As a central hub for many of the best adventures, Incan archeological sites, and stunning natural landscapes, there is no shortage of incredible things to do in Cusco, Peru. From shopping at local markets to taking day trips into the Andes and visiting Peru’s famous “Lost City” of Machu Picchu, we’ve rounded up 23 of the best things to do in Cusco!

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About Cusco, Peru

A bastion of the American West, Jackson, Wyoming is an enclave of cowboys, outdoor adventurers, artists, ski bums, tourists and rich people playing cowboy. Most people are probably familiar with Jackson’s, let’s just say, swanky, reputation. And while you likely won’t be making any real estate purchases while you’re there, it’s an amazing place to visit with endless things to do.

A home base for all sorts of outdoor adventures, Jackson, Wy remains a true western town and is absolutely worth a visit!

Best Things to do in Cusco

From day trips to hike in the Andes mountains to the best spot to grab a cocktail in the city, here is our list of the best things to do in Cusco (in no particular order):

  1. Hike Huchuy Qosqo
  2. Take a day trip to Rainbow Mountain
  3. Take a chocolate-making class
  4. Take a day trip to Laguna Humantay
  5. Visit the Pisac ruins and market
  6. Wander through Plaza del Armas, the main square in Old Town Cusco
  7. Enjoy a coffee over looking Plaza de Armas
  8. Explore the salt mines at Maras
  9. Grab a drink with a view at Viewhouse Resto Bar
  10. Visit the ruins at Moray
  11. Visit the Sacsayhuaman Ruins in Cusco
  12. Have lunch at the San Pedro Market
  13. Take a trip to Ollantaytambo
  14. Go to Machu Picchu
  15. Hike Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu’s moutain
  16. Enjoy a wood-fired pizza at Nonna Trattoria
  17. Visit the cat cafe
  18. Shop at one of Cusco’s textile markets
  19. Go on a multi-day trek
  20. Stroll through San Blas
  21. See the famous 12-angle stone of the Lienzo Pétreo wall
  22. Try a tamale from the street vendors near Plaza de Armas
  23. Tour the temple at Qorikancha

Map of the best things to do in Cusco

The map below displays the locations of the best hikes, restaurants, archeological sites and other things to do in Cusco.

  • To email this map to yourself for future use, click the three dots in the upper right corner.
  • To view more details about each location, click on the marker on the map.

Details | Best Things to do in Cusco

Without further ado, let’s get into detail about each of the best things to do in Cusco!

Hike Huchuy Qosqo

Often overlooked in favor of the Sacred Valley’s more famous ruins, Huchuy Qosqo is an Incan archeological site located north of Cusco near the town of Lamay that remains off the beaten path of most tourists.

The best way to reach the ruins is via a 9.5-mile one-way trek from Chinchero to Lamay with 1,900 feet of elevation gain. Not only are the ruins situated on a beautiful plateau overlooking the Vilcanote River, but the entire trail features incredible views. From the tallest point on the trail, you can see jaw-dropping vistas of snow-capped Urubamba mountains in the distance.

We love this route because it’s fairly easy to access from Cusco and offers an amazing chance to escape the crowds found at most of the typical tourist destinations in Peru. If you are planning to embark on a multi-day trek, Huchuy Qosqo makes an awesome acclimatization hike.

For more details on the hike to Huchuy Qosqo, including how to get to the trailhead, check out our article linked below.

Views from the Huchuy Qosqo

Take a day trip to Rainbow Mountain

One of the best things to do in Cusco is to take a day trip to see Peru’s famous Rainbow Mountain (a.k.a. “Vinicunca” or “Montaña de Siete Colores” as you may hear it referred to by locals). The mountain is famous for its vibrantly colored striped layers of sediment, hence where the name Rainbow Mountain comes from.

From Cusco, it’s about a three-hour drive to the trailhead. From there, you’ll hike about 3 miles to a beautiful viewpoint overlooking the mountain. The easiest way to visit Rainbow Mountain is via a guided tour from Cusco.

Fun Fact | Rainbow Mountain was only recently discovered in the early 2010’s when melting snow caused by global warming revealed the stunning colors for the first time. Previously, the mountain had been almost entirely covered by a glacier.

Take a chocolate-making class

Did you know that production of chocolate in Peru dates all the way back to the Incas?! Although the exact history is not clear, it is believed that the cacao bean originated in the Amazon Basin, including Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia.

Today, Peru is the ninth-largest exporter of cocoa and Peruvian chocolate is known to be one of the highest quality in the world.

If you’re a chocolate lover like me, taking a chocolate-making class is a must-do during your time in Cusco! At ChocoMuseo, the 2-hour Bean to Bar Workshop teaches you the step-by-step process of chocolate production, from roasting and grinding beans to molding chocolate bars. At the end of the class, you’ll walk away with more freshly made chocolate than you could imagine!

Taking a chocolate making class if one of the best things to do in Cusco

Take a day trip to Laguna Humantay

Another popular thing to do in Cusco is to take a trip to Laguna Humantay, a cerulean-colored alpine lake framed by the imposing, snow-covered Humantay Mountain.

Standing tall behind the lake is Humantay Mountain, often referred to as “Apu” Humantay by the Incans who view the mountain as a god, spiritual guardian, and protector of the surrounding lands. In case you were wondering, the lake gets its color from the minerals carried into the water from the glaciers melting down from the mountain.

Laguna Humantay is located about 3 hours by bus from Cusco, and it takes a bit of effort to reach. We’re all about going it alone as much as possible, but for visiting Laguna Humantay, it really makes the most sense to visit with a guide.

Sitting on the shores of Laguna Humantay

Visit the Pisac ruins and market

Although it has become increasingly popular in recent years, the small town of Pisac remains off the radar of most tourists. The charming town still feels authentically Peruvian and offers the chance to escape the bustling crowds often found in Cusco.

Located in the Sacred Valley, the Pisac ruins are one of Peru’s most famous and well-preserved Incan ruins, with a rich history and spectacular views overlooking the rolling mountainside. In addition to the sweeping terraces used for agricultural purposes, the archeological site is strategically positioned on a hill overlooking the Urubamba River, meaning it was likely used to defend against potential invasions.

In addition to its laid-back, bohemian vibes, Pisac is well known for its market, which runs every day from 9am to 4:30pm. That being said, the market is at its grandest on Sundays, so we’d recommend planning your visit to Pisac on a Sunday if possible.

The Pisac Ruins, located just a short drive from Cusco

Wander through Plaza de Armas, the main square in Old Town Cusco

Plaza de Armas is a bustling square located at the heart of Old Town Cusco. The square is lined with various shops, restaurants, and cafes.

At the head of the square sits the Cusco Cathedral, built at the site where the Incan palace Quishuarcancha used to stand. Construction of the cathedral began in the mid 1500’s and took over 100 years to build using stones carried from the Sacsayhuamán citadel. Today it is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

From Plaza de Armas you have a lovely view of the mountains that surround Cusco on all sides, with little red-roofed houses clinging to the hillsides. It’s truly one of the most beautiful city squares we’ve ever seen.

The Cusco Cathedral and Plaza de Armas in Cusco

Enjoy a cappuccino overlooking Plaza de Armas

There are several coffee shops around the square at Plaza de Armas. Cafe 109 has tables on the second floor with an awesome view overlooking the happenings below: great for people-watching! Grab a piping hot cappuccino and pastry and enjoy the hustle and bustle of Plaza de Armas from a distance.

Coffee with a view over Plaza de Armas

Explore the salt mines at Maras

The Maras salt mines are a series of over 5,000 small ponds that descend down the side of a mountain towards the Rio Valcanota. The ponds are fed by a saltwater spring that spirts out of the ground at the top of the mining area. From there, the water is carefully routed through a complex irrigation system to fill each pond.

Harvesting the salt is a family affair and is typically done by all members of the community. Over time, the water is evaporated by the intense sun and the salt becomes more and more concentrated until eventually, it forms a layer of salt several inches deep.

The best way to get to Maras from Cusco is to hire a taxi or visit as part of a guided tour.

Salt mines at Maras in Peru

Visit the ruins at Moray

The Moray Ruins are a series of three groups of circular terraces carved into the ground. Each terrace has 12 layers and the largest has a diameter of 600 feet – they are truly an impressive site!

The site is very easy to navigate and is well-marked. We spent about 45 minutes walking around, taking pictures, and enjoying the views. There are several trails that lead throughout the ruins which total about 1.5 miles of walking distance.

Because the Incans did not have a written language, many aspects of their civilization and culture remain shrouded in mystery. In fact, it is not known with certainty what the Incans actually used Moray for. The most commonly accepted and plausible explanation is that the Incans constructed the circular terraces in order to create unique microclimates under which they experimented with different growing techniques.

The ruins at Moray, an awesome day trip from Cusco

Grab a drink with a view at Viewhouse Resto Bar

With amazing cocktails and one of the best views in Cusco, if you’re looking to grab a drink you really can’t beat Viewhouse Resto Bar. The restaurant lives up to its name, featuring a bar and seating area with stunning views overlooking the city. Watching the city light up as the sun sets behind the mountains is quite a spectacular sight.

In addition to the views, the cocktails at Viewhouse Resto Bar are unique and delicious. I ordered a cocktail (which unfortunately I can’t remember the name of), that came with a candied pepper and a side “shot” of local beer. It was honestly one of my favorite cocktails of all time!

An amazing cocktail with views overlooking Cusco at Viewhouse Resto Bar

Visit the Sacsayhuaman Ruins in Cusco

Visiting the Sacsayhuaman Ruins is one of the best things to do in Cusco with a couple hours to kill. From Plaza de Armas, its about a 20 minute walk uphill to the ruins.

Perched on a steep hill overlooking Cusco, the Sacsayhuaman fortress was built by the Incas and likely used to host religious ceremonies and/or store valuables, like food, armor, precious metals, and more.

Unfortunately, when the Spaniards conquered the Inca empire, many of the stones from the original Sacsayhuaman citadel were removed to build other structures, like the Cusco Cathedral in Plaza de Armas.

While the ruins are impressive themselves, the view overlooking the city of Cusco from Sacsayhuaman is worth the visit in and of itself.

Entrance to Sacsayhuaman is included in the Boleto Turistico. You can purchase your Boleto Turistico in advance or at the entrance to Sacsayhuaman.

The Sacsayhuaman Ruins are located just outside of Cusco

Go to Machu Picchu

If you’re planning a trip to Cusco, this one should already be a given, but no list of things to do in Cusco is complete without the famous “lost city” of Machu Picchu.

To get to Machu Picchu from Cusco, you will have to go through the small town of Ollantaytambo, located about 2 hours away by bus. From there you can take a train up to Aguas Calientes, where you will catch a bus up to Machu Picchu. Alternatively, embark on a multi-day hike via the famous Inca Trail that traverses 26 miles before arriving at Machu Picchu.

Tickets are required to enter Machu Picchu and tend to sell out, so make sure to plan far in advance.

The "lost city" of Machu Picchu in Peru
Of course, visiting Machu Picchu is a can’t miss while staying in Cusco

Hike Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu’s mountain

After spending almost two weeks exploring Peru, the hike to Huayna Picchu (aka Wayna Picchu), the iconic mountain located behind Machu Picchu, was definitely one of the highlights of our trip!

If you look at almost any photograph of Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu can be seen in the background, looming above the ruins.

For many, visiting Machu Picchu, the hidden fortress shrouded in mystery, is a bucket list experience. But if you’re planning on visiting Machu Picchu, don’t miss out on the hike to Huayna Picchu, for the best views of the ancient ruins nestled high in the Andes mountains!

While at Machu Picchu, hike up Huayna Picchu for the best view over the ruins!

Have lunch at the San Pedro Market

If you’re ready to dive head-first into Peruvian culture, head to the San Pedro Market, located just a few minutes from Plaza de Armas. Here you will find a chaotically beautiful assortment of vendors selling various textiles, souvenirs, local produce, cheeses, meats, and more. The market also includes a huge section of food vendors, where you can eat anything from the classic Peruvian dish Lomo Saltado to freshly made juices, another specialty in Peru.

We’ll be honest, the market can feel quite overwhelming. The assortment of smells, from sweet mango juice aromas to the putrid scent of meats that may have sat out a few hours too long, the sounds of yelling voices trying to entice shoppers to their booths, and the vibrant array of colors and items to look at is a feast for the senses. Visiting the San Pedro Market definitely deserves a spot on your list of things to do in Cusco, just be prepared to haggle and be jostled around!

We visited the market a few times, but our favorite dish there was the salchipapas (fried sausages and potatoes) served over rice with a delicious sauce and fried plantains on top. It sounds and looks (see photo below), a little strange, but we promise it’s delicious! Plus the meal was plenty for two and cost only about $7 USD.

Take a trip to Ollantaytambo

If you are visiting Machu Picchu, you will have to pass through Ollantaytambo, a little town from which the Inca Trail and all trains to Machu Picchu depart. Machu Picchu aside, Ollantaytambo is worth a visit. The town has two sets of ruins, a solid textile market, and a quaint town square that offers a nice change from the busy streets of Cusco.

From Cusco, you can get to Ollantaytambo by taking a bus or hiring a taxi. If you are taking a guided tour to Machu Picchu from Cusco, your transportation to Ollantaytambo is likely included.

You can make the most out of the journey to Ollantaytambo, by stopping at the Maras salt mines and Moray ruins along the way. To do so, you’ll need to hire a taxi for the day, typically costing around 200 soles.

Ruins perched on the side of the mountain at Ollantaytambo
Ruins built on the side of the mountain at Ollantaytambo

Enjoy a wood-fired pizza at Nonna Trattoria

We know what you may be thinking: I didn’t travel all the way to Peru to eat pizza… but hear us out!

We stumbled into Nonna Trattoria after a busy day, looking for a quick spot to grab take-out and it ended up being one of our favorite meals in Peru. We ordered a pizza to-go and sat at a table inside the cozy restaurant with a cold beer while we waited for our order to be ready. A small wood-fired oven was located right in the dining room, and we actually watched the chef fire up our pizza to order.

When our pizza was ready, we took it back to our hostel and enjoyed a few too many slices alongside a big Cusquena (a popular Peruvian beer). It’s the little things that create lasting memories!

Visit the cat cafe

As cat lovers, when we saw the Catfetin Cafe in Cusco, we knew we had to make a visit. The cafe sells all the usual goodies you’d expect to find in a coffee shop, from cappucinos and lattes to croissants and sandwiches.

The main dining area is separate from the cat sanctuary, with a large window for viewing. For an extra fee, you can sit inside the cat’s quarters. You are free to hold and pet the cats and kittens, just be sure to respect their space!

The cats and kittens at the cafe are available for adoption, and 100% of the proceeds from the cafe go towards saving these previous felines.

Shop at one of Cusco’s textile market

Peru is known for its vibrantly colored textiles, and in Cusco you don’t have to look hard to find an abundance of sweaters, blankets, scarves, bags, headbands and more!

Below are a few of the best markets to visit in Cusco:

Visiting the colorful markets in Cusco, a highlight of any Peru intinerary
Colorful blankets, sweaters, scarves and more at a market in Cusco

Go on a multi-day trek

Surrounded by the Andes Mountains, Cusco is a hub for some of the world’s most incredible multi-day backpacking treks. Because these treks involve hiking at high altitudes, Cusco is a popular location to spend a few days acclimating before setting off on a trek.

Trekking through the snow-capped Andes, sleeping under the stars, and wandering past the remote villages of the Peruvian countryside is, in our opinion, the best thing to do while visiting Cusco.

While there are many incredible treks in the area, below are a few of the best:

  • Ausangate Trek | 3 to 6 days through stunning glaciers and vibrant alpine lakes.
  • Inca Trail | Typically completed over 3 days and 4 nights, the Inca Trail is Peru’s most popular trek ending at Machu Picchu
  • Salkantay Trek | An alternative route to Machu Picchu through one of the most beautiful regions of Peru, usually hiked over 5 days.

We did the Ausangate Trek and couldn’t recommend it more!

Cusco is a hub for many incredible multi-day hikes, like the Ausangate Trek

Stroll through San Blas

Located northeast of bustling Plaza de Armas, the neighborhood of San Blas has a more laid-back, artsy vibe to it. Here you will find cobblestone streets lined with historic homes and stores built into the hillsides, with amazing views overlooking the city of Cusco. While admittedly San Blas remains more touristy than other parts of Cusco, it tends to be quieter than the area immediately surrounding Plaza de Armas.

Also referred to as the barrio de artesanos (or neighborhood of artisans), San Blas is home to an assortment of local shops selling handcrafted goods. I’m not one to purchase items while traveling, but I found a lovely woven-leather purse from a Peruvian leathermaker here in San Blas that I could not resist!

No visit to Cusco is complete without spending a couple hours meandering through the narrow streets of San Blas, stopping for a cappuccino at a local cafe, or grabbing a drink with a view. It’s certainly one of the best things to do in Cusco!

Wandering through the artsy neighborhood
San Blas is a quirky, bohemian-style neighborhood in Cusco

See the famous 12-angle stone of the Lienzo Pétreo wall

The 12-angle stone is one of those things that doesn’t sound all that exciting until you understand its history. Made of green diorite, the 12-angle stone is part of the now-destroyed Incan Palace of Hatunrumiyoc. What makes this particular stone so unique is that is contains, you guessed it, 12 angles!

Now take a moment to think about the intense level of precision required to fashion a stone with this level of intricacy, hundreds of years before power tools were even a blip on the radar. The Incas were masterful craftsmen, constructing massive walls with stones cut to fit perfectly together without using mortar that remain perfectly airtight to this day.

The 12-angle stone is located on a narrow street in San Blas. Because it’s a popular tourist destination, there are many vendors lined up nearby selling textiles and souvenirs.

The 12-angle stone in Cusco, Peru
The street that is home to the famous 12-angle stone, one of the best things to do in Cusco
Visit the 12-angle stone to see a market of Incan ingenuity

Try a tamale from the street vendors near Plaza de Armas

You can find carts selling various types of Peruvian street food all around Cusco. Our personal favorite was the tamale cart typically stationed on a side street west of Plaza de Armas.

There are two types of tamales offered for 3 soles each: savory or sweet! To be completely honest, we can’t really tell you for sure what’s inside each tamale, but what we do know is that they are freaking delicious!

A simple but delicious tamale from a street vendor in Cusco

Tour the temple at Qorikancha

The temple of Qorikancha (a.k.a. Coricancha, Qoricancha, or Koricancha) was the center of Cusco during Incan times. In addition to being the geographic center, the temple was a religious center used to worship the sun god.

The word “Qorikancha” roughly translates to “walls of gold” in Quechua, and during its peak, the temple lived up to its name, with walls lined with enormous sheets of gold. When the Spanish invaded Cusco, the gold was looted and melted down and the beautiful Inca temple was largely destroyed. From its base, the Catholic church of Santo Domingo was built and still stands today.

It’s possible to explore the inside of the temple on your own or via a guided tour.

view of Cusco, Peru
Qorikancha sits at the very center of Cusco

Where to stay in Cusco

Below we’ve highlighted a few awesome hotels and hostels centrally located to many of the best things to do in Cusco. We stayed at both Pariwana Hostel and TATA Boutique Hotel and had a great experience at both, despite traveling on a budget:

  • Budget | Pariwana Hostel Cusco: We stayed at the Pariwana Hostel in Cusco for several nights and had a great experience. Private rooms average around $50 per night, with dorm beds ranging from $12 to $20. Although it can get a bit loud here at night, the location truly can’t be beaten just minutes to Plaza de Armas.
  • Budget | TATA Boutique Hotel is another awesome budget-friendly option right in the heart of Cusco (in fact, it’s right next door to Pariwana Hostel). Once again, it gets loud here, but the rooms are clean, and nicely decorated and the location is superb.
  • Mid-range | Casa Andina is a step up from hostels, with nice, clean rooms in the $125 to $200 range.
  • High-end | Palacio Manco Capac features beautifully decorated rooms in a historic building originally built by the Incas, located in the heart of Cusco for about $215 to $350 per night.
  • Luxury | Palacio Nazarenas offers the ultimate luxury experience, with beautifully designed suites featuring balconies that overlook the city. These luxurious rooms will cost your anywhere from $500 to $1000 per night.

Other Peru Resources

Looking for more information about the best things to do in Cusco?! We’ve compiled a list of other useful resources here:

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Questions about the best things to do in Cusco, Peru? What would you add to this list? Lets us know in the comments section below!

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