Peru is such an incredible place, and there are so many things to do in Cusco.
Rich & colorful culture, well-preserved history, breath-taking sights and more make it a place incomparable to any other. If you have the opportunity to visit- you HAVE to! It’s beyond beautiful.
I’ve made a quick list of things to do in Cusco. These were my favorite experiences and hopefully will become yours too!
1. ATV to the Salt Mines in (Maras Salineras)
Cusco offers a TON of tours, making it super easy to see all that the city and its surrounding area has to offer. One of my favorite and most memorable is the Moray and Salt Mines Quad Bike Tour through the company American Inca Trail.
This Cusco tour included:
- a complete safety briefing of the ATV’s/Quad Bikes
- a guided scenic ATV ride through the hills and trails
- up-close view of the Andes mountains, nearby crops, local rural villages
- the option to stop and see Moray or go to Lake Huaypo (we chose Lake Huaypo / Laguna De Huaypo)
- a visit to the Salt Mines in Maras
This tour cost $50 USD and was absolutely worth it. One of the most beautiful and memorable days we spent in Cusco.
The Salineras (salt mines) are incredible to see in person. Pictures don’t do it justice and riding through the Andes on an ATV is one of the funnest things I’ve ever done while traveling / in my life up to this point!
The option to see Laguna De Huaypo instead of Moray was also a great choice. There were only two other people from the group who chose this option so we basically had the whole place to ourselves, which was GORGEOUS. Such a peaceful experience and a beautiful scene for photos.
2. Plaza de Armas
The Plaza de Armas is the center hub of Cusco. Lined with shops, tour companies, restaurants and cafes, it’s definitely a great place to start when you arrive.
In the very center you will see a huge tribute statue of Tupac Amaru. It stands in his honor as the last Inka family member to rule in Peru, and also for leading the revolt against the Spanish.
The entire plaza really is a tale of the history in Cusco and how it used to be the Great Inka Square. Atlas Obscura has a super informative post on the history of the Plaza de Armas and what it was all about as the Great Inka Square. Atlas Obscura: Plaza de Armas. Check it out if you can, I won’t go too much into the history of it here.
The plaza is always full of activity, day or night and is a great place to go sit and watch Cusco roll by.
3. Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley is something you can’t miss when in Peru. Often times it is set up as a one day tour that takes you through all the main sites, but does not have to be explored this way. It is easy to reach from Cusco and makes for a fabulous day if you get to truly soak it all in and explore the sights.
Another way you can explore the Sacred Valley is through a 2 day 1 night tour (this is what I did). The first day will take you through the Sacred Valley… You’ll visit the town of Pisac and the Pisac ruins, then you’ll visit Urubamba, and lastly, you’ll get to explore Ollantaytambo (Inka palace).
After day one is finished, you’ll head to Aguas Calientes where you’ll get to stay the night. Next day you’ll rise early to visit Machu Picchu! The highlight, of course 🙂
Hotel is included and navigation is all taken care of, making it super easy and seamless to see the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.
If you decide not to do a tour, here’s a list of things to do in the Sacred Valley- the highlights you don’t want to miss.
- Ollantaytambo (town, terraces and ruins)
- Pisac Agricultural Terraces and Ruins
4. Rainbow Mountain
If you’re into more intense hiking, this one is for you. The hike to get to Rainbow mountain takes about 4 hours. You’ll get to start the hike alongside a stream and of course see plenty of llamas and alpacas.
If done with a tour group, you’ll spend about a half hour at the top before heading back down for another 3-4 hour trek back.
Its about a 3 hour drive from Cusco. We didn’t have time for this one unfortunately, but I know American Inca Trail offers this as an arranged tour as well, and next time we’re there this will definitely be checked off the bucket list!
5. Templo de La Luna & Cristo Blanco
Templo de La Luna in Cusco can easily be reached by bus from the plaza. It’s beautiful to see at sunset and a great place to visit if you’re not into touristy crowds. Templo de la luna was quiet and peaceful when we went. We climbed to the top and just soaked in the views and enjoyed the sunset. Tip: make sure you know where you’re at and which bus route to take there and back, especially if you’re planning on going for sunset.
Nearby to Templo la luna is Cristo Blanco. Recommend visiting here first so you have enough lighting to take in the beautiful view of Cusco from up near Cristo Blanco.
6. Catedral of Santo Domingo
This iconic colonial style cathedral of Cusco can be found in the Plaza de Armas (mentioned above). It was listed as a unesco world heritage site in 1983 and is a tale of Spanish conquest… it’s built on the remains of Kiswarkancha, an Incan temple that was torn down when Spanish cololnialists arrived in Cusco.
The most important temple in the Inca empire, located in the heart of Cusco, which used to be the capital of the Incan empire. Most of Quirikancha was destroyed in the conquest war during 16th century, and its stonework was used to form the foundation of the Santo Domingo Cathedral/ Cusco Cathedral. However, what remains is sacred and can be visited behind the plaza of Cusco- highly recommend you make time for this is Cusco!
This impressive fortress temple-complex is a beautiful example of Incan building skills and how they effortlessly blend into the landscape of Cusco.
9. San Blas
San Blas is a cute area of Cusco full of restaurants and shops, tucked up in the hills above the Plaza de Armas. Its known to be a bit of a tourist attractive area, however its worth a visit. Trek up the hill on the beautiful Incan Road, Hathunrumiyoc, and follow it up to reach San Blas. Soak in the Incan history here admire the stonework walls while you run into the shops and cafes along the way. Once you reach Cuesta de San Blas, after steps and uphill walkin… you’ve arrived. One of my favorite restaurants you’ll find here is a vegan restraurant called Green Point.
You’ll find tons of other vegetarian and vegan options here, as well as tons of artisians & artisanal shops. It’s a lil hipster heaven full of cafes and Kombucha.
10. Cusco Market San Pedro
About a 10 minute walk from the Plaza de Armas, you definitely have to check this out when you’re in Cusco. Vendors on the street will become more and more plentiful the closer you get to the market, get ready! This is a great place to find some gifts for those back home, or pick up some food to prepare or enjoy immediately. The colors and scents will be loud and strong… definitely an experience you won’t forget.
If you’re interested in trying Cuy, aka Peruvian guinea pig, Tipon is the place to go! Its also a beautiful place to experience more Incan ruins and water channel features and is also one of the least visited areas of the Sacred Valley…. If you’re looking to beat the crowds, Tipon is a good option.
Architecturally impressive and well preserved, you’ll find terraces and water channels that are beautifully designed and a great demonstration of how advanced Inca architecture is and was.
12. Humantay Lake
Another great tour you can take with American Inca Trail (they do it all, really). I unfortunately was not able to do this one when I was there in Peru, but my best friend did and said it was amazing. Next trip to Peru, this is on the top of my list… its said to be one of the most sacred lakes in Inka mythology and the pictures look AmAziiing. If you’ve been, feel free to leave a comment with any tips or shared experiences, would love to hear about it!