From cultural and artistic places to nature and high mountains. Passing by Andean constellations until landing on delicious local dishes. These 20 things to do in Cusco will ensure you a complete experience in the “Rome of America”. Therefore, together with the Cusco people of Machu Travel Peru, we bring you a small list of unmissable points! You will be able to know its Inca and the colonial period, its nature, and gastronomy. In this form, you will not lose anything of this amazing city.
20 great things to do in Cusco during your next vacation
- Machu Picchu
- San Blas neighborhood
- The Coricancha temple
- The Rainbow Mountain
- Siete Borreguitos street
- The Sacsayhuaman complex
- The Cathedral of Cusco
- Sapantiana aqueduct
- Traditional San Pedro Market
- The Cristo Blanco statue
- The Inti Raymi Festivity
- The viewpoint of San Cristobal
- The Sacred Valley of the Incas
- The twelve angled stone
- The Qosqo Center of Native Art
- The Cusco planetarium
- The Humantay Lake
- The Inca museum
- The Picanterias
- Nightlife in Cusco
1. Machu Picchu
One of the new seven wonders of the world. The icing on the cake in any South American tour package. We are talking about Machu Picchu. Being able to visit the amazing Inca Citadel is a unique experience in life. The conquerors Spanish never could find it, and the Inca citadel remained intact to this day. To get there, you can walk the pilgrimage route that the ancient Incas used to do, called Inca Trail. Moreover, if you prefer commodity, you can take a tour on the many scenic trains to Machu Picchu. Whatever your decision, both options will take you to enjoy the magical Inca citadel.
2. San Blas neighborhood
This unique place is located on a hill behind Cusco Cathedral. It is a popular tourist hub for locals and newcomers, where one can relax, eat and have fresh beer. Known as the local artists’ neighborhood, the area has a small square surrounded by restaurants and bars. Consequently, non-locals frequent it to know the local life of Cusco inhabitants. There, you will find many vegetarian restaurants, art workshops, souvenir shops, bars, and much more. Without mentioning its viewpoint, which offers amazing views of the Historic Center of Cusco.
Of course, what stands out the most in Plaza San Blas is the Church. It is quite simple from the outside. But inside, you will see one of Cusco’s main attractions: an intricately designed wooden pulpit, Baroque. There are many myths about its creation, and there is an audio guide available that will tell you a few of them. If you are looking for unmissable points in Cusco, San Blas is an obligatory stop, undoubtedly!
3. The Coricancha temple
From the Plaza, walk along Av. Sol in a north-to-south direction and you will arrive at the Coricancha complex. It is 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 a fine sheet of solid gold. While the courtyards and niches featured heavy gold statues. When the Spaniards arrived in Cusco in 1533, the gold that covered the walls of the temple amazed them. Of course, they dismantled it and used its stones to build the current Santo Domingo convent (over its foundation) and the city’s Cathedral. Happily, nowadays, you will find the Inca foundations remain unchanged. Even, some inca enclosures are 90% complete inside it. Without mentioning the Inca altar in honor of the Sun deity. Amazing!
4. The Rainbow Mountain
If you knew that China has the only rainbow mountain in the world, you are mistaken, Cusco Peru has its own one, too! Due to climate change and global warming, the snow that covered this mountain melted, discovering amazing colorful slopes in front of Pitumarca town. Precisely, the rainbow mountain is a mineralized mountain of different tones, similar to a zebra, that goes from orange to green color, over 2500 meters above sea level, in the district of Pitumarca, Canchis province, department of Cusco (Yes, the department which contains Machu Picchu, too)
At 100 km southeast of Cusco. To go there, you need to take bus transportation from Cusco to Pitumarca (03 hours of trip), once there begin to walk (trekking) for around 3 hours, and finally, get to the amazing rainbow mountain. We recommend you do this tour through a travel agency, you will not regret it!
5. Siete Borreguitos Street
Undoubtedly, this quaint alley is the most instagrammable street in Cusco. It is located 5 blocks north of Cusco main square and is super walkable. Adorable flower pots hung on over white walls decorate the street on each side. This charming view is completed by well-lacquered balconies and gates. The street descends from the end of Pumacurco Street to the final of Choquechaca Street (Sapantiana aqueduct), connecting them. Therefore, a day trip from Cusco should include a visit to this charming alley.
History says that, in colonial times, many women went down from Pumacurco Street to the Sapantiana aqueduct (Choquechaca stream) to wash rags and baskets, accompanied by their sheep, which they would go to graze later. Over time, the people of Cusco identified this alley as “Borreguitos” (lambs), and years later they renamed it “Siete Borreguitos” (seven lambs) because of the proximity of the street to other roads with the nickname “Seven”. Not to mention, the great hotels in Cusco, like Marriott, Hilton, Monasterio, or Nazarena`s Palace that are close to it. This street should be a mandatory stop in your Cusco Journey.
6. The Sacsayhuaman complex
On the outskirts of the city are four archaeological sites of Cusco that you should take the time to visit. These are Sacsayhuaman, PukaPukara, Tambo Machay, and Qenko. Of course, all of them gathered in only one Archaeological park called Sacsayhuaman. Each one was of significant importance to the Incas until the Spanish arrived. The Europeans destroyed these Inca sites to take their stones to build the Catholic churches in the new city of Cusco. If you choose to take the popular “City Tour”, these ruins will always be included as part of the itinerary. Definitely, these ruins are worth an exclusive visit, so take some time to discover them.
To get to the well-known complex, you have a 45-minute walk from the city center heading north, taking Suecia Street, then continuing Don Bosco Street until the end of the road. Or, much less time if you go by car.
Firstly, according to historians, Sacsayhuaman had a religious and military function, serving as a fortress, a place of surveillance, a barracks, and a center of worship for the god Lightning (Illapa). The construction process of its giant 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.
Indeed, this was an Inca center of worship to the Sun and Pacha (Earth) gods. Qenqo means labyrinth in the Quechua language. And its name is due to the large carved stone with small grooves in the form of a labyrinth. This is located in the center of the place. In addition to a large table for preparing animal sacrifices for the gods.
c. Puka Pukara
Specifically, it was an Inca military headquarters with large walls, terraces, and big stairs among others. Puka means red in the Quechua language and was due to the color red reflected by its stones in the sunsets during the Dry season. The building was used as a surveillance center for threats emerging from north of Cusco like the Chankas (a rebellious town in the Abancay area).
d. Tambo Machay
Its name means place of rest, and this was its function. The Inca sovereign passed a large time there with his entourage, haunting or taking walks. The place is the farthest from the same Sacsayhuaman. It has complicated systems of small aqueducts that end in two small waterfalls of pure water. Therefore, it could also serve as a worship center for water.
7. The Cathedral of Cusco
The main church of Cusco took more than 100 years to be completed (from 1559 to 1669). Spanish built it over an ancient Incas temple belonging to Wiracocha Inca, to impose the Catholic religion over their pagan one. With a Renaissance style inside, 14 giant pillars, 24 vaults, and a Baroque facade, the Cathedral represents a real palace for the Catholic religion in southern Peru. And the main art museum of an artistic trend that achieved worldwide fame between the 16th and 17th centuries, the “Cusco school” (Escuela cusqueña)
The “Cuzco School” artistic trend was a conjunction of mannerism style, imitation of the high European Renaissance, and tenebrism, the initial phase of Western baroque over local paintings with Catholic themes. In this form, Jesuit, and Dominican friars among others taught European painting techniques to the Inca descendants, in a way of instilling in them the Christian faith. However, they painted virgins, saints, and angels with some Andean traits, such as virgins with Andean hill forms, brown saints, and inter alia. In this way, the “Cusco school” was born.
a. El Triunfo and La Sagrada Familia
Secondly, we have to mention the Triunfo (Triumph), a church situated on the left side of the Cathedral. History says that the Triunfo is situated inside old churches in Cusco list, if not the oldest. In 1536, after the siege of the Incas against the Spaniards, the Europeans took refuge in this church, asking the Blessed Virgin for help and witnessing her appearance in the church, to later win the battle against the Incas. In this form, Triunfo Church was used as a Cathedral until the construction of the new one in 1669.
Another important mention is the La Sagrada Familia (The Sacred Family) chapel. Located on the right side of the Cathedral, it hosts Catholic weddings and minor masses. But, rest assured, both attractions are included in the Cathedral of Cusco tour, the entrances cost 40.00 Soles ($11 per person)
8. Sapantiana aqueduct
Specifically, if you want to take a perfect photo of your Cusco journey, Sapantiana Aqueduct is your place. This aqueduct was built in 1565 (Peruvian colonial period). Also, it was promoted by the Jesuit order with the council of Cusco to provide water to the city downtown, where the wealthy Spanish class lived. 4 levels of arches formed this colonial wall. Which contain carved stones brought from the Sapantiana quarry. Until 1950, the water still flowed by the canal above. However, today, you can still see a slight flow of water running down over its stone steps. This quaint site is located at the end of Choquechaca Street, 2 blocks from the main square.
9. Traditional San Pedro Market
If you walk from Plaza de Armas heading to the southwest, you can enjoy one of the most principal and busy markets in Cusco, the San Pedro market. This place is a carnival for the senses, and you will see everything from tourist souvenirs. They will be going through stalls selling meat, fruit, vegetables, rose shops, exotic food like toads, to medicinal herbs. Also, the Mercado de San Pedro is a perfect opportunity to meet the tastes of the locals and marvel at everything they offer. When you first enter, there are a variety of beautiful souvenirs on offer for sale. Walk further down the market, and you’ll find stalls selling fresh juices of any variety you choose.
Following, you’ll see the people who sell all kinds of fruits and vegetables and even meat and chicken. For an inexpensive meal, you can try a menu that includes an inexpensive soup, entrée, and drink. These 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.
10. The Cristo Blanco statue
If Rio de Janeiro in Brazil has its Christ the Redeemer statue, Cusco has its own. The Cristo Blanco or white Christ of open arms is a giant statue of 8 meters large. Also, it is covered with marble and plaster. It was a gift from the Palestinian Arab community to the city in 1945, due to its hospitality during the second world war. It is located in the surroundings of Cusco (the North part) and you can get amazing views of the City from there. Also, to get there, you can hire a taxi from Apps. The cost of service is around 80 Soles ($22) including 30 minutes of wait at the place to get the best photos.
11. The Inti Raymi Festivity
Even more, if you want to see a staging throughout all of Cusco City, outdoors, with more than 300 local dancers and actors, dressed in Inca clothes, fabrics, and jewels, you will have to see the Inti Raymi. A group of Cusco scholars recovered this Inca festivity in 1944. The festivity was the most important for the Incas and was dedicated to the Sun god. In this form, each June 24, in the Winter Solstice, when the sun is located farthest to the earth, the Incas called it through dances, music, and even human sacrifices, to feel its warmth again.
Of course, three important Inca places in Cusco (that are still standing) host the Inti Raymi: The Qoricancha or Sun Temple (Current Santo Domingo church), the Main Square, and the Sacsayhuaman fortress. The two first places are free to enter, however, the last place has a cost ticket of around $100, and the same municipality sells these. Therefore, if you want to appreciate this great show, we suggest you contact a local travel agency. They will bring you the entrance in advance because these usually are sold out.
12. The viewpoint of San Cristobal
Another great thing to do in Cusco is to be able to enjoy the breathtaking views of the city, among them, San Cristobal’s viewpoint is the most remarkable. You’ll find it walking by 15 minutes from the main square, taking the “Suecia” street and continuing the “Don Bosco” street. This is a little plaza located on one side of San Cristobal Catholic Church, where you’ll find people watching the great beauty of Cusco city, besides stone benches and 11 giant Incas niches located behind the complex. These belonged to an ancient Inca Palace, the Qolqampata. According to the imperial bloodline, many scholars suggest that Qolqampata was the palace of the first Inca (called Manco Capac). Therefore, later, the palace was used as a royal cemetery for the Inca nobility.
a. San Cristobal church
The San Cristobal church is a modest building that does not have the beauty and decoration of its peers in the city. Also, a high altar decorated with embossed silver, a gigantic sculpture of San Cristobal, and an Ushnu Inca (a place where the Incas made payments to mother earth) is the most highlighted points in it. Its architect was a relative of the last Incas Huascar and Atahualpa and the son of Huyana Capac Inca, Paullo Inca Yupanqui. Who, once converted to Christianism, decided to adopt the name of its Spanish godfather, Cristobal Vaca de Castro, beginning the San Cristobal church construction.
Nowadays, its bell tower of the XVII century offers another great view of the city besides the viewpoint. The entrances cost $3 per person and are worth it.
13. The Sacred Valley of the Incas
If you are coming from Lima to Cusco for the first time, the Sacred Valley should be an inevitable point in your vacations. This zone is located outside the city, 73 kilometers of distance. The Incas called it Sacred because they found fertile lands on the river banks. In addition to an excellent warm climate and a crystal clear river like El Vilcanota. Therefore, 5 important Incas attractions form the Sacred Valley zone:
Firstly Pisac was an ancient Inca settlement with Andean terraces, temples, plazas, fortresses, watchtowers, and even a cemetery. All of them are over a hill called Pisac (the name of a native bird that abounds in the place) Pisac is located at the beginning of the Valley, over the south part, at 33 km from Cusco. Over its slopes, a little town with a quaint handicraft market is located today. Both, the handicraft market of Pisac and the archaeological park should be obligatory stops on your Sacred Valley tour.
In contrast, Ollantaytambo is located on the opposite side of Pisac, in the north zone of the valley, 90 km from Cusco. It was the last refuge of the Incas in the Andes, during their escape from the Spanish invaders heading Jungle deep. The fortress received the name of its regent, the famous General Ollanta (protagonist of the colonial theatrical play of love, and betrayal called Ollantay). Nowadays, the local town is located on the feet of the Ollantaytambo fortress and maintains its Incas buildings and squares, without changes or modification, being considered a living Inca village. Therefore, if you travel to Ollantaytambo, you will travel back in time, undoubtedly.
The local town of Chinchero is located over an alternative route to get to Sacred Valley, on the west side of it. 28 km from Cusco. Chinchero stands out more for being a colonial town than for an Inca one. Its colonial church is a synonym of a picture museum with invaluable pieces of art belongings of “Cusco school”. In its main square, each Sunday, people of surrounding towns come to interchange their products like potatoes, corn, and even animals, in a practice that dates back to the Inca period, called the barter. Without mentioning its textile demonstration centers where visitors can see the process to extract wool from the llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas, its dyeing process, and the production of clothes. With the possibility of buy of these products!
The salt mines of Maras are more than 3000 salt wells located over the slopes of Qaqawiñay mountain, 50 km from Cusco, near Chinchero. These mines have producing salt since the Inca times. And today, the local people of the close town of Maras work them. Walking between the Maras welles and enjoying their whiteness is a unique experience in Scared Valley. Also, we recommend you visit Cusco and include this great place in your itinerary. Just in case, recognized Peruvian chefs recommend the salt of Maras to season the beef for perfect grills, and you can buy them, there.
If you were wondering, how the Incas were able to obtain a high level of agricultural knowledge to cultivate in the wildlands of the Andes, Moray can be the answer. Moray (38 km northwest of Cusco) is a series of circles that go into the earth, a spectacle for the view! Each circle represented a level of altitude in the Andes, to scale. Consequently, they planted one type of corn and potato in each circle, from the outermost to the innermost. To see the type of planting and product they obtained, choosing only the best beans. Therefore, Moray is considered an Inca Agricultural Research Center. Another inevitable point inside your list of interesting points to visit in Cusco.
14. The twelve angled stone
Hidden among the narrow streets of the city’s historic center is the stone of the twelve angles. This sculptural marvel has 12 perfectly carved angles that fit seamlessly into the Inca wall of Hatunrumioc Street and is located one block from the southeast of Main Square. The stone itself is relatively large and forms part of the wall of the current Archbishop’s Palace. Also, you will be able to see an actor dressed as an Inca sovereign located on the side of the stone and a large crowd that, generally, surrounds the area, trying to take a photo with him and the popular stone. Please note, touch the walls and the stone is strictly forbidden for a preservation issue.
15. The Qosqo Center of Native Art
In 1924, a local cultural group wanted to recall the importance of the Cusco in the Inca’s times, rescuing native dances, typical costumes, traditions, and festivals in Cusco from oblivion. The oldest cultural group in Peru had born, the Qosqo Center of Native Art.
Nowadays, they have a continuous work of research and rescue of dances, and typical costumes among others that the Incas left to towns surrounding the city and in the Andes highlands. The cultural group offers a theatrical proposal of 20 native dances of Cusco and the Andes every night. From 7 pm, the spectacle begins and lasts 1 hour and 30 minutes in its own theater, and the visitor will have the possibility of appreciating the music, dance, and costumes of the dancers. The Cusco General Tourism Ticket includes the entrance to Qosqo Center Native Art. Which, by the way, costs $37, is worth 10 days and you can buy it at the offices of the Municipality of Cusco, located at Avenida el Sol Nº 103.
16. The Cusco planetarium
Undeniably, for the Incas, astronomy played a very important role in their 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 will learn about Inca astronomy, in addition to stargazing and the constellations. The family-owned and operated planetarium is located on the main surrounding highway of Cusco, called “Circunvalación”. From here, you can enjoy breathtaking views of the stars from the top of Cusco always with the accompaniment of an expert who will assist you to identify constellations and reveal their meaning. 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.
17. The Humantay lake
At 4200 m.a.s.l. The Humantay Lake is another nature jewelry that climate change and global warming unveiled to the world. In the ’80s the lagoon was totally frozen but little by little, the ice cap melted until obtaining today’s lagoon. Crystal clear water, which reflects the natural beauty of the snow from which it was born. It is located over the slopes of Humantay, a small snow-capped mountain at the foot of the famous snow-capped Salkantay.
This lagoon is close to the first camp zone of Soraypampa (the beginnings of the Salkantay trek) In the district of Mollepata, Anta province, department of Cusco. Precisely at 122 km from the ancient Incas capital. To get there, you’ll have to take transportation from Cusco to Mollepata (03 hours), after that, take transportation again to Soraypampa (45 min), and finally, begin the trekking to Humantay (01 hour). Again, we recommend you enjoy this experience through a travel agency.
18. The Inca museum
This museum represents a complete, illustrative, and exact of all periods of Cusco, from the Stone Age until these days. It is almost a complete Cusco tourist map to see before beginning your activities in the ancient Incas capital. The National University of Cusco, called San Antonio Abad del Cusco, manages it. This university is the fourth oldest in Peru (with more than 300 years of existence) and the fifth in all of America. Undoubtedly, a museum with a great backrest.
The colonial home of a Spanish admiral hosts the museum and its huge collection of artifacts and ceramics. 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 weaved textiles. Fortunately, there are English and Spanish languages informative captions. But it is also advisable to hire a guide for a small fee, as it makes visiting the huge museum easier. If you buy a Touristic Ticket of Cusco, the entrance to one of the best museums in Cusco is completely included!
19. The Picanterias
Peruvian cuisine is represented in Cusco by the Picanterias. These Picanterias (places where spicy food is served) are formed by one big local with long tables and benches, where totally unknown people could share a single table while enjoying different delighting local dishes like the Chiriuchu (Cold dish based on pieces of chicken, beef, and pork. All of them boiled and accompanied by a fried corn cake, toasted corn, and edible seaweed), Cuy al Horno (Guinea pig roasted accompanied by boiled potatoes) or a Capchi de Zetas (Stew of local mushrooms called Zetas). All of them are accompanied by the Chicha (a specie of local beer on a base of fermented corn) and the famous Picante (Stew of Andean legumes mixed with boiled potatoes pieces and red chili)
Even more, the kitchen is a wood-burning stove in the same dining room, located at the depth of the premises. If you’re worried about your stomach, don’t worry, as Cusco municipality does sanitary condition supervision, regularly.
Moreover, a separate note deserves the Chocomuseo (Chocolate museum), the most important Chocolate factory in Cusco, where you will taste the cacao beans cultivated in the Jungle areas of Cusco and recognized as one of the most delights around the world. We encourage you to try it.
20. Nightlife in Cusco
If Las Vegas is the city that never sleeps. Cusco, a tourist city too, is its equivalent in Peru. The city has a very active nightlife. If you stay in Cusco, you know, not everything is guided tours and museums. You can enjoy the many bars and clubs in Cusco. With different thematics. In this form, you can find an English bar (The Cross Keys) located on Triunfo Street, on the southeast side of the main square. The Paddys Pub (Irish bar) is situated at the beginning of Triunfo Street, as the most representatives. Regarding discos, you will find many and for all types of public, discos are an excellent opportunity to relax with friends and drink or dance for a while, and maybe, found love.
By the way, 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. Without mentioning that there are many police officers on every corner of the Historic Center of Cusco. Also, if you were wondering, what are fun things to do in the Imperial City? Well, this is definitely one of them.
“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 for enjoying 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.