no alt text

Travel bucket list idea:

Last updated: 24 June, 2023
Expert travel writer: Alex Robinson

Cusco was the Inca capital, laid out in the shape of a giant puma, sitting at the heart of an empire that stretched to Ecuador and Bolivia. It was from Cuzco that the Incas administered their vast empire and the city centre’s tight grid, laid out in the 1400s, still bears their mark – as well as that of their conquerors, the Spanish.

Inca foundations are capped with Mediterranean-style structures, and the sun temple has an adjacent baroque church. Inca ruins litter the city – the bell-shaped Qoricancha temple, hulking Sacsayhuaman fort with its massive ramparts and Inca walls everywhere – jigsaw-pieced together from huge boulders, cut into bewildering geometric shapes. There are Spanish treasures too – magnificent churches and convents decorated with art made by indigenous Peruvian artisans.

Today, Cusco is the official ‘historic capital’ of Peru and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Yet many visitors use Cusco merely as a base for Machu Picchu, and miss out on all these sights.

What to see and do 

Take at least a day to wander the cobbled streets, starting at stately Plaza de Armas square, getting lost in the narrow, convent-lined streets of San Blas, visiting the Qoricancha and finishing with a cab ride to Sacsayhuaman, where you should stay until the sun sinks over the mountains.

The main square is ringed with second-floor restaurants with good views. This is another good place to be as the sun dips down, bathing the churches in an ethereal pink light.

Recommendations

4

Qorikancha

Cusco, Cusco Region, Peru

|
Bucket List Experience
Exterior of Qorikancha in golden hour

The Inca empire’s most elaborate sun temple, covered in gold and silver, is now a colonial church housing stunning Inca stonework.

Adult price: £2

Best for ages 18+

Rainbow Mountain

Cusco, Cusco Region, Peru

Hikers reaching the viewpoint at the summit of the mountain

A mountain of striking, colourfully-striated rock bands, caused by layers of varying mineral deposits. It’s a 2-hour drive from Cusco, followed by 5km (3 mile) walk.

Best for ages 18+

Website >
More details >

Cusco Cathedral

Cusco, Cusco Region, Peru

Cusco Cathedral exterior on a clear day

Located on top of an old Inca palace, this towering 16th-century baroque cathedral took a century to build and is stuffed with countless treasures, including key works from the Cuzco School of art.

Adult price: £5

Sacsayhuaman

Cusco, Cusco Region, Peru

|
Bucket List Experience
View of the Sacsayhuamán ruins, with mountains in the background

A vast, fortified Inca sun temple that perches over Cusco, housing boulders and masonry astonishingly jigsaw-pieced together, without cement or metal tools.

Adult price: £24

Best for ages 18+

Logistics

Price: Free
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 18+
When: All year around
Duration: 1 day

Getting there & doing it

The nearest airport to the city is Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport which receives both international and domestic flights. Lima is a one-hour flight. From the airport, take a taxi (around 20 minutes) or a local minibus (around 40 minutes). Alternatively, there are overland buses from Lima (20 hours), or arrive in style on the luxurious Andean Explorer, which connects Cusco with Puno and Arequipa.

The historic heart of Cusco is compact and easily navigable on foot. Its main points are clearly mapped on the tourist ticket (boleto turistico), which provides admittance to all the major sights and can be bought at the first site you visit.

Note that Cusco sits at an elevation of 3,400m, so mild altitude sickness can be problem. Allow plenty of time to acclimatise and avoid racing around the sites on your first day. Pickpocketing can be a problem in crowded areas, especially in the blocks around the central market.

When to do it

Temperatures are consistent year-round in Cusco, however May-September see the least rainfall and is the best season to visit.

Who to go with: organised tours

5

Our selection of the best Viator tours of this attraction or activity

Cusco Cooking Classes and San Pedro Market Tour

Cusco

Cusco Cooking Classes and San Pedro Market Tour
Enjoy a 4-hour cooking tour in the morning or in the afternoon including the visit to the colorful San Pedro Market. Our professional Peruvian chef will take you to the local market where you will see from fresh vegetables and fruits to souvenirs and handicrafts. You will experience the culture of Cusco for sure! Then, our chef will take you to our beautiful cooking studio for your “hands-on” classes to prepare the healthy and nutritious four-course tasting Peruvian Menu. The famous Pisco Sour will be included. You will definitely enjoy this unique experience!

Price: $59

Min age: 9

Rating 4.97 / 5 [488 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

Viator Logo

Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Workshop in ChocoMuseo Cusco

Cusco

Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Workshop in ChocoMuseo Cusco
Learn how to make your own chocolate on a 2-hour workshop at the ChocoMuseo in Cusco. This is a hands-on activity, starting from the cocoa tree to the finished product passing by every step of the whole chocolate-making process. You will also discover the history of cocoa and the reasons why Peru is known for its fine chocolates.

Price: $26

Min age: 5

Rating 4.76 / 5 [202 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

Viator Logo

Cusco Airport Arrival Transfer

Cusco

Cusco Airport Arrival Transfer
Arrive in Cusco stress-free and make the most of your time in Peru by pre-booking your arrival airport transfer. Skip all the taxi lines and travel from Alejandro Velasco Astete Airport without a worry! These transfers are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and coincide with your arrival flight.

Price: $15

Min age: 3

Rating 4.54 / 5 [184 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

Viator Logo

Open Bus Cusco City Tour

Cusco

Open Bus Cusco City Tour
This Cusco SightSeeing is one of the best things to do in Cusco while you are acclimatizing. We have carefully curated the itinerary to give you the best orientation of the city and tradition. This tour takes you to all the major highlights in and around Cusco. We start the tour by driving around the historic center of Cusco. You can sit back and enjoy the sights while rbi-lingual guide would explain the prominence of each landmark within the city. We will be later driving through the prime archaeological sites like Sacsayhuaman, Q’enqo, and Puca Pucara.

Price: $15

Min age: 1

Rating 4.56 / 5 [151 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

Viator Logo

Cusco City Sightseeing, San Pedro Market, Cathedral and Qorikancha Temple

Cusco

Cusco City Sightseeing, San Pedro Market, Cathedral and Qorikancha Temple
Discover the magic and beauty of Cusco, the capital of the Incan Empire. The flawlessly built Incan roads spread to all regions from the “Plaza” which was thought of as the center of the world. Visit the Temple of the Sun, the Convent of Santo Domingo and the famous Cusco Cathedral with its Cuzqueno paintings. Entrance fees included, skip the line.

Price: $59

Min age: 0

Rating 4.36 / 5 [125 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

Viator Logo

Destination guides

1

Destination guides including or relevant to this experience

Peru

Peru

Peru

A land of spectacular deserts, high mountains and rainforests that teem with wildlife, Peru is also home to an array of dramatically situated pre-Colombian ruins, including Machu Picchu.