11 Awesome Things to do in Cusco, Peru (Besides the Inca Trail!)

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Cusco is one of Peru’s, and the World’s, most loved tourist destinations. One of the reasons is due to the incredible things to do in Cusco during a visit.

The South American nation’s second city is found high up in the southern mountains, at a staggering altitude of 3400 meters (11,154 ft). The height alone is enough of an experience in itself, especially for anyone used to being at sea level.

The city has a long, rich indigenous history and Cusco itself and the surrounding valleys, plains and mountains are all steeped in Inca culture and ruins.

Much of which has survived to this day, although of course very much merged with the Spanish influences that played such an integral role in the region once the Empire was conquered.

Cusco is now a mixture of Incan ruins and Spanish colonial buildings, which creates a colorful and diverse setting to explore.

Cusco is perhaps most famous for being the launching pad to the iconic Machu Picchu, which is found high in the mountains nearby.

The city has fast modeled itself into a base for hikes and explorers looking to delve into the region’s vast landscapes and deep history.

Just make sure you don’t leave town too soon to start hiking because there are plenty of great things to do in Cusco too.

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Peru (Travel Guide)

11 Best Things to do in Cusco, Peru

Cusco is a city with much to see and even more to do. Explore the ancient Inca capital, embrace the lively local culture and be sure to see the iconic Inca ruins of Machu Picchu and more.

There are so many things to do in Cusco. Here are the best!

1. Boleto Touristica

Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru

Within the city itself, you will find that to gain access to many of the Inca ruins and the museums, you will need to purchase a Boleto Touristica.

This is basically a multi-day entrance ticket, which then allows you to visit Cusco’s museums and archaeological sights.

Our top recommended tours of Boleto Touristica:

2. Visit Machu Picchu

Lina Stock at Machu Picchu - things to do in Cusco

Machu Picchu is thought to have been a summer retreat for the Inca elite and after the fall of the empire to the Spanish in the 16th century, knowledge of its location was completely lost for centuries.

At the turn of the 20th century, this ‘lost city’ was rediscovered by explorers and since then, its dramatic location high in the mountains, perched on sheer cliffs, has earned it a rightful reputation amongst the world’s best sights to see.

The classic Inca Trail hike takes three to four days to finish, complete with epic views and incredible scenery. Make sure to acclimatize in Cusco first before heading off though, especially if you fly straight into the city.

Our top recommended tours of Machu Picchu:

3. Hike the Salkantay Trail

Salkantay Trail in Peru

The Salkantay Trail is the new alternative to the Inca Trail. This is a longer, more arduous trek to Machu Picchu along a trail that has only just been opened to tourism, and was previously known simply as the Llama Trail.

This hike will take around five days to finish, but it’s guaranteed to be much quieter and potentially even more spectacular than the classic route.

Our top recommended tours of Salkantay:

4. Visit the Plaza de Armas

Main cathedral in Cusco, Peru

While you prepare for the epic hike to Machu Picchu, take time to acquaint yourself with Cusco. Start in the Plaza de Armas, the square that every Spanish inspired city has in the center.

This is the historic heart of the city, built on the ruins of the Inca capital, and it’s a lovely place to spend a few hours walking through, exploring the surrounding buildings and the old Inca walls.

Our top recommended tours of Plaza de Armas:

5. Have a Look at the 12 Angled Stone

12 angles Stone in Cusco

The 12 Angled Stone is a strange, archaeological site in Cusco. It’s quite literally just a piece of wall, but a wall that was built in such a manner as to require no mortar to hold it upright.

The stones were all of the perfect size and shape and angled so precisely that they all hold each other in place. It’s a fascinating insight into Inca engineering prowess.

Our top recommended tours of 12 Angled Stone:

6. Shop at the San Pedro Market

Street Market in Cusco Peru

To experience local life in Cusco, head to the colorful and always lively San Pedro market.

This is as local as you can get – although these days there is an ever-growing number of tourist souvenir stalls too – and it’s an excellent place to pick up Cusco delicacies and to try a few drinks.

Our top recommended tours of San Pedro Market:

7. Explore the Ruins at Sacsayhuaman

Sacsayhuaman in Cusco Peru

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sacsayhuaman is an intriguing Inca ruin that’s found high above the city. You can walk here from the center of Cusco, but it is steep.

The ruins are the remnants of a citadel and fortress, and this was the last stand of the Inca Empire when the Spanish fought them here in the 16th century.

Our top recommended tours of Sacsayhuaman:

8. Check out the Sun Temple

the Sun Temple in Cusco

Another intriguing Inca relic in Cusco is the Sun Temple. Known by various other local names, this was once an important religious site for the locals, and supposedly, the walls were plastered in pure gold when the Spanish sacked the place.

Today there’s a Christian Convent built over the ruins but you can still explore some parts of the former temple.

Our top recommended tours of The Sun Temple:

9. Visit the Inca Museum

Inca Museum in Cusco

The Inca Museum, or Museo Inka as the locals will call it, is an enlightening look at the history of the Inca Empire in Cuzco and Peru. The museum is found in a restored colonial building, which itself was built on the ruins of a former Inca house.

There’s an excellent collection of artifacts and exhibits from archaeological sites in the mountains and from Cusco.

Our top recommended tours of The Inca Museum:

10. Hike Around the Sacred Valley

hiker on the Inca Trail in Cusco

The Sacred Valley is an incredible area of natural beauty and Inca ruins that are found close to Cusco. The valley lies at a slightly lower altitude than Cusco, so many travelers will in fact head here first in order to acclimatize.

There are many multi-day hiking opportunities that lead through the heart of the old Inca civilization, through ruins and small villages.

There are also several day trip opportunities from the city, the most popular being the ruins at Pisac and Ollantaytambo.

Our top recommended tours of The Sacred Valley:

11. Hike to the Rainbow Mountains

Rainbow Mountains in Cusco

The Rainbow Mountains have very recently become a tourism phenomenon.

A few years ago, they were unknown, but since pictures began to emerge from these unusually colored mountains, the place has exploded.

It’s a day trip away from Cusco, but be prepared for a steep two-hour hike to the top for the best views.

Our top recommended tours of The Rainbow Mountains:

Cusco, Peru Travel Tips

Where is Cusco, Peru?

Central Cusco at Sunrise - things to do in Cusco

Cusco, although once the capital of the mighty Inca Empire, now plays second string to Lima.

Cusco is found to the south-east of the Peruvian capital, in the heart of the Southern Sierra mountain range which extends across the country and includes much of the best known Inca sites.

Cusco is very remote, however, being over 1000 kilometers away from Lima, far up in the mountains. It’s a very high altitude city, and travelers here need to be wary of altitude sickness when they first arrive.

At 3400 meters (11,154 ft), it can take a day or two to get acclimated, so take it easy, especially if you fly straight in.

Don’t forget: Peru (National Geographic Adventure Map)

How to Travel to Cusco

things to do in Cusco

Cusco has become somewhat of a tourist hub in the south of Peru, meaning that it is very well connected now to the rest of the country, in particular to Lima.

That doesn’t mean that travel times aren’t long, however, because although it is possible to travel overland here, the average bus time from Lima to Cusco is 24 hours. That’s a long way, so most people opt to fly in instead.

If you are arriving internationally in Peru, then you will be landing in Lima. From Peru’s capital on the coast, there are regular connections to the surrounding South American capitals as well as to major US cities in the north and even a few irregular schedules further afield to Europe.

It’s easy to arrange an onward connection from Lima to Cusco, a flight time of around an hour and a half.

It’s good to be flexible, as the high altitude can result in unpredictable weather conditions and it’s not uncommon for flights to be canceled with little warning.

The airport in Cusco is not far from the center and it’s easy to catch a cheap taxi or an even cheaper local minibus into the city itself.

Once you are in Cusco, it’s easy enough to walk around the major sites, although it’s simple to arrange taxis too, there are plenty of locals looking for business.

Being the tourist hub for the region, you can also arrange transport, tours, and guides to the surrounding sites and further afield.

Search for Flights: Priceline or Skyscanner offers great deals to Cusco, Peru.

The Best Time to Visit Cusco

Aerial view of the Cusco valley

Cusco can be a very weather dependent place to visit, particularly if you are interested in using the city as a base to see the surrounding, more remote Inca sites and mountains.

The area experiences a wet and dry season, with most rain falling in the summer months between November and April.

Although you could still visit the city itself during this time, when the rain is at its heaviest it can cause dangerous landslides and block roads, making travel and hiking all but impossible. Probably not the best time to explore the things to do in Cusco.

The most popular period to visit, is of course during the dry, winter period, between May and October, with June and July being the driest time and busiest period.

If you want to trek though, this is really the only window of opportunity, so be sure to plan your trip in advance and to book accordingly, like hotels, guides and permits are all limited.

Is Cusco Safe?

David Stock at the Plaza de Armas in Cusco

Cusco is generally a safe place to visit, as long as you are sensible and careful. Robberies are not common but are not unheard of, and it’s easy to be ripped off or scammed by locals taking advantage of tourists.

The biggest problem may be the altitude though, so plan accordingly to acclimatize before attempting any arduous treks.

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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA

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