Ahhh, Cusco, the heart of Peruvian tourism! The main tourist area centres around the Plaza de Armas, and with it’s stunning churches and gardens it’s easy to see why. Cusco is culturally still actively influenced by its indigenous roots, which makes it different to many of the other large cities around Peru. Of course, expect this tourism hub to be busy even in low season, and expect prices to be higher than elsewhere in the country, too. There are little gems here and there though, as always.
This guide will go through the best things to do in Cusco, Peru, as well as where to eat at stay in the city. We’ll also let you know about some of the best day-trips from Cusco. Enjoy!
Things to do in Cusco, Peru
Learn about Peru’s rich history
There are a huge number of art and history museums in Cusco. I was desperate to see a few of them, but a little bizarrely in order to go into one you need to buy a tourist pass that gives you access to almost all museums in the city as well as the Sacred Valley archaeological sites. Great for history or art boffs and for those who are wanting to go and experience some of the further out day trips from Cusco, but for people who only have niche interests or who have a limited number of days to spend in the city, it’s a shame you can’t just pay per entry. We sadly skipped all museums because of this (well, sad for me; Andy mainly rejoiced).
Cook up a storm
Chocolate workshops are highly rated with ChocoMuseo on Calle Garcilaso, and you can learn how to make pisco sours on an evening tour. You can also take a fuller 3-hour Peruvian cooking class and market tour with We Cook Peru.
See stars at the Cusco planetarium
On a clear night, this is a fantastic part of the world to see stars; even the Milky Way if you’re lucky! With this Southern Skies Stargazing tour, you’ll have a guided experience that tells you the Incan stories of old while you gaze at the constellations above through telescopes.
Join the Cusco free walking tour
Get your ears and your tips at the ready, the Free Walking Tour Cusco leaves up to 4 times a day from outside the KFC on Plaza de Armas. It’s provided in English or Spanish, and takes you all around the city in 2 hours. You have to register your interest here. Alternatively, you can organise a private tour of the city by bike!
Haggle for an alpaca jumper
For markets, San Pedro is a banger, with everything from gemstones to Peruvian tourist jumpers (let’s be honest, no locals would be seen dead in anything woolly with a llama pattern). For something smaller but with a focus on tourist clothes and souvenirs, try one of the indoor markets on Calle Marquez and surrounding streets.
Get foamy at Cusco Carnival (February)
If you happen to find yourself in Cusco during a Carnaval weekend (February), buy a few cans of foam spray, head down to the city centre and brace yourself for the soaking of your life. This is an amazing chance to join in with locals; they won’t hold back or ignore you because you’re a foreigner. Really fun but not to be done with any expensive tech in hand!
Day trips from Cusco (or multi-day excursions!)
Explore the Incan Ruins of the Sacred Valley
Machu Picchu is not the only place in Peru to see Incan ruins! If you have a lot of time to spend in Cusco and want to get out of the city, the Sacred Valley offers a huge amount to do, with ruins upon ruins upon ruins. This here Cusco tour will help you smash through 4 ruin sites in one day – Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo, Puca Pucara, and Tambomachay. The more adventurous readers here can opt for an ATV tour that gets you at high speeds from site to site.
Marvel at the terraces
Aside from being an interesting part of rural Peruvian life, the Moray agricultural terraces and Maras salt terraces are reeeeally popular photo spots for budding travel instagrammers. They’re a few hours out of the city, and tours are usually paired with a visit to some ruins too.
Chill at Lake Humantay
A bus ride and hike will get you to the turquoise beauty of Lake Humantay. Just look at the colour of that water!!
Tick your bucketlist with Machu Picchu & Rainbow Mountain
But of course, most travellers come to Cusco as a springboard for some pretty incredible sights – Rainbow Mountain and Machu Picchu. We’ve said it a million times before and we’ll say it again, when booking these tours, it’s important NOT to book them through any kind of tourism desk within your hostel. While this might seem convenient and like you’re going to get a better quality service, you’re still sold onto the same cheap tourism operators that everyone else does, put in the same minibus and given the same basic meals – except you paid up to double what everyone else did. This applies to most of South America.
Where to eat in Cusco, Peru
Another chifa! Chifa Hao Yun is central (on Calle Santa Clara), tasty, filling (perhaps too filling) and sooooo cheap. £2 will get you a Wonton soup and huge plate of aeropuerto. HUGE.
There are plenty of little typical Peruvian restaurants dotted around the city. These normally have the same kinds of things on the menu (bisteck/steak, chicken asado, etc.) and will give you a main for around £2-3. Whatever you order, you can usually expect a free soup.
You can also eat in the San Pedro market, but this is unfortunately one of the markets we skipped hot food in as we were a little worried about hygiene. The fruit smoothies are a safer option!
Where to stay in Cusco, Peru
Still buzzing from our time in La Paz and with Lozzy’s sister in tow, we decided to reserve bunks in the biggest dorm of arguably the most touristy hostel possible in Cusco, Wild Rover. Whilst not as lively as the Wild Rover in La Paz, Cusco still maintains its party reputation, which is all fun in games until 19 people in a 20 bed dorm have to listen to the Kiwi kid in the corner getting a handjob off a German girl (even worse is when their bunk is the one directly above yours). Party hostels in Peru are not for the faint-hearted, and if you like staying somewhere where the staff are told they have to be drunk by 9pm when they’re on shift, this is the place for you! All jokes aside (staff having to be drunk is apparently not a joke, though), we had a great time in Wild Rover, and made a lot of friends that we have ended up meeting up with several other times during our travels.
We also took advantage of the beer pong and football tournaments and ceviche cooking classes that the hostel offered. It is a little out of the way up the hill though; if you’d prefer to be closer to the action then trying to find a place near Plaza de Armas or San Pedro market would be a good start. Ecopackers Hostel looks like an excellent choice, and comes highly reviewed.