MUST SEE PLACES IN CUSCO, PERU

Colorful. Captivating. Breathtaking. Cusco is a city where the past forms part of the present. Before visiting Machu Picchu, you will start in Cusco because it is the beginning of your journey for any trains, or treks you’ll want to take to discover the lost land of the Incas. 

Cusco is so much more than a “connection point”, or a place to take time to adjust to the altitude. Most backpackers or vacationers make the mistake of flying into Cusco and staying only a day – then turning around and making the journey up to Machu Picchu without giving Cusco the time it deserves. Don’t skip Cusco! It’s a place filled with Incan history and Peruvian cuisine that you won’t want to miss out on!

Exploring the city of Cusco was one of my favorite memories of Peru. Here are my experiences and tips and tricks I recommend to make your time unforgettable. 

MUST SEE PLACES IN CUSCO, PERU

MUST SEE PLACES IN CUSCO, PERU

MUST SEE PLACES IN CUSCO, PERU

When to Visit Cusco

You’ll see the best weather in Cusco from June to mid-September. Avoid the months of November-March as they typically experience heavier rain.   It is important to know that while Machu Picchu is open year-round, the Inca trail closes during the month of February for maintenance.

Popover Tip:  Visit Cusco right before peak season around mid-May, or toward the later part of September, for better hotel deals, and less crowds. We had beautiful weather the last week of May.

Cusco Altitude Tips

Did you know that Cusco is higher in elevation than Machu Picchu? The city of Cusco is 11,200 ft (3,400 meters) and Machu Picchu is 7,800 ft (2400m).

When you first get to Cusco it’s key to understand that you’re going to need to give your body time to rest and adjust to the altitude.  If you acclimatize in Cusco, then you’ll be ready for Machu Picchu in no time! 

Must See Places in Cusco
Raw coca leaves that work wonders for altitude sickness

Tips to Avoid Altitude Sickness in Cusco

  • Take it easy and walk slowly, don’t try to hike or run. Avoid drinking alcohol on your first day.
  • On your arrival day try to eat very lightly, avoid meats and other heavy meals. Peruvian soup and bread are the best options! 
  • Drink plenty of water since the altitude dehydrates your body. Convenience stores in Cusco sell large bottles of water for very cheap.
  • Try a cup of mate de coca, an herbal tea made from raw coca leaves that many believe helps alleviate the altitude’s affect on the body. (Don’t worry, coca leaves are relatively harmless and produce a tea that’s about as stimulating as a cup of coffee.)

What to Wear in Cusco

Because of its high altitude, Cusco temperatures drop as low 30 degrees celsius and 40’s at night year round. Warm clothes for the evenings are necessary! During the day, it will warm up by at least 30 degrees. Dress in layers, and don’t forget your sunglasses.

Must See Places in Cusco

Plaza de Armas

The Plaza de Armas is in the heart of Cusco. In Incan times Plaza de Armas was the main location used for festivals and ceremonies.  In the middle of the plaza is a statue of the Inca ruler Pachacútec. Today, Plaza de Armas is still a central location in Cusco and you can always find alpacas and baby goats roaming around for a photo. 

How cute are these baby goats?!

Stroll Through San Blas 

Get lost through the winding cobblestone neighborhood of San Blas in Cusco’s bohemian district. Here you’ll find some of the best artisan markets, locally owned bakeries, and Peruvian coffee.

San Blas contains some of the most beautiful streets in Cusco. Take time to appreciate its beauty and see if you can find the famous 12-angled stone walls.

Must See Places in Cusco

San Pedro Market

Spend a morning walking through San Pedro Market. There’s nothing like experiencing all the colors, sights, and smells of a bustling Peruvian market early in the morning.

Here you’ll find different types of local produce including the large variety of potatoes and colorful Peruvian corn. Take a seat at one of the several juice stands offering fresh squeezed juices from local fruits. 

Popover Tip: If you order a juice, be sure to ask for your juice to made with bottled water.

The San Pedro Market is also the place to find the best prices on souvenirs.  You’ll find a wide selection of hats, trinkets and other colorful accessories you will be seeing everywhere throughout your stay in Cusco, and for a reasonable price here at the market.

Market Hours: Monday to Sunday 9.00 to 18.00

Where to Eat and Drink in Cusco

Morena Peruvian Kitchen $$

Just two blocks up from Plaza de Armas, Morena’s Peruvian Kitchen was my favorite restaurant in Cusco for their innovative twist on classic Peruvian dishes and drinks.

Part of the fun of this restaurant is how it’s decorated! Morena’s has a rustic decor with wicker chairs topped with colorful pillows. The service was friendly, and they love to go the extra mile on the presentation of their food and drinks.

Morena Peruvian Kitchen

Mixto Anticuchera a blend of grilled fresh fish

I highly recommend trying their Sopa Criollo, or if you’re hungrier their Mixto Anticuchera. Their Pisco Sours cocktails were excellent! Pisco Sours are a iconic Peruvian cocktail you need to try! Morena’s has several different variations of pisco cocktails to choose from. 

Sopa Criollo is a classic Peruvian soup with beef and noodles topped with an egg. The fresh oregano and other spices really compliment one another. Sopa Criollo and a fresh smoothie make a perfect pairing for combating the altitude the first night. 

If you like seafood Mixto Anticuchera is a blend of grilled fresh fish that comes out sizzling on a skillet. The real highlight of the dish were the big chunks of Andean corn and potatoes.  

Location: MORENA PERUVIAN KITCHEN | 348-B Calle Plateros Cusco

Hours: Every day from 12PM – 10PM

Pachapapa $$

Pachapapa is one of the best restaurants for two local dishes known to Cusco – guinea pig (cuy) and alpaca.

Be prepared to wait around an hour for the guinea pig to cook in Pachapapa’s brick oven. The guinea pig is served to you whole and then the waiters will take it back and cut it into separate servings for you. The sight of a whole cooked guinea pig can be unsettling, and if you’re uncomfortable with it you can always request the whole guinea pig not be brought to your table. 

Pachapapa Cusco
Alpaca Skewers at Pachapapa

I didn’t try the guinea pig, but I can say the alpaca meat at Pachapapa was delicious! Did you know that Alpaca meat is also very low in fat and has the lowest cholesterol of any meat? Perfect excuse for seconds -or at least it was my excuse.

Address: Pachapapa | Plazoleta San Blas 120, Cusco, Peru

Take a Peruvian Cooking Class

I love recommending that travelers take a cooking class when they’re somewhere new. Cooking in a new country let’s you discover ingredients you’ve never heard of, and create a dish that’s special to that culture.

Visit Peruvian Cooking Classes in Cusco for their friendly chefs who guide you through every step of the process, including a guided tour of San Blas Market to help you prepare your three course Peruvian meal. My favorite part of this class was the chance to make Peru’s famous cocktail a pisco sour.

Peruvian Cooking Class

Location: Peruvian Cooking Classes | 283 San Juan de Dios, Cusco

Cost: $45 USD

Rooftop Drinks at Limbus Resto Bar 

Limbus Resto Bar
View from the Top of Limbus Resto Bar

The view at this bar is one you can’t miss! Limbus Resto Bar is located in San Blas and overlooks all of Cusco. It will take your breath away – and that includes the hike up to it.

Come around an hour before sunset to snag a balcony table. Sip on a pisco sour and soak in the view of Cusco below you. A Pisco Sour is Peru’s National drink and is made using Pisco brandy, lemons, sugar water, egg whites, ice and finished with bitters, or a dash of cinnamon. 

Location: Limbus Resto Bar | Pasnapakana 133 | Cusco, Peru

Best Trips from Cusco

Experience Machu Picchu

It’s nearly impossible to visit Peru without making the journey to every traveler’s dream – Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu does require advanced planning. It’s important to do research when it comes to choosing a trekking company. The quality of trekking company you chose can really make or break your trip.  

Machu Picchu Chullo hat

Hike to Rainbow Mountain

Thanks to the growth of Instagram, Rainbow Mountain has exploded in popularity since 2016. The landscape is absolutely beautiful. Its famous striped colors are even brighter in the sunshine. The colors in the mountain are created from weathering and mineral deposits.

Rainbow Mountain Peru

Must See Places in Cusco

A trip to Rainbow Mountain will take the full day with typical very early morning pickups (around 4 a.m.) and around 6 hours of driving. I would strongly avoid going if the weather has any rain in the forecast. If the weather conditions aren’t favorable the trail will be muddy, and the colors on the mountain won’t be as vibrant. 

Lastly, the altitude here is intense and not to be taken lightly. The hike up isn’t very long, but you’ll start at 15,000 feet and end at 17,00 feet. If you’re worried about the trek up you can rent a horse for only $25 that will take you a majority of the way up. The altitude is so thin at the top you’re only recommend to stay 20-30 minutes. 

I wouldn’t recommend the tour company I went with – not terrible, but nothing special. Based on traveller reviews and price, I’d recommend this full-day tour for $31.50.

ATV in the Sacred Valley 

I love renting an ATV on a trip it’s a much better experience compared to a crowded tour van. Riding on a quad bike through the Sacred Valley is a must-do experience for any adventure seeking traveler!

Cusco Moto Tours Peru
Highly Recommend Cusco Moto Tours!

On this tour you’ll stop by Moray and Maras two must see sights in the Sacred Valley. Moray, is an impressive Incan ruin used for agricultural and experimentation purposes (it looks similar to crop circles!)  Maras, is a salt mine that’s still active today. 

Must See Places in Cusco
Moray
Maras
Maras Salt Flats

I highly recommend Cusco Moto Tours Peru! Our guides were friendly and patient with taking pictures of us!  A 5 hour Scared Valley ATV tour was $85 per person for on your own quad bike. You can book your tour here.

Sip Wine and Paint

On all my travels I’ve never seen an experience quite like this! Carnaval Wine and Painting let’s you sip South American wines  while painting the beautiful Sacred Valley. You’ll be met by the owner, Mariagracia, who will lead you step by step to create your own watercolor piece.

Must See Places in Cusco

Carnaval Wine and Painting

Carnaval Wine and Painting

It’s a true hidden gem and must do when you’re in Cusco!! Mariagracia was so kind, and the painting session couldn’t have been more perfect. The picnic set-up of local red and white wine, cheese, nuts, and homemade bread adds a welcoming touch. Mariagracia thinks of everything and she’ll even have a mini poster tube that you can roll your painting inside that makes it easy to travel. You can book the tour here. It also includes transportation from Cusco to the Sacred Valley!

Cusco Travel Tips

Arriving to the Cusco Airport

The city center of Cusco is around 4 miles from the Velasco Astete Airport (CUZ), but there are no public transportation options to get you there. You’ll need to arrange an airport transfer with your hotel, or take a taxi. Agree to the price of the taxi before you leave, but the cost should be around S./ 20 Peruvian Soles  ($7 USD).

Currency

The currency in Peru is the Peruvian Sol, and ATMs are widely available both at the airport and in the city centre. Restaurants and shops love to advertise that they take Visa almost everywhere you look. While many places do accept Visa, keep plenty of cash on hand for tips. 

Transportation

The most popular taxi company is Taxi Turismo Cusco. If you’re hailing one off the street, look for the taxis with signs on the roof, rather than independent, unmarked drivers.

You’ll need to confirm the rate before accepting the ride, but generally, a ride within the city centre is about $1.35 USD.

Final Thoughts on Cusco

Cusco is a wonderful city with so much to see. I would recommend at least 3-5 days to proper acclimate to the altitude before heading to Machu Picchu. Splurge on a nice hotel to relax your tired muscles and get a good nights sleep. 

What did you think of my Cusco travel itinerary? Are you planning a trip to Cusco or have you already been? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Pin this Guide for later!

Must See Places in Cusco, Peru

 

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49 Comments

  1. This is one of my dream trips. Your pictures are amazing and I love all the tips. Will be using these in the future for sure!

  2. Your photos are so gorgeous and totally make me want to go back to Cusco! I went many years ago on a school trip, long before I was into travel planning or blogging. I would love to go back and do it differently this time! Thanks for sharing your great guide 🙂

    1. Thank you! It’s a beautiful city! It’s always fun to see a city you’ve seen before after some years. I really hope you can go back! Have a pisco sour for me when you do!

  3. It’s been my dream since I was a child to visit Peru – and your post definitely confirms it! I had no idea Cusco was higher than Machu Picchu – so interesting! It looks like such a vibrant place an absolute dream to photograph and visit!

  4. Amazing! I’ll be going in November, though now I’m a little scared that the weather will be crap, but it was the only time we could go with my group. I’ll have to check out that rooftop bar and some of the restaurants, looks delish! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Don’t be! Either way you’ll have an incredible time! Definitely checkout Limbus Resto Bar! Have the drink that’s in the pineapple for me! It’s so good!

  5. I would love to visit the colorful San Pedro Market. You’ve written a fantastic guide that really makes me want to visit Cusco.

    1. I had no idea just how much I loved Peruvian food until I was there! The cooking class I mentioned has so many options of different dishes that you could cook! They let you pick too!

  6. What an in-depth post! I’ve been wanting to go to Peru to see Machu Pichu for a while but never thought there was so much to do in Cusco alone 🙂

    1. There really is! Cusco also has a lot of day trips too. Be sure to allocate at least three days in Cusco to see everything!

    1. I’m so glad! If you’re looking at Machu Picchu I have a travel guide I created for Machu Picchu too under my “Peru” tab on my blog.

  7. Cusco looks amazing!! Unfortunately my cousin lived there for two years and I never made it down to visit her. It’s definitely up there on my list though!

    1. It really is! If your cousin lived there I’m sure she can always tell you all her local tips too!

    1. Isn’t it the best! What was your favorite thing you ate? I loved all the soups and the alpaca meat was so good!

  8. Great guide. I’ve never been to Cusco but plan to. I was actually just looking at flights. I honestly felt you just planned the entire trip for me. Thanks!

    1. Thank you, Allison! I’m so glad you liked my guide! I also have a Machu Picchu one too! We loved our tour company we went with!

  9. I am having such strong travel lust right now! Your photos of Cusco are beautiful, and I would love to visit! I have never been to South America, and being able to visit somewhere with such a combination of rich history, vibrant colors and overwhelming natural beauty makes me want to be there right now! I would love to sit at the rooftop bar and enjoy the view. Thanks for sharing. Really fueling my travel dreams right now. 🙂

  10. I am blown away by the beauty of Cusco and its surroundings. Your photos are so colorful. And, the food makes me want to visit even more! The Sip Wine and Paint activity is something I was not expecting to see in Cusco. I will keep it in mind since it looks so fun.

  11. A beautiful location and such beautiful photos you have taken. Peru has been on my list since a colleague showed me her vacation photos last year, so i hope to tick it off the travel list within the next year or two!

  12. Wow, Cusco looks so incredible! I love that you can paint while drinking wine, that experience is very me! Haha 🙂

  13. I would love to travel to Peru! The food looks amazing and the views are breathtaking!! Rainbow Mountain has been on my very long bucketlist for quit some time 🙂

  14. Wow, what a great comprehensive and honest guide to spending time in Cusco. Thanks so much. We’re really hoping to be there in 2021 (fingers firmly crossed), so will definitely be saving this and revisiting it later.

  15. This is an amazing post! So thorough and so much useful information! I really want to go to Peru so I am definitely saving your post to reference later!

  16. These photos are so DREAMY! I am dying to go to Peru and especially visit Rainbow Mountain – what an awesome place to visit! Sipping wine and painting with that view is exactly what I need right now! And look at those sweet baby goats!

  17. I was just in Peru in March and was able to do a lot of the things you mentioned. I want to go back to see Rainbow Mountain!

  18. Thanks for such a thorough post. This makes me miss Cusco so much and want to go back asap for all that delicious food!

  19. You make me want to go back to Peru so badly! I love this detailed blog! We rushed through Cusco, I had no idea that there are so many fun things to do!

  20. Cusco is on my bucket list! Such a beautiful place with so many things to do. I’m hoping to visit one day, sooner rather than later.

  21. Reading this makes me wanna book that flight. This has been on my list for long.

  22. I love this post. Peru is on my list of places to go. I love the idea of painting while sipping wine, might make me paint something decent.

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