What do you think of when you hear the city name Cusco? Machu Picchu, alpacas, textiles? Cusco is a place that celebrates culture beyond all others we’ve seen so far. History, scenery, colours, music, plus all the above… you name it, Cusco & it’s surrounding areas have it!
Here’s the things to do in Cusco!
What to do in Cusco!? Our top 22:
1. Take a free walking tour
We always find this a great way to start our stay in a new city. The tours give you general historical knowledge, helping you to appreciate things more as you see them, guidance on navigating around the city & useful info about where to visit / what to see. Cost: donation.
2. Explore Plaza de Armas
There are quite a few of these in Cusco, the main one being Plaza de Armas which holds the water fountain of Pachacuti, the ninth ruler of the Inca Empire. Each square is different, that’s the unique point, it’s good to just wander & explore them. Cost: free
3. Visit the Inca Museum
Definitely a worthwhile visit, the museum is small so it will only take you an hour or 2. It holds interesting artifacts from the Inca’s history & gives you a sense of important traditions. There is usually a textile worker weaving in the square too, this is always great to see… it looks so hard! Cost: S/10 (cash only)
4. Free museums – Quechua museum & master Maximo Laura museum
Who doesn’t love a free place! Both of these museums are, each will only take around 30 minutes.
The Quechua museum – located near the Temple of the Sun; we wouldn’t class it as a true museum as it sells the majority of its items, which by the way are very nice & you can rely on them to be traditionally made. It also has displays that bring indigenous living to life!
Maximo Laura museum – this place is pretty awe inspiring. Maximo Laura now deemed as a living national treasure is one of, if not the best textile artist in the world. Quite literally bringing textiles and art into one, this museum of his collection is a place you have to see.
5. Save money with a Boleto turístico ticket
There is so much to see in and around Cusco, you’d end up paying quite a lot if you did everything individually… there is a solution! The official tourist information ofici (Av. El Sol 103) sells a ticket named Boleto Turístico – it gives you access to 16 activities for a set price, ranging from exploring ruines in Cusco and the Sacred Valley to watching a theatre show, working out much cheaper! Cost: S/130
6. Go textile shopping
You will find so many textile shops wandering around Cusco, catering to all budgets – those wanting to splash the cash and those just wanting a little something. From luxury stores, to textile markets and primark style shops, Cusco has it. Make sure you spend time wandering around these shops, some will of course claim to be 100% alpaca, from what we learnt here are our tips for spotting the real deal vs a fake:
– Natural colours: the traditional textiles are only dyed with organic dyes that the Incas took from plants (green, grey, yellow, orange, red, brown). Bright colours are artificial, most probably dying a mix of sheep and synthetic fibres
– Hair everywhere: the natural alpaca fabric will contain some hairs coming off the threads. If the fabric is really smooth and flat, you are looking at a synthetic fabric
7. Embrace the business district
We stumbled upon this part of town by chance after going to the post office… and we loved it! A completely different vibe compared to the main square, not many tourists are here at all. Hustling & bustling with locals which gives you a real sense of Cusco! Make sure you buy an avocado sandwich & fresh orange juice, you’ll see the street sellers making them from scratch. From Calle Marquez to Calle San Miguel and from Avenida del Sol to Avenida del Ejército.
8. Chill in some Cosy bars
For those digital nomads like us, you’ll know finding a cosy place to chill, be inspired & get blogging is very important. Even for people just wanting to find a relaxing spot, here are our top finds:
D’Wasi: A cosy little cafe with plant based milk for your coffee cravings. Their coffee comes from the Machu Picchu lands, just for that it’s worth a visit! They also make a giant chocolate smoothie and have the fastest wifi of all the cafes in Cusco we visited! Cost: S/10 per coffee, cards accepted.
La Valeriana: Nice decor, with a shabby chic type vibe, a good cafe for insta pics, colourful and tasty cakes, there are a couple of them across town. It’s major downside is bad wifi. Cost: S/10 coffee, cards accepted.
Cappuccino: Fancy a coffee/tea overlooking the main square? This one is for you. Reasonable prices with a great view, downside is bad wifi. Cost: S/10, cash only.
The Churro Bar: We love finding hidden gems and this is one of the best in Peru! Situated in the trendy San Blas neighbourhood, it’s a great place to chill with great wifi. Playing with the owners friendly Labrador makes it even better! Make sure you try their yummy vegan churros. Cost: S/12 for churros and chocolate dip, cash only.
Qura: Amazing açai breakfast bowls, fruits and baked goodies that will leave you energised for a busy day! Just 3 tables, so it’s a very cosy joint. Not on the cheap side, though who doesn’t like tasty breakfast & fast wifi? Cost: S/20 for a bowl, cash only.
L’Atelier Cafè Concept: This place is really cool with great views over San Blas if you get the window seat. It doubles up as an independent clothes shop, with good wifi and a really nice atmosphere. Cost: S/10 for a coffee, cards accepted.
9. Visit San Blas neighbourhood
Talking of San Blas… this area is an absolute must visit. It’s the hipster neighbourhood, Peruvian style. Quiet, chilled, up hill and with plenty of little independent designer and coffee shops. The views from the top are great and there are so many insta spots: from narrow cobblestone streets to colourful doors. Most places open from noon.
10. Take in San Pedro market
It’s packed, chaotic, the smells and colours will open up all your senses. You can find absolutely anything: from a fresh fruit juice to a cows head. The main market is inside, though don’t miss the surrounding streets outside filled with herbs, flowers, meat and fish… it’s an experience! Keep an eye on your belongings.
11. Watch a show at the Theatre
Whilst is Cusco, you have to visit the theatre & watch some traditional dance. There’s one trip included on the boleto ticket, where you learn about traditional tribal dances and outfits. We also visited another at the main theatre in town for just 5 soles!
12. Visit wall of the Inca history
A bit further down from the monastery, on Avenida del Sol, there’s a wall telling the Inca story pre & post Hispanic invasion. It’s not huge so will only take you a few minutes to visit, though the art is great & it really brings the story to life.
13. Get a snap shot of the 12 angled stone
The Inca’s architechture is incredible! There are still walls in the city built during Inca times and you will learn about how they carved each rock to perfection. One particular stone is carved at 12 angles. The spot located here is touristy, usually with a man ‘dressed as an Inca’ though its deffiniteley something to tick off the list.
14. Watch a cultural event
If you don’t see them, you will hear them! In Cusco there is always something going on to celebrate culture, it’s so well preserved. The main bulk of parades and shows happen in the main square, though check in at the official tourist information and they will tell you whats happening.
15. Stop by the worlds highest Irish pub
Not great service, expensive drinks, no wifi and sadly no Guiness on tap : ( though you have to say you’ve been to the worlds highest Irish pub! It’s near Plaza de Armas, right hand side from the cathedral.
16. Check out historical buildings
Cusco is the historical capital of Peru, meaning that it has plenty of historical buildings from both Incas and Spanish colonial style. The main ones you can’t miss:
Cathderal (free when there’s mass) and the Monasterio de Santo Domingo (a monastery that the Spaniards built on top of the old, golden Inca Temple of the Sun and not included in the Boleto). Though there are so many others that aren’t that popular and definitely far from the tourist radar, like the beautiful Monasterio de La Merced, just a stones throw away from the main Plaza. Cost: S/10, cash only.
17. Eat fresh bread Bakery ‘Intaq Wasi’
Who doesn’t love fresh bread / chocolate croissants or freshly made cinnamon rolls!? This is the place to find them, another hidden gem & with no sign outside that we ended up visiting quite regularly as an afternoon snack stop. It’s near the Plaza de Armas, at Calle Choquechaka 156. Make sure you bring small change. Cost: S/2 for a cinnamon roll, cash only.
18. Walk up to Sacsayhuaman & ride the rock slides!
A popular local Inca site in Cusco & definitely one to explore. Here you can really appreciate the architecture of the Inca’s, rolling hills, sun gates & free alpacas. Make sure you head up the hill opposite, here is the best part… rock slides (great fun!) and secret tunnels to explore. You can walk all the way there (uphill, though it’s free and good exercise) and it’s included in the Boleto ticket!
19. Hike Machu Picchu
Not much to say here apart from… you have to do it! No matter your age, physical ability, trekker or not a trekker there are many ways to visit, so it’s possible for anyone. In short, there are about 5 different types of treks to reach Machu Picchu, we’d 100% recommed the Inca trail if it’s in your budget. For those not wanting to trek, you may be surprised to know you can get a bus up to Machu Picchu! What ever way you go, it’s an unforgettable trip. You can read our 5 step planning guide here.
20. Visit the nearby town of Ollantaytambo
A town outside of Cusco, close to Machu Picchu & worth visiting. It’s a quaint, set up for tourism though not overly packed. The main attractions are 2 impressive Inca sites, included with the Boleto ticket.
21. Day trek to Rainbow mountain
We didn’t get a chance to visit though its another bucket lister for your trip to Peru. There are actually 2 sets of rainbow mountains near Cusco, though the absolute majority of tours go to 1. Take a look on Google & decide which one you’d like to visit.
22. Explore the awesome Maras salt flats & Moray ruins
They are both incredible and well worth a visit, it’s likely you will do them in one day. The salt flats are a life source for the locals, as well as tasting incredible in chocolate! It is still a mystery where the salt comes from, it’s great to see the scale as well as the harvesting process. A must visit insta spot too!
The Moray ruins are breathtaking, not only for its beauty but also for its original purpose. These circular terraces were a centre of experiments for the Incas, who managed to create a different microclimates in each of the terraces varying by 15 degrees from top to bottom! Allowing them to grow vegetables and fruits from all over the empire in one place. An Inca masterpiece that you can’t miss!
We hope our recommendations have helped you to sort the best things to do whilst visiting Cusco! You are going to love it there!
If you want to know anything else just drop us a message or comment and we’ll help you out.
Shay & Iban 👬