Cusco, the recognized navel of the world for the Inca Culture, was the home of the Inca Empire and from where it was headed. This destination will not only leave you wanting more, but it will also take a few days to contemplate it fully. Cusco is a mandatory stop for those looking to tour the Inca archaeological complex. In the time of the Incas, the city had a huge main square where all the ceremonies were held. There were many ornate temples to see and it is said that most were covered in gold. These days you can only see the foundations of the Inca temples since when the Spanish arrived they sent most of the gold to Spain and dismantled most of the temples. Today, thousands of tourists flock to the Inca city each year to experience all the beauty of this fascinating city. That is why, together with Machu Travel Peru, we have prepared a small article for when you decide to visit the Imperial City. We will show you the best things to do in Cusco.
20 great things to do in Cusco during your next vacation
- See the incredible architecture
- Look at the churches
- Walk the squares
- Check the museums
- Visit San Blas
- Visit the Plaza de Armas
- Get to know the Inca Museum
- Venture through epic settings on a horseback tour
- Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
- Explore Coricancha
- Go up to one of the fascinating viewpoints
- Visit Sacsaywayhman, PukaPukara, Tambo Mochay, and Qenko
- San Blas neighborhood
- San Pedro market
- Test its Incomparable Cuisine
- Nightlife in Cusco
- Cusco Planetary
- Cooking workshops
- Look at the twelve angled stone
- Day trip to the Rainbow Mountain
1. SEE THE INCREDIBLE ARCHITECTURE
One of the things that stands out the most in the Imperial City is its architecture. One of the first things you can notice when you arrive in Cusco is its atmosphere and the gorgeous architecture that combines with the landscape in the background. Its narrow streets added to its crumbling buildings give it a traditional and ancient touch. All the architecture that you will observe is one of a colonial-type that was overbuilt in the ancient Inca city. You will see an example of this in all the most important buildings such as temples or churches.
All its architecture is dominated by a mixture of two cultures, the Inca and the Spanish. You will see clear examples of this in its Inca walls that are still visible in various places.
Admiring architecture is one of the best free things to do in Cusco.
2. LOOK AT THE CHURCHES
As we said previously, the architecture of Cusco is something you cannot lose sight of since you will find it everywhere, especially if you can visit its imposing churches. These amazing buildings remind the relentless Spanish conquest and its invasive way of imposing its religion. Even so, they are a spectacle for the eyes of any tourist to be able to contemplate the wonderful architecture.
If you have planned to do a city tour in Cusco, you cannot miss its main churches. The most known are:
- The Cathedral of Cusco
- La Compañía de Jesús
- San Francisco
- The Minor Basilica of La Merced
3. WALK THE SQUARES
Most of the churches to visit are located around the squares. Therefore, giving yourself time to observe the different squares is one of the best free things to do in Cusco. In case you are visiting the Imperial City alone, touring the squares is a great opportunity to meet new people. Besides, on sunny days, you can enjoy the banks full of tourists and locals doing social or relaxing. A great opportunity to sit back and gaze at the panorama while you catch your breath.
4. CHECK THE MUSEUMS
A visit to Cusco without visiting its different museums would be a waste of time. That is why the Museums of the Imperial City are considered the best tourist attractions in Peru. You will be able to learn from the history and tradition that embrace Cusco, in addition to knowing the ancient life in the majestic Inca Empire.
Within some travel packages, it is normal that the entrance to the museums is included if you have any doubts, consult your tour operator.
5. VISIT SAN BLAS
Many of these restaurants, especially vegetarian & vegan ones, are located in San Blas. This neighborhood is well known to tourists and is an excellent place to relax, eat and have a beer. Touring this place is without a doubt one of the best free things to do in Cusco. If you were wondering what is there to do in Cusco Besides Machu Picchu? This is one of the best things to do.
6. VISIT THE PLAZA DE ARMAS
Let us start with the Plaza de Armas, located in the center of the city. Before the Spanish invasion, the Cusco main square was already an important center for the Inca and it was twice the size. When the Spanish arrived they built their houses and churches around the plaza making it smaller than the original size. Today, it is one of the top attractions in Cusco, where most tourists and locals take a break and enjoy the outdoors.
Along the square, you will find different bars, restaurants, and cafes where you can spend the afternoon and enjoy a spectacular view of the city. In the center, there is a beautifully manicured garden and it is in the square where most public events take place. If you are on a tight budget, spending a sunny afternoon in the banks is a perfect pretext to meet new people or simply marvel at the simplicity of things. Around, you will also find the beautiful Cusco Cathedral and other churches to explore and visit. A place you cannot miss inside the city.
7. GET TO KNOW THE INCA MUSEUM
One of the best things to do in Cusco is to learn the history of the empire at the huge Inca Museum. This museum is run by the San Antonio Abad University of Cusco. It has a huge collection of artifacts found in the equally impressive colonial home of a Spanish admiral. You will be able to tour twenty-four exhibition rooms that are filled with information dating from pre-Inca societies to the height of the Inca Empire and the Spanish conquest. One of the things that stands out the most is the mummified bodies in the museum, as well as the courtyard where Andean women weave textiles. Fortunately, the information is presented in both English and Spanish. But it is also advisable to hire a guide for a small fee, as it makes visiting the huge museum easier.
8. VENTURE THROUGH EPIC SETTINGS ON A HORSEBACK TOUR
With so many settings and landscapes to appreciate, one of the best things to do in Cusco is horseback riding. You will be able to appreciate the Imperial City from a different perspective. Dare to explore the surroundings on a horseback tour, a fun and unique way to experience Peru. Witness the breathtaking views of the landscapes and the city. Plus with so many destinations to explore, you can opt for full-day or half-day tours. If you were wondering how do I spend a day in Cusco? This is one of the best ways.
9. INCA TRAIL TO MACHU PICCHU
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning one of the best hiking trails. Although it is not an activity within Cusco, it is one of the reasons why people travel to the city. Being able to visit Machu Picchu is a unique experience, but being able to complement it with the Inca Trail only makes it better. You can walk the pilgrimage route that the ancient Incas used to do. However, if you prefer a luxury route, you can tour the valley on the many scenic trains. Whatever your decision, both options will take you to the magical Inca citadel.
10. EXPLORE CORICANCHA
Walk along Av. Sol away from the Plaza and you will arrive at the Coricancha complex, also known as the Convent of Santo Domingo. This was the most important temple of the Inca Empire: La Casa del Sol. It is believed that all the walls were once covered with solid gold, while the courtyards and niches featured heavy gold statues. This church is a recent addition, the Inca foundations remain unchanged.
11. GO UP TO ONE OF THE FASCINATING VIEWPOINTS
Another great thing to do in Cusco is to be able to enjoy the breathtaking views of the city. Just a 15-minute walk from the main square are the Mirador de Sant Cristobal, the Plaza Santa de Santa Ana, and the Mirador de San Blas. Here you can find panoramic views of the mountains and the city they surround. These are the closest viewpoints, but there are other incredible points where you can enjoy unimaginable views. Don’t miss it for anything!
12. VISIT SACSAYHUAMAN, PUKAPURA, TAMBO MACHAY AND QENKO
If you are within the many tours in Cusco, you will surely go through some amazing archaeological ruins. You will find many ruins to visit, some closer than others. We highly recommend that you visit Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay.
On the outskirts of the city are four Cusco archaeological sites that you should take the time to visit. These are Sacsaywayhman, PukaPukara, Tambo Mochay, and Qenko. All are of significant importance to the Incas, but they were mostly destroyed by the Spanish conquerors. If you choose to take a city tour, these ruins will be included as part of your tour. The ruins are worth a visit, so take some time to discover them. The fortified complex of Sacsaywayhman is one of the must-see places in Peru.
To get to the well-known complex, you have a 45-minute walk from the city center or much less if you go by bus. According to historians, the place had a religious and military function. The construction of its walls is a great mystery to this day, with stone blocks weighing up to 300 tons each. Being able to visit the place is an incredible experience for the varied and beautiful views that you will be able to observe. One of the best things to do in Cusco, don’t miss it for anything.
13. SAN BLAS NEIGHBORHOOD
The San Blas area in Cusco should be on your list of places to go. This unique place is located on the hill from Plaza de Armas and is a popular tourist hub for locals and newcomers. Known as the artists’ district, the area has a small square frequented by locals and non-locals who want to sell their wares. You will find many vegetarian restaurants, art workshops, souvenir shops, and much more. What stands out the most in Plaza San Blas is the Church. The church is quite simple from the outside. Inside, however, you will see one of Cusco’s main attractions: an intricately designed wooden pulpit Baroque. There are many myths about the creation of this pulpit and there is an audio guide available that will tell you a few. If you are looking for things to do in Cusco, look no further.
14. SAN PEDRO MARKET
Very close to the Plaza de Armas, you can enjoy one of the largest and busiest markets in Cusco. The Mercado de San Pedro is a perfect opportunity to meet the tastes of the locals and marvel at everything they offer. The market is large and offers a variety of things that would entice you to visit. When you first enter, there are a variety of beautiful souvenirs on offer for sale. Walk further down the market and stalls are selling fresh juices of any variety you choose.
Visit the people who sell all kinds of fruits and vegetables and even meat and chicken are available to buy. For an inexpensive meal, try a menu that includes an inexpensive soup, entrée, and drink. Food stalls will be packed with locals having lunch, so look for the most popular ones. Among all the famous places in Peru, this market occupies an important position, so you cannot miss it
15. TEST ITS INCOMPARABLE CUISINE
One of the best things to do in Cusco is to try the famous and renowned Peruvian cuisine. And in the Imperial City, you can take the opportunity to try different traditional dishes. No need to go to fancy international restaurants. You will find Andean flavors throughout the city. There are many places with personal touches and even general dining rooms where you can eat a menu at a very affordable price. For those interested, there are also many Peruvian cooking courses for when you return home and show off your new skills. If you’re worried about your stomach, don’t worry, as Cusco has some of the best restaurants in Peru. Try Cicciolina or Limo for a great combination of Peruvian and modern cuisine. Also, there are many vegetarian restaurants in Cusco for those who are vegetarians.
16. NIGHTLIFE IN CUSCO
Cusco is a city with a very active nightlife. You know, not everything is guided tours and museums. You can enjoy the many bars and clubs in Cusco. With different approaches and for all types of public, the discos and bars in Cusco are an excellent opportunity to relax with friends and drink or dance for a while. If you are wondering if Cusco is safe to travel to, the answer is yes. Even at night, you don’t have to worry as you keep an eye on your belongings. If you were wondering what are fun things to do in Cusco Peru? This is definitely one of them.
17. CUSCO PLANETARY
For the Incas, astronomy played a very important role in everyday life. So much so that it influenced the planting and harvesting of crops, religious ceremonies, and architecture. And all of this can be fully explored at the Cusco Planetarium, where visitors learn about Inca astronomy, in addition to stargazing. The family-owned and operated planetarium is located near Sacsayhuaman. From here you can enjoy breathtaking views of the stars from the top of Cusco. In our Cusco travel tips, we recommend that you visit this fascinating place. Among all the things to do in Cusco, this is one of the best.
18. COOKING WORKSHOPS
After tasting the local food, learn how to prepare it in a traditional Andean cooking workshop. From creating your chocolate with fresh Amazonian cocoa at the Chocomuseo to selecting the right spices for the perfect ceviche. The possibilities are endless. Cooking workshops allow you to experience Andean culture and tradition and develop your knowledge of some of the best recipes from the Andes.
19. LOOK AT THE TWELVE ANGLE STONE
Hidden among the narrow streets of the historic center of the city, is the stone of the twelve angles. This architectural marvel has 12 perfectly crafted angles that fit seamlessly into the Inca wall. It is located in the alley of Hatunrumiyoc. The stone itself is relatively large and forms part of the wall of the Archbishop’s Palace. You will be able to see it by the large crowd that generally surrounds the area. Please note that it is strictly forbidden to touch the walls and the stone itself.
20. DAY TRIP TO THE RAINBOW MOUNTAIN
If you have already explored the city in all its corners, the different day trips are pretty incredible. Rainbow Mountain is one of these incredible hikes that you cannot miss. Rainbow Mountain stands at an elevation of 17,000 feet at sea level. But do not worry about the height, there is also the option of riding a mule or horse. This walk is one of the most popular in the City of Cusco.
WHY VISIT CUSCO?
So, why should you visit the magical city of Cusco? The reasons are endless. But mainly Cusco is a great place to spend a few days to relax or discover all the history that the city has to offer. Besides, it is a mandatory stop for anyone who seeks to know Machu Picchu. But the Inca citadel is not the only thing to see in this corner of the world, there are also numerous archaeological sites and museums in Cusco.
WHAT TO DO IN CUSCO?
Within the tourist map of Cusco, you will find endless activities to take care of while you learn about the local culture, from visits to museums, cathedrals, archaeological ruins, and much more. There are so many things to do in Cusco that you will need a few days to get to know everything it has to offer. Here’s a little glimpse of everything you can do inside the Imperial City.
WHERE TO STAY IN THE IMPERIAL CITY?
There are some wonderful hotels in Cusco Peru that you must stay at or just visit. Many are in Spanish colonial buildings that have been restored to their original form. The Belmond Monasterio, for example, has a beautiful little church that you can visit. The hotel has a wonderful restaurant and patio to enjoy on a sunny day. The Aranwa Boutique hotel in Cusco has an impressive collection of art that is worth visiting. One of the best and most exciting things to do in Cusco, you should not miss it. And how many days should I spend in Cusco? Well, that will depend a lot on your budget, but we always recommend spending at least a few days. Since the first ones you will be acclimatizing to the height and the others you will be enjoying the attractions.
“A JOURNEY OF A THOUSAND MILES BEGINS WITH ONE STEP.”
As you will see, there are a lot of things to do in Cusco, and many of them cost absolutely nothing. So there are no excuses to enjoy this magical city full of history and culture. We hope we have been of help together with Machu Travel Peru. Remember that you can do much more in the beautiful Imperial City. These are just a few examples that are very popular with tourists and newcomers. If you want to know more about the different tours around the city, you can consult with our qualified advisers. Our team of qualified advisers will be happy to help you with everything.