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5 Best Things To Do In Cusco To Get The Most Culture Out Of Peru - Updated 2020

best things to do in cusco
Brittany
Brittany
Updated

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. Here are the top five best things to do in Cusco.

1. Cusco City Tour (from USD 50)

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: 4 hours

10 reviews

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ChocoMuseo (Museo del Chocolate) (from USD 26)

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 your self-made chocolates at the end of the two-hour session. We think it’s 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 age-friendly activity 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

10 reviews

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2. Sacred Valley Tour (from USD 40)

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

10 reviews

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Coca Museum (Museo de la Coca)

Coca leaf

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. Coca Museum is free to enter and you can learn everything related to the coca plant. 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

Opening hours: Temporarily closed

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3. Food and shopping

#mercadosanpedro #cusco #peru

A post shared by Adrian Javier "EDRO" - otero (@edrologo) on Nov 29, 2016 at 4:51pm PST


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 to learn more 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

Website: Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco

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Cristo Blanco

Cristo Blanco

The name refers to “white Christ” in Spanish. Yes, you can identify the 8m-tall statue through its all-white demeanour. It’s a statue of Jesus Christ and people have often been reminded of the 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.

Cristo Blanco

Address: Cristo Blanco, Cusco 08003, Peru

Opening hours: 24 hours (daily)

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4. Church tours (from USD 74)


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 hours

2 reviews

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5. Local art and artifacts

Museo Inka Peru

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 just 6 USD.

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.

Museo Inka

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

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Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas, Cusco

Earlier on, we briefly mentioned Plaza de Armas. The main square in Cusco is a 2-minute walk from Cusco Cathedral and right beside Church of the Society of Jesus. You can identify the plaza by the distinct fountain which was said to be donated by New York City. The statue on top of the water fountain is that of an Inca statue dedicated to Manco Capac emperor and has since been the icon since 2011. Plaza de Armas is mostly crowded for the most part of the day and has been the to-go venue for many events and festivals. You can also visit the 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

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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.

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Pre-Columbian Art Museum (from USD 105)

Take on this tour offered by Viator if you would like a complete pick-up and drop-off experience including a 3-course fusion dinner with Peruvian flavours. Pre-Columbian Art Museum, also known as Museo de Arte Precolombino, is a 2-minute walk from Cusco Cathedral. This art museum takes you to three thousand years ago with more than 450 pieces in collections available for viewing. There are different ‘rooms’ you can explore, from before the Incas to the Incas and North to the South, and more. Observe the silver and gold sculptures from the ancient days and gift yourself with flashbacks from the past.

Cusco Pre-Columbian Art Museum Tour with Dinner with Pickup

Duration: 4 hours

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Church, Museum and Convent of San Francisco

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 a 3-minute walk away from ChocoMuseo and relatively near 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 choir with images of saints of the church. For panoramic views of the city, head to the belltower.

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)

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The Four Busts House

Cusco streets

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 2-minute walk from Qorikancha. You can find the site right beside Palacio del Inka, a 5-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

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Twelve Angled Stone

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, either follow the crowd or count the borders to see that there are twelve angles.

Twelve Angled Stone

Address: Calle Hatunrumiyoc 480, Cusco 08002, Peru

Opening hours: 24 hours (daily)

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Urubamba River Rafting Adventure (from USD 55)

urubamba river rafting adventure

Soak in the outdoor vibes at Cusco with a rafting adventure to the Urubamba River. You will get a chance to ride the class II and class III rapids, which are essentially waves that are up to four feet. 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 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

11 reviews

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Peruvian Cooking Class & Market Tour (from USD 111)

peruvian cooking class & market tour

For the faint-hearted, maybe tootling through the local market of San Pedro sounds like a better idea. If so, take on a Peruvian cooking class and market tour offered by GetYourGuide. Along with an expert chef, go on a buying session of ingredients you will use for your cooking class. Before the cooking officially begins, you will also undergo a tasting session with Peru’s most famous drink, the Pisco Sour, made from Pisco grapes. You can expect up to only 10 participants and the experience to start in the morning at 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 wherever you are.

Cusco: Peruvian Cooking Class & Market Tour

Duration: 4 hour

1 review

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Brittany is an avid travel enthusiast with a love for foreign languages and an insatiable curiosity about the world. A bit of a TV junkie, she replenishes lost brain cells by curling up with her...Read more

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