Cusco is one of the most popular tourist destinations in South America, thanks to its rich history, culture and unparalleled natural beauty. Home to the Inca empire and the ruins of Machu Picchu, Cusco has so many options to explore and enjoy, that it will be difficult to choose. That is why in this article I will tell you what to see and do in Cusco.
With sites like the Inca Trail or the Sacred Valley, where you can learn about the Inca culture, their buildings and customs, or the beautiful historic center of the city, a place declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Cusco will leave you speechless. Also, take the opportunity to taste the delicious Peruvian food, mostly prepared with food and spices from the region. Wear comfortable shoes, because here we go.
1. Visit the incomparable ruins of Machu Picchu
Without a doubt, the first and most important activity to do on any trip to Cusco. It is impossible to be here and not visit the ruins of Machu Picchu. This Inca citadel is one of the most impressive archaeological sites you will ever see. Considered one of the seven wonders of the world, it is an impressive place full of history and culture, where you will find a gateway to the past of pre-Columbian America.
Some of the must-see places on your visit to Machu Picchu are:
- The Temple of the Sun: one of the most important temples in Machu Picchu and a great example of Inca architecture. It was built to worship the sun and has an impressive view of the surrounding mountains.
- The Intihuatana: mystical monument that was used by the Incas to measure the movement of the sun and the seasons of the year. It also offers an impressive view of the Sacred Valley.
- The Inca Bridge: this bridge is one of the most popular attractions of Machu Picchu. It was built by the Incas and is located on a cliff 30 meters high.
- The Manuel Chavez Ballon Site Museum: located near the entrance of Machu Picchu, it offers detailed information about the history and culture of the region.
- The handicrafts market: If you want to take home a souvenir of Machu Picchu, the handicrafts market is the ideal place to buy textiles, ceramics and other souvenirs.
It is important to keep in mind the time of year, as the high tourist season in Peru is from June to August, and during these months, the weather can be unpredictable. Also, in February the ruins are closed.
Book in advance, as they are easily sold out, given the high demand for this archaeological complex. In addition, there is a daily limit of visitors.
2. Explore one of the most wonderful places in Cusco: the Sacred Valley
Enjoy a walk through this amazing place. The Sacred Valley is absolutely magical, home to numerous archaeological sites, indigenous villages and spectacular landscapes. Nestled among the Andean mountains, the Sacred Valley stretches along the Urubamba River, which flows from the heights of the Andes Mountains to the Amazon River.
The natural beauty of the landscape is simply breathtaking, with its mix of high mountains, green valleys and crystal clear rivers, you will be left speechless. In addition, the region has a pleasant climate all year round, with temperatures ranging from 15 to 25 degrees Celsius.
Among the most outstanding archaeological sites in the Sacred Valley is the Pisac complex, which includes an impressive set of agricultural terraces and ceremonial buildings built by the Incas. You can also visit the Ollantaytambo fortress, a complex of stone structures and terraces that served as an administrative center during the Empire.
I recommend visiting the Sacred Valley on a day trip from Cusco, so you can learn even more about the incredible Inca culture from a specialized local guide.
3. Walk through Cusco's Historical Center
Cusco is a city to be explored on foot. Its streets boast the charm of other times, and the warmth of its people will invite you to explore the city from one end to the other. Everything here seems ancestral. Undoubtedly, one of the best areas for walking is the historic center of Cusco. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, it has numerous colonial buildings, squares and monuments that tell the history of the city.
One of the must-see sites is Qorikancha, the main temple of the Inca Empire. After the Spanish conquest, it was converted into a church. Today, it is a museum where you can see the Inca ruins along with many colonial elements. Then you can stop by the San Pedro Market to experience the daily life of the locals, taste some of the local food and buy souvenirs.
There is no better way to visit the city than on a guided tour of Cusco. You will get to know all the most emblematic corners of the Peruvian capital and its main highlights.
One of the most picturesque areas of Cusco's historic center is the neighborhood of San Blas, with its cobblestone streets and pre-Columbian buildings.
4. Taste the delicious Peruvian gastronomy
Cusco has a unique and tasty gastronomy that combines indigenous, Spanish and African influences. Don't miss out on trying local dishes such as: guinea pig, anticuchos, ceviche, lomo saltado, aji de gallina or the incredible huancaína potatoes, among many others. One way to get closer to Cusco's food is to visit its markets, such as San Pedro, where you can taste some delicacies.
Although if you want to have a more private experience, I recommend taking a Peruvian cooking class. There you can learn in detail how to prepare the most delicious local dishes. There are many cooking schools in Cusco that offer classes to learn how to cook traditional Peruvian dishes, and the good thing is that afterwards, upon your return, you will be able to prepare them at home.
5. Hike the Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is one of the most famous trekking routes in the world, so if you are visiting Cusco, you can't miss it. You will enjoy breathtaking views of the mountains, forests and Inca ruins. Also known as the Inca Trail or Qhapaq Ñan, it is a historic route located in the Peruvian Andes that connects the city of Cusco with the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu.
The Inca Trail hike can take between 4 and 5 days, so it is important to bring adequate equipment for the weather and the duration of the trip. I recommend you pack comfortable clothes, appropriate walking shoes, a sleeping bag, enough food and drinks, sunscreen and insect repellent. Of course, the only way to do this trek is with the assistance of an expert guide.
This is one of the best ways to get in touch with the history of the region and especially with the Inca culture. If you want to do this trek remember to book in advance, as the number of people who can walk the Inca Trail is limited, and the demand is very high.
You should keep in mind that Cusco is at a high altitude, so it is advisable that you get used to it first, before undertaking the Inca Trail trek.
6. Visit the Plaza de Armas
Walk through the heart of Cusco: the Plaza de Armas. This is one of the most emblematic places in the city, which is definitely worth a visit if you are passing through the capital of Peru. This beautiful square is surrounded by impressive colonial buildings and has a statue of Pachacutec in the center. You will notice right away that it is one of the most touristic areas of the city, due to the large number of people that frequent it at all hours.
From the square you can see some of the main tourist attractions of the city, such as the Cathedral of Cusco and the Temple of the Sun, so it may be a good idea to take it as a base to tour the highlights that are nearby. Strolling around the Plaza de Armas is a great way to soak up the atmosphere of the city and soak up its history and culture. In addition, there are many restaurants and cafes nearby where you can enjoy a drink or a coffee before walking on.
7. Marvel at the views of Sacsayhuamán
Sacsayhuaman is an impressive Inca fortress located in the hills surrounding the city of Cusco. With its huge carved stones and walls up to 9 meters high, it is a masterpiece of Inca engineering. Sacsayhuaman attracts visitors from all over the world. This incredible architectural marvel was built by the Incas using huge blocks of stone weighing several tons each, and is believed to have served both military and religious purposes.
Visiting Sacsayhuaman is a truly unique experience not to be missed, as it offers a glimpse into the rich history and culture of the Incas. The site is located on a hill overlooking Cusco, allowing you to enjoy a breathtaking panorama of the city and surrounding mountains.
While you can explore on your own and walk along the stone paths between the ancient structures, it is advisable to take a guided tour to learn more about its history.
8. Visit the Inkariy Museum
If you are interested in Inca culture, the Inkariy Museum is one of the best museums in Cusco to learn all about it. It houses an impressive collection of Inca and pre-Inca artifacts, from textiles and pottery to tools and weapons of war. The museum is housed in a 16th century Spanish colonial building, which is itself a work of architectural art.
The exhibits are organized chronologically and offer a detailed insight into the life and beliefs of the Incas. One of the most notable exhibits is the collection of Inca mummies, which were discovered in the Andean region and are in excellent condition. It is undoubtedly one of the top 10 museums in Cusco.
9. Visit Cerro Colorado Vinicunca (Rainbow Mountain)
The Cerro Colorado Vinicunca, also known as the Seven Colored Mountain or Rainbow Mountain, is an impressive geological formation located in the Cusco region. You will see the incredible combination of vibrant colors, product of the presence of different minerals in the rocks, such as iron, copper and sulfur. A perfect place for photography lovers.
The hill is located at an altitude of approximately 5,200 meters above sea level. To get to the mountain, you will have to hike approximately 6 kilometers from the town of Pitumarca. The hike can be quite difficult due to the altitude and steepness, so I recommend only if you are used to this type of exercise.
The Seven Colors Mountain is a popular tourist destination in Peru and attracts thousands of visitors each year. Many tours to the mountain also include other nearby attractions, such as the Humantay Lagoon, an amazing turquoise water mirror located at the foot of the mountain.
10. Tour Cusco aboard a tour bus
Definitely one of the best ways to tour Cusco and locate the best areas. The Cusco tourist bus will take you to the main attractions of this beautiful Peruvian city. It is worth mentioning that this bus does not offer Hop on-Hop off mode.
This is an unbeatable option, since it also has a guide, so you can learn about the history and past of each place. You will walk through the historic center, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, you will contemplate important archaeological sites such as Sacsayhuaman, Puca Pucara and Qenqo, you will even have the opportunity to visit the viewpoint of the White Christ.
11. Take an adventure tour on an all-terrain quad
If you are an adventure lover and you can't live without your share of adrenaline, then let me tell you that this excursion is for you. Take a tour aboard an off-road quad through the most amazing landscapes of Cusco you will love it.
You will visit the Sacred Valley and the Maras Salineras in a different way. From the hand of your expert guide you will learn the secrets of these endearing places of the Inca civilization.
This quad tour in Cusco is the best thing you can do if you are visiting the city, there is no doubt about it.