20 Fabulous Things to See and Do While Visiting Cusco Peru

Things to do in Cusco

Cusco – This amazing city was once the ancient city of the Inca Empire and is now considered the Archeological Capital of the American and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The elevation of the city is quite high at 3,400 meters, but that does not discourage the more than two million people who visit every year.  Of course, those two million plus people need something to do while in Cusco, and they are all amazed at how much there really is to see in this spectacular area of the world.

Here are 20 of the most fabulous things to see and do while visiting Cusco, Peru:

1.    Plaza de Armas

This plaza is in the center of this historical town and it is the most recommended place for every visitor to begin their Cusco experiences.  There is not a lot to do in the square, but the views of the buildings are quite the sight and visitors will enjoy walking around.

2.    Cathedral of Santo Domingo

This was Cusco’s first cathedral and construction began on this building back in 1560.  The red granite blocks on the outside may be impressive, but the inside offers even more beauty with colonial gold.  Not too many visitors are aware of the fact that this cathedral, like many of the other buildings in the area, were designed and constructed to withstand the effects of mother nature’s earthquakes.

3.    Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus

This cathedral is right next to the Cathedral of Santo Domingo and was originally supposed to be more magnificent once it was completed.  However, the people in charge of the construction were forbidden to even try to make it better than the Santo Domingo.

4.    Qurikancha and the Convent of Santo Domingo

This was once the most important temple of the Inca Empire and was called the House of the Sun.  The walls were covered in golf at one point in time and there were gold statues in both the niches and the courtyards.  All the gold is gone now, but the foundation has not been changed over the years, despite the fact that the church addition is quite new.

5.    Sacsayhuamán

The hike to this ancient military fortress is slightly difficult, but the views that visitors see during the walk are breathtaking.  This area was most likely phenomenal a long time ago, and while it is still nice to see, not much remains except a few foundation stones.  The best time to visit this area is when the Festival of the Sun takes place from sunrise to sunset during nine days around the winter solstice.

6.    Cristo Blanco

This statue was designed by a local artist named Francisco Olazo Allende and while many people think that they need to go to see the statue up close, that is not the case.  The statue is best viewed from a distance, but the best views of Cusco are from the statue’s platform.

7.    Barrio de San Blas

Many visitors stop in the San Blas quarter after their visit to Sacsayhuamán, because it is quite close by.  This area is full of craft shops where local artisans create authentic souvenirs and other items.  Anyone who doesn’t love to shop will still want to stop by, so that they can see the steep cobblestone roads.

8.    Iglesia de San Blas

While in the San Blas quarter, people should stop at the little church to see an amazing wooden pulpit that has an intricate baroque design.  Audio guides are available to visitors which explain the multiple myths of the construction of this pulpit.

9.    Museo de Arte Precolombino

This is one of the few museums in Cusco and it is the one that is most recommended.  The museum has many modern displays that are filled with high-quality pieces of art as well as a lot of gold.

10.    Archbishop Palace

The inside of this palace has numerous spaces, but none are as fascinating as the Golden Hall.  This room has been used as a reception area by the archbishop of Cusco.  The entire interior has a colonial feel and yet, the courtyard is charming and intimate.

11.    The Twelve Angled Stone

The Twelve Angled Stone can be found within the Palacio Arzobispal and this palace is a wonderful way to see how many of the old palaces looked back in ancient times.  While the Twelve Angled Stone is one of the sights that many people see, no one should discount any of the other areas of this palace, because they will miss a really spectacular setting.

12.    San Pedro: Cusco Market

This market is authentic and takes up an entire quarter of the city.  There is no item that is not available within this market and people will need to spend quite a bit of time exploring everything that is within the stalls and booths.

13.    Museo Inka

The exhibits within this museum are a little dated, but it is inside an old palace, which makes it worth the time.  Some of the ancient palace walls have survived over the years, so visitors can see authentic Inca construction firsthand.

14.    Day Trip to Machu Picchu

A day trip to Machu Picchu is possible for those who want to quickly see one of the seven wonders of the world, but no one will get the best experience that way.  However, it is a great way to see the lost Incan city when a person does not have much time in the area.

15.    Tipon

Tipon is a ritual water garden that is still unknown by many tourists, despite the fact that it is only a couple miles away from Cusco.  There are twelve terraces to explore before reaching a water temple at the top.  The water is channeled throughout the terraces and turns it into a sight of amazement.

16.    Maras Salt Evaporation Ponds

These salt ponds have been around since the Inca times and while they are not easy to reach, people can get to them through the Urubamba Valley.  Once a person arrives at the ponds, they will be greeted with spectacular views of the water that glitters in the sunlight.

17.    Other Inca Ruins

There are numerous Inca ruins in and around Cusco, and while seeing too many of them is not recommended, there are a few that people should consider.  Those ruins include Ollantaytambo, Tambomachay, Q’Enqo, and Piquillacta.  They are all different, which is a good thing, but most people will want to choose one or two and leave the others to the rest of the tourists.

18.    Planetarium Cusco

This planetarium offers tours where people can go and look for stars in the all-expansive sky.  The stars are fabulous in this area, because the ambient lighting in the city is low and the sky brightens the nighttime sky.

19.    Ride the Luxury Train

There are two luxury trains that depart from Cusco and while they are a little expensive, the views and the experience is worth the cost.  One of the trains goes to Machu Picchu and the other goes all the way to Puno and Lake Titicaca.

20.    Ausangate

Hikers will want to visit Ausangate to trek along the Willkanuta mountain range.  The views and the history of Incan mythology will only add to the experience.

This city is vibrant and busy, even on a rainy day, which is a good thing for every tourist.  Visitors will want to be ready to do a lot of walking while they are visiting Cusco, so that they do not miss out on any views or attractions that they have to see.

Cusco, Peru – Cusco Day Tour – Things to do in Cusco, Peru

One of the easiest ways to see Cusco and its surrounding attractions is to hop on one of the Cusco day tour. The group tour is typically 5 hrs., runs 1:30pm-6:30pm, and is led by 1 guide and 1 driver. Typically cost for the group tour is s./20-40 (US$7-$15) per person, with tour size of 15-20 people. The tour will pick you up from your hotel in a mini bus, which will then take you to various places in and around Cusco (Cathedral of Santo Domingo, Qurikancha Temple of the Sun, Sacsayhuaman, Q’enko, Puca Pucara, and Tambomachay). Private tour cost approximately US$120-130 (2-6 person), but this isn’t necessary as the typical group tours are very good. Tours can be in Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, or English, and can be arranged at any hotel/hostel concierge. (Tips: We found the tour desk at Milhouse Backpacker and Hotel to have a very reasonable group tour price of s./20-30 per person)

For those who have a lot of time, self-guided tour can be done by walking and taking local buses/taxi. For the reasonable of s./20-40, why bother.

Entrance Fees and the Boleto Turistico

In addition to the tour cost, you are required to pay for the admission of the various sites separately. It is recommended to just buy the Boleto Turistico (s./130 or $47 USD, s./70 for students, free for children under 10), which allows you to visit most the sites in Cusco and Sacred Valley (including but not limited to Ollantaytambo Temple, Pisac ruins, Sacsayhuaman) in the 10 days timeframe. A partial BTG is available for s./70 or $26, which is valid for only 1 day. Note that you will still have to pay separate the entrance fee for Cathedral of Santo Domingo (s./25) and Qurikancha Temple of the Sun (s./15). The Boleto Turistico does not cover Machu Picchu and the salt mines.

You can buy your Boleto Turistico from the COSITUC office and tourist information point on Avenida El Sol 103, and from selected tourist offices and authorized travel agencies. The Boleto Turístico is also available at some of the major archaeological sites in and around Cusco. You should just buy it from the travel agency or hostel/hotel concierge when you book the day tour.

Typical Itinerary and Places the Tour Visits

Most tour will go through Plaza de Armas, Cathedral of Santo Domingo, a walk through portion of the city to visit Historic Walls and Masonary, Qurikancha Temple of the Sun, Sacsayhuaman, Q’enko, Puca Pucara, Tambomachay, a gift/Alpaca store, and end at Plaza de Armas (See details below)

Plaza de Armas – Dominated by the magnificent Cathedral, this graceful square is considered the heart of Cusco and is characterized by covered walkways, colonial arcades and houses containing numerous shops, restaurants and travel agencies.

Plaza De Armas Cusco
Plaza De Armas Cusco

Cathedral de San Francisco – Also known as Cusco Cathedral, is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cusco. The building was completed in 1654, and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the City of Cusco listing in 1983. The Cathedral has become a major repository of Cusco’s colonial art, holding many archeological artifacts and relics, including gold, silver, and the famous last supper painting of Peru. The interior is one of the most beautiful, but cameras are not allowed (put it in your bag or purse). It is a trip highlight and a must visit.

Ancient Inca Walls in Cusco, Peru

Historic walls and Masonary – The tour will take you through a short walk through the city and give a history of its historic walls, built 500 years ago. The stones are neatly locked together to perfection. Not even a piece of paper or a tooth pick can slide through. This interlocking system is the reason the walls have lasted through numerous earthquakes over the years.

Historic Walls And Masonary
Historic Walls And Masonary

Qorikancha Temple of the Sun – It was the most important temple in the Inca Empire, dedicated primarily to Inti, the Sun God. The walls and floors were once covered in sheets of solid gold, and its adjacent courtyard was filled with golden statues. The Spanish colonists built the Church of Santo Domingo on the site, demolishing the temple and using its foundations for the cathedral. Yet most of the bottom part of the temple is fairly well preserved and makes the site worth several hours of your time. The site is one of the best in Cuzco, containing both Catholic and Inca heritage with stunning views of the surrounding area. Looking at the outside from Avenida del Sol, you get a perfect view of the church standing on the temple and you see the differences of the Inca and the Spanish way of building.

Koricancha Things To Do In Cusco
Koricancha Things To Do In Cusco

Sacsayhuaman – Located on the hill overlooking the city of Cusco, Saksaywaman (pronounced very similarly to “sexy woman”) was an Incan fortress, vital to the protection and control of the city. The size of the stones at this fort is impressive, many are bigger than a car and the biggest is estimated to weigh in 200 tons. Yet, despite the sizes of the stones, they fit together so perfectly that you can’t fit a piece of paper between them. The inward leaning walls, rounded corners of the blocks, and variety of shapes used in building the fortress is said to have helped the fortress survive numerous earthquakes. This is where you want to take pictures of your little body next to these gigantic stones.

Sacsayhuaman
Sacsayhuaman

Q’enko – Located on a hill, the site was historically used for funerals and other rituals related to death, including sacrifice. On this little site, we find the remains of the celebrations to the gods, including the Sun God ”Inti”. On the roof of the edifice is found a stone sundial, and cut stones as often found on the sites, which show through their shadows: the solstices, the equinoxes, or the proper periods for agricultural plantations! Under the stone perfectly cut, there is an altar for sacrifice! According to historians, usually Lamas were sacrificed, although sometimes, men and children were sacrificed in great occasion!

Qenqo Cusco Peru
Qenqo Cusco Peru

Tambomachay– The site consists of a series of aqueducts, canals and waterfalls that run through the terraced rocks. The function of the site is uncertain: it may have served as a military outpost guarding the approaches to Cusco, as a spa resort for the Incan political elite, or both. Covering a limited expanse of just over one acre, it comprises 4 large terraces and two aqueducts that carry water, presumed to be from an underground spring higher up the mountain, to waterfalls descending to a basin below.

Tambomachay Cusco Peru
Tambomachay Cusco Peru

Gifts Shop/Alpaca Store – The final stop is the Alpaca store/ gift shop. Here, the store representatives show how to tell the different between a real or fake Alpaca, the difference between Alpaca and Vicuna. We do not know whether the Alpaca or Vicuna furs in the store are real or fake, but they were very expensive. Most of the visitors in our group bought small gloves and magnets, etc.

Tours end back at Plaza de Armas, just in time for dinner. For s./20-40, the trip is well worth it. Do shop around for best pricing, and often the lowest prices are not online!

Cusco Day Tours
Cusco Day Tours