There are so many things to do in Cusco that you will run out of time before you run out of tourist attractions to visit or tourist activities that you can take part in. Indeed, this beautiful city offers a whole host of possibilities and opportunities.
In order to make your visit to Cusco a very memorable one, we have put together our list of interesting activities that you can participate in and of great places to visit.
Tourist activities available in Cusco
Everything depends on your motivation, creativity, time, and preferences. In this city, which is part of the Cultural Heritage of Humanity, you can:
- Visit the tourist attractions which are most frequently visited: archeological complexes, natural scenic attractions, museums, churches and convents, colonial mansions, and Incan palaces.
- Take a walk around the city.
- Enjoy traditional or novo-Andina cuisine at traditional restaurants, at the local San Pedro Market, or at tourist restaurants.
- Go shopping for souvenirs (jewelry, textiles, crafts) at any of the many local crafts markets. The Cusco Artesan´s Center (which is the big building across the street from the water fountain on Av. Sol.), the Chinchero Sunday Market, the Traditional Market of Pisac, and the crafts market at Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu.
- Participate in some of the traditional activities of live-in tourism, like (farming, herding cattle or sheep or alpacas, helping to make crafts) in the Sacred Valley, at Chinchero, Ollantaytambo and Raqchi.
- Participate in mystical and spiritual tourism. (Ancient ceremonies, activities to help you relax, meditation, massage, and exercises) at various ceremonial centers.
- Go birdwatching. Two great places for this activity are the wetlands of Huacarpay and the Manu National Park.
- Enjoy the famous Cusco nightlife in the historic center of Cusco.
Tourist Attractions to Visit in Cusco
These are some of the tourist sites of Cusco that you really should visit.
- Archeological Parks. Chinchero, Choquequirao, Machu Picchu, Moray, Ollantaytambo, Piquillacta, Pisac, Raqchi, Tipón and the Sacsayhuamán Archeological Park which includes Qenqo, Puca Pucara and Tambomachay.
- Tourist Attractions. The San Blas neighborhood, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Huamanmarca Archeological Center, the Incan city of Patallaqta, the Espiritu Santo Archeological Site, the Kanamarca Archeological Complex, the Tarawasi Archeological Complex, the Mauk’allaqta,Archeological Complex, the 12-Angled Stone, Cusco´s Plaza de Armas ( Main Square), the Hanging Bridge at Q’eswachaka, and the Salineras Salt Mine near Maras.
- Natural Attractions and Beautiful Places to Visit. Suykutambo Canyon, the circuit around the four lakes, the Huacarpay wetlands, Rainbow Mtn., snow-capped Ausangate Mtn., snow-capped Salkantay Mtn., Manu National Park, the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and the Lares Valley.
- Museums: Casa Concha Museum, the Contemporary Art Museum. The Popular Art Museum, the pre-Columbian Museum, the Museum of Religious Art, the Historic Regional Museum, Santa Catalina, Machu Picchu, the Qorikancha, and the Inka Museum.
- Temples and Convents. Church of the Company of Jesus, the Cusco Cathedral, the Chapel at Andahuaylillas, San Blas Church, the Lady of Mercy Church (Merced Church), the San Francisco Convent, the Santa Catalina Church and Convent, the Santo Domingo Church and Convent. (Coricancha).
- Colonial Mansions: Casa Cabrera, Casa de los Cuatro Bustos, Casa del Inca Garcilaso de La Vega, Casa del Marqués de Picoaga, Casa del Marqués de Valleumbroso, the Archbishop´s Palace, the Palace of the Admiral.
- Incan Palaces: Amaru Kancha, Hatun Kancha, Hatunrumiyoq, Kiswar Kancha, Pukamarka, Qasana, Qollqanpata, and Qoraqora.
- Principle plazas: Plaza de Armas, Plaza Regocijo, Plaza San Francisco y Plazoleta San Blas.
- The most famous streets: Calle Hatunrumiyoq, Calle Loreto, Avenida El Sol.
- The most frequently visited scenic overlooks: Cristo Blanco, San Cristóbal, Santa Ana, the Monument of the Inca Pachacútec.
- Tourist sites close to Cusco: Temple of the Moon, Cristo Blanco and Zone X.
Adventure sports which you can participate in while you are in Cusco
- Hiking and trekking along some of the world´s finest trekking routes like Humantay Lagoon, Rainbow Mtn., the Inca Trail, Salkantay, Choquequirao, Ausangate, the Lares valley.
- Mountain Biking: on the Inca Jungle Trail.
- Canoeing and River Rafting on the Vilcanota River. (Huambutio – Pisac, Calca – Urubamba, Cusipata – Huambutio) and on the Apurímac River (Huallpa Chaka – Cunyaq).
- Mountain climbing: on the Chicón glaciar, Cerro Soray, glacier covered Mt. María Huamantita, and to the snow-covered peaks of Salkantay and Ausangate.
- Rock climbing at Chacán, Pachar and Huambutio.
- Zipline at Santa Teresa or at Maras – Moray.
- Paragliding in the Sacred Valley or at Ancahuasi.
- Ride on a hot air balloon in the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
- Go horseback riding to the Temple of the Moon or at Zone X.
What should I do on my first day in Cusco?
If you arrived by airplane, you could leave your bags in your hotel and go out and devour the city. Of course, it is good to remember that the high elevation of Cusco affects quite a few visitors. The normal check in time at the local hotels is between 10 am. and 12 noon. It probably would be a smart idea to relax in your room at your hotel for a while and drink some coca tea or muña tea. You could enjoy a light lunch, and then, with your energies renewed, you can go out and explore the city on your own or with the help of a travel agency.
The most recommended tours are:
- The Cusco City Tour. On this guided tour you will visit the imposing Cathedral, the Qoricancha, Sacsayhuamán, Qenqo, Tambomachay and Puca Pucará. The tour begins at 1:30 pm and lasts for about 5 hours.
- The four-wheeler tour of Moray – Salineras. You would ride on a 4-wheeler over the ancient Incan trails. You would visit the Huaypo Lake and the Agricultural Center of Moray. And from there you would ride to the Salineras Salt Mines.
Other excursions that are a very good alternatives, especially when you just arrived in Cusco the night before or in the early hours of the morning:
- The Alternative Sacred Valley. This is a guided tour on which you would visit Maras, Moray and Salineras. The tour starts at 8:30 am. and finishes about 6 hours later.
- Tour of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. This is a guided tour on which you would visit: Pisac, Ollantaytambo and Chinchero. The tour starts at 8:30 am. and lasts for about 8 hours.
- Tour of the South Valley of Cusco. This is a guided tour on which you will visit Tipón, Piquillacta, and the colonial church at Andahuaylillas. The tour starts at 8:30 am, and it lasts for about 6 hours.
What should I do if I have 2 days in Cusco?
If you are going to be in Cusco for 2 days, you should definitely go visit the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu.
- On Day 1 you could do any of the alternatives listed above for Cusco in One Day, like the City Tour, the Sacred Valley Tour, or the Alternative Sacred Valley Tour.
- On Day 2 you could go visit the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu. For your Machu Picchu visit you can get there on your own, or with the help of an agency. You would depart at 4 am. and come back to Cusco about 16 hours later. Machu Picchu is a must-see destination that you shouldn’t miss.
What should I do if I have 3 days in Cusco?
- Day 1. We would recommend that you take the City Tour first. On this tour you´d visit the Cusco Cathedral, the Qoricancha, Sacsayhuamán, Qenqo, Tambomachay and Puca Pucará.
- Day 2. Choose either the Tour of the Sacred Valley (Pisac, Ollantaytambo and Chinchero), or the Alternative Sacred Valley Tour (Maras, Moray and Salineras). When you are in the Sacred Valley at Ollantaytambo, you are already halfway to Machu Picchu. So, instead of returning to Cusco to spend the night, you could catch the train for Aguas Calientes in Ollantaytambo. Then you would spend the night in Aguas Calientes (Machupicchu Pueblo) and go up to the Citadel of Machu Picchu the following day.
- Day 3. Enjoy your whole day at Machu Picchu. Late in the afternoon you can catch the train and return to Cusco.
What should you do if you have 4 days or more in Cusco?
When you get up to having 4 or 5 days in Cusco, all of your possibilities are multiplied. You could take the City Tour, the Tour of the Sacred Valley, the Alternative Sacred Valley Tour, the South Valley Tour, hike the Inca trail, or go check out Humantay, Vinicunca, Choquequirao, or Salkantay. And there are so many other destinations. For me to make other recommendations for you would be a sin. There are so many tourist destinations to visit in Cusco that it wouldn´t be right for me to choose them for you. The best option is to invite you to plan out your own itinerary.
What is there to do at night?
The nights in Cusco are magical. They evoke mystery and magic, and tradition and culture. It is almost forbidden to just stay in your hotel room. You have to go out and discover the Cusco night.
- Enjoy a cultural video presentation, and see the traditional music and folkloric dance show at the Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo from 6:30 pm until 8:15 pm.
- Take a walk around the prettiest places in the city like the 12-Angled Stone, the San Blas neighborhood, the the Plaza de Armas, and the Qoricancha.
- Go on an adventure to visit and view the city from a scenic overlook.
- Have a drink or a coffee at a tourist restaurant, preferably one the has a balcony that you can sit on an have great view of the city or of the Plaza de Armas.
- Go out and dance at a disco or sing at a Karaoke bar of which there are many near the Plaza de Armas.
For sure, Machu Picchu is the first word that comes to mind when you hear the word Cusco. Truly, the Citadel of Machu Picchu is the most memorable icon of the city. It is one of the most frequently visited tourist destinations in Peru and in the world. Nevertheless, Cusco is more than just Machu Picchu. For this reason, your journey to Cusco should be one of the most gratifying experiences of your life.