Cusco, the ancient capital of the Incan Empire, is a city rich in history and culture. Located in the heart of the Andes Mountains, it’s a popular tourist destination and a must-visit for anyone interested in exploring Peru’s cultural heritage. From breathtaking historical sites to adventurous outdoor activities, Cusco has something for everyone. In this article, we will explore the top things to do in Cusco and help you plan an unforgettable trip to this beautiful city.
Visit Machu Picchu
No trip to Cusco is complete without visiting the ancient Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. This UNESCO World Heritage Site, located 2,430 meters above sea level, is one of the most iconic landmarks in South America and a testament to the impressive engineering skills of the Inca civilization.
To get to Machu Picchu, you can take a train from Cusco to the town of Aguas Calientes, followed by a bus ride up to the ruins. Alternatively, you can opt for the Inca Trail, a 4-day trek through the Andes that offers stunning views and a chance to experience the local culture.
Check out our tours to Machu Picchu.
Explore the Historic City Center
The historic city center of Cusco is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a must-visit for anyone interested in the city’s rich history and culture. The Plaza de Armas is the central square of the city and home to many of its most important landmarks, including the Cusco Cathedral and the Church of the Society of Jesus. Visitors can also explore the narrow cobblestone streets, lined with colonial-era buildings and colorful markets.
Experience the Local Food and Drink
Peruvian cuisine is among the most diverse and delicious in the world, and Cusco is no exception. The city has a vibrant culinary scene, with many local restaurants offering traditional dishes such as ceviche, lomo saltado, and rocoto relleno. You can also sample local drinks such as chicha, a fermented corn drink, and pisco, a grape-based spirit that is the basis of Peru’s national cocktail, the pisco sour.
Go on a Hike
Outdoor enthusiasts consider Cusco a paradise because beautiful and breathtaking natural landscapes surround it. Hiking is one of the most popular activities in Cusco, and there are many trails to explore, ranging from easy walks to challenging multi-day treks. Here are some of the best hiking options in Cusco:
The Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is one of the most famous hikes in the world, and takes you through stunning mountain scenery and Incan ruins before arriving at the iconic Machu Picchu. The hike typically takes four days, and requires a permit, which must be booked in advance. The trail is quite challenging, with steep ascents and descents, but the reward is well worth it.
Rainbow Mountain, also known as Vinicunca, is a colorful mountain located just outside of Cusco. The hike to the top of the mountain takes around four hours, and offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape. The mountain is named for its vibrant colors, which are caused by the presence of minerals in the rock.
Humantay Lake is a beautiful turquoise lake located in the Andes mountains, and is a popular day hike from Cusco. The hike takes around three hours each way, and offers stunning views of snow-capped peaks and valleys. The lake is considered sacred by the local people, and is a great place to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the region.
The Choquequirao Trek is a challenging multi-day trek that takes you through some of the most beautiful and remote parts of the Andes. The trek takes around five days, and involves steep ascents and descents, as well as camping in the wilderness. The reward is the stunning Choquequirao ruins, which are often compared to Machu Picchu for their beauty and historical significance.
The Ausangate Trek is a challenging but rewarding trek that takes you through the stunning Ausangate mountain range. The trek takes around five days, and involves camping in the wilderness and crossing high mountain passes. The highlight of the trek is the Ausangate mountain itself, which is considered sacred by the local people and is one of the most beautiful peaks in the Andes.
Take a Day Trip to the Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley, located just outside of Cusco, is home to many important Incan archaeological sites, including the Pisac Ruins and the Ollantaytambo Fortress. Visitors can explore the ancient ruins, learn about the Incan culture, and enjoy the stunning natural beauty of the valley.
Visit the Inca Museum
The Inca Museum is located in the historic city center of Cusco and is a must-visit for anyone interested in the city’s rich history and culture. The museum houses an impressive collection of Incan artifacts, including pottery, jewelry, and textiles. Visitors can learn about the Incan culture and history, and gain a deeper understanding of the city’s cultural heritage.
Attend a Traditional Festival
Cusco is known for its colorful and vibrant traditional festivals, which are held throughout the year. One of the most famous festivals is Inti Raymi, also known as the Festival of the Sun, which takes place in June and celebrates the winter solstice. Visitors can witness traditional Incan rituals and dances, and immerse themselves in the local culture.
Learn about Traditional Textiles
Cusco is famous for its vibrant and intricate traditional textiles, which are still made using ancient techniques. Visitors can learn about the process of making textiles, and purchase high-quality handmade items such as sweaters, hats, and blankets. The Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco is a great place to learn about the art of weaving and support local artisans.
Visit the Sacsayhuaman Fortress
The Sacsayhuaman Fortress is an impressive Incan structure located just outside of Cusco. The fortress consists of massive stone walls and is believed to have been used for military purposes. Visitors can explore the site and learn about the engineering and architectural techniques used by the Incans.
Take a Cooking Class
Peruvian cuisine is gaining popularity worldwide, and taking a cooking class in Cusco is a great way to learn about traditional dishes and cooking techniques. You can learn how to make ceviche, ají de gallina, and other delicious dishes, and get a deeper understanding of Peruvian culture and traditions.
Go on a Bike Tour
Biking is a fun and adventurous way to explore Cusco and its surroundings. You can rent a bike and explore the city’s many bike-friendly paths, or go on a guided bike tour that takes you through the Sacred Valley and other scenic routes.
Enjoy the Nightlife
Cusco has a lively nightlife scene, with many bars, clubs, and restaurants open late into the night. You can sample local drinks and dance the night away to traditional music, or explore the city’s many cultural offerings such as live music and theater performances.
Visit the San Pedro Market
The San Pedro Market is a bustling and colorful market located in the heart of Cusco. Visitors can find everything from fresh produce and traditional food to handicrafts and souvenirs. It’s a great place to immerse yourself in the local culture and get a taste of everyday life in Cusco.
Cusco is a city rich in history, culture, and natural beauty, and offers something for everyone. From exploring ancient ruins to experiencing traditional festivals and cuisine, there are many things to do in Cusco that will leave you with unforgettable memories. Whether you’re a history buff, an outdoor enthusiast, or a foodie, Cusco is a destination you won’t want to miss.
The best time to visit Cusco is during the dry season, from May to October, when the weather is sunny and mild. However, this is also peak tourist season, so expect crowds and higher prices.
While knowing some basic Spanish can be helpful, it’s not necessary to speak the language to visit Cusco. Many locals speak English, and there are plenty of tour companies and guides who can help with translations.
Cusco is generally a safe city to visit, but like any city, it’s important to take precautions to ensure your safety. Avoid walking alone at night, keep an eye on your belongings, and be aware of your surroundings.