12 essential things to do in Cusco (Peru)

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Cusco is one of the favorite cities of travelers who want to enjoy the essence of Peru and, in turn, home to many of the main attractions of the Andean country. If you’ve come this far, you’re probably wondering about the best things to do in Cusco…

The city of Cusco will please all those travelers who wish to experience a mixture of nature, culture, and history. An unbeatable option to find the perfect balance and discover from all possible prisms the history and origin in the history of the Incas.

We present you the top 12 things to do in Cusco:

Of course… Machu Picchu

A visit to Cusco could never be justified if we do not visit its most emblematic sacred temple: Machu Picchu.

We can find an infinite number of routes that start from this city, which is located less than 100 km from one of the 7 wonders of the world.
As a curiosity, if this temple seems to you to be in a very high place, think that the city of Cusco is around 1,000 km above Machu Picchu.

man jumping in machu picchu

Visit the Market of San Pedro

Is the most authentic Cusco. This market will allow us to enjoy its people, its atmosphere, and all its colors. That is why nothing better than starting at the market of San Pedro.

This place is perfect to taste the most varied fruit juices, from the most traditional (orange, strawberry, pineapple) to the most exotic and local of Peru (passion fruit, papaya, guava).
We can also find the best local cocoa, as well as coca leaves and some of the typical foods of the area.

Woman sewing a blanket in cusco

You will also find many shops dedicated exclusively to handicraft shops, where you can buy all the souvenirs you want to take home.

Walk around the Plaza de Armas

And from traditional Cusco, we travel to imperial Cusco;. Once you recharge your battery from the visit to the market of San Pedro, the best place to start your tour in the imperial city is the Plaza de Armas, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in all Peru.

Here you can’t miss the Cathedral and the Church of the Company of Jesus, two great examples of the architecture of the Spanish conquerors in Cuzco where you can also enjoy the paintings of great mestizo artists.

square in cusco

The great importance that this square has over the city of Cusco, makes it full of shops and restaurants to enjoy its cuisine and local customs.

A curious aspect of the square is that at the time, this area was a swamp. The Incas dried it out to make it the main site of the capital of the Inca empire. This is another example of the level of development they had.

Stroll through the streets of Cusco:

We know that you can not consider the streets of the city as a specific place, but believe us, in Cusco and it is worth devoting much of your time if you want to know the soul of the city. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Calle Loreto, also known as Calle del Sol: famous for having the best-preserved Incan walls of the city.
  • Cuesta de San Blas: a narrow street and very uphill where most art shops, galleries, and workshops are located.
  • Calle Siete Culebras: its name is due to the reliefs carved in the stone on each side of the street, which form seven snakes. If you want to find them we recommend a little patience. Good luck!
  • Avenida del Sol: considered the main street of Cuzco, is famous for its handicraft shops, museums, and exchange bureaus (reliable and the best exchange rates).

tourists walking in cusco

Convent of Santo Domingo

Qorikancha was known as the Golden Temple because its walls were covered with gold plates. It was formerly the religious, political, and geographical center of Cusco, and is considered the most important temple of the Inca Empire.

tourist visiting the convent of santo domingo in cusco

Juan Pizarro (the Spanish conqueror) lent the land to the religious order and ordered the construction of a new building on top of this Qorikancha temple, which today is known as the Convent of Santo Domingo.

A few years later it was damaged by an earthquake, which surprisingly did not cause any damage to the part of the old Inca temple, it remained in its original state. Who knows if the gods were looking for a little revenge?

To this day, this church preserves its walls, which were decorated with Sevillian “azulejos”, as well as a beautifully carved cedar wood masonry, where the church’s choir was located.

Observe the Stone of Twelve Angles

Just two blocks from the Plaza de Armas is the famous Stone of the 12 Angles. This large rock is part of an Inca wall that still remains intact.

stone in cusco peru

It surprises all the tourists that arrive in Cusco because it has 12 angles that fit perfectly with the stones that surround it. A site that must be visited.

Buy Peruvian Pink Salt

At the top of the Sacred Valley are the salt pools in Maras. These salt pools, fed by a small saltwater stream, have been harvested by local families since the time of the Incas.

salt pools in maras

Like all other forms of agriculture in the fertile mountains of the Andes, these salt ‘mines’ create a striking landscape. During the summer, all the water evaporates, leaving bare the famous Peruvian pink salt, which is highly appreciated and rich in minerals and which you can acquire on your visit to Cusco.

Assault’ the Sacsayhuamán Fortress

The stones of this complex of Inca walls are so well fitted that not a single piece of paper can fit between them. Inside this Inca ceremonial fortress, you will find residential buildings, towers, worship centers, warehouses, roads, and aqueducts.

people in the fortress in cusco

While it is believed that the site is the remainder of a much larger fortress complex that once stood on top of it, the remaining walls of the structure are an impressive reminder of the engineering skills of the Incas.

In the surroundings of Cusco the landscape and the places of interest change drastically, both because of their typology and because of the great amount of them. This Qengo Sacsayhuamán Temple is a clear example of this.

Qenqo, which in Quechua means labyrinth or zig-zag, receives this name because of the twisted channel cut out of its rock. Later archaeological studies suggest that Qenqo was used for death rituals, possibly to embalm bodies or to detect whether a person was living a good life by following the course followed by the liquid.

Cross the Q’eswachaka Bridge

The Keshwa chaca or Q’eswachaka bridge is one of the latest handmade Inca bridges. It crosses the Apurimac Canyon in Peru and is one of the few bridges whose ropes were woven by hand by the Incas and became a key element in the displacement of the Inca people.

inca bridge in cusco

Made of woven grass, the bridge is 28 meters long and 1.20 meters wide. As a curiosity, it is worth mentioning that the punishment for manipulating that bridge during the time of the Inca Empire was death.

Vinicunca Mountain

Without a doubt, one of the most known places in Peru. This colored mountain is located at an altitude of 5,200 meters above sea level and stands out for the colored rainbow it has on its surface.

rainbow mountain in cusco

Also known as the Rainbow Mountain, in it, we find pink, white, red, brown, green, and yellow colors. These are due to its mineralogical composition, among which are clays, rocks with magnesium, sulfur minerals, calcium carbonates, etc. This place is, for sure, one of the best things to do in Cusco.

Enjoy its Biodiversity

Cusco is not only a fantastic place to enjoy its treasures in the form of archaeological monuments, but it is also perfect to experience fantastic nature, such as the cloud forest in the Manu National Park region.

snake on a tree in manu cusco

Manu is the largest of all the protected areas in Peru. It covers about 1.5 million hectares of Amazon lowland and rainforest in the Peruvian Andes.
Both the cloud forest and the lowland Amazon rainforest are considered to be two of the most biodiverse areas on Earth. Both contain an incredible amount of birds, monkeys, and wildlife that is iconic of the Amazon.

Due to its biological importance, Manu is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Enjoy its gastronomy

There is so much variety that we don’t know where to start, so we decided to tell you about the classics…

food dish in cusco

  • Anticuchos: a typical dish that fills the streets with that sweet smell we love. However, we prefer not to tell you the origin of this meat so you can discover it for yourself… Don’t worry, it’s safe to eat!
  • Chicharrón: it’s very easy to find women preparing the classic chicharrón in the street, a fried pork dish that you can’t miss.
  • Patasca: a delicious typical Andean soup found in all popular markets. For soup lovers, we recommend without a doubt the quinoa soup they prepare at the Pachapapa restaurant.
  • Tamales: As in other neighboring countries, tamales are made with corn and wrapped in green banana leaves. They are ideal for breakfast.
  • Ceviche: I’m sure it was already on your list. The most popular dish in Peruvian gastronomy is a fixture in your visit to this country. If it is already an exquisite dish outside this country, imagine having it prepared by the local inhabitants themselves.

Finally, get lost in any market and ask for a pisco sour, the typical cocktail of this area of the Andes. But be careful not to drink too much, maybe you would wake up the next morning with a bit of a hangover…

We encourage you to try everything, especially the food you are not used to. Enjoy!

Finally, for you, which are the best things to do in Cusco?

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