Top Things to Do in Cusco
Cusco is one of the world’s great travel destinations, offering a fantastic mix of architecture, history, food and fine views in the Andes of Peru. It’s so much more than a jumping off point for Machu Picchu, with so many visitors wishing they had stayed longer in this high Andean town that was once reigned by the Inca civilisation. Here are some of our top things to do in Cusco to help you plan your visit to this great Peruvian city, nestled in the Sacred Valley.
Plaza de Armas and the cathedral
The Plaza de Armas is the core of Cusco, a pretty and expansive square complete with flower-filled gardens, trickling water fountains and exquisite architecture. The cathedral dominates one side of the plaza, a landmark in the city and emblem of the Spanish conquest. In fact, the cathedral was built atop original Inca foundations, much like the rest of the town.
Essentially, no visit to Cusco would be quite complete without a stroll around the Plaza de Armas. Come here to admire the architecture, pop into one of the cafés or bars, and enjoy some people watching – it’s the best place in town for it.
Temple of Qurikancha
The name ‘Qurikancha’ (or Korikancha) means ‘Golden Courtyard’ in Quechua, and that’s precisely what to expect from this ‘Temple of the Sun’. Dating back to the mid-15th century, Qurikancha used to be a resplendent temple adorned all in gold, before the Spanish tore it down and erected the Church of Santo Domingo in its place.
However, today you can still see the foundation of Qurikancha, which was once the richest and most ornate temple of its kind throughout the Inca empire. Take time to admire the profusion of Inca and Spanish architectural styles as you wander through the grounds and garden, serving as reminders of Peru’s tumultuous history.
Another Inca relic and impressive archaeological site in Cusco is Sacsayhuaman. Enthroned on the hills above Cusco, this mighty fortress showcases the engineering ingenuity of the Inca, with its giant stone blocks that make up the huge walls. Not only is it fascinating to behold and ponder how the Inca created this site, but Sacsayhuaman also commands unrivalled views over Cusco.
To get to Sacsayhuaman, it’s just a 45-minute walk from Cusco itself. The route will also bestow you with a view of Cristo Blanco, a large statue of Christ that recalls its Brazilian counterpart in Rio de Janeiro (albeit a lot smaller).
Another fantastic thing about Cusco is its proximity to the Sacred Valley, a beautiful rolling landscape dotted with traditional villages and archaeological sites. You can enjoy day trips to the Maras Salt Mines – ancient salt ponds staggering down the hillside as they have done for centuries. Or, visit Pisac with its traditional market stalls, where you can pick up brightly coloured textiles to take home as souvenirs. There are also women’s cooperatives and Alpaca farms to discover in the Sacred Valley, as well as adventure activities like mountain biking and white-water rafting.
Of course, the most outstanding attraction in this region of Peru is Machu Picchu – an absolute must-visit while in the Sacred Valley!
Cusco shops and markets
Cusco itself is home to a mix of markets and shops that you could easily spend days exploring. The San Pedro Market, for example, is piled high with a kaleidoscope of fruit and vegetables, empanadas and tamales, coca leaves and colourful juices.
After you’ve nibbled your way around the market, why not head to the San Blas district for a spot of shopping? You can work off your breakfast by walking uphill to reach this quirky neighbourhood, then reward yourself with purchases from the lovely boutiques that line the cobbled streets.
Local cafés and restaurants
One of the best things to do in Cusco is relax with a delicious meal or aromatic cup of coffee, and soak up the laidback atmosphere. Dress warmly in order to sit outside and watch the world go by, tucking into Andean cuisine. If you’re feeling adventurous, one of the town’s specialties is cuy, or guinea pig, which comes as a surprise to many visitors! There’s even a name for eateries that serve this roasted dish – cuyerías – although there are other options too if it doesn’t take your fancy.
One such example is the rustic-cool Pachapapa restaurant in San Blas, though if you’re after a smarter affair then head to Chicha by acclaimed chef Gastón Acurio (who also owns the beloved restaurant Astrid y Gastón in Lima). This is just a taste of the dining experience in Cusco, as there are so many fantastic cafés, bars and restaurants to choose from. Foodies will love it here!
Ready to start exploring Cusco and Peru? You can tailor your itinerary using our free online trip builder. After selecting a template itinerary, you can then handpick the hotels and activities you want, adjust the durations depending on how long you want to stay in each place, and have fun in the process! Surtrek is always at hand to help out. Call us on 1 866 978 7398 (Canada and USA) or 080 8189 0438 (UK) to talk to an expert, and Discover Your South America with Surtrek!