman for even more views.
9. Taste the delights of Andean cuisine at Cusco’s restaurants and bars
Peru is known as one of the top gastronomical destinations in the world, so it’s no surprise that Cusco is home to a plethora of enticing restaurants and bars. Order fresh trout ceviche made with local fish, try a succulent alpaca steak, or step out of your comfort zone and order one of the local favorites: cuy al horno or oven-baked guinea pig. More than 3,000 types of potatoes grow in Peru, so be sure to try them fried, baked and boiled. Lounge on the many balconies in the main plaza and enjoy the sights while sipping on Peru’s national drink, the Pisco Sour.
For our top picks, check out The 10 Best Restaurants in Cusco.
10. Sign up for a cooking workshop
After tasting the local fare, learn how to make it in a traditional Andean cuisine cooking workshop. From creating your own chocolate with fresh cacao from the Amazon to selecting the right spices for the perfect ceviche, the possibilities are endless. Cooking workshops allow you to experience Andean culture and tradition and build your knowledge on some of the best recipes in the Andes – which we think is the perfect souvenir to take home. We like to say that if you order ceviche for lunch, you’re fed for the day, but if you learn how to make ceviche in a workshop, you’ll be happy for a lifetime.
11. Travel to the stars in the Cusco Planetarium
If you’re looking for a more cosmic experience, a visit to the Planetarium will have you looking up at the stars every night. This tour takes you through an interpretation of ancient Inca astronomy, constellation projections and storytelling in the dome, and finally, a look through the telescopes at the sparkling night sky. What makes this tour so unique is the connection it highlights between astronomy and the Incas.
12. Stroll through the quaint streets of the San Blas Neighborhood
Known for its extremely narrow and colorful streets, San Blas is the oldest neighborhood in Cusco and arguably the most beautiful. Each of the houses and businesses lining the streets feature painted blue doors and colorful adornments, which gives this bustling neighborhood its bohemian charm. Local artists live and sell their work here, and you can find hidden cafes of all types of cuisine including French, Italian, American and of course, Andean. Don’t forget to bring your camera – this is one of the most photogenic places in the city.
13. Go shopping in the local souvenir and artisan markets
Sprinkled throughout the historical district are local mercados and high-end alpaca stores. Here you can barter for locally-made souvenirs or purchase a one-of-a-kind painting. One of the best things to buy in Peru is an alpaca sweater – not a sweater with alpacas on it, but one made with 100% real alpaca wool. These can only be found in the higher-end stores where prices are set (so don’t try to barter here) and the quality is exceptional. For less expensive wares, explore the mercados where you can find hand-carved items, scarves, shoes, bags and much much more.
14. Grab a snack in San Pedro Market
Cusco’s most famous open-air market is both a local and a tourist destination. San Pedro Market, located just a 10 minute walk from the main plaza, is a central hub for selling local produce, meat, souvenirs and just about everything you can imagine. Keep an eye out for local ladies selling choclo con queso or Andean cheese and corn – a tasty snack worth trying. You can also sample homemade churros or chicha morada, a sweet purple corn beverage perfect for a hot sunny day.
15. Learn about Inca history in one of Cusco’s many museums
Step into the past with a visit to the Cusco Regional History Museum where you can see ancient Inca relics and restored Spanish paintings. After that, explore the museum beneath the Coricancha where they have elongated skulls and mummies on display. Finally, check out the Inca Museum that boasts 3D models of Machu Picchu and other archaeological sites across Peru, a massive collection of Inca artifacts and an even larger collection of mummies nearly perfectly preserved. All of the Cusco museums are worth a visit if you have time.
16. Relax after a day of hiking with a traditional spa treatment
Treat your sore and aching muscles with a rejuvenating massage at one of Cusco’s best retreats. Though you may pass by women in the main plaza advertising “masajes” for cheap, investing in your spa experience is definitely worth it. Andes Spirit Spa is located within the five star luxury hotel, Palacio del Inka. It is a welcoming experience after a trek or even just a long day of traversing the streets of Cusco. Indulge in therapy baths, body wraps, couple massages and plunge pools. Other recommended spas include Inca Spa on Avenida el Sol and Yacu Spa at hotel Inkaterra La Casona where you can relax with traditional Andean-inspired healing treatments.
17. Visit the ruins of Tambomachay
Tambomachay, also known as El Baño del Inca or the “bath of the Inca,” is one of many Cusco ruins located near the outskirts of the city. This stunning archaeological site includes a system of canals and aqueducts flowing into waterfalls fed by natural springs nearby. Its purpose is unknown, but adding it to your list of places to see is a must for history buffs.
18. Venture through the Andes on a Horseback Riding tour
If you would like to see Cusco from a different perspective, sign up for a horseback riding tour – one of our top favorite ways to experience Peru. This tour takes you out of the hustle and bustle of the city into the tranquil paradise of the Andes. Witness awe-inspiring vistas of the rolling landscape and the city below. You can pick from a variety of destinations and choose a half or full-day trip. Horseback riding may not be for everyone, but it is one of the best Peru sightseeing tours you can experience.
19. Rainbow Mountain and Other Day Trips
For those who’ve seen enough of the city, taking a day trip to one of the top attractions in Peru is an exciting way to pack in a mini-adventure. Both Rainbow Mountain (17,000 ft elevation) and Humantay Lake (13,800 ft elevation) are full-day trips that require an early start, but are worth the effort. If you’re worried about the elevation, you can skip the short hike and ride a mule to the top. For shorter excursions, try out a more relaxing Cusco day trip to the Sacred Valley where you can visit small towns like Ollantaytambo, Urubamba or Pisac. The Sacred Valley is only 40 min from the city and has sweeping views of the Andes mountains and winding Urubamba river.
20. Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Of course no list is complete without one of the best things to do from Cusco – visit Machu Picchu. Though located outside of Cusco, Machu Picchu is one of the most famous places to visit in the world. You can hike there on the historic Inca Trail with options for a two or four-day hike through the Andes. However, if you prefer the luxury route, you can ride through the valley on the scenic train route. Whether you choose to trek or ride your way there, both options bring you to the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu.
We here at Peru For Less believe nobody’s Peruvian adventure is complete without a visit to Cusco. Our top 20 things to do in Cusco make this beautiful city a must-see in Peru. Ready to start checking off your list? Book your visit to Cusco today and customize your trip with one of our travel experts.
Daniella was born in the sunny beach town of Santa Cruz, California. She spent her youth there before moving to Washington state to pursue a degree in journalism, photography and Spanish. She has worked professionally as a photojournalist in Seattle photographing everything from protests and political rallies to music festivals and Machu Picchu. After moving to Peru in 2018, she fell in love with the people and culture and decided to stay in Cusco where she now works with Peru For Less.