10 Amazing Things to Do in Cusco, Peru

10 Amazing Things to Do in Cusco, Peru

Cusco is one of the most popular cities in the world to visit, and it’s easy to see why. There are so many activities and things to experience that it’s hard to do everything in one trip. Peru is home to some of the most beautiful people, landscapes, and history in the Western Hemisphere. 

There’s nothing better than exploring everything this country offers, going on a stunning hike, and relaxing afterward with a fresh pisco sour. I’ve traveled throughout Peru for a few months, and Cusco is one of my favorite places.  So, grab a coffee, sit back, and relax as I go over the best things to do in Cusco! 

The Best Things to Do in Cusco

Is Cusco Worth Visiting?

Peru is the land of adventure, and Cusco is one of the best spots for this in the entire country. It also used to be the capital of the Incan Empire and has a lot of history. This is why it’s the country’s most popular place to visit, and it can sometimes feel like a tourist trap. But visiting Machu Picchu alone is well worth the trip here. Read more: 42 Amazing Ancient Ruins of the World

If you love to see history and mountains and connect with the local culture, then Cusco is a must-add to any itinerary in Peru! 

1. Machu Picchu

best things to do in cusco machu picchu

I’m sure most people, especially those who love to travel, have heard of the sacred site of Machu Picchu. It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983 and was declared one of the Seven New World Wonders in 2007.  Machu Picchu was said to be a religious site or royal estate for Incan leaders. 

A trip to Machu Picchu isn’t the cheapest activity in Cusco. You first have to get to the town of Aguas Calientes, which is a four-hour journey. 

Cusco is often used as the base when visiting Machu Picchu but you’ll stay in Aguas Calientes for a night or two. 

It is all worth it when you make it up to the actual site and see the beauty for yourself. It’s truly one of the most remarkable things you’ll ever see. Plan your trip to Machu Picchu with this guide: How to Plan a Trip to Machu Picchu

2. Hike to Laguna Humantay

things to do in cusco laguna humantay

Laguna Humantay is one of the most beautiful lake hikes in the region and even the country! It’s part of the Salkantay Trek, which showcases the beauty of the surrounding areas of Cusco. 

You can do this hike on your own, which will save you money, or you can book one of the many available tours. 

Doing this hike independently might seem too complicated for some but it’s also an adventure. Here’s how to get to the trailhead independently: 

Get a Colectivo from Cusco to Mollepata for around 20 soles. These can be found on the Mapsme app or ask around to find this colectivo
Take a taxi from Mollepata to Soryapampa. This is where you’ll begin the hike to Laguna Humantay. I suggest downloading Mapsme to use offline maps when hiking. 
You’ll pay an entrance fee in Mollepata of around 10 soles (prices may have changed slightly)

If this is too complicated for you, you can visit the lake with a tour group for around $25-$30 USD. The hike is straightforward but can be difficult for some. Read my complete guide here.

Laguna Humantay sits at around 4200 meters and some might experience altitude sickness. So, go at your own pace! 

Distance: This hike is around a 2.6-mile loop hike. This varies slightly depending on the trail you take early on.
Duration: On average it will take people 2 hours to finish. This depends on fitness level and time at the laguna.
Difficulty: I’d rank this hike as moderate to difficult because of the altitude and elevation gain.
Incline: The elevation for this hike is around 1302 feet or 396 meters.
Hiking Guide: A guide is not needed for this hike and is easily accessible by the public.

3. Explore the City Center and Take a Free Walking Tour

things to do in cusco free walking tour

It’s hard to miss the city center of Cusco when visiting. It’ll always be lively; even into the night, there’s always something to see and do. 

A free walking tour is a popular activity for those who want to experience the history of Cusco while being shown it by a local. You can check out Free Walking Tours Cusco to book a time.

Some of the things you’ll see are: 

Arms square
The company of Jesus
The last street – Inca Street Loreto
The coricancha or Temple of the sun
The Palace of Pachacutec
Inca Roca Palace
The 12-angle stone
The San Blas neighborhood

Remember that just because it’s called a “free” walking tour doesn’t make it free. Please tip your guides! 

4. Grab a Beer and Look Over Cusco

what to do in cusco city views

One of my favorite activities to do anywhere, especially when I first arrive, is to find a good bar overlooking the city. And it’s no different in Cusco. 

What we did was visit a bar after hiking up to Cristo Blanco. There are many to choose from, and they can also be stumbled upon. 

Some popular ones are Ivin Inka Beer and Santo Resto Lounge. You might even get to hangout with a cat! Read more about dining in Cusco at 5 Authentic Cusco Restaurants Where you Can Eat Like a Local

5. Take a Tour to Rainbow Mountain

things to do in cusco rainbow mountain

One of Cusco’s fastest-growing activities over the last decade is visiting the stunning Rainbow Mountain. Be warned, there will be a lot of people doing this activity with multiple tour companies. 

You’ll reach an elevation of around 5,000 meters (16,400 feet), so be prepared! You must take a tour to reach Rainbow Moutain.

A tour here costs around $30, which includes breakfast and lunch. It is a full-day tour that will take around 12 hours to complete. Plan your trip to Rainbow Mountain here: What To Expect When Hiking Rainbow Mountain Peru

Alternative to Rainbow Mountain – Palcoyo Mountain

best things to do in cusco Palcoyo Mountain of colors

If you’re like me and don’t love large crowds, especially during a hike, there’s a similar activity with fewer people.  Palccoyo is in the same area as Rainbow Mountain but doesn’t have nearly the same number of people hiking there. Look into this trek to escape the crowds and see something slightly different! This highly rated tour takes you on a full-day trek to Palcoyo Mountain of colors.

6. Visit the Cristo Blanco Viewpoint

things to do in cusco

Seeing a new city from a gorgeous viewpoint is a staple of my itinerary everywhere I go. It helps give you a perspective of your new destination and is also fun as heck! 

The Cristo Blanco statue is one of the easiest and best viewpoints in town. This large statue can be seen from afar the closer you get.  It’s also a fantastic spot to watch the sunset! After visiting Cristo Blanco, you can walk down the steps down the street to the East.  Tjere are many bars and hostels with amazing views of Cusco! Grab a drink and relax. 

7. Explore the San Blas District

best things to do in cusco san blas district

The San Blas district is slightly out of the town center and has many shops and restaurants! 

Here you can enjoy a lot of shopping and buy souvenirs like the famous alpaca sweaters and many others. 

Take a break while enjoying a coffee at one of the cute cafes! There’s so much to do here, you might lose track of time. 

8. Hike to Salkantay Trek

If you want a unique adventure while attempting to reach Machu Picchu, I highly suggest hiking the Salkantay Trek! 

The Salkantay Trek is a 5 day hike through the mountains with the end goal of reaching Machu Picchu. It was by far the best activity I did in Peru! 

The five-day itinerary will look something like this: 

You will be picked up from your accommodation and driven to Soryapampa, where you will begin your hike to Laguna Humantay. Afterwards, spend the night here! 
Hike through the Salkantay Pass and spend the night in the town of Colpapampa
Wake up and hike through the canyon and coffee plantations to reach the town of Lucmabamba. 
Day 4 is all about reaching the town of Aguas Calientes, the base of Machu Picchu. During this day you’ll reach viewpoints where you can see Machu Picchu from afar.
On the last day, you’ll wake up early to visit Machu Picchu before heading back to Cusco. 

Salkantay Trek Details

Distance: To reach Machu Picchu, this hike is a 46-mile loop. Just the Salkantay Pass is 12.3 miles from point to point.
Duration: On average, it will take people 5 days to finish. This depends on fitness level and time at the laguna.
Difficulty: I’d rank this hike as difficult because of the altitude, elevation gain, and length.
Incline: The max elevation for the Salkantay trek is 4,630 meters or 15,190 feet.
Hiking Guide: A guide is not needed for this hike, but it is accessible to the public.

9. Visit Sacsayhuaman

Sacsayhuaman or Saqsaywaman, is one of the most popular activities in Cusco, and it is located directly inside the city! 

This is an old Incan archeological site made of large stones. This ancient civilization put these stones together without mortar.  

To access this site, you’ll have to buy a ticket, which is pricey but well worth it! A general tourist ticket costs around 130 soles and gives you access to 16 different sites. 

With so much to see, it’s a great price for such a historic landmark.

10. Explore the Markets and Try Street Food

Cusco is known for its amazing markets, like the San Pedro Market. You can purchase fruits, vegetables, meats, and even different souvenirs here! 

Also, you can’t visit Peru without trying some of its local dishes! Try an Alpaca burger, or if you’re up for it, try the Guinea Pig! Check out Peruvian Food: 20 Traditional Peruvian Dishes You Have to Try

If those options don’t appeal to you, there are plenty of other options at restaurants throughout the city and near the city center. If you want to save money on food, venture farther from the city center for better prices and a more authentic touch! Try some street food. It’s delicious and cheap! 

Things to Know Before Visiting Cusco

How to Get from Cusco from Lima

Most people will find getting to Cusco from Lima straightforward. The most efficient way is to take a plane, but this isn’t the cheapest option. 

If you have time and want to save money, taking the bus from Lima to Cusco is a viable option. However, the bus ride is overnight and 20+ hours long. 

Flights are around $40 USD, but that is without a bag. A carry-on bag will nearly double this price, and a checked bag will cost even more. 

Here is what to do if you want to take the bus:

If you don’t want to go to the bus terminal, you can order your ticket on Redbus. This is the go-to for online bus tickets in Peru.
Julio Ceasar is one of the highest-rated bus companies but they are all pretty good.

 I suggest paying for VIP or first-class tickets. It doesn’t cost much more but you’ll be way more comfortable. I did this for every bus I took in South America that was 5+ hours (if it was available)

Terminal Plaza Norte and La Victoria are two good stations. The website and/or ticket will tell you which bus terminal you must visit. 
Take a taxi/Uber to whichever bus terminal it states

Best Restaurants in Cusco, Peru

How Many Days to Spend in Cusco?

The amount of days you should spend in Cusco will vary from person to person. If you’re limited on time, I’d suggest staying for three days in the city.

This does not include your time visiting Machu Picchu or any multi-day trek you want to take. Check out: Top Three Little Known Hiking Day Trips in Cusco, Peru

I’d suggest around a week if time isn’t a big deal. There’s much to do here and outside of town, including day trips. 

Remember, Cusco used to be one of the most important cities in the entire Western Hemisphere. There are endless amounts of things to see and do. 

Final Thoughts about Cusco

Peru is a magical country where adventure meets history, and Cusco is at the center of this. There’s so much to see and do here that it’s impossible to do everything in one trip. Take everything in as it comes and be present. I love this city so much that I plan to return one day soon. There are many more hikes to go on and adventures to be had! 

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