20 Best Things to Do in Cusco (Chosen by Experts!)

Wondering what to do in Cusco? Check out our list featuring 20 of the best things to do in Cusco to discover the best Cusco activities and attractions on your trip.
A brightly-lit view of Cusco city's main Plaza de Armas at night.
Cusco city at night. Photo by willthebear on Pixabay.

With so many things to do in Cusco, the options are endless. Not only is this ancient Inca capital one of the top travel destinations in Peru, but it is also the main jumping-off point for tourists and trekkers on their way to Machu Picchu. Those who spend some time in this vibrant city may find the list of archaeological sites, museums, marketplaces, viewpoints and so on, can be hard to choose from. For this reason, we’ve compiled our top 20 favorite ideas, in no particular order, for things to do in Cusco to simplify your travel.

  1. Alpacas
  2. Plaza de Armas
  3. Twelve Angled Stone
  4. Coricancha and Convent of Santo Domingo
  5. Sacsayhuaman
  6. Qenko Ruins
  7. Inti Raymi and Other Festivities
  8. Viewpoints
  9. Restaurants and Bars
  10. Cooking Workshops
  11. Cusco Planetarium
  12. San Blas Neighborhood
  13. Shopping
  14. San Pedro Market
  15. Museums
  16. Spa treatments
  17. Tambomachay
  18. Horseback Riding
  19. Rainbow Mountain and Other Day Trips
  20. Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

1. Pet a friendly alpaca

We’re kicking off this list with one of Peru’s most beloved animals: the alpaca. Known for its expensive wool, alpacas are treasured among Peruvians. These fluffy four-legged animals can be seen on the streets of Cusco dressed in colorful accessories and led by local ladies offering photos for a small price of 5-10 soles. Be sure to set your price before you get a photo to avoid any haggling. 

A white alpaca stands looking at the camera with colorful decorations tied around its neck.

A colorful alpaca posing at sunset. Photo by Peru For Less

2. Experience the grandeur of the Plaza de Armas

Equally important is visiting Cusco’s most famous plaza located in the heart of the city. The Plaza de Armas boasts spectacular architecture and views of the surrounding mountains. Once the main center for both the Spanish conquistadors and Inca empire, the plaza is now the main hub for tourists where you can find shopping, restaurants and nightlife. Grab lunch at one of the many restaurants with balconies overlooking the plaza. After that, take a stroll through the iconic Cusco Cathedral where you can see a painting of the Last Supper with a guinea pig – the Andean interpretation for the main centerpiece of the meal. The plaza is a perfect place to people-watch and take in the surrounding history while enjoying your Cusco activities.

3. Take a picture with the famous Twelve-Angled Stone

Hidden in the narrow alleyways of the historical district is the Twelve-Angled stone. This architectural mystery has 12 perfectly-crafted angles that fit seamlessly into the Inca wall located in the alleyway of Hatunrumiyoc. The stone itself is relatively large and is part of the wall of the Palace of the Archbishop. You’ll be able to spot it by the large crowd usually surrounding the area. Be sure not to touch it as it is prohibited, but feel free to snap a selfie or take a family photo next to it. 

4. Step into the past with a visit to Coricancha and Convent of Santo Domingo

Another addition to your list is Coricancha, the famous Inca Sun Temple located on Cusco’s main Avenida el Sol. This architectural marvel was originally built by the Inca to worship their sun god, Inti. In fact, this famous temple used to be lined with gold before the Spanish invaded. Today you can take a tour through the ancient halls that have both Inca and Spanish-built architecture. 

5. Hike the Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman

The stone fortress of Sacsayhuaman was used to protect the Inca capital of Cusco when the Spanish invaded and boasts enormous stones weighing up to 125 tons each. This sprawling set of ruins is one of the Incas’ most impressive constructions and is visible from most places in Cusco, including from the Plaza de Armas. You can hike from the main Plaza by taking the most direct route up Pumacurco, but if you’d rather save your legs the extra 30 minutes, you can go by bus or taxi for just a few soles. 

A sunny day view of the zig-zagging Inca walls of Sacsayhuaman.

A view of the ancient Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman. Photo by Peru For Less

6. Explore the ancient Qenko Ruins

Also located above the city is Qenko, an Inca archaeological site used for worship and ritual sacrifices. This site has a labyrinth of passages and hidden rooms to explore. Many local guides say that on the morning of the summer solstice, the shadow of the main rock at the entrance reveals the outline of a puma, one of the Incas’ sacred animals.

7. Participate in Inti Raymi and other festivities

Every year in June, Cusco transforms into a center for celebration and festivities – the most famous of those being Inti Raymi or the festival of the sun. Cusqueñans celebrate Inti Raymi just after winter solstice on the 24th of June with a full day of processions, traditional dances and a spectacular reenactment of ancient Inca rituals. Thousands of tourists and locals come together to witness this spectacle – one of the best things to do in Peru. 

8. Climb to one of the many viewpoints

Another exciting addition to your Cusco itinerary is taking in one of the city’s breathtaking vistas. Just a 15 minute walk up from the main plaza are the Mirador de San Cristobal, Plaza Santa de Santa Ana and the Mirador de San Blas where you can find sweeping panoramic views of the towering Andes and the city below. These are the most accessible viewpoints, but if you’re wanting to go even higher, take a picnic up to Qenko or visit Sacsayhuaman for even more views.

A view of the sprawling Cusco neighborhoods set into the mountains.

A viewpoint overlooking Cusco’s neighborhoods. Photo by Daniella Beccaria

9. Taste the delights of Andean cuisine at Cusco’s restaurants and bars

Peru is known as one of the top gastronomical destinations in the world, so it’s no surprise that Cusco is home to a plethora of enticing restaurants and bars. Order fresh trout ceviche made with local fish, try a succulent alpaca steak, or step out of your comfort zone and order one of the local favorites: cuy al horno or oven-baked guinea pig. More than 3,000 types of potatoes grow in Peru, so be sure to try them fried, baked and boiled. Lounge on the many balconies in the main plaza and enjoy the sights while sipping on Peru’s national drink, the Pisco Sour. 

For our top picks, check out The 10 Best Restaurants in Cusco.

10. Sign up for a cooking workshop

After tasting the local fare, learn how to make it in a traditional Andean cuisine cooking workshop. From creating your own chocolate with fresh cacao from the Amazon to selecting the right spices for the perfect ceviche, the possibilities are endless. Cooking workshops allow you to experience Andean culture and tradition and build your knowledge on some of the best recipes in the Andes – which we think is the perfect souvenir to take home. We like to say that if you order ceviche for lunch, you’re fed for the day, but if you learn how to make ceviche in a workshop, you’ll be happy for a lifetime.

A group of tourists learning how to make ceviche in a local cooking workshop.

Tourists learn how to make ceviche in a local cooking workshop. Photo by Marcelo Batata.

11. Travel to the stars in the Cusco Planetarium

If you’re looking for a more cosmic experience, a visit to the Planetarium will have you looking up at the stars every night. This tour takes you through an interpretation of ancient Inca astronomy, constellation projections and storytelling in the dome, and finally, a look through the telescopes at the sparkling night sky. What makes this tour so unique is the connection it highlights between astronomy and the Incas.

12. Stroll through the quaint streets of the San Blas Neighborhood

Known for its extremely narrow and colorful streets, San Blas is the oldest neighborhood in Cusco and arguably the most beautiful. Each of the houses and businesses lining the streets feature painted blue doors and colorful adornments, which gives this bustling neighborhood its bohemian charm. Local artists live and sell their work here, and you can find hidden cafes of all types of cuisine including French, Italian, American and of course, Andean. Don’t forget to bring your camera – this is one of the most photogenic places in the city.

A brightly decorated street in the oldest neighborhood in Cusco, San Blas.

A colorful street in the San Blas neighborhood. Photo by Daniella Beccaria.

13. Go shopping in the local souvenir and artisan markets

Sprinkled throughout the historical district are local mercados and high-end alpaca stores. Here you can barter for locally-made souvenirs or purchase a one-of-a-kind painting. One of the best things to buy in Peru is an alpaca sweater – not a sweater with alpacas on it, but one made with 100% real alpaca wool. These can only be found in the higher-end stores where prices are set (so don’t try to barter here) and the quality is exceptional. For less expensive wares, explore the mercados where you can find hand-carved items, scarves, shoes, bags and much much more.

14. Grab a snack in San Pedro Market

Cusco’s most famous open-air market is both a local and a tourist destination. San Pedro Market, located just a 10 minute walk from the main plaza, is a central hub for selling local produce, meat, souvenirs and just about everything you can imagine. Keep an eye out for local ladies selling choclo con queso or Andean cheese and corn – a tasty snack worth trying. You can also sample homemade churros or chicha morada, a sweet purple corn beverage perfect for a hot sunny day. 

Ladies sell stacks of Andean cheese at the San Pedro Market in Cusco.

Ladies sell Andean cheese in the local San Pedro Market. Photo by Peru For Less

15. Learn about Inca history in one of Cusco’s many museums

Step into the past with a visit to the Cusco Regional History Museum where you can see ancient Inca relics and restored Spanish paintings. After that, explore the museum beneath the Coricancha where they have elongated skulls and mummies on display. Finally, check out the Inca Museum that boasts 3D models of Machu Picchu and other archaeological sites across Peru, a massive collection of Inca artifacts and an even larger collection of mummies nearly perfectly preserved. All of the Cusco museums are worth a visit if you have time.

16. Relax after a day of hiking with a traditional spa treatment

Treat your sore and aching muscles with a rejuvenating massage at one of Cusco’s best retreats. Though you may pass by women in the main plaza advertising “masajes” for cheap, investing in your spa experience is definitely worth it. Andes Spirit Spa is located within the five star luxury hotel, Palacio del Inka. It is a welcoming experience after a trek or even just a long day of traversing the streets of Cusco. Indulge in therapy baths, body wraps, couple massages and plunge pools. Other recommended spas include Inca Spa on Avenida el Sol and Yacu Spa at hotel Inkaterra La Casona where you can relax with traditional Andean-inspired healing treatments.

17. Visit the ruins of Tambomachay

Tambomachay, also known as El Baño del Inca or the “bath of the Inca,” is one of many Cusco ruins located near the outskirts of the city. This stunning archaeological site includes a system of canals and aqueducts flowing into waterfalls fed by natural springs nearby. Its purpose is unknown, but adding it to your list of places to see is a must for history buffs.

The stone ruins of Tambomachay set into the green hillside.

The ruins of Tambomachay, also known as the Bath of the Inca, located just outside of Cusco. Photo by Brian Jeffery Beggerly on Flickr.

18. Venture through the Andes on a Horseback Riding tour

If you would like to see Cusco from a different perspective, sign up for a horseback riding tour – one of our top favorite ways to experience Peru. This tour takes you out of the hustle and bustle of the city into the tranquil paradise of the Andes. Witness awe-inspiring vistas of the rolling landscape and the city below. You can pick from a variety of destinations and choose a half or full-day trip. Horseback riding may not be for everyone, but it is one of the best Peru sightseeing tours you can experience.

19. Rainbow Mountain and Other Day Trips

For those who’ve seen enough of the city, taking a day trip to one of the top attractions in Peru is an exciting way to pack in a mini-adventure. Both Rainbow Mountain (17,000 ft elevation) and Humantay Lake (13,800 ft elevation) are full-day trips that require an early start, but are worth the effort. If you’re worried about the elevation, you can skip the short hike and ride a mule to the top. For shorter excursions, try out a more relaxing Cusco day trip to the Sacred Valley where you can visit small towns like Ollantaytambo, Urubamba or Pisac. The Sacred Valley is only 40 min from the city and has sweeping views of the Andes mountains and winding Urubamba River.

A woman with bright red hair jumps for a photo in front of the Rainbow Mountain in Peru.

A woman jumps for a photo in front of the famous Rainbow Mountain in Peru. Photo by Oleg Gamov on Flickr.

20. Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Of course no list is complete without one of the best things to do from Cusco – visit Machu Picchu. Though located outside of Cusco, Machu Picchu is one of the most famous places to visit in the world. You can hike there on the historic Inca Trail with options for a two or four-day hike through the Andes. However, if you prefer the luxury route, you can ride through the valley on the scenic train route. Whether you choose to trek or ride your way there, both options bring you to the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu. 

A view of the Inca Trail as it meets up with Machu Picchu.

A view of the Inca Trail leading into Machu Picchu. Photo by Matthew Hay.

Happy Travels!

We here at Peru For Less believe nobody’s Peruvian adventure is complete without a visit to Cusco. Our top 20 things to do in Cusco make this beautiful city a must-see in Peru. Ready to start checking off your list? Book your visit to Cusco today and customize your trip with one of our travel experts.