Cusco, Peru is known as the gateway to Machu Picchu, but it is so much more. While I’ve been to Cusco several times I haven’t experienced everything. With help from some fellow travel bloggers we’ve put together this amazing list of things to do in Cusco Peru.
Some of these activities are must dos during your time in Cusco, but others are hidden gems not everyone knows about.
Things to do in Cusco Peru
Temple of the Fly
Submitted by Megs from Pack up the Pieces
One of the more unique things to do in Cusco is to get “off the beaten path” and visit some of the lesser-known Inca ruins in the hillsides. A favorite among locals and visitors is the Temple of the Fly. It is also known by its Quechua name of Chuspiyoq.
The Temple of the Fly is best accessed via a scenic and gentle hike from San Blas. I is also inclose proximity to other hidden gems like the Temple of the Moon and the site of Inkilltambo.
Before reaching the Temple of the Fly, there are some large rocks nearby that house what appears to be an ancient cave. A little further down the path, catch those first glimpses of this special Inca sacred site. There is an inviting meadow engulfed by large trees, making it a local favorite spot to enjoy a picnic.
The actual site of Temple of the Fly is small, but really beautiful. There’s a magic about this place that is hard to describe. The large cone shaped rock seems to house an alter; maybe it was used for ceremonies, or maybe something more? It’s possible to climb up to the top to get some sweeping views of this special place.
Read More: 3 Days in Cusco Peru
Things to do in Cusco: Learn Spanish
Submitted by Gemma from Two Scots Abroad
If you are planning a trip to Colombia, Peru or Bolivia, you should consider investing a bit of time, money and brainpower into learning Spanish.
While you can get by on the backpacker trail only speaking English, you will enjoy a more enhanced experience, with a little understanding of the local language. It’s polite, opens doors to more opportunities, and makes ordering food much easier. Especially if you have food allergies, or if like me, you can’t stand cilantro!
If you can read and speak survival level, there’s less chance of being ripped off too.
While there are plenty of online courses to get you started, you can also learn Spanish in Cusco*.
We attended the San Blas Spanish School for one week. Lessons took place from early morning until lunch, Monday to Friday. Homework was set after each class to consolidate the key themes delivered that day.
Lessons are either delivered in private or in a group setting, to suit all budgets. The school can also arrange accommodation if you plan to study for a semester.
Alternatively, you can apply for a week-long homestay with a local. We spent five nights with an older Peruvian called Doris. Her house was a 20-minute walk away from the center of Cusco, so we got a wee glimpse into the less-touristy side of the city. Shopping was much cheaper around these parts!
We ate breakfast and dinner together, then did our homework in our private room. There was no WiFi, so no distractions! It was quite an intense week but well worth it.
Things to do in Cusco: Free Walking Tour
Submitted by Bailey from Destinationless Travel
One of the best ways to get acquainted with a new city cheaply is on a free walking tour. Cusco is a great place to join a free walking tour as your guide will show you some of the best free sights all within walking distance of the Plaza de Armas. It is a great way to get oriented once you first arrive and is the perfect intro to Cusco city!
On a free walking tour in Cusco your guide will take you around to a few different attractions and sights. The guide is a local with tons of knowledge about the history of Cusco including pointing out Inca ruins while you’re on the tour. You guide also will brief you with other amazing attractions to visit nearby so that you can easily plan the rest of your time in Cusco. Usually, guides have recommendations on amazing local restaurants and bars too!
The best part about a free walking tour in Cusco is that it is, you guessed it, free! So even if you’re a budget backpacker staying at a hostel in Cusco you can afford this tour. Do keep in mind, since the tour is free you should tip your guide generously (this is how they make their living!)
There are several companies who offer these tours and you can usually just walk up and join the tour. However, if you want to plan your tour you can go with the company Free Walking Tour Cusco. They meet in front of the KFC at Plaza de Armas every day at 9:50 am, 12:30 pm, 3:30 pm, and 6:00 pm. You’ll recognize them in bright red shirts!
Things to do in Cusco: Cusco Cathedral (La Catedral)
Submitted by Knycx Journeying
Cusco is a gateway that connects the world with Machu Picchu. While the entire world comes here to begin their pilgrimage to the heritage sites, the city itself is full of landmarks left by both the Incas and Spanish, and Cusco Cathedral is a centerpiece located in the heart of Plaza de Armas.
Plaza de Armas is a wonderful starting point to explore Cusco. It’s the city’s focal point that could be spotted from any of the surrounding viewpoints on the mountains. Built between 1560 and 1664, the entire Cusco Cathedral is shaped like a giant cross, standing on the foundation of an ancient Inca temple Kiswarkancha with rocks transported from the citadel of Sacsayhuamán.
Aside from the fact that the cathedral was built on top of an Inca temple, the cathedral was designed in a Gothic-Renaissance and Baroque style with a lot of intricate details inside and out. The façade of the cathedral features a beautiful front door and a bell tower, with a giant bell that the sound of the bell could be heard in a distance of over 30 kilometers.
Inside, there are a number of artworks on display, including Marco Zapata’s The Last Supper, of which the local artists recreated the common biblical incident of Jesus Christ’s last supper, adding a rather usual item, a guinea pig, a traditional food in Peru, in the center of the dining table. Don’t forget to check out the wooden crucifix statue, the Lord of the Earthquake. It was originally painted, but blackened due to the soot of candles and oil lamps, and the pigment from the pollen of flowers that were thrown on it during ceremonies for centuries.
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Attend the Inti Raymi Festival
Submitted by Laura from Laure Wanders
The Inti Raymi Festival, also called the Festival of the Sun, takes place in Cusco every year on June 24. The festival is a reenactment of the most important ceremony of the year during the Inca Empire. Back in the days, the ancient Incas would gather in Cusco (their capital) to pay tribute to Inti, the sun God. Inti Raymi was held on the shortest day of the year and it would symbolize the start of a new harvest year.
Back then, 200 lamas were sacrificed. Luckily, this is not something that will happen during the reenactment. This tradition lasted until the Spanish conquered the Inca Empire and banned the festival in the 16th century.
If you’re in Cusco around the time of the year when Inti Raymi is held,
it will be an experience of a lifetime to take part to the festival! Locals and tourists alike flock to the different places where the reenactment of the ceremonies take place and the streets of Cusco are filled with music and colorful dances. The main celebration takes place at the ruins of Sacsayhuaman. Here, hundreds will dance and locals representing priests, nobles, and the Emperor will give speeches in Quechua.
You can buy tickets to see the ceremony from the tribunes or watch it
from a hill behind the tribunes, where most of the locals will be.
Either way, going to the Inti Raymi Festival is a great way to learn
more about ancient Inca traditions.
Read More: Best Day Trips from Cusco
Submitted by Ashley from Jetset Jansen
There are many ruins in and around Cusco but one, in particular, happens to be right in the middle of the city: Qorikancha. That’s by no mistake. The Inca considered Qorikancha to be the most important building in the Incan Empire. It was dedicated to several Inca gods but especially to the sun god, Inti. The Temple of the Sun was the most sacred building in the temple complex and covered in gold walls. The name itself reflects two Quechua words and translates to ‘gold temple’ or ‘gold walls’. Inside was a golden statue of Inti encrusted with jewels.
However, when the Spaniards conquered the city, they took the gold, melted it down and sent most of it back to Spain. The gold statue was rumored to be taken to a safe place, only to be found years later where it then disappeared without a trace. The Spaniards eventually built the Santo Domingo Church on top of the Incan walls.
You can tour the temple, inside and out, to learn some interesting facts about the structure and how it was built. The Inca put a lot of thought into building and even how things line up. There are lines within Qorikancha that point in the direction of more than 300 sacred sites and towers that mark the summer solstice. It’s an interesting place to visit and must-see when visiting Cusco and diving into the history of the city.
Things to do in Cusco:: Attend a Local Potato Festival
Submitted by Christian from Unusual Traveler
If you want to experience something truly authentic in Cusco, try to attend a local potato festival. Locals make offerings to the gods and pray that the season’s potato harvest will be a good one. This is not a common activity among tourists, and it’s often not offered by a local travel company.
In the early morning, I drove with a local friend to a village where I met up with the village chiefs and the local Shaman. Then we started a 2-hour hike to the top of a mountain. When we reach the summit, the local men were already making offerings with potatoes, and coco leaves to the Gods and dancing.
The feast that takes place afterward is also well worth the visit; every family in the village has made their own homebrew called a Chicha, a type of Saliva fermented beer which each family has proudly made with their own family recipe.
Once the feast starts, everyone will be sitting around in a huge circle, and each family serving their own Chicha to each, and everyone, a huge jug of Chicha from each family, (during my visit there were more than 40 jugs sent around) will be sent around the circle, and you will try each and every one, some which taste delicious, others not that good and will cause severe headache the next day when the sunset set in there will be a huge BBQ with each family providing a meal each for the ceremony.
Chocolate Making at Cusco’s ChocoMuseo
Submitted by Becky of SightDOING
Most people head to Peru to explore amazing Incan ruins, but the country is also a culinary powerhouse and one of their most popular exports is chocolate! Right in central Cusco, the ChocoMuseo gives an insider look at how cacao is planted, harvested, and transformed into what everyone knows and loves: cocoa beans, powder, and ultimately, chocolate.
Visitors can check out the small museum for free, but the hands-on experiences are where the ChocoMuseo really shines. Factory tours are available–with plenty of tastings–or you can sign up to make your own flavored chocolate bars or fill your own chocolate truffles. Both are a ton of fun and make fabulous souvenirs (assuming you don’t eat them all while hiking the Inca Trail).
Not only will you learn a lot, but it’s also a great activity for your first few days in Cusco. Since it’s not physically strenuous, you can participate even while you acclimate to the Sacred Valley and the high altitude. It’s also great on a rainy day!
If you’re an absolute foodie, the ChocoMuseo has a few other tours and activities you may enjoy also: there’s a savory cooking class, coffee and pisco tastings, and an overnight farm visit where you’ll taste everything from exotic fruits to nuts, spices, and coca tea. No matter which experience you choose, this is a great addition to your Cusco trip and a unique way to spend an afternoon.
Read More: Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu
Submitted by Ashley from Jetset Jansen
Puka Pukara is another set of Incan ruins that can be found just outside Cusco on the top of a hill. The ruins themselves look like a series of short walls and doorways on terraces. This archeological complex is believed to be the site of a military watchtower and fortress. The name translates to ‘red fortress’ and it’s said that the stones used in construction were once a reddish color, as opposed to the grey color they look today.
Another interesting fact about Puka Pukara is that the stones used in construction are very irregularly shaped and fit together a little more poorly than at other nearby sites. This suggests that it was actually built in a hurry and was potentially needed for military purposes. Apart from that, the function of the site is a little uncertain because there were also believed to be fountains, baths and various rooms here as well. So, it could have also been used as a resting place as well.
The ruins are not big, area-wise and since they are mostly the outline of walls, there’s not much to see here. However, the location is very appealing because it’s situated on top of the hillside overlooking Cusco Valley. The view is really beautiful and we were lucky to stumble upon a rainbow when we arrived, that made it even more beautiful.
Submitted by Lori from Travelin’ Mad
There are so many historic and cultural things to do in Peru from visiting ancient Incan Ruins to enjoying the local markets and street food. One of the best places to experience all of these is in Cusco, the ancient capital of the Incan empire, Pisac.
For first timers, the famous Pisac Market in the Sacred Valley really puts you in touch with the local culture.
The Pisac Market offers local crafts reflecting the colors and rich fabric of Incan ancestry and Spanish influence. Go a little deeper and you’ll find the fine arts — woven textiles, ceramics, rugs, and jewelry. If you’re looking to take something truly beautiful home, there are items woven from the prized wool of baby alpacas. Sweaters, caps, shoulder bags, and the most popular, blankets expertly woven from this super-soft wool. There’s nothing like it.
Taking a tour of the market is highly recommended to get a true taste of Peru at the many booths and vendors. Don’t be shy. This is where locals come for fresh produce, meat, breads and pastries, and tasting different things along the way is part of the experience.
A favorite street food to try in the market is choclo (corn on the cob) served freshly cooked. The dime sized kernels are eaten straight from the cob often with a kind of fresh farm cheese.
You can eat your way through the market sampling street foods and enjoying more traditional Peruvian dishes, one of the most unique cuisines in the world. For a true local, cultural experience, be sure and visit the Pisac Market on Sunday when local indigenous families are selling their goods.
Things to do in Cusco: Plaza de Armas
Submitted by Sean Lau of Living Out Lau
Cusco, once the capital of the Inca empire, is a historical city filled with incredible archaeological ruins and charming colonial architecture. One of the best places to experience the unique character of Cusco is the Plaza de Armas, the main square of Cusco. Translating to “Weapons Square” in English, this was historically a place where the Spanish soldiers and weapons were congregated.
The Plaza de Armas of Cusco covers an area that was called Haukaypata, the Great Inca Square. Nowadays, surrounding the square is mostly colonial-style buildings, many of which have been built on top of old Inca structures using the pre-existing foundations. As the center of the historic area in Cusco, many of the city’s best establishments can be found on the perimeters of Plaza De Armas. Anyone looking to try some authentic Peruvian cuisine, find tours or enjoy the nightlife won’t be disappointed when visiting Plaza De Armas.
Featuring wide stone walkways and well-maintained gardens, the Plaza de Armas is an excellent place to hang out and people watch. The center of the square contains a large fountain and is often the meeting place for many people. When visiting the Armas De Armas in Cusco, there are two structures you mustn’t miss: The Cusco Cathedral and Church La Compania de Jesus.
To fully experience the vibrance of the Plaza de Armas, it is important that visitors pick an accommodation in the historic center. Matter of fact, there are several hotels in Cusco that are situated around Plaza De Armas, and the balconies from the hotel rooms overlook the majestic square!