Cusco and its surrounding areas are truly a must-see in South America. Beyond its fame as the access gate to Machu Picchu, it is a city that is teeming with activity and adventure! We’ve created a quick Cusco City Guide to show you the best sights and give you travel tips, along with our top […]
Cusco and its surrounding areas are truly a must-see in South America. Beyond its fame as the access gate to Machu Picchu, it is a city that is teeming with activity and adventure! We’ve created a quick Cusco City Guide to show you the best sights and give you travel tips, along with our top recommendations.
We recommend you spend at least 5 days here in order to see the city’s top attractions (including Machu Picchu). Make sure you don’t miss out on our other top 6 top things to do in Cusco:
|Plaza de Armas
No trip to Cusco would be complete without a tour of the Plaza de Armas. Located in the center of Cusco, this vibrant plaza has many eateries where you can sample Peruvian cuisine and/or a pisco sour, one of Peru’s most popular alcoholic drinks. The Plaza also contains Cusco Cathedral and the Church la Compania de Jesus, both worth exploring for their magnificent architecture. The Plaza also hosts many festivals throughout the summer months, including Inti Raymi (the Inca Festival of the Sun) which is held on June 24 every year.
|San Pedro Market
For some of Peru’s best tourist shopping, you must head to the San Pedro Market. Located a five-minute walk from the Plaza de Armas, this market contains endless rows of stalls where you can find all sorts of souvenirs. From t-shirts and flags to bottle openers and miniature alpacas, you will find it at the San Pedro Market. In addition, the back half of the market has a multitude of meat, vegetable, and fruit stalls that serve food and fresh juices all day long. However, because the market is outdoor, the freshest goods are sold in the morning. We don’t recommend buying food in the afternoon!
Make sure to pack your hiking shoes for this trip! While many people travel to Cusco to experience Machu Picchu, there are a multitude of other ruins closer to the city which are still fascinating. One such ruin, Sacsayhuaman, lies within Cusco’s city boundaries. Due to the difficult pronunciation of the ruins, travelers have deemed the ruin to be called “sexy woman.” The ruins were first built in 1100 by the Killke culture but were updated by the Incas in the 13th century. The boulders used to create this site were fitted together without mortar; that’s how exquisitely made it is! The ruins are located on the northern side of the city, up on a hill that provides a breathtaking view of all of Cusco.
Towering 26 feet (8 meters) tall, Cristo Blanco is a larger-than-life statue of Jesus Christ that overlooks the city of Cusco. The statue is similar to the Christ the Redeemer Statue above the city of Rio de Janeiro. He is standing upright with his arms outspread. During the day, looking out from Cristo Blanco gives you a panoramic view of the Plaza de Armas and at nighttime, Cristo Blanco is illuminated for all of Cusco to see. He is located only a ten-minute walk from Sacsayhuaman and can be driven to as well.
Astronomy was a large part of ancient Inca culture and had a huge impact on their religion, architecture, and agricultural practices. If you are interested in learning about Inca astrology or just observing the beautiful sky view, the Planetarium is definitely worth a visit. Because of Cusco’s high elevation, the stars from the site are stunning even with the naked eye. You will find it in the hills on the northern side of the city.
If you are interested in learning more about Inca history, this museum has all you need to know about this once massive empire. It is a wonderful stop in Cusco to better understand the Incas before exploring Machu Picchu and surrounding ruins. The museum is housed in a colonial home of a Spanish admiral and is home to twenty-four exhibits showcasing a wide variety of artifacts from mummified bodies to woven textiles.
Popular local specialties include:
You can find the Cuy specialty at Cuyeria Sabor Moqueguano, a restaurant off the beaten path that is guaranteed to provide the best Cuy in the area. This restaurant is located in a residential area where you may be the only non-local; we think this makes for the best authentic experience! However, if you are looking for somewhere closer to the city center, the Plaza de Armas hosts many restaurants that serve the dish, such as Morena Peruvian Kitchen.
Head to Chicha, a restaurant that overlooks the town’s Plaza Regocijo, to find the best ceviche in town. Owned and operated by Peru’s award-winning chef Gaston Acurio, seafood lovers are sure to love his ceviche. However, this venue is usually reserved in advance, so prepare ahead! Chicha is also the name of the iconic Peruvian alcohol made from corn. Make sure to order a glass or grab one from the many street vendors in town to have a truly authentic experience!
The best Aji de Gallina will be located at Pachamama, a wonderful restaurant in the center of town. Known for crafting incredible Peruvian specialties, this venue will be less touristy than many spots in the Plaza de Armas.
Traveler Tip: If you are in Cusco during the month of June for the Corpus Cristi festival, make sure to grab a plate of Chiriuchu! This cold dish is made of Andean specialties such as seaweed, fish roes, guinea pig, potatoes, corn cakes, and cheese served with hot peppers on the top. We recommend La Cusqueñita as a wonderful place to try this dish!
Missing home? Head to Jack’s Cafe or The Meeting Place for Western cuisine that is more comfortable and reminiscent of home. Jack’s Cafe serves breakfast all day, and The Meeting Place has milkshakes that are to die for!
Most people know Cusco for its proximity to Machu Picchu. While Machu Picchu is surely a site to see, many travelers overlook the other surrounding areas of Cusco that are equally as fascinating! For the best experience, we recommend these day trips from Cusco:
Hike to the peak of Rainbow Mountain for an adventurous experience you’ll never forget. Named for its rainbow geographical layers, this hike is challenging and requires an entire day to complete with transportation to and from Cusco. The breathtaking landscape of the hike takes you through Andean villages and snow-capped mountains where you are more than likely to spot an alpaca herd or two! We recommend this trip that includes an experienced mountain guide, round-trip transportation, and two meals.
Moray Inca and Maras Salt Mine
The salt evaporation pools at Maras are a true technological advancement from Inca times. Mountain water drips into these crafted pools where it evaporates, leaving behind pure mountain salt for cooking and medicinal uses. Moray is another Inca wonder that looks similar to an amphitheater with circular terraces descending 300 feet (100 meters) into the ground. Both sites are worth the time spent to see them and can be reached by car, bike, or ATV. We recommend this biking tour as a great way to experience the sites while biking through remote mountain villages and admiring views of the spectacular Andes!
Pitusiray Mountain and Lake Qan Qan
If hiking in the Andes is on your list for your trip to Cusco, then this adventure is for you. Hiking up Pitusiray Mountain is an intermediate trek that provides incredible views of the lush Peruvian flora and fauna as well as the stunning surrounding peaks. This guided trek also stops at Lake Qan Qan, where you can enjoy a picnic at the lake’s edge.
For the thrill seeker, you must use a day to river raft the Urubamba River just outside of Cusco. This river contains Class II-III rapids that wind through the Sacred Valley of the Incas, giving you the adrenaline rush you’re craving along with views of Peru’s natural beauty. We recommend Keteka’s full-day rafting tour that provides you with all the necessary equipment and transportation, making the adventure entirely stress-free.
Last but not least…
Getting to Machu Picchu, of course! Your trip to Cusco would not be complete without experiencing one of the seven wonders of the world. Machu Picchu can be reached by car, train, or through hiking the Inca Trail. Read this post for more details on visiting Machu Picchu. If your time is limited during your trip, we recommend this day tour that includes the scenic train ride from Cusco to Machu Picchu, allowing you to experience the site and be back in Cusco by nightfall.
Cusco and its surrounding areas are truly a must-see in South America. From nearby Machu Picchu to delicious local restaurants, Cusco is a city that is teeming with activity and adventure!