What to do in Cusco?
Interests, funny activities and relaxing time
This document is for every people who visit Cusco and need what to do in the city.
Cusco was once the capital of the Incan empire and is today the capital of the Cusco region and province.
Cusco is the center of the Quechua culture, a UNESCO world heritage site, the historical capital of Peru and one of the most visited cities in the country. It receives over 2 million visitors per year, many of which use the city as a base from which to embark upon a trip to Machu Picchu, which lies to the northwest. In this guide we have set out the ultimate line-up of things to do in Cusco city and the sacred valley. There is something here for everyone!
At 3,400m (11,155 feet) above sea level, the air is thin and altitude sickness can be problematic. Upon arrival, it is prudent to spend a day relaxing as you acclimatize – and a further two days if serious trekking is on the itinerary.
Alternatively, if you have the time we recommend going straight from Cusco airport to the Sacred Valley, which at 2,800m above sea level is significantly lower than Cusco city. The quaint Quechua towns of Urubamba and Ollantaytambo offer a wide variety of hotels and hostels and make for a great base to explore the Valley for a day or two before returning to Cusco, properly acclimatized.
A Cusco tourist ticket (Boleto Turistico) is a permit that you can buy to get free access to a number of sites in and around Cusco.
The Tourist Ticket can be bought at: Oficina ejecutiva del comité (OFEC), which is on Ave. del Sol 103 in Cusco. OFEC are open Monday to Friday at 8:00am to 5:30pm and Saturday at 8:30am to 12:30pm.
The Tickets cost 130 soles for a 10-day pass or 70 soles if you have a valid ISIC student card.
A valid ticket gives you access to the following sites:
– Monastery of Saint Catherine of Cusco
– Museum of Contemporary Art
– Regional Historic Museum
– Museum site of Qoricancha
– Museum of popular art
– Qosqo Center of native art and folkloric dances
– The Monument of Pachacuteq
– The ruins of: Sacsayhuamán / Qénqo / Pukapukara / Tambomachay / Chinchero / Pisaco / Otllantaytambo / Tipón / Pikillacta.
The plaza de Armas is the main square or historic center in Cusco. It is the tourist hub of the city and a great starting point to visit the main sites. The place is surrounded by a number of hotels, restaurants and shops which give it a very lively atmosphere, as well as some noteworthy cathedrals. Another interesting square is the Plaza San Francisco, which is southwest of the historic center.
Cusco Cathedral, Basilica Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin, is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cusco. It is located on the Plaza de Armas and was built in the early 1600s, and completed in 1654. It is undoubtedly one of the most impressive buildings in Cusco. It is exceedingly pretty by night. The facade is renaissance-style, while the interior is baroque.
Within are elaborately-carved wooden altars that are covered with gold leaf. There is much engraved silverwork in addition to an exquisite collection of paintings of which a number are by masters. Photography is not permitted, in contrast to most cathedrals, which are all-too-proud of their art. The Iglesia del Triunfo (Church of Triumph) and Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus (Church of the Society of Jesus) are adjacent to Cusco Cathedral and also worth visiting.
Qurikancha (which means ‘enclosed place’ in Quechua) used to be the most important temple in the Inca Empire. The temple was dedicated to the Sun God (Inti) and was very ornately decorated, with gold walls, floors and statues. When the Spanish discovered it they were amazed by its opulence.
Unfortunately, most of the gold was used to ‘pay’ the Spanish, who had placed a ransom on the life of the Inca Emperor, Atahualpa. The Spanish eventually demolished Qurikancha and built the Church of Santo Domingo on these foundations. Today one can still see Inca walls within the Church. There is a small charge to enter the church, which is situated just off the Plaza de Armas.
One of the better to visit in Cusco is the district of San Blas, a funky place with unique cafés and some of the most interesting shops in all of Peru. It is the artisanal center of Cusco, where shop owners can be observed executing their craft. A custom-made piece makes for a fantabulous gift for a loved one or, in case you needed an excuse, yourself. There are many slopes and stairs in San Blas, which might be tiring on your first day unless you opt for a taxi.
Museum of Sacred Magical and Medicinal Plants:
Address: Santa Teresa 351, Cusco
Opening times: Mon – Sat: 9:00 am to 6:00 pm
Museum of chocolate:
Chocolate museum and factory, 2 hours tour and workshop
Address: Entrance Garcilaso Street 210, Cusco (two blocks from Plaza de Armas)
Opening times: Mon – Sun: 9:00 am to 6:30 pm
Museum of Traditional Center of Textiles:
Interesting and free museum that showcases the colorful local textiles of the Cusco region
Address: Av El Sol 603, Cusco
Opening times: Mon – Sat: 7:30 am – 8:00 pm
If you only do one thing in Cusco make sure you go to San Pedro market. This will be one of the most colorful, vibrant and eye-opening experiences of your life. The market is segmented into various sections that range from fresh food and produce (fruit, vegetables, meats, cheeses, breads etc…) through to local textile stores, juice stores and pop-up restaurants.
Much of Peru’s cuisine is popping up around the world but some of it remains local to Cusco. During this tour we will take you on a tour of Cusco’s South Valley and its local culinary delights.
In the town of Tipon you can try their local specialty, guinea pig! Served with a noodle casserole, a stuffed hot pepper and of course, Peruvian potatoes, this is THE place to try baked guinea pig. Our last stop along the tour will be the town of Saylla, known for their Tocto or fried pork rind. It seems as though every restaurant along the road serves this dish and we will stop at one to try it before returning to Cusco.
Inka cuisine Pachamanca:
If you have free days in the city of Cusco, this tour will be one of the best options to enjoy a free day and to learn more of Andean Inka cuisine. Participate in our full day tour to see the preparation of the PACHAMANCA (kitchen on the ground), where you have the opportunity to see the preparation and taste at lunch this dish is one of the representative dishes in the Peruvian Andes.
Cusco City Tour (half day)
Our Cusco City Tour of half day is a perfect introduction to this amazing city and the Inca places of its surroundings, the departures to do the Cusco City Tour is every day. It includes visits to all the main sites in the center of the town, such as the Cathedral and the Qoricancha (sun temple) as well as the four main archeological complexes on the outskirts of Cusco (Sacsayhuaman, Q’enqo, Puca Pucara and Tambomachay).
First you will visit the Cathedral (entrance cost is s/25 and is not included on the tourist tickets), this amazing church is home of beautiful samples of the fine colonial art; the second place you will visit is the famous Qoricancha (sun temple) this beautiful place shows an amazing combination between the Inca and Spanish architecture of the best quality, you will receive important information from your guide about these places.
Continuing your tour, you will visit the archaeological park of Sacsayhuaman, the awesome cyclopean Inca’s build; then you will visit Q’enqo an important Inca funerary Centre built on the parent rock; then you will visit Puca Pucara an amazing Inca’s red fortress formed by terraces, passages, towers, vaults and platforms; finally you will visit Tambomachay, known as the Inca’s bath and made up of four walls inter-connected by small steps. You will see the crystal clear waters where the Inca paid homage to the water deity. Approximately at 18:15 hours, you will return to Cusco.
Outdoor Rock Climbing (half Day)
Just outside of Cusco there is beautiful natural rock formation that has been set up for climbing routes of varying difficulties. Spend the morning getting a climbing lesson from an experienced instructor and then practicing what you have learned as you challenge yourself to reach the top!
Cusco Trek Training – Half Day
For those looking for a physical challenge and to work on their balance and inner peace we offer you the opportunity to walk through the stunning landscapes of the Andes, to take in the energy which has floated through the air for thousands of years and to take some time during your travels to look within and appreciate the moment.
We will get our blood flowing as we hike up the many stairs that characterize the city of Cusco, through the neighborhood of San Blas and up to the Temple of the Moon.
With our muscles warmed up, we will start our practice beside an Inca Temple devoted to the moon. The class, taught by a certified yoga instructor will last just over an hour after which you will be given some down time to take everything in, rest and share with the group. From the temple, we will walk towards the Inca Temple of Sacsayhuaman* before returning to the city.
Yoga is a commonly known generic term as physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines that originated in ancient India. These disciplines are used as techniques for healing the body and to restoring balance to energy fields.
Our T&H yoga classes are done as an offering in gratitude for life, we use the fundamentals of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga (Ujjay breath and bhandas), to create the flow and dynamic that we need to purify our body. And we combine this with the ‘principles of alignment’ of Anusara Yoga (opening to grace, muscular, organic energy etc.) in order to give the refinement and the beauty that our yoga practices needs to fully express, to gain more understanding of our true Self.
Practitioners of all levels are welcome to share in our enlivening and relaxing yoga practice in the city of Cuzco.
And also we offer group and private yoga classes either, at our yoga center, or within nature on one of our yoga hikes. Our classes offer a blend of strengthening and opening, combining elements of breath work, meditation and philosophy into each class. Yoga is an integral part of the mission of Travel & Healing, working to align body, mind and spirit. On our yoga hikes, we start in San Blas and hike up to sacred places for class. We created an unique yoga with meditation hikes for our groups.
Huchuy Qosco, which means ‘Little Cusco’ in Quechua, is another fascinating Inca site. It is however not a day trip and does requires hiking. The easiest way to reach it is by driving from Cusco to the town of Lamay (2 hours) and then hiking 3-4 hours up to the site. Alternatively many tour operators offer a 2D/1N hikes to Huchuy Qoscowhich includes stops at Tambomachay and sometimes Moray.
Non-hiking Adventure Activities
White water rafting and canoeing
The Cusco region has many rivers and great white water rafting opportunities. Upstream rapids near the Chuqicahuana or Cusipata sections of the Rio Urubamba/Vilcanota provide the best ‘nearby’ opportunities to raft, and depending on the season (Nov-April) rapids can get as big as Class 5!Please note: do not be duped into rafting in the Sacred Valley near the towns of Ollantaytambo or Urubamaba as the water is severely polluted here.
If you are looking for a less adrenaline-filled rafting experience then the PiñiPampa section of the Rio Urubamba provides calmer rapids (Class 1 and 2) and you can paddle your own canoe! The ultimate rafting experience in the Cusco region is undoubtedly that offered on the Rio Apurimac –a source river to the Amazon. Rafting trips here usually last 3-4 days and include Class 3-5 rapids, incredible mountain scenery and deep canyons.
Mountain Bike Tours
Mountain biking tours are currently the craze. There are two popular routes, a one-day cycle across the ChincheroPlains where you get to visit Moray and Maras Salineras, or the Inca Jungle Trek (a 4D/3N mountain biking / trekking route to Machu Picchu), via the town of Santa Maria and Santa Teresa)
Make sure to book with a reliable operator as there are a number of sharks out there!
Rent a Motorcycle
If you know how to ride a motorcycle then renting a bike is one of the best ways to see Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
Motorcycles can be rented in a few places across Cusco city but you are best placed to go to CallePlateros, just north of Plaza de Armas. Here you will find a few shops that will rent you a bike for the whole day at US$40-$US50 (this includes two helmets if you are travelling with a partner), gloves and sometimes a jacket. They usually don’t even check your license, or if they do a drivers license should suffice.
Recommended route: Head North out of Cusco on the road to Pisac.
You can stop at Tambomachyand the CochahuasiAnimal Sanctuary. Pisachas a great local market. From here continue to Urubamabaor Ollantaytambofor lunch, there are Inca sites along the way. Head back using the route via Chinchero.
Paragliding across Cusco is another growing tourist activity. Tours fly over the Sacred Valley and some go even further into the Andes.
We know what nature, Andean mountains, rivers and the horses revitalize the spirit of any person. Our horseback riding tours are designed with security protocols for horses, staff and visitors creating wellness in their experiences. We have combined the best ranches and guides for the tours in Cusco and Sacred Valley of the Incas. Be part of our social projects: Every Saturday we perform social activities at different local institutions. Sundays are we tours to Machu Picchu to locals for free.
Our ranchers and horses were chosen through our wisdom and philosophy. We unite ranchers, their families and community so they can benefit from the tourism in Cusco. A condition of our bringing business to the ranchers is that they must treat the horses well and are subject to yearly veterinary check-ups. With a constant training creating culture of excellence to bring services and tours to visitors. This way we act together to benefit the future of society. Horseback riding is the best way to go on sightseeing tours in Cusco. These activities link nature, kindness of the Peruvian horse and archaeological mysteries in the Temples of the Incas.
Horse Riding Cusco Inca Temple of the Moon (half day tour):
This is a Horse Riding of 4 hours in which you will have a professional tour guide to visit beautiful and little known places of Cusco. The Horse Riding Sacred Route will take you to know beautiful the archeological complexes The Horse Riding Sacred Route will take you to know beautiful the archaeological complex located very close to the city, those complexes are: Temple of the Moon and the Chacan Mountain usually little visited by the tourists.
Horse Riding Cusco – 4 Ruins Tour:
The Horseback Ride provides an alternative way to visit the four archaeological complexes located on the outskirts of Cusco. This fabulous half day tour takes you around all the most important sites of Cusco with a Spanish – English bilingual guide, first class horses and explanations in each of the places we visit.
Peruvian Paso Horse Experience:
(The best saddle horse in the world)
This program will give you the opportunity to make an excursion horse in Cusco, where you will learn more about the noble and beautiful Peruvian Paso horses, differences and benefits as well as the importance of these within our Peruvian culture, all this with our expert guides in the activity that you can enjoy a tour of relaxation and culture with information about the valley of Cusco.
Horse Riding Sacred Valley to Salineras (Salt Pools):
Experience riding traditional Peruvian Paso Horses to the ancient salt pools of Maras, with incredible views of the Sacred Urubamba Valley River, Chicon Glacier, Pitusiray Glacier, Sahuasiray and Veronica Glacier.
Festivals in Cusco are virtually unending, and if you are lucky enough to visit during one of these colorful celebrations, then we highly recommend attending. We have provided a calendar of Cusco festivals and events for you.
Late March / Early April El senor de Los Temblores (lord of the earthquakes): A colorful procession held on the Monday before Easter Friday. The festival is run in remembrance of the devastating Peruvian earthquake of 1650.
May / June Festival of the Cusquenian beer: this is a not to miss opportunity to see some top local Peruvian musicians perform at one of the leading music festivals in South America.
May / Jun Q’oyoriti: this festival takes place near Ausangate and is a traditional Andean celebration.
June 24th Inti Raymi (Festival of the Sun): If you are lucky enough to be in Cusco on the 24th June then then prepare for the ultimate Cusco festival. The whole city and region celebrates the Inti Raymi (Festival of the Sun) which involves a re-enactment of Saqsaywaman’s Inca winter solstice festival. You will see street dancing and pageantry around the Koricancha Temple and the Plaza de Armas.
July 28th and 29th National Independence Days: Another two big days to celebrate Peruvian independence from Spain. Events are held in Cusco and throughout Peru.
August 1st Day of Pachamama (Mother earth) Pachamama Raymi
Shamans and local people from all region of Peru especially from the Andes celebrate with ceremonies to the Planet.
October – Cusco Touristic Month October is Cusco’s month to celebrate tourism so expect to see many events and small festivals.
December 24th Santuranticuy Artisan Crafts Fair: A wonderful arts and crafts fair held at the plaza de Armas.
Most people come to Cusco to visit Machu Picchu. The famous Inca city can be assessed either by train or by trekking. Booking well in advance for both train tickets or trekking tours is important.
Trekking permits must be pre-booked as there are only a limited amount of people allowed on the Inca Trail each day. These permits need to be booked months in advance as they sell out extremely quickly. Click here to book.
There are three Inca Trail options that vary in length to suit different hikers. Make sure you research each one to find the best option for yourself. Please see our article herefor all travel options to Machu Picchu from Cusco.
Cochahuasi Animal Sanctuary
Cochahuasi Animal Sanctuary is an amazing rehabilitation centre for injured and victimised animals. If you have the time we highly recommend visiting. The sanctuary has pumas, condors and vicunas.Address:located at km 22 of the route cusco–pisacweb:http://santuariocochahuasi.ComMaras SalienesMaras is a town in the sacred valley, 40km from Cusco. It is the location of the Maras Salt Pans which are well worth a visit. The town is located near Moray so we recommend combining these visits.
Get A Massage there are a number of ladies in and around plaza de armas who hand out fliers for massages. These are generally legit and cost US$5-6 for 1 hour!
Play Sapo And Drink Chicha Sapo is a traditional bar game which involves throwing Fichas, small coins, with a bronze toad attached (the Sapo) into holes in a table. Points are scored for getting the coins into the holes. Chicha (a local beer, see drinks section) is usually served while playing and we recommend befriending locals to help you get started on the game.
Watch A Football MatchSoccer fans should not overlook the football matches at the Estadio Garcilaso de la Vega stadium –a great chance to support Cusco’s home team, Cienciano.
Restaurants, hotels and hostels
There are 100s of restaurants in Cusco. Not only are there 100s of restaurants, but there is also a huge variety of restaurants, just have a walk around at night a give one a go! Hotels and Hostels Accommodation options in Cusco range from budget hostels all the way through to luxury 5-star hotels. Have a look at our cusco hotel and hostel guide to get a sense on where you would like to stay during your visit.You might also want to check out our hotel and hostel guide for ollantaytambo and aguas calientes.