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6 Best things to see & do in Cusco

  • Cusco, Cusco Region, Peru

Last updated: 15 July, 2023
Expert travel writer: Alex Robinson
  • Cusco, Cusco Region, Peru

A train winding through green mountains

Bucket List Experience

Hiram Bingham Train

If you’re not hiking the Inca Trail, this is the way to reach the famous Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in comfort and style. Starting from the former Inca capital at Cusco, you’re whisked through the Sacred Valley of the Incas, past the towering Inca fortresses of Pisac and Ollantaytambo before entering the rainforest-shrouded Urubamba Valley.

Named after the man who rediscovered the ruins of Machu Picchu in 1911, this specially built narrow-gauge train has opulent carriages redolent of 1920s Pullman cars, with comfortable armchairs surrounded by varnished wood and brass fittings. Food is served in the dining car on fine white linen; dishes feature local ingredients in unfamiliar ways (with abundant Pisco Sours). A band plays Peruvian music with the cajón and tambourines in the bar car.

There are wonderful views en route – misty mountains, forgotten Quechua villages, distant ridges of serrated snow-capped peaks. The open observation car at the back of the train is the perfect place to soak in the views.

Transfers, guides and tea at the exclusive Sanctuary Lodge are included in the price.

Adult price: £550

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 3 hours

  • Cusco, Cusco Region, Peru

Exterior of Qorikancha in golden hour

Bucket List Experience

Qorikancha

Dedicated to the sun and the moon, and with twin rooms once covered in solid gold and silver, the Qorikancha temple was the spiritual heart of the Inca Empire.

The building was literally laid out as a giant ‘Sun, star and moon dial’, used to physically track the movements of a diversity of astronomical bodies and to coordinate these with day-to-day planning and crop-planting across the Empire.

This was once the richest, most elaborate temple to Inti – the sun – in the entire Inca empire. ‘Qorikancha’ means ‘golden courtyard’. Unfortunately, the golden walls – and other gold-sculpted treasures – were looted and melted down by the Conquistadors on their arrival in the city.

Only the magnificent stonework remains; a curved, perfectly-fitted wall, inside which are the remains of the last Inca emperor: Tupac Amaru.

Adult price: £2

Good for age: 18+

  • Cusco, Cusco Region, Peru

View of the Sacsayhuamán ruins, with mountains in the background

Bucket List Experience

Sacsayhuaman

This ruined Inca fortress and ceremonial centre to the sun perches over Cusco – with magnificent views of the city from its massive walls. The masonry boggles the mind: boulders weighing hundreds of tons cut into strange geometric shapes – transported without the use of the wheel – are jigsaw-pieced together without cement or metal tools.

The ruins represent just a fifth of its original mass. Even so, it’s an imposing sight: a series of tri-level ramparts hundreds of metres long and overlooking a vast field. The scale of some boulders is truly monumental, a testament to the ingenuity of Inca masonry.

Adult price: £24

Good for age: 18+

  • Cusco, Cusco Region, Peru

Cusco Cathedral exterior on a clear day

Experience

Cusco Cathedral

Built on the site of a royal Inca palace razed to the ground by Pizarro, this hulking 16th-century baroque church houses some impressive Cusqueno art, which mixes indigenous and Spanish styles, including a Last Supper showing Christ eating guinea pig. 

The Inca-made reredos behind the solid silver altar is covered in intricate carving and the north tower houses the 6 tonne Maria Angola Bell, named after a freed slave who threw a handful of gold into the crucible when the bell was cast in 1659.

Adult price: £5

Good for age: 18+

  • Cusco, Cusco Region, Peru

Performers wearing traditional dress play instruments together on stage

Bucket List Experience

Festival of the Sun

Travellers from all over Peru and the world descend on Cusco every 24 June for the Festival of the Sun, which marks the Winter Solstice. Still known by its Inca name Inti Raymi, it has been celebrated in some form for centuries.

The festival begins the night before with processions and makeshift stalls in the Plaza de Armas. Dancing parades move off from the Qorikancha temple at 10am, processing to the fort at Sacsayhuaman, where there is a full-scale re-enactment of an ancient Inca sun ceremony.

If you want to avoid the crowds, settle into one of the second-floor restaurants around the main square. Late in the afternoon the procession will come to you.

One of the most interesting parts of Inti Raymi is the impromptu dance party that takes place in Cusco’s main square after the official party is over – definitely worth staying for.

Good for age: 8+

Duration: 5 hours

When: 24th June

Freq: annually

Hike from Cusco to Huchuy

  • Cusco, Cusco Region, Peru

A small village on a mountain covered in yellow grasses, with mountains in the background

Experience

This, the shortest and easiest of alternative Inca trails, takes three days from Cusco and offers wonderful mountain views, little-visited Inca sites and a final day at Machu Picchu itself.

Adult price: £4

Good for age: 18+

Duration: 3 days