things to do in cusco

23 Best Things to Do in Cusco

Long considered a natural first stop on the way to Machu Picchu, Cusco is one of the most visited cities in Peru, practically mandatory for visitors. With so many unique and fascinating things to do in Cusco, you’ll want to take your time when visiting this city: there is so much more to discover here before moving on to Machu Picchu.

In this ultimate guide to the best things to do in Cusco, we’re covering all of the most famous attractions in Cusco, as well as more off-the-beaten path things to do in Cusco to see the city in a unique way. From hidden viewpoints and adventure sports to unique day trips and historic buildings with mummies and Incan treasures, we’re sharing about the best of this city; keep reading for all your Cusco travel inspiration. 

Things to Do in Cusco

Don’t fall into that (unfortunately common!) trap of thinking that Cusco is just a place to pass a few days and get acclimated to the altitude before heading to Machu Picchu. While you certainly should carve out some time to acclimate to the elevation of the Sacred Valley, there is so much more to do in Cusco.

Cusco is one of Peru’s most magnificent cities, and after traveling to nearly every country in South America, I’d say its one of the most fascinating cities I’ve visited. You’ll find fascinating layers of history here: the clear presence of the history of the Incas, Spanish colonization, and the modern city. 

You’ll also find plenty of adventure and excitement in Cusco, if you love staying active. This guide outlines some of the best hikes around Cusco, plus opportunities for adventure sports and even unique stays near Cusco.

Looking to escape the city, too? Don’t worry – there are plenty of day trips from Cusco that are well worth adding to your Peru itinerary. You could easily spend a week just exploring the cities, villages, and historic sites around Cusco. 

Cusco Tourist Pass

You’ll need to purchase the Cusco Tourist Pass to visit almost any of these destinations – especially the sites with ruins! The Cusco Tourist Pass is an excellent deal, and includes admissions to a variety of sites in and around Cusco, over a number of days. Book your Cusco Tourist Pass in advance and start planning your trip!

1. Enjoy a Spa Day

Whether you’re preparing for a day trip to Machu Picchu or returning from a multi-day trek in the mountains, treating yourself to a spa day and a massage is a great idea. It can take a lot out of a person to arrive in a city with such a high altitude, no matter how physically fit you are.

There are a lot of places in Cusco that offer massages – not all of them are the best – so head to ReEnergize Cusco for a quality experience in a relaxing environment with well-trained professionals.

For a luxury spa experience, head to Palacio del Inka, a historic 5-star hotel with the best spa in the city. They offer incredible massages and have saunas, Turkish baths, and a hydrotherapy pool. Cusco also has a great selection of yoga centers and retreats if you want a more holistic healing experience. Check out Chakana Yoga Center for the area’s best yoga experience. 

2. Visit Sacsayhuamán

Located on the hillside just above the city, Sacsayhuamán is one of the most fascinating sites of Incan ruins in the Sacred Valley. With its proximity, it’s easy to visit from the city without taking a tour – a taxi from the center of Cusco is just a few soles. Plan on spending around two hours exploring the site – this is a favorite thing to do in Cusco. 

Sacsayhuamán is part of the destinations included in the Cusco Tourist Pass, so make sure you have yours before you arrive – it will save you money if you plan on visiting a few spots in the area.

3. Explore the San Blas Neighborhood

One of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Cusco, San Blas is an excellent area to explore (and a great place to stay in Cusco!). San Blas has an unending array of cafes, restaurants, and shops among winding and historic streets.

Uphill just a few blocks from Plaza de Armas, it’s easy to get here from the rest of the historic center, so check out the area, even if you’re not staying here. Some of the most popular attractions and must-visit spots in San Blas include these:

Iglesia San Blas

A charming and historic church with a beautiful interior, and a stunning lookout point over the city. Whether you make it inside or just visit the historic plaza in front, visiting San Blas’ church is a must.

Artisan Galleries and Workshops

Hilario Medivil is Cusco’s most famous artisan, so a visit to his shop is a must. However, there are many other artisan workshops and galleries to discover as you explore the area as well. 

Ethnika

This small restaurant is a secret gem in Cusco, with some of the most inventive and delicious food in the city, and at affordable prices. Come to Ethnika early enough in your trip to Cusco and you’ll likely be back a second time.

4. Marvel at the Plaza de Armas

The Plaza de Armas in Cusco is an incredible and beautiful spot. The heart of Cusco’s historic center, the plaza is surrounded by historic buildings like the the ornate Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús and Cusco’s Cathedral. 

In addition to taking in the plaza, make sure you head inside the Cathedral and explore this unique building, built on top of the remains of an important Incan shrine. Inside, you’ll find a incredible painting, featuring Jesus and the disciples sharing the las supper with a bit of a menu change – they’re sharing “cuy,” or, guinea pig, a delicacy in the Andes.

5. Eat Like a Local at Cuyeria Sabor Moqueguano

If you’re inspired by seeing Jesus and the disciples chowing down on guinea pig (“cuy”) in the Cusco Cathedral, head to Cuyeria Sabor Moqueguano to try it yourself. This is a local spot specializing in guinea pig- nothing pretentious or touristy here; these are the best spots to each when traveling.

While I didn’t try guinea pig while traveling in Cusco, I tried it several times while living in Ecuador, and its actually quite delicious. Be warned, it’s often served whole, including head, claws, teeth, and all, so if this is too much for you, order something else.

ollantaytambo ruins

6. Take a Day Trip to Ollantaytambo

Many travelers just pass through the small town of Ollantaytambo on their way to catch the train to Machu Picchu, but Ollantaytambo has so much to offer visitors that you won’t want to miss.

With some of the most noteworthy Incan Ruins in the Sacred Valley, plenty of restaurants and cafes with delicious food, and historic Incan streets, Ollantaytambo is perfect for a day trip or overnight from Cusco.

Read More: Ultimate Travel Guide to Ollantaytambo

7. Sleep Over the Sacred Valley

If you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime stay in a hotel you’ll never forget, how about booking a stay at the Skylodge Adventure Suites? At this “lodge” guests sleep in luxurious glass pods strapped to the mountainside, suspended over the Urubamba River Valley. If you’re afraid of heights this isn’t the experience for you, but if you’re feeling a little adventurous, this will be the stay of a lifetime.

8. Enjoy Peru’s Best Food at Monasterio

Monasterio is one of the nicest luxury hotels Cusco has to offer; housed in the historic San Antonio Abad Monastery and with a stunning Baroque chapel, it’s a historic destination in its own right.

Even if staying here isn’t in your travel budget, make a reservation at Monasterio’s restaurant, El Tupay, which regularly hosts live music, and has some of the best, most inventive Peruvian cuisine you’ll find in town. 

9. Take a Break at Siete y Siete Cafe

Siete y Siete is a fantastic little cafe in Cusco with the most incredible, jaw-dropping view overlooking the city. You’ll want to spend hours enjoying their delicious coffee and pastries and just taking in the view, or posting pictures from your trip (the wifi is fast!). It’s the perfect place to spend a quiet morning. 

10. Drink Coca Tea

Coca tea is made from the leaves of the coca plant. While coca is more well known for being that plant from which cocaine is derived, it’s been used traditionally in the Andes for generations, to assist will all kinds of ailments, but particularly to assist with the effects of altitude sickness. I chugged this stuff when I first arrived to Cusco – it really works!

You’ll find coca tea everywhere you turn here, including in cafes, restaurants, and often offered at hotels for guests. Alternatively, buy a box of coca teabags or a bag of coca leaves from the Mercado San Pedro to make your own tea. 

pisac peru

Where to Stay in Cusco

11. Visit the Pisac Ruins (and Market!)

Just under an hour from Cusco, the small town if Pisac has big-time attractions, drawing countless visitors passing through the Sacred Valley. Pisac is home to extensive Incan ruins – some of the best in the Sacred Valley! – as well as the famous Pisac Market, one of the best markets in Latin America.

Plan to spend several hours here exploring the ruins and the market – it makes for a perfect, easy day trip from Cusco. You can easily book a group excursion or private excursion, or travel here yourself by bus or taxi.

Read More: Ultimate Pisac Guide: Pisac Market + the Pisac Ruins

12. Take a Free Walking Tour

Start your time in Cusco with a free walking tour of the historical center of Cusco. This is a great introduction to town, with a local, and can be a great way to meet other travelers and get excellent recommendations for your time in Cusco.

Booking online is easy, and you can drop off at any time if you want to spend more time at any particular attraction.

13. Explore the Mercado San Pedro

Visiting San Pedro Market is one of the best things to do in Cusco if you’re looking to get a better peek at local life and get a little bit off the beaten path. Here you’ll find fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, and plenty of food stalls selling plentiful and inexpensive local food.

Looking to combine a culinary experience in Cusco with a trip to the market? Visit the market with a local chef then head to a group cooking class to learn how to make Peruvian food once you’re home from your trip.

14. Sip Drinks at the República del Pisco

República del Pisco is a Cusco institution known best for its Pisco sours, of course! This bar / restaurant has live music most nights of the week, which helps great a lively and upbeat atmosphere whenever you visit. Get there early if you can, as it can get crowded, especially if you’re looking to stay for dinner. 

15. Taste Your Way Through Cusco On A Food Tour

There’s no better way to explore a city than on a food tour – I like to book one early in my time in a new place for the additional benefit of knowing exactly what I like off of local menus for the rest of my visit. WithLocals offers a great Cusco food tour with 10+ delicious foods and drinks to sample in off-the-beaten-path spots around the historic center. 

things to do in cusco peru

Machu Picchu Tickets

Order your tickets to Machu Picchu as far in advance as you can! Access is limited to preserve this historic site.

16. Meet the Mummies at Qorikancha 

Located in the heart of Cusco, Qorikancha was an important Incan temple to the Sun, built in 1438 and considered the most important Incan religious site of the empire. Before the Spanish arrived, Qorikancha was entirely coated in golden sheets. Spanish conquistadores sacked the temple and built the Monastery of Santo Domingo on top of the ruins in the 1500s. 

Today, Qorikancha is a fascinating mix of Incan and Spanish architectural styles, and while it holds museum exhibits, is much more than just another museum to visit in Cusco. Make sure to check out the mummies and skulls in the basement rooms – the mummies of former Incan emperors were kept here and taken out and ceremonially offered food and drink, and dressed in ornate clothing, on a regular basis.

Qorikancha is part of the destinations included in the Cusco Tourist Pass, so make sure you have yours before you arrive – it will save you money if you plan on visiting a few spots in the area.

17. Hike to Lake Humantay

There are some INCREDIBLE day trips from Cusco to add to your itinerary, but in my opinion, Lake Humantay is one of the very best. This stunning aquamarine lake, with a towering, snow-capped mountain behind, looks too beautiful to be real.

Booking on to a small-group excursion is the most cost-effective way to travel here. The hike from the parking area takes about an hour, but it’s uphill the whole way, but it isn’t hard, so come prepared!

18. Visit the ChocoMuseo

Cusco’s ChocoMuseo is dedicated to all things chocolate. The free museum is a great place to learn more about how chocolate is grown and produced, and you’ll get to taste plenty of samples as you browse the museum and store.

You can also sign up for a bean-to-bar workshop at the ChocoMuseo where you’ll get to try your hand at making fresh chocolate. This is a great hands-on experience, and of course includes plenty of taste-testing.

19. Marvel at Original Incan Streets

You’ll see the remnants of the Incan foundation of Cusco everywhere you look, including in the walls that line the streets of the historic center. You can see some of the best examples of this along Calle Loreto, a street that runs off of the Plaza de Armas.

You’ll also want to check out the famous twelve-angled stone – this massive, multi-ton stone built into a wall along Calle Hatunrumiyoc has a shocking 12 sides, which will leave you wondering how the Incans did it.

20. See the Treasures at the Inca Museum

Cusco’s Inca Museum (Museo Inka) holds an incredible collection of Incan treasures. Everything from skulls to pottery, jewelry, textiles, and religious figurines are on display here. The museum is housed in a beautiful, historic building, and you can see live weaving demonstrations by local indigenous artisans in the courtyard.

best area to stay in cusco

Machu Picchu Packing List

Don’t prepare for your trip without reading out ultimate Machu Picchu Packing List. We’ve listed everything you’ll need for the day of, and the rest of your Peru trip. 

21. Visit Cusco’s Artisan Market

If you’re looking for a place to buy something to bring home with you, this is the place to go! Located just around the corner from the Plaza de Armas, the Centro Artesanal has a huge array of textiles, souvenirs, clothing, jewelry, and more. Its definitely oriented towards travelers, but it has a great selection and is a great place for shopping, especially if you’re not able to visit the market in Pisac. 

22. Take in the View at the San Cristobal Viewpoint

Cusco is a city of beautiful views; located in a valley and surrounded by mountains, you’ll find stunning views wherever you turn. One of the best views of the city is from the viewpoint of San Cristobal Church – expect unmatched views of the mountains, historic streets, and Plaza de Armas. 

While you’ll get great views from the plaza in front of the church, make sure to enter the church and climb the bell tower (for just a few soles). You can reach San Cristobal on foot from Plaza de Armas, though if walking uphill in this altitude is still too much for you, take a taxi for just a few soles up the hill instead.

23. Take a Day Trip to Rainbow Mountain

In just a few short years since the discovery of the instagram-famous Rainbow Mountain, this colorful destination has become one of Peru’s most-visited attractions. Previously hidden by year-round snow and ice, warming temperatures reveled this spot in 2013, and now Rainbow Mountain is one of the most popular day trips from Cusco

Book a day trip to Rainbow Mountain – you can’t easily visit on your own without your own vehicle – and get ready for a long day! Excursions usually depart from Cusco between 3:00 AM and 4:00 AM to make the 3 hour journey. However, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning and unique perspective of this beautiful, other-worldly site that defies logic.