Cusco is considered the capital of the Inca Empire. Nowadays, it is the historical capital of Peru and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In fact, when you walk around the center of the city, you will see the ancient Inca walls at the base of the new buildings. As a result, several colonial temples are built over ancient Inca palaces, and you can walk through its narrow streets on foot.
You will need at least 1 day to explore the city. Besides, we recommend that you acclimate to the altitude on your first day before traveling to Machu Picchu or other high-altitude sites near Cusco. Discover What to do in Cusco in 2024 here!
What to do in Cusco City?
You can visit the following places by taking a city tour around Cusco or making your own walking plan. Best of all, they are very close to each other!
1. Free walk in the Cusco Main Square:
It is located in the center of the city and is one of the most amazing places to visit. Near, you will see the Cathedral, the Triumph Church, the Compañía de Jesus Church, and other impressive colonial buildings that maintain their Inca stones to date. Likewise. the Cusco Main Square is very popular and a must for any traveler.
2. A visit to the Cusco Cathedral:
The Cusco Cathedral is an important World Heritage Site. Moreover, it is the main church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cusco. The entire building was built between 1560 and 1654. Inside, you will find the most significant repository of colonial art in Cusco.
3. Explore the Hatun Rumiyoc Street:
It is located in the San Blas neighborhood, just a few minutes from Main Square. In addition, this street is famous because here you will find the twelve-angled stone, which is part of the wall of an ancient Inca Palace.
4. Enjoy a stop at the beautiful Qoricancha:
This was the most important religious site in the Inca Empire. Its original name in Quechua is Intikancha or Intiwasi (Temple of the Sun). In fact, most of the Inca buildings were destroyed and used as the foundations for the Santo Domingo Monastery and the church, which was built in 1650. This is a must-see attraction when you are wondering what to visit in Cusco!
5. Find local products at the San Pedro Market:
If you are looking for local traditions and what to do in Cusco after the tourist sights, this is the place. San Pedro is the first market in the city, built in 1925 by the French architect Gustave Eiffel. It is located within a 10-minute walk from the Main Square of Cusco. Once you enter, you will hear its characteristic noise, notice the colorful products, and have the first look at all the local food you can taste.
First, we suggest visiting the San Pedro Market between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm. Following, it is also recommended to try the local dishes behind your acclimatization or after your tours outside Cusco because the meals can differ from what you are used to.
Finally, you will find everything you can think of in San Pedro. From alpaca meat to local food and souvenirs. We recommend buying exotic fruit, fresh juice, Cuzquenian bread called "Chuta," and cheese.
Best places to visit around Cusco
It is highly recommended to reserve a full-day tour to enjoy these places with an authorized travel agency. The sites below are all part of the 4 ruins circuit near Cusco.
1. Involve yourself in the impressive Sacsayhuaman:
The Incas built this fortress in the 15th century, after the government of the Inca Pachacuti. Saqsayhuaman means satisfied hawk in Quechua. It is located above Cusco City, after a 20-minute drive from the center. Moreover, it is also considered one of the most impressive ancient buildings in the world.
The fortress is characterized by its enormous stone walls. For that reason, it is believed that more than 20,000 people mined these stones (up to 125 tons) from quarries 20 kilometers away. After, they transported them through the mountains. You definitely need to go to Sacasayhuaman; it is a perfect thing to do in Cusco in 2024.
2. Relax at Qenqo ruins and forest:
Qenqo means Labyrinth in the language of the Incas. This Inca site is located very near Sacsayhuaman. Here, you will visit the Inca buildings, such as the Intihuatana, an ancient astronomic clock, and underground tunnels. It is believed that Qenqo was used as a site to connect with the world of the dead.
3. Explore Tambomachay and Puca Pucara ruins:
It is one of the most important religious sites in Cusco. Therefore, this amazing place is known for its many water channels. For that reason, it is believed that it was used to worship water and as a resting place for the Inca. On the other side, Puca Pucara is located next to Tambomachay. It was a military site with large stone walls, terraces, and stairs. The site has a great location. Accordingly, it is believed that it was used to control the south access to Cusco.
Best Day Tours outside of Cusco City
You might have to make short trips outside the city to get to these places.
1. A beautiful sight of the Rainbow Mountain:
Vinicunca is one of the most popular day hikes in Cusco. Generally, you will depart very early from the city, see the Andean landscapes, and finally reach this colorful mountain located above 5000 masl. In recent years, the Rainbow Mountain has become one of the best places to visit in Cusco.
2. Hike to the Humantay Lake:
The Humantay Lake elevation is 5,473 metres masl. This beautiful nature destination is the second most popular short hike in Cusco. Along with, you can also take the Salkantay Trek Tour to visit both.
3. Look for an alternative destination: The Palccoyo Mountain:
The Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain is gaining recent popularity. It is an alternative to Vinicunca for those who prefer less crowded places and less demanding hikes. This is located near the Ausangate and takes about 45 min. on foot from the nearest village.
4. Cross the incredible Q'eswachaka bridge:
It is the last hanging Inca Bridge, built over the Apurimac River. Q’eswachaka is three hours from Cusco City. It is located in the Quehue district, Canas province. This bridge is particularly famous because it is maintained and renewed every year in a traditional ceremony. For instance, the surrounding communities organize 4 days of work in which women and men are involved in rebuilding the Inca Bridge. If you are passionate about Inca traditions, this is one of the best things to do in Cusco.
5. Take a short trip to the Sacred Valley of the Incas:
This is one of the most famous tours in Cusco. The Sacred Valley of the Incas is full of charming communities that maintain their traditions to date. Save time and visit Pisac, Urubamba, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero, and Maras-Moray in a classic one-day tour by bus. Once there, take short walks around the cities, iconic traditional markets, and archaeological sites.
6. Reach Tipon and its surroundings:
Tipón is a large Inca archaeological site located at a 1-hour drive from Cusco. The buildings and terraces of the site have a system of water channels fed by huge fountains from natural springs. If you decide to visit Tipon, you will find other interesting places on the route and have the chance to try the traditional guinea pig.
7. Learn more about the culture in Pikillaqta:
This site is interesting because it is not from the Incas. This amazing city was built by the Wari culture, one of the most ancient Empires widely expanded in Peru. The remains of their civilization include the ruins of buildings, squares, and a subterranean water supply.
Best multiday tours in Cusco
Since Cusco is full of tourist attractions, you may consider staying longer to take advantage of the best multi-day tours the city has to offer! Equally important, remember that booking a trip through an authorized travel company will guarantee the greatest experience for you.
1. Classic Inca Trail:
The Inca trail is one of the most amazing hikes in the world. It combines history, nature, and physical challenges with a rewarding feeling of achievement. Moreover, the Inca Trail passes through the Andes to the subtropical cloud forest to finally reach Machu Picchu, the World Heritage Site. This is a challenging tour that you should do at least once when you are looking for options for what to do in Cusco.
2. Salkantay Trek:
This is the second most popular hike in Peru. The Salkantay Trek is famous for being a more challenging hike to Machu Picchu. It includes the views of fantastic Mountains, glaciers, and the cloud forest. Some tour agencies also offer unique experiences during the camping days; get to know all about the traditional Peruvian barbeque in Salkantay, here!
3. Lares Trek:
The Lares Trek is the preferred hike for those who love solitude, pristine nature, llamas, alpacas, glacier lakes, and the chance to interact with locals. This hike is also challenging but offers a unique journey in which you will reach Machu Picchu at the end.
4. Short Inca Trail:
Maybe you are interested in the Inca Trail but don’t have enough time, or the tickets are sold out for the Classic 4-day trek. Lucky for you, there is a perfect alternative in these cases! The Short Inca Trail is a 7-hour hike to enjoy the first sight of the marvelous Machu Picchu at the Intipunku. We recommend the short Inca Trail to explore the beautiful subtropical cloud forest.
5. Huchuy Qosqo:
This is one of the most significant routes in Cusco. Huchuy Qosqo is located above the Sacred Valley of the Incas, where you will enjoy stunning scenery in a unique trekking experience through this valley. After visiting it and camping in beautiful key sites, you will continue your journey to Machu Picchu.
6. Choquequirao Trek:
This ancient Inca Site is gaining recent popularity. Choquequirao is known for resembling Machu Picchu and its remote location. Besides, it receives at least 10 thousand visitors every year. Trekking is the way to access this site, and you can go camping and enjoy a unique, less crowded attraction.
7. Inca Jungle
This is the best tour for sport enjoyers. The Inca Jungle tour to Machu Picchu includes Biking, Rafting, Hiking, Zip Lining, and a visit to Machu Picchu. Initially, you will start in Cusco and go through the subtropical forest in the Santa Teresa district to finally reach the ancient Inca Site at the end of your adventure.
Now you have plenty of plans to do on your visit to Cusco! We really expect you to have an amazing trip whether you choose one or another of these plans. This Peruvian region has a lot to offer and has always been the obligatory stop in the country. Keep this guide to your favorites, and don’t forget to comment about what to visit in Cusco in 2024!