A must-see attraction while in Cusco
Cusco was the capital of the Great Incan Empire; today it is considered the historical capital of Peru and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When you walk around the streets of Cusco, you will see the ancient Inca wall used as a foundation for the new buildings; some of the streets you can only enter by walking, and there are several colonial temples built over ancient Inca palaces.
To explore Cusco, you will need a day or 2. It’s recommended to visit the city during your first few days as a way to acclimatize to the altitude and then travel to Machu Picchu or elsewhere.
The best tourist attractions inside Cusco
You can visit these places on a city tour organized by a tour company or walk by yourself.
San Pedro Market:
The first and oldest market in Cusco was built in 1925 by the French architect Gustave Eiffel. San Pedro market is located only 10 minute’s walk from the Plaza de Armas of Cusco. You will feel the noise, the local shops, and the tasty food.
San Pedro Market is best visited after 8:00 a.m. and before 5:00 p.m.; inside, you will find everything you can think of, from alpaca chompas to souvenirs, fruits, juices, food, and much more.
We recommend buying fruit, fresh juice, souvenirs, Cuzquenian bread called “Chuta,” dry fruits, and cheese; however, if you have a long hiking trip to Machu Picchu, we recommend avoiding trying local food because it may be different from what you are used to.
Plaza de Armas
Located in the center of Cusco, Plaza de Armas is one of the most amazing wonders in the world, surrounded by the Cathedral, the Triumph Church, Compania de Jesus Church, and amazing colonial buildings with Inca foundations.
Another World Heritage Site, the Cathedral of the Assumption, is the main church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cusco. The cathedral is located in the Plaza de Armas. The entire building was built between 1560–1654. Inside you will find the biggest repository of Cusco’s colonial art.
Hatun Rumiyoc Street:
Located just a few minutes away from the main square, this street is famous because we will be able to find the famous twelve-angled stone, part of the wall of an ancient Inca Palace.
Also called Intu Intik’ijllu (from Quechua: street of the sun), this street connects the main square with Koricancha. Here you will appreciate the finest of Inca architecture.
The main temple of the sun is the most important religious site in the whole Incan Empire. The original name was Intikancha or Intiwasi (temple of the sun). Most of its temples were destroyed and used as the foundation of the Catholic Church; the Santo Domingo Monastery, built after the earthquake in 1650, destroyed the first Dominican monastery.
The best places to visit in and around Cusco
To visit these places, you will need to drive with a tour guide.
This amazing fortress was built by the Incas in the 15th century, especially under Pachacuti and his successors. Sacsayhuaman is located a 20-minute drive from Cusco’s center and is considered one of the most amazing buildings in the world.
You will be able to find the biggest stones in the Inca empire. It is believed that more than 20,000 people mined these stones (up to 125 tons) from nearby quarries (20 kilometers away) and transported them through the mountains in Cusco City.
The massive boulders of SacsayhuamanTo visit these places, you will need to drive with a tour guide.
This amazing fortress was built by the Incas in the 15th century, especially under Pachacuti and his successors. Sacsayhuaman is about 20 minutes by car from the center of Cusco. It is thought to be one of the most impressive buildings in the world.
You will be able to find the biggest stones in the Inca empire. It is believed that more than 20,000 people mined these stones (up to 125 tons) from nearby quarries (20 kilometers away) and transported them through the mountains to Cusco City.
Qenqo means “labyrinth.” This important Inca site is located next to Sacsayhuaman. You will be able to see underground tunnels, believed to use as a place to connect with the world of the dead.
Tambomachay, together with Sacsayhuaman, are among the most important religious site in Cusco; this amazing place was used to worship water and as the resting place of the Inca King.
Located next to Tambomachay, Puca Pucara was a military site with large walls, terraces, stairs, and a great location to control the south access to Cusco.
Best Day tours outside of Cusco City
To participate in this tour, you need to travel outside of Cusco city.
The most famous day hike in Cusco, visit the 5000+ meters high colored mountain in Cusco.
Humantay Lake is the second most popular day hike in Cusco. It is close to Salkantay Mountain.
An alternative, Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain, is perfect for those who prefer less crowded places.
The last hanging Inca Bridge, built over the Apurimac River, Qeswachaca, is located in Qehue district, Canas Province, in the Cusco region. Local villagers from Huinchiri, Choccayhua, Qollana, Qehue, and many others will renew this bridge every year.
The Sacred Valley is a classic day tour by bus and a short walk, visiting Pisac, Urubamba, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero, Salineras, Moray, and Cusco.
Tipón is a large Inca archaeological site located a 1-hour drive from Cusco, near the village of the same name. You will find a number of buildings and terraces that are watered by a network of water channels that are fed by huge fountains that get their water from natural springs.
Pikillaqta is not from the Inca culture; this amazing city was built by the Wari culture. They ruled in Peru right before the Incas.
Best multiday tours in Cusco
Classic Inca Trail:
the Inca trail is one of the most amazing hikes in the world; it combines history, nature, challenge, and finishes in the World Heritage Site – Machu Picchu.
The second most popular hike in Peru, Salkantay, is famous for being a challenging hike to Machu Picchu with amazing mountains and the cloud forest.
The Lares Trek is the preferred hike for those who love solitude, pristine nature, llamas, alpacas, glacier lakes, and visiting local villages off the beaten path.
When the Classic 4-day Inca trail is sold out, you can still hike the Shorter Version; this hike takes you to Machu Picchu through the last part of the Classic Inca trail and allows you to arrive at Machu Picchu through the Sungate.
The only trek allows you to hike literally from Cusco into the Sacred Valley and ride the train along the Urubamba river until Machu Picchu arrives.
The best multisport tour to Machu Picchu includes Biking, Rafting, Hiking, Zip Lining, and finally visiting Machu Picchu.