Most people will be stopping through Cusco at one point or another on their way to visit Peru’s national treasure, the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu. Nevertheless, the city of Cusco, as well as the surrounding region, makes up an enchanting fortress of ancient culture and history in its own right. And by staying in one of these Airbnb vacation rentals in Cusco, you’ll be able to explore all the attractions of the area quite easily. Without further ado, check out these best things to do in Cusco, Peru.
If you’re wondering what to do in Cusco, consider embarking on a city tour. The most popular tour package offered in Cusco, the City Tour, is usually the first order of business for curious travelers looking to gain insight into the region. For less than 10 USD this half-day guided tour is a great introduction to the natural wonders of Cusco, encompassing the city’s most important Inca sites. Of these the Qorikancha is arguably the most precious. Not only is it said to be the sacred site of Incan religious rituals, but its walls were once covered completely in gold to pay homage to the Sun God Inti.
Next up is Sacsayhuamán, the impressive archeological ruin and ancient military fortress known for the distinctive stonework of its walls. A great place for picnics and festivals, Sacsayhuamán is a breath of fresh air and now holds significance as an outdoor gathering place for Peruvians of all ages.
Other important sites include the sacrificial altar of Q’enqo, the security watch tower of Pukapukara, and the mystifying natural spring of Tambomachay, which is believed to have magical healing properties.
Half Day Cusco City Sightseeing
Duration: 3 hours 30 minutes
The tour of the Valle Sagrado, or Sacred Valley, is perfect for tourists who simply can’t get enough of Cusco’s rich archeological history. Decidedly thorough, the Sacred Valley Tour explores some of the most notable pueblos and ruins of the Urubamba River Valley, including the neighboring remote villages of Pisac and Ollantaytambo.
Craftily fitted between two mountains and venerated for its unique mix of history, culture, and city planning, Ollantaytambo’s temple fortress marks the site of a rare victory of indigenous Peruvians over the Spanish. The village of Pisac, although it has become increasingly associated with its large, touristy artisan market, features important landmarks of its own, including Inca ruins and authentic, colonial-style clay ovens used for baking guinea pig castles, among other things.
In addition to these important sites, the nearby towns of Maras and Chinchero are also worth visiting. While specialized tours are readily available, most stops along the Sacred Valley can be reached via public transport from Cusco’s City center. Adventure sport tours like mountain biking and zip-lining generally take place throughout this area.
Sacred Valley Full-Day Tour with Pisac Market and Chinchero
Duration: 10 hours
3. Food and shopping
No visit to Cusco is complete without a small shopping tour beginning at the popular San Pedro Market. Typical of the region, textiles and handicrafts abound. These important economic cornerstones of the Cusqueñan way of life often bear colorful thread motifs that echo of Cusco’s official rainbow flag of Incan ancestry.
The market is a popular destination for sampling local foods and gaining exposure to the indigenous population of Quechua people. Power through the day with a hearty bowl of caldo de gallina or try a freshly pressed tropical juice made from delicious Peruvian fruits like chirimoya, lucuma, and maracuyá.
Next, head over to the Traditional Textile Center of Cusco, which is another Cusco point of interest for shopaholics. You can also learn about the process of cleaning, dyeing, and weaving Peruvian wool. In addition to it being a great place to shop for souvenirs, the center is also highly respected for its employment of fair-trade values, which directly support local, indigenous artisans in the area.
Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco
Address: Avenida El Sol 603, Cusco 084, Peru
Opening Hours: 7:30am - 8:30pm, daily.
Access: 8 min walk from Plaza de Armas via Avenida El Sol
Contact: +51 84228117
If you’re interested in religious places to visit in Cusco, then pick from one of the many church tours offered here. Taking a self-guided tour of Cusco’s most historic and architecturally-gifted churches is one of the best ways to witness the tension between the imposed colonial order and the perseverance of the indigenous belief systems that remain prevalent to this day. For best results, start at the historic Plaza de Armas and take your pick.
Situated on the northeastern end of the main square is the Cusco Cathedral, celebrated for the beauty and eloquence of its cedar carvings and silver artifacts. To its right you will find El Triunfo, Cuzco’s oldest church. Having been built on the ancient temple of Suntur Wasi, it houses the remains of Garcilaso de la Vega, the 16th century historian, poet, and Cusco native. The Iglesia de Jesús María is joined to the left of the Cathedral.
The church and convent of Santo Domingo is formed atop the ruins of the Qorikancha sun temple. With colonial paintings and artwork in close proximity to the celestial temple chambers of the Inca, it is the direct embodiment of the city’s complicated past.
For a convenient way to hit multiple places of interest in one go, why not try a Hop-On Hop-Off Tour!
City Cusco Sightseeing Tour
Duration: 3 to 4 hours
5. Local art and artifacts
Since Machu Picchu is an eventuality for most visitors traveling through Cusco, a trip to the Museo Machu Picchu just may be in order. Established in the home of a wealthy colonial aristocrat, it showcases various ceramic works, metals, and bones originally excavated from Machu Picchu. The entrance fee is quite affordable, making it one of the most popular Cusco, Peru attractions.
For more pre-Colombian finds, try perusing the collection of jewelry, pottery, and textiles at the Inca Museum. Like many other historic landmarks in the area, the colonial mansion that houses the museum was made to undergo a period of restoration following damage caused by the earthquake of 1950. The world’s largest collection of ceremonial Incan drinking vessels can be found within.
Finally, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Popular Art both offer a modern look at the Andean art scene with a nod to contemporary local photography, paintings, and sculptures.
Address: Cuesta del Almirante & Ataud, Cusco, Peru
Price: from 3 USD
Opening Hours: 8am - 6pm, Monday - Friday. 9am - 4pm, Saturday.
Access: 3 min walk from Plaza de Armas
Contact: +51 84237380; +51 224051
Website: Museo Inka
The following content is contributed by Trip101 writer, Celeste
6. Coca Museum (Museo de la Coca)
Photo is only for illustrative purposes
Add Coca Museum to your list of museums to visit in Cusco, Peru. This small museum is a 10-minute walk from Plaza de Armas, so you can swing by for a visit after heading to the cathedrals and museums surrounding the main square. Coca is often mistaken for cocoa since the written word looks slightly similar. But they are obviously different! Coca, which is widely known for its leaves, is used to make cocaine. While cocoa is a powder made from roasting cacao seeds. You can learn everything related to the coca plant here. There’s also a gift shop on-site for you to bring home a memory from Cusco.
Coca Museum (Museo de la Coca)
Address: Cuesta de San Blas 618 618, Cusco 08003, Peru
7. Cristo Blanco
The name refers to ‘white Christ’ in Spanish. Yes, you can identify the 8 meters (26 feet) tall statue through its all-white demeanor. It’s a statue of Jesus Christ and people are often been reminded of Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. But of course, it’s incomparable in terms of its size. Designed by a local artist and built in 1945 by a group of Christian Palestinians, this monument sits on a mountain and offers views of Plaza de Armas. You do not need to pay to view Cristo Blanco but expect some transport expenses should you decide to get there by taxi. A walk up from Plaza de Armas will take about 40 minutes.
Address: Cristo Blanco, Cusco 08003, Peru
Opening hours: 24 hours (daily)
8. Plaza de Armas
The main square in Cusco, Plaza de Armas is a two-minute walk from Cusco Cathedral and right beside Church of the Society of Jesus. You can identify the plaza by the distinct fountain. The statue on top of the water fountain is that of a famous Inca, Manco Capac. Plaza de Armas is crowded for the most part of the day and has been the to-go venue for many events and festivals. You can also visit museums surrounding the plaza. Some of the more popular ones include Museo Inka, Museum of Contemporary Art of the Municipality of Cusco, and Museo de Historia Regional.
Plaza de Armas
Address: Calle Plateros 326, Cusco 08000, Peru
Did you know that Peru is one of the top chocolate producers in the world? If you don’t, that’s okay. Sign up for this workshop at ChocoMuseo and you can bring home self-made chocolates at the end of the two-hour session. It is certainly time well spent because you get to learn more about the history of cocoa in Peru and personally experience the chocolate-making process! Best of it all, it’s an activity suitable for all ages, so you can attend it with your children. This workshop is conducted in both English and Spanish, and will have a maximum of 15 participants. Do arrive at the venue five minutes before the start time, so the experience can begin and end on time.
Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Workshop in ChocoMuseo Cusco
Duration: 2 hours
Take on this tour offered by Viator if you would like a complete pick-up and drop-off experience including a three-course fusion dinner with Peruvian flavours. Pre-Columbian Art Museum, also known as Museo de Arte Precolombino, is a two-minute walk from Cusco Cathedral. This art museum takes you back three thousand years, with more than 450 pieces in its collections available for viewing. There are different rooms laid in varied themes that you can explore. Silver and gold sculptures from ancient times are the highlight display items here.
Cusco Pre-Columbian Art Museum Tour with Dinner with Pickup
Duration: 4 hours
11. Church, Museum and Convent of San Francisco
Church, Museum and Convent of San Francisco, also known as Iglesia, Museo y Convento de San Francisco, is quite close to Plaza De Armas. Built in 1572 and restored after an earthquake in 1650, the site is representative of the family history of the Franciscans. Entrance into the church is free of charge but you will have to pay about 1.50 USD to enter the museum. You will be able to catch sight of several paintings and the beautiful choir area with images of saints of the church.
Church, Museum and Convent of San Francisco
Address: Plaza San Francisco S/N, Cusco 08002, Peru
Opening hours: 9am - 6pm (daily)
Price: 1.50 USD (for the museum)
12. The Four Busts House
Photo is only for illustrative purposes
Doing a self-guided walk around Plaza de Armas? How about taking the road less travelled and visiting an attraction not so packed with people? If you’ve answered yes to the questions, head to The Four Busts House, a two-minute walk from Qorikancha. You can find the site right beside Palacio del Inka, a five-star hotel. Look up the architecture and see if you can spot four human faces carved on the stones. The human images are a reflection of the past homeowners and were a reminder to passersby that the residents were of nobility. It also served as a preservation of their Spanish heritage.
The Four Busts House
Address: Calle San Agustin 400, Cusco 08002, Peru
13. Twelve Angled Stone
Twelve Angled Stone is an archaeological artefact and you can find it attached to a wall of the palace of the Archbishop of Cusco in the present day. In the past, it was part of the stone wall of an Inca palace. Do not underestimate this small block because it has made it to the Cultural Heritage of the Nation of Peru and many travellers have journeyed far just to see this block. You do not have to pay to take a look or snap pictures so that’s one plus point. To find it, just follow the crowds and count the borders of the stone to see the twelve angles.
Twelve Angled Stone
Address: Calle Hatunrumiyoc 480, Cusco 08002, Peru
Opening hours: 24 hours (daily)
Soak in the outdoor vibes at Cusco with a rafting adventure at Urubamba River. You will get a chance to ride class II and class III rapids, which consists of waves that are up to four feet high. Expect some narrow passages and plenty of adrenaline rush! The entire activity from the pick-up to drop-off at your hotel will take about nine hours mainly due to travelling time to get to the rafting location. The actual activity will take only approximately 2.5 hours. Do take note that in the event that it rains, the activity may still proceed but do expect class IV and IV+ rapids, which are tougher waves to manoeuvre.
Cusco: Urubamba River Rafting Adventure
Duration: 9 hour
When in Cusco, consider taking on a Peruvian cooking class and market tour. Along with an expert chef, go to the market to purchase ingredients that you will use in your cooking class. Before the culinary experience officially begins, you will also have a tasting session of Peru’s most famous drink, Pisco Sour, made from Pisco grapes. You can expect up to 10 participants in the group and the experience will start at about 9:15am. It will end in about four hours. You will bring home a restaurant cooking certificate and a collection of recipes for you to continue on your cooking adventures at home.
Cusco: Peruvian Cooking Class & Market Tour
Duration: 4 hour
Bang for your buck
The best way to get the most value for your money while traveling through Cusco is to obtain the boleto turístico from the Office of the Municipalidad as soon as you arrive into the city. Valued at 40 USD, this 10-day pass is required for entry into more than 15 sites, including Sacsayhuamán, Q’enqo, Ollantaytambo, and Tambomachay. Keep in mind that passes will be cheaper for Peruvian nationals and students possessing a valid ISIC student card. Besides that the region is widely known for its powerful scorching sun, heavy winds, and sometimes torrential rains. Make sure to mind your attire and you’ll be ready to take on whatever Cusco throws at you.
Frequently asked questions about the best things to do in Cusco, Peru
1. Which are the top attractions to visit in Cusco?
Cusco offers an amazing range of attractions to visitors. Some of the top attractions here are Sacred Valley, Cusco Cathedral, Plaza de Armas and Qorikancha that you can see on various tours. Museo Inka, Cristo Blanco, ChocoMuseo, and Coca Museum are some other popular attractions to check out here.
2. Which are the best outdoor activities in Cusco?
Besides cultural and historic attractions, Cusco also offers many outdoor activities to visitors. Outdoor enthusiasts can go river rafting in Urubamba River, where class II and III rapids await them. Mountain biking and ziplining can be enjoyed at various places on the way to Sacred Valley.
3. Which are the most popular things to do with kids and family in Cusco?
Cusco is a very family-friendly destination. The most popular thing to do with your family here is embarking on a tour of the city, where you can learn about Incas, see ancient sites and take in gorgeous views. Your kids will love visiting ChocoMuseo, where they can learn about the entire chocolate-making process and sample some yummy chocolate too!
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