13 Best Things To Do In Cusco, Peru | 2024 Guide

As the third largest country in South America and one of the most diverse, Peru really has something for everyone – whether it be the almighty ruins of Machu Picchu, the vast Amazon jungle, the deserts lining the coast, or the rich history and culture!

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Anyone looking to explore the Sacred Valley of the Incas (the heart of the ancient Inca empire and home to the world-famous ruins) will be spending at least a few days in Cusco – the closest city and capital of the Incan Empire. 

But before you write off Cusco as merely a stopover on your way to ancient cities – check out everything this beautiful city has to offer!

Best Time To Visit Cusco

Peak tourism in Cusco occurs between June and September. The temperature hovers around 15°C (60°F) all year long, but rain tapers off during Peru’s winter months.

We recommend visiting in either May or late September – chances of rain are still pretty low, prices in accommodation dip, and there will be fewer people cramming the streets of Cusco and the trails of Machu Picchu.

And don’t worry – there are still plenty of things to do in Cusco during the shoulder- and off-season!

Cusco, Peru
Cusco, Peru
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Best Things To Do In Cusco

1. Explore The Ancient Incan City, Machu Picchu

You must visit Machu Picchu during your trip to Cusco – it is one of the most popular destinations in the world! And while it’s amazing that so many people are interested in learning about the rich Inca history of the area, the oversaturation of tourism is taking its toll on the ancient ruins themselves.

The trails leading to the UNESCO World Heritage Site are steadily being eroded and polluted by the massive uptick in visitor traffic. And while the Peruvian government is doing everything in its power to preserve the famous Inca ruins – like requiring a time-slotted ticket to visit – the survival of this ancient city lies in the hands of conscious travellers.

Machu Picchu is one of the most important places to embrace: “take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints!”

There are two main ways to access the city. You can either do a multi-day trek or take a train from Cusco to Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail is the most famous of treks, but there are plenty of alternative treks in Cusco that are just as beautiful and much less impacted by tourism and erosion.

things to do in cusco
Our adventures are often taking us to remote destinations!

2. Hike The Epic Moonstone Trail

Our favourite Machu Picchu alternative trail is the Moonstone Trail. It’s a 25-mile trek, and it requires you to be in good physical condition. Unlike the Inca Trail, no permit is required for taking this route. Along the way, you’ll be able to see and interact with local communities and usually have the trail completely to yourself.

Things to do in Cusco, Peru
The Moonstone Trek ends in the dramatic Inca ruins of Ollantaytambo.

3. Go Off The Beaten Track In Choquequirao

Just 30 miles from Machu Picchu, this ancient city wasn’t fully explored until about 40 years ago. This site gets hardly any tourists in comparison to its’ neighbours – partially because it’s only accessible by foot.

The trek to Choquequirao takes about 5 days starting in the town of Cachora. We did the guided hike with Apus Peru and had a fantastic time! Check out our full article about this trek here.

Things to do in Cusco, alternative treks
Take an alternative trail and trek to Choquequirao

4. Brave The Hike Up Rainbow Mountain

Rainbow Mountain – also called Vinicunca or Montaña de Siete Colores, is a 3-hour drive from Cusco. Once reaching the trailhead, it’s a 6-mile, challenging hike each way at high altitude. We recommend acclimating in Cusco for a few days before attempting this hike!

It is especially important to dress appropriately and wear lots of sunscreen for this hike. The weather on Rainbow Mountain can change in the blink of an eye, so make sure to layer up.

Overlooking Rainbow Mountain, Cusco, Peru
Overlooking Rainbow Mountain, Cusco, Peru

READ NEXT: Best Alternative Hikes to Cusco, Peru

5. Explore The Ruins Of Sacsayhuamán

The ruins of this fortress temple are located just beyond Cusco’s northern city limits and date back to 1100 AD. It was the largest structure built by the Incas during their reign and also one of their most incredible feats of engineering.

The entire fortress encompasses a 12-mile radius and is perfect for those of you who love your ruins with a side of hiking.

Sustainable City Guide: Things to do in Cusco, Peru
Sacsayhuamán Ruins, Peru

6. Explore Sacred Valley With A Sustainable Tour Guide

The Sacred Valley of the Incas was one of their main settlements during the peak of the Incan Empire. It encompasses all of the aforementioned destinations and many more, such as Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero, Maras, Moray, Calca, and Urubamba.

When choosing a day trip operator, make sure that the itinerary includes destinations that you want to see. There are several options available, and it’s simply impossible to see every attraction in the Sacred Valley in a day.

If the Pisac and Ollantaytambo ruins are a must-see for you, this guided tour is perfect. Or, if the Moray ruins and Maras Salt Mines are at the top of your list, a quad bike tour fits the bill.

Acclimatization hack: we recommend doing this tour on your first full day in Cusco. It’s a bit lower-altitude, and spending the day there can help you adjust to the thinner air at higher elevations. 

Sustainable City Guide: Things to do in Cusco, Peru
Sacred Valley, Peru

7. Visit The Maras Salt Mines

Though located within the Sacred Valley, the Maras Salt Mines actually predate the Inca Empire. They are an intricate system of small ponds that stagger down the mountainside and are incredible to behold. Each individual pool is owned by a local family, and the salt is still hand-collected, bagged up, and sold locally. It’s also shipped worldwide, and the salt is said to have massive healing properties that are wonderful for people with hypertension.

Sustainable City Guide: Things to do in Cusco, Peru
Maras Salt Ponds, Sacred Valley, Peru

8. Explore The Plaza De Armas

The main square of historic Cusco, known as Plaza de Armas, is lined with beautiful old buildings. While the remnants of Spanish colonization dominate the square, this spot was the town’s main public space for centuries, where Inca gatherings and ceremonies were held. 

Today, this beautiful space is a great spot to people-watch and admire the Spanish Colonial architecture of the Cusco Cathedral and Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus, and is a good starting point from which to explore Cusco. To see more impressive architecture, take a 10-minute walk down Avenida El Sol to Convento Santo Domingo, a wonderfully restored convent that holds a large collection of Spanish and Peruvian art.

Plaza de Armas, Cusco
Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru

9. Wander Through Barrio De San Blas In Cusco City

If you’ve only got time to do a little bit of exploring within the city of Cusco, this neighbourhood is a must-see. It’s primarily composed of pedestrian-only streets, filled with artisanal shops quaint cafes, and provides some of the best panoramic views of the city.

10. Find Handmade Treasures At Cusco Markets

One of our favourite things to do in Cusco is to wander through the outdoor markets that can be found all around the city.

Located a short walk from Plaza de Armas, the San Pedro Market is a favourite. While there are plenty of vendors selling souvenirs and handwoven textiles, there are also plenty of local produce, baked goods, and food stalls. The San Pedro Market isn’t a tourist trap – you’ll see lots of locals making their daily shopping run here or grabbing a bite to eat! This is the spot to warm up with some homemade chicken soup or grab a fresh fruit smoothie.

If visiting markets is also your thing, then check out this list of the best food and flea markets throughout Cusco!

Cusco, Peru
Street Market in Cusco, Peru

11. Visit The Museums In Cusco

There is a wide variety of museums and cultural exhibits in Cusco that cover everything from the history of coca to astronomy. Here are just a few that are definitely worth checking out.

Cusco Planetarium

Located on the west end of the ancient ruins of Sacsayhuaman, and about a 20-minute walk from Plaza de Armas, this cultural interpretation centre houses exhibits on the way ancient Andean peoples understood astronomy and how it influenced their culture. Depending on weather conditions, the planetarium also offers a real stargazing experience with its telescopes.

Museo De La Coca

This small specialty museum focuses on the famous coca plant. Andean peoples cultivated and used this plant for nutritional and ceremonial purposes. You’ll learn about the many ways that coca was used and the big difference between simply using coca leaves and the chemical process that uses the plant to make cocaine. There is also a shop where you can buy chocolate, teas, and wines infused with coca leaves. 

Museo De Arte Precolombino (MAP)

Housed in what was originally an Inca ceremonial courthouse, this museum holds exhibits of artworks and cultural artifacts dating back over 3,000 years. You’ll see pieces from the many different Peruvian cultures, including those predating the Incas. The artworks exhibited by MAP are part of a bigger collection owned by the world-renowned Larco Museum in Lima. 

12. Hike Up To Cristo Blanco

For an awesome view of the entire Cusco valley, you can hike up to the statue of Cristo Blanco. This sculpture is perched on Pukamoqo Hill overlooking Cusco and can be reached easily from the city. From Plaza de Armas, you’ll want to head to the Saqsayhuman archaeological site, where there is a path that leads directly to the statue. Once you’re up there, you’ll see that the statue itself isn’t the main attraction – the view is. 

Cristo Blanco
Cristo Blanco

13. Take a Peruvian Cooking and Cocktail Making Class

For an immersive experience where you get to learn about Peruvian cuisine at a cooking studio at the heart of historic Cusco. For this cooking class, you’ll start with a guided visit to San Pedro Market, where you’ll help select fresh ingredients for the dishes. Then, you’ll learn how to make Peruvian cocktails with traditional spirits such as pisco and chicha before cooking three traditional Peruvian dishes.

Where To Stay In Cusco

Whether you are looking for budget options or a luxurious holiday, there are Cusco hotels to fit every budget and type of traveller’s wish list! Here are a few eco-friendly options throughout the city and region:

Casa Andina

Casa Andina has several locations all around Cusco, each hotel providing a beautiful, unique experience. Your stay also helps the hotels donate to local nonprofits.

Hommam Hostel Boutique

Hommam Hostel Boutique offers both dorm-style and private rooms in a central location that’s just a short walk away from Cusco Main Square, the San Pedro Train Station, museums, and restaurants. This sustainable hostel has a restaurant, bar, and a tour desk that can arrange excursions. 

Inkaterra La Casona

Inkaterra La Casona is a serene oasis in the middle of bustling Cusco. They’re one of the first eco-hotel chains native to Peru and are dedicated to both environmental and social sustainability projects.

Sustainable City Guide: Things to do in Cusco, Peru
Courtyard at Casa Andina Koricancha, Cusco

Where To Eat And Drink In Cusco

There are plenty of places to eat and drink in Cusco, offering everything from traditional Peruvian food to Italian. Vegetarians and vegans are also catered for with a handful of incredible eco-friendly restaurants in Cusco:

Greens Organic

Greens Organic offers a great selection of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options and is located right in the city centre.

Green Point Vegan

Green Point Vegan has been reviewed as the “best place for vegans in Cusco!” They have a great set lunch menu for about $4, which includes a soup, a salad, a main meal, a drink, and dessert. 


The ingredient list for almost everything on the Organika menu is from The Sacred Valley. It’s all about providing healthy, organic, and sustainable food and even has its own vegetable garden.

For even more Cusco restaurant options, check out this awesome list of the best vegetarian spots in Cusco.

Arriving after taking the train to Machu Picchu
Overview of Machu Picchu

How Much Time Do You Need In Cusco?

Most people (unfortunately) only spend a day or two in this bustling town and solely use it as a jumping-off point for Machu Picchu. But there are so many things to do in Cusco and the surrounding Sacred Valley – it deserves at least a week!

Have You Had The Pleasure Of Visiting Cusco, Peru? Share Your Travel Tips For Cusco In The Comments Below.

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