11 Best Activities in Cusco

Visiting Cusco is always an excellent idea, join me on this tour of all that this jewel of Peru has to offer.

Nicolas Reffray

Nicolas Reffray

8 min read

11 Best Activities in Cusco

Vista de Cuzco |©Julia Volk

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 you will be spoiled for choice.

In this article I will tell you what to see and do in Cusco. With sites like the Inca Trail, the Sacred Valley or the beautiful historic center of the city declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Cusco will leave you speechless. Wear comfortable shoes, because here we go.

1. Visit the incomparable ruins of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu with a high view|©Babak Fakhamzadeh
Machu Picchu with a high view|©Babak Fakhamzadeh

It is impossible to be in Peru and not visit the ruins of Machu Picchu. This Inca citadel considered one of the seven wonders of the world, 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 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: is one of the most popular attractions of Machu Picchu 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.

It is important to keep in mind the time of year when booking tickets for Machu Picchu, as the high season 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 sell out easily and there is a daily limit of visitors.

Reserve tickets for Machu Picchu

2. Visit Cerro Colorado Vinicunca (Rainbow Mountain)

The Rainbow Mountains|©Piotr Gaborek
The Rainbow Mountains|©Piotr Gaborek

Cerro Colorado Vinicunca, also known as the Seven Colors Mountain or Rainbow Mountain, is an impressive geological formation located in the Cusco region.

When you book an excursion to Rainbow Mountain from Cusco you will see the incredible combination of vibrant colors due to the presence of different minerals in the rocks, such as iron, copper and sulfur. It is a perfect place for photography lovers.

The mountain 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 the slope, so I recommend you only if you are used to this type of exercise.

Book a tour to Rainbow Mountain from Cuzco

3. Hike the Inca Trail

INCA TRAIL|©Ivan & Paloma
INCA TRAIL|©Ivan & Paloma

The Inca Trail is one of the most famous trekking routes in the world. It offers breathtaking views of mountains, forests and Inca ruins, being 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 last 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 to bring comfortable clothes, suitable walking shoes, a sleeping bag, enough food and drinks, sunscreen and insect repellent.

The only way to do this trek is with the assistance of an expert guide and after reserving a place for the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Remember to book in advance, as the number of people is limited and demand is very high, and Cusco is at a high altitude, so it is advisable to get used to it first, before embarking on the Inca Trail trek.

Reserve a place for the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

4. Walk through the Historic Center of Cusco

Historic Center of Cusco|©Mario Cuitiño
Historic Center of Cusco|©Mario Cuitiño

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. Undoubtedly, one of the best areas for walking is the historic center , declared a World Heritage Site, with numerous colonial buildings and squares.

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. Nowadays, it is a museum where you can see the Inca ruins along with a lot of colonial elements.

Then you can stop by the San Pedro Market to experience the daily life of the Cusqueños, taste some local food and buy souvenirs, as well as the San Blas neighborhood. But 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.

Book a guided tour of Cusco

5. Visit the Plaza de Armas

Main Square - Cusco|©aykut gebes
Main Square - Cusco|©aykut gebes

This is one of the most emblematic places in the city. 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, the Cathedral of Cusco and the Temple of the Sun, so it may be a good idea to take it as a base to visit the highlights that are nearby. I recommend booking tickets for the Cusco Cathedral if you want to go so you can see it from the inside.

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 continuing walking.

Book tickets for the Cuzco Cathedral

6. Explore the Sacred Valley

Sacred Valley|©Karem Ortiz
Sacred Valley|©Karem Ortiz

The Sacred Valley is absolutely magical, home to numerous archaeological sites, indigenous villages and spectacular scenery.

With its mix of high mountains, green valleys and crystal clear rivers, booking a tour of the Sacred Valley Moray will leave you speechless. In addition, the region boasts a pleasant climate all year round, with temperatures ranging from 15 to 25 degrees Celsius. I recommend:

  • Take a day trip from Cusco with a specialized local guide to learn even more about the incredible Inca culture.
  • Visit the complex of Pisac, which includes an impressive set of agricultural terraces and ceremonial buildings built by the Incas.
  • Visit the Ollantaytambo fortress, a complex of stone structures and terraces that served as an administrative center during the Empire.

Book a quad tour in the Sacred Valley Moray

7. Taste the delicious Peruvian gastronomy

Peruvian Ceviche|© Laurentiu Morariu
Peruvian Ceviche|© Laurentiu Morariu

Cusco has a unique and tasty gastronomy that combines indigenous, Spanish and African influences. Do not miss its 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 a taste of Cusco's food is to visit its markets, such as San Pedro. Although if you want to have a more private experience, I recommend taking a Peruvian cooking class.

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.

8. Tour Cusco aboard a tourist bus

Red open bus on the street|©Andrew Reynolds
Red open bus on the street|©Andrew Reynolds

This is one of the best ways to tour Cusco and locate the best areas. The Cusco tourist bus will take you through the main attractions of this beautiful Peruvian city, although it does not offer Hop on-Hop off mode. However, it has a guide so you can learn about the history and past of each place.

When you book the Cusco tourist bus you will walk through the historic center declared World Heritage Site by Unesco, you will see important archaeological sites such as Sacsayhuaman, Puca Pucara and Qenqo and even have the opportunity to visit the viewpoint of the White Christ.

Book the Cuzco tourist bus

9. Marvel at the views of Sacsayhuaman

Sacsayhuaman|© Ruben Hanssen
Sacsayhuaman|© Ruben Hanssen

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 that was built using huge blocks of stone weighing several tons each.

It is believed to have served both military and religious purposes. 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.

10. Visit the Inkariy Museum

Inkariy Museum|©MysteryPlanet.com.ar
Inkariy Museum|©MysteryPlanet.com.ar

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 ceramics to tools and weapons of war. The museum is housed in a 16th century Spanish colonial building, 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 10 best museums in Cusco.

11. Take an adventure tour in an all-terrain ATV

all terrain quad|© Devon Janse van Rensburg
all terrain quad|© Devon Janse van Rensburg

If you are an adventure lover and can not live without your share of adrenaline, then let me tell you that you should book a quad tour near Cuzco.

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 one of the best things you can do if you are visiting the city, there is no doubt about it.

Book a quad tour near Cusco