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Best things to do in Cusco, Peru - Ultimate guide

Updated: Apr 19


Cusco is considered to be a "base camp" for all travelers that comes here primarily to visit Wonder of the World Machu Picchu, Inca ruins in Sacred Valley or recently discovered Rainbow Mountains. However, historic city of Cusco itself has so much to offer to its visitors. Either it is cathedrals, colonial architecture and archaeological sites you are up to, or shopping in narrow streets or tasting delicious Peruvian food, this former Inca capital has it all. No doubt that it was the cultural heart of Inca empire in the past as well.





2 Full day itinerary in Cusco city


Cusco lies in 3020 m above the sea therefore, acclimatizing to the altitude is the key when you are here and especially if you are coming directly from Lima which is at the sea level. Take it slow first two days or even three and pay attention to the symptoms of altitude sickness. Plan the visit to main attraction accordingly, don`t rush it to second day or so because there is nothing worse then see Machu Picchu with a headache or don`t see it at all due to altitude sickness. You will definitely not be bored with our complete guide of things to do and see while you are in Cusco waiting for your tour to famous attractions or just simply while you are acclimatizing.



What is covered in this article:

Churches, iconic buildings - Cusco Cathedral, Qorikancha, Basilica de la Merced

Inca heritage - Sacsahuman, Twelve Angled Stone

Gastronomy tips - Uchu, L`Atelier, La Boheme Creperie, Organica

Sunset spots - San Cristobal, San Cristo, Mirador del San Blas


Know before you go: If you plan to visit more sites in Cusco city as well as explore Sacred Valley you should definitely buy a Cusco Tourist ticket -> Boleto Turistico. There are more types of tickets which give you combine access to huge variety of attractions.

The best option is Full Tourist ticket which covers 16 attractions including Sacsayhuaman, Ollantaytambo, Pisac, etc. You can save a lot of money with this ticket rather than to pay entrance fee separately. It costs 130 soles / 45 $, it is valid for 10 days and you can buy it at all locations covered so you don`t have to run around Cusco to find the seller.



------ Day 1 ------



1. Plaza de Armas

You know the saying "All roads lead to Rome"? The same applies for center square Plaza de Armas which is the place where all the action happens in Cusco city. There are restaurants, hotels and caffes all around the little central park with fountain, so no wonder it is lively part of the city all day long as well as during the night. Many venues has a balcony facing the square so you can just relax with cup of coffee in hand and observe the city vibe. The square kept it`s vibrant feeling from Inca times when it was the most important gathering spot for residents.



During Spanish colonization, the original Inca stone architecture has been replaced with colonial style buildings but the Incas signature is still recognizable on some of the walls. There are two iconic buildings on the square, Cusco Cathedral and the Church La Compañía de Jesús , plus you will definitely not miss beautiful stone arcades that are dominant all around the circuit. Just walk between them or stray into side stone pathways, and buy some souvenirs in small shops.





2. Catedral del Cuzco

As I already mentioned this is the most iconic building in Cusco on Plaza de Armas and you can`t say you have been in Cusco if you have not visited the cathedral. It`s full name is Basilica Cathedral of our Lady of Assumption and it is the first Christian church built in the city by Spanish, how else than destroying Inca heritage :(. The construction started in 1559 on the grounds of the Inca’s Kiswarkancha temple and finished in 1654.



Interior is adorned by huge silver altar, choir made from cedar wood and many religious paintings out of which the most interesting one is "The Last supper". What is so interesting about it? Well, Jesus and his disciples are savoring guinea pig :) (traditional Peruvian delicacy). The cathedral is also major repository of colonial art, archaeological artifacts and relics. However, be aware that no photos or videos are allowed inside!



Pro Tip: If you want the absolute perfect photo in front of the cathedral with entrance doors closed you need to come very early, before the first mass at 6:30 am (otherwise doors are open the whole day and you can`t avoid crossing people either).


Opening hours to the public:

Monday - Sunday: 10 am - 6 pm


Entrance fees:

25 Soles / 7 $




3. San Blas

Our favorite part of Cusco, San Blas, is kind of hipster district in South American perception. Narrow streets, little plazas, trendy restaurants and caffes and most importantly, it`s not touristy :) As you wander around white houses, you will notice balconies full of flowers, cute decorations and all the other little details that make you fall in love with this place and will make you come here again.



You can start from Plaza de Armas by walking up the street behind Cusco Cathedral on the left side, through Iglesia de San Blas and finish as high as Mirador San Blas. If you want you can stay at Mirador San Blas till sunset and enjoy the view on the city during golden hour.





4. Lunch at

La Boheme Creperie

While you are in San Blas district we have a few gastronomy tips for you as well.



We have absolutely adored La Boheme Creperie for two main reasons: kinky interior and delicious sweet and sour pancakes with unconventional combination of flavors ->> aka Peruvian creperie. From the design of colorful seating, through view on Cusco`s roofs and backyard with hammocks to own design of plates and cups, you will definitely fall for this place.



Moreover, La Boheme is also a backpacker hostel with the same offbeat interior that you will love as much as the restaurant part. By the way, restaurant is closed on Mondays so plan accordingly.



Something for fun: This might sound silly but...go visit toilets here...they are super cool :)


Opening hours:

Tuesday - Sunday: 8 am - 10 pm





5. Afternoon coffee in

L`Atelier Cafe Concept


If you are the same coffee addicts as we are you will definitely appreciate this tip for caffeine delight. And even if you are not I am sure you will like this place anyway, just because of the view, or the design of the place or yummy cakes because you are on holiday and you deserve a desert!



In addition, location is absolutely convenient because it is just a few steps away from La Boheme Creperie - when you exit, turn left and at the end of the street ('T' shape) there is L`Atelier. This little cozy cafeteria is part of the small gallery/designer shop on the second floor with absolutely romantic view on streets of San Blast from two blooming balconies. Except that there are 2 other tables...I know, it`s tiny, but the whole concept is just...aah.



Pro Tip: The balcony seating is obviously often occupied so if you don`t catch that spot after lunch (maybe you are lucky) then try to come here for the morning coffee when they open.


Opening hours:

Monday - Sunday: 8:15 am - 7 pm




6. Twelve Angled Stone

Do you admire Inca architecture ? Your jaw is dropping when you hear that they built temples, houses, cities out of massive stone blocks totally without mortar or any other binding material? Then you should go to see some last foundation of Inca houses in and around street 'Calle Hatunrumiyoc' where you can see the one and only twelve angled stone. The stone has it`s name after twelve visible cuts, obviously, to fit perfectly with every other surrounding block of stone. When you see these constructions you can just wonder what amount of care and attention to detail it required. It survived all the weather conditions, earthquakes and even today, after all those centuries, not a single piece of paper can fit between any of the wall`s blocks.



The twelve angled stone is part of a wall of the Archbishop's Palace and is a very busy place (overcrowded by tourists). So if you are not very patient person or simply you just don`t waste your time and see other amazing places in Cusco then just take a photo behind the corner - there are totally the same cuts of blocks. Either way, twelve angles or nine angles, does it really matter? The whole construction is amazing.




7. Qorikancha

Qorikancha from Inca language translates to 'Temple of the Sun' and it was devoted to God of Sun. In fact, it was the most sacred and important building in the entire Inca empire. As the name indicates the temple was covered all in gold inside in order to reflect the sun light and so to worship the Sun God. Outside was no different, grass and flowers were made of gold as well as llamas, birds and other animals. Unfortunately, with Spanish arrival, all was melted down, gold sent back to Spain and temple was taking down to the ground. Later, Spanish built colonial palace from demolished stones and Convent Santo Domingo right next to it on the foundation of the former Qorikancha temple.



Nevertheless, one has to admire the new colonial building is entirely splendid, beautiful arcades on two floors decorated with flowers all around the square courtyard. You have a view on the bell tower almost from every angle as well as on the fountain in the middle of courtyard. When you walk around pay attention to the ceiling as well as paintings on the wall. There is a also beautiful garden behind the building on the south which you can access with the same entrance ticket.



Opening hours:

Monday - Saturday: 8:30 am - 5:30 pm

Closed on Sundays


Entrance fee:

15 Soles / 4.50 $

Santo Domingo convent (church) - free





8. Dinner at

Uchu


All of you meat lovers out there, listen up! If you are looking for unique experience in your dining this Peruvian Steakhouse is the place for you. Not only all the meat and side dish is high quality with new combination of flavours but also, the final touch of your meat is on you. How come? Well, steaks in Uchu are served on volcanic stone right on your table in front of you so you can grill them to medium-rare or well-done, based on your preferences. Isn`t it cool? House specialty is 'Loco Carnes' - combination of 3 types of meat: alpaca, beef and lamb. And let me tell you, it was so good that Lubos was licking his fingers whole evening :)



Meat haters and vegetarians would not leave hungry either. Instead of steak you can try sea food on volcanic stone or vegetarian kebab.


Opening hours:

Monday - Sunday: 12:30 pm - 10 pm




------ Day 2 ------



1. Minor Basilica de la Merced

Another stunning colonial building located just 5 minutes away from Plaza de Armas, is 'Minor Basilica de la Merced', in english Church of Our Lady of Mercy. This is the hidden gem of Cusco, despite it is so close to center square we were almost alone here.


When you enter, you are immediately fascinated by it`s design, arcades and mainly it`s beautifully manicured garden in courtyard with cute little fountain in the middle. You can also admire great collection of carvings and paintings on the walls like in open air gallery.



Opening hours:

Monday - Sunday: 8 am - 12:30 pm, 2 pm - 5:30 pm


Entrance fee:

10 Soles / 3 $




2. Iglesia de San Pedro

Only 500 m / 6 minutes away from Minor Basilica de la Merced is Iglesia de San Pedro built entirely in stone. The facade of the church is traditional Cusco colonial style and is inspired by the nearby Cusco Cathedral´s shape with two bell towers.


Opening hours:

Visits are during Mass times: Monday-Saturday: 7 am - 6 pm

Sundays: 6:15 am, 7:30 am, 10 am and 6 pm


Free entry




3. Lunch at

Mercado de San Pedro


Literally just few steps away, opposite Iglesia de San Pedro is quite big market 'Mercado de San Pedro'. Whole Cusco does shopping here because in this market you can always find fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meat, cheese and bakery products. We absolutely loved stands where they make fresh juice, smoothie or fruit salad with icecream...sooo yammy.



It`s also a place to go for a quick lunch to taste some home-made Peruvian street food. You know that kind of food that would your Cusco-grandma cook for you if you are Peruvian. Locals eat here very often as well so we were not afraid to try some specialties. Some stands might not meet many of European hygiene standards but we tried several of them and still live to tell the story :).

As a matter of fact, we are supporters of local restaurants/small stands - whenever we are in new country we really like to try street food as well but only on places where locals themselves eat in great numbers. Sometimes the place does not look like you would even consider to go inside but we see it`s full of locals every day, so the food must be great and we always give it a try. So far we did not have any bad experience (knock, knock).



There are also stands with all kind of souvenirs with Peruvian motives, nuts and dry fruit stands, chocolate stands and so on.




4. Sacsayhuaman

After lunch, full of energy, it`s time to burn some calories. Therefore, this is the best time to visit Inca ruins 'Sacsayhuaman' where you would need to climb uphill from Plaza de Armas approximately 30 minutes to come to the entrance. But hey, take it easy when walking up, you are still in high altitude and climbing up to 3600 m.



Sacsayhuaman was former fortress or temple, there are different opinions on the construction. Nevertheless, it was huge which is basically visible on the dimension of stone blocks that remained here after Spanish came and destroyed it because they thought it is a devil work. Some of the stones are as big as 5x5x4 metres and weight 128 tons and again they fit together as a puzzle. How Incas could transport them and tightened them without any binding material at all is absolute mystery. They say 30 000 Indians built it over 70 years.


While you are walking between ruins don`t forget to go all the way to the back to see the view on the whole Cusco. It`s amazing.



Pro Tip: Here you would use the Cusco Tourist ticket that we recommended to buy at the beginning of this blog.


Opening hours:

Monday - Sunday: 7 am - 5:30 pm


Entrance fee (if not on Cusco Tourist Ticket):

Adults - 70 Soles / 25 USD


This fee includes entrance to other Inca ruins as well, such as Qenko, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay, but these are located outside of Cusco on the way to Pisac and you will need to take colectivo or taxi to get there (taxi could be expensive). So if you are planning to visit sites in Sacred valley you should really consider to buy Full Tourist Ticket, you will save a lot of money).




5. Cristo Blanco

While you were exploring Sacsayhuaman you have definitely noticed huge white sculpture of Jesus on the right side from Inca ruins, and basically you had to notice it from the city as well. Christ, with his arms extended outwards, is guarding Cusco city from above. If it reminds you Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, you are right, cause it is it`s 'miniature'.



It is 8 meters high and it was a gift from Arabic Palestinians to Cusco people as a thanks for their hospitality and provided refuge after World War II. Sculpture is just 700 m away (10 minutes walk) from Sacsayhuaman so it would be a sin not to go there if you have already explored Sacsayhuaman. Most probably you won`t have great picture of the sculpture because it is behind the fence, on the other hand you will have stunning panoramic view on the entire city from here, not to mention the sunset.


6. San Cristobal

Yet another great sunset spot without crowds is this off the beaten track Plaza San Cristobal (sometimes referred as Mirador San Cristobal). It`s very quiet compare to the rest of historical center, but the view on the city is really spectacular. Moreover, you can visit little church with the same name 'San Cristobal' located on the right side. Church has one belltower where you can climb up to the bell and have even better view on Plaza de Armas downhill.



You can stop by here on the way down from Sacsayhuaman and Cristo Blanco, it`s so much easier this way, just 15 minutes walking downhill. That`s why we listed them in this order so you don`t have excuses of tiredness of walking up again :)



Pro Tip: Stay here little bit longer until it`s dark outside and Cusco city light up with this little dotted lights that you have probably noticed down in the city as well. It`s magical.


Church/Tower opening hours:

Monday - Sunday: 9 am - 6 pm


Entrance fee:

Church + Belltower - 30 Soles - Religious ticket

Belltower only - 10 Soles / 3 $





7. Dinner at

Organica


Finally, we have some restaurant recommendation primarily for vegetarians and vegans. Organica is perfect concept of healthy organic food in trendy restaurant with absolutely gorgeous serving of all dishes and beverages. All salads are prepared from vegetables, greens and herbs harvested from their own garden. Besides pure vegetable salads you can choose also salads with seafood or even pasta which is 100% home-made. Meat lovers, don`t be sad, Organica has something for you too, like grilled alpaca or beef won`t be disappointment, I am sure.



We have ordered pumpkin soup and I don`t think I have eaten better creamy pumpkin soup than this one. For the main course we chose salad with shrimps and salad with goat cheese. Not only plate looked marvelous with decorations of edible flowers but also combination of all greens with breaded shrimps was absolutely delicious.



Opening hours:

Monday - Sunday: 8 am - 10:30 pm



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Who we are 

JULI

Travel rocket,

hopeless dreamer

Countless pictures taker aka World from Sleeping bag photographer and editor. Always on diet. Social media content creator. 

LUBOS

Hiking freak,

food lover

Master of planning constantly annoyed by Julia`s pictures taking. Always hungry. World from Sleeping Bag video maker.

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