11 Best Activities in Cusco

Visiting Cusco is always an excellent idea, join me on this tour of all that this jewel of Peru has to offer.

Nicolas Reffray

Nicolas Reffray

8 min read

11 Best Activities in Cusco

Vista de Cuzco |©Julia Volk

Cusco is one of the most popular tourist destinations in South America, thanks to its rich history, culture and unparalleled natural beauty. Home to the Inca empire and the ruins of Machu Picchu, Cusco has so many options to explore and enjoy that you'll be spoilt for choice.

In this article I'll tell you what to see and do in Cusco. With sites like the Inca Trail, the Sacred Valley or the beautiful historic centre of the city declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Cusco will leave you speechless. Wear comfortable shoes, because here we go.

1. Visit the incomparable ruins of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu with a high view|©Babak Fakhamzadeh
Machu Picchu with a high view|©Babak Fakhamzadeh

It is impossible to be in Peru and not visit the ruins of Machu Picchu. This Inca citadel, considered one of the seven wonders of the world, is an impressive place full of history and culture where you will find a gateway to the past of pre-Columbian America. Some of the must-see places are:

  • The Temple of the Sun: one of the most important temples in Machu Picchu and a great example of Inca architecture. It was built to worship the sun and has a breathtaking view of the surrounding mountains.
  • The Intihuatana: mystical monument that was used by the Incas to measure the movement of the sun and the seasons of the year. It also offers a breathtaking view of the Sacred Valley.
  • The Inca Bridge: is one of the most popular attractions of Machu Picchu and is located on a cliff at a height of 30 metres.
  • The Manuel Chavez Ballon Site Museum: located near the entrance of Machu Picchu, it offers detailed information about the history and culture of the region.
  • The handicraft market: if you want to take home a souvenir of Machu Picchu, the handicraft market is the ideal place.

It is important to consider the time of year when booking tickets for Machu Picchu, as the high season is from June to August, and during these months the weather can be unpredictable. Also, in February the ruins are closed. Book early, as they sell out easily and there is a daily limit on visitors.

Book tickets for Machu Picchu

2. Visit Cerro Colorado Vinicunca (Rainbow Mountain)

The Rainbow Mountains|©Piotr Gaborek
The Rainbow Mountains|©Piotr Gaborek

Cerro Colorado Vinicunca, also known as the Seven Coloured Mountain or Rainbow Mountain, is an impressive geological formation located in the Cusco region.

When you book a tour to the Rainbow Mountains from Cusco you will see the incredible combination of vibrant colours due to the presence of different minerals in the rocks, such as iron, copper and sulphur. It is a perfect place for photography lovers.

The mountain is located at an altitude of approximately 5,200 metres above sea level. To reach the mountain, you will have to hike approximately 6 kilometres from the village of Pitumarca. The hike can be quite difficult due to the altitude and steepness, so I recommend only if you are used to this kind of exercise.

Book an excursion to Rainbow Mountain from Cuzco

3. Hike the Inca Trail

INCA TRAIL|©Ivan & Paloma
INCA TRAIL|©Ivan & Paloma

The Inca Trail is one of the most famous trekking routes in the world. It offers breathtaking views of mountains, forests and Inca ruins, being a historic route located in the Peruvian Andes that connects the city of Cusco with the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu.

The Inca Trail trek can take between 4 and 5 days, so it is important to bring adequate equipment for the weather and the length of the trip. I recommend you bring comfortable clothes, suitable walking shoes, a sleeping bag, sufficient food and drink, sunscreen and insect repellent.

The only way to do this trek is with the assistance of an expert guide and after booking a place on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Remember to book in advance, as the number of people is limited and demand is very high, and Cusco is at a high altitude, so it's a good idea to get used to it first, before you set off on the Inca Trail trek.

Reserve your place for the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

4. Walk around the historic centre of Cusco

Historic Centre of Cusco|©Mario Cuitiño
Historic Centre of Cusco|©Mario Cuitiño

Cusco is a city to be explored on foot. Its streets boast the charm of other times and the warmth of its people will invite you to explore the city from one end to the other. Undoubtedly, one of the best areas for walking is the historic centre , declared a World Heritage Site, with numerous colonial buildings and squares.

One of the must-see sites is Qorikancha, the main temple of the Inca Empire. After the Spanish conquest, it was converted into a church. Nowadays, it is a museum where you can see the Inca ruins along with a lot of colonial elements.

Then you can stop by the San Pedro Market to experience the daily life of the locals, taste some of the local food and buy souvenirs, as well as the San Blas neighbourhood. But there is no better way to visit the city than on a guided tour of Cusco. You will get to know all the most emblematic corners of the Peruvian capital and its main highlights.

Book a guided tour of Cusco

5. Visit the Plaza de Armas

Plaza De Armas - Cusco|©aykut gebes
Plaza De Armas - Cusco|©aykut gebes

This is one of the most emblematic places in the city. This beautiful square is surrounded by impressive colonial buildings and has a statue of Pachacutec in the centre. You will immediately notice that it is one of the most touristic areas of the city, due to the large number of people that frequent it at all hours.

From the square you can see some of the main tourist attractions of the city, the Cathedral of Cusco and the Temple of the Sun, so it can be a good idea to take it as a base to visit the highlights that are nearby. I recommend booking tickets for the Cusco Cathedral if you want to go so you can see it from the inside.

Strolling around the Plaza de Armas is a great way to soak up the atmosphere of the city and soak up its history and culture. There are also many restaurants and cafes nearby where you can enjoy a drink or a coffee before continuing your walk.

Book tickets for Cuzco Cathedral

6. Explore the Sacred Valley

Sacred Valley|©Karem Ortiz
Sacred Valley|©Karem Ortiz

The Sacred Valley is absolutely magical, home to numerous archaeological sites, indigenous villages and spectacular scenery.

With its mix of high mountains, green valleys and crystal clear rivers, booking a tour of the Sacred Valley Moray will leave you speechless. The region also boasts a pleasant climate all year round, with temperatures ranging from 15 to 25 degrees Celsius (59 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit). I recommend:

  • Take a day trip from Cusco with a specialised local guide to learn even more about the incredible Inca culture.
  • Visit the Pisac complex, which includes an impressive complex of agricultural terraces and ceremonial buildings built by the Incas.
  • Visit the Ollantaytambo fortress, a complex of stone structures and terraces that served as an administrative centre during the Empire.

Book a quad tour in the Sacred Valley Moray

7. Taste the delicious Peruvian gastronomy

Peruvian Ceviche|© Laurentiu Morariu
Peruvian Ceviche|© Laurentiu Morariu

Cusco has a unique and tasty gastronomy that combines indigenous, Spanish and African influences. Don't miss its local dishes such as: cuy, anticuchos, ceviche, lomo saltado, aji de gallina or the incredible papas a la huancaína, among many others.

One way to get to know Cusco's food is to visit its markets, such as the San Pedro market. Although if you want to have a more private experience, I recommend taking a Peruvian cooking class.

You can learn in detail how to prepare the most delicious local dishes. There are many cooking schools in Cusco that offer classes to learn how to cook traditional Peruvian dishes and the good thing is that you will be able to prepare them at home when you return.

8. Tour Cusco aboard a tour bus

Red open-top bus on the street|©Andrew Reynolds
Red open-top bus on the street|©Andrew Reynolds

This is one of the best ways to get around Cusco and locate the best areas. The Cusco tourist bus will take you around the main attractions of this beautiful Peruvian city, although it does not offer Hop on-Hop off mode. However, it has a guide so you can learn about the history and past of each place.

When you book the Cuzco tourist bus you will walk through the historic centre declared World Heritage Site by Unesco, you will see important archaeological sites such as Sacsayhuaman, Puca Pucara and Qenqo and you will even have the opportunity to visit the viewpoint of the White Christ.

Book the Cuzco tourist bus

9. Marvel at the views of Sacsayhuaman

Sacsayhuaman|© Ruben Hanssen
Sacsayhuaman|© Ruben Hanssen

Sacsayhuaman is an impressive Inca fortress located in the hills surrounding the city of Cusco. With its huge carved stones and walls up to 9 metres high, it is a masterpiece of Inca engineering that was built using huge blocks of stone weighing several tons each.

It is believed to have served both military and religious purposes. The site is located on a hill overlooking Cusco, allowing you to enjoy a breathtaking panorama of the city and surrounding mountains.

While you can explore on your own and walk along the stone paths between the ancient structures, it is advisable to take a guided tour to learn more about its history.

10. Visit the Inkariy Museum

Inkariy Museum|©MysteryPlanet.com.ar
Inkariy Museum|©MysteryPlanet.com.ar

If you are interested in Inca culture, the Inkariy Museum is one of the best museums in Cusco to learn all about it.

It houses an impressive collection of Inca and pre-Inca artefacts, from textiles and pottery to tools and weapons of war. The museum is housed in a 16th century Spanish colonial building, which is itself a work of architectural art.

The exhibits are organised chronologically and offer a detailed insight into the life and beliefs of the Incas. One of the most remarkable exhibits is the collection of Inca mummies, which were discovered in the Andean region and are in an excellent state of preservation. It is undoubtedly one of the top 10 museums in Cusco.

11. Take an adventure tour on an all-terrain quad bike

off-road quad biking|© Devon Janse van Rensburg
off-road quad biking|© Devon Janse van Rensburg

If you are an adventure lover and can't live without your share of adrenaline, then let me tell you that you should book a quad tour near Cuzco.

You will visit the Sacred Valley and the Maras Salineras in a different way. With your expert guide you will learn the secrets of these endearing places of the Inca civilization.

This quad tour in Cusco is one of the best things you can do if you are visiting the city, there is no doubt about it.

Book a quad tour near Cusco