Skip to content
Home » A Complete Guide to Cusco, Peru

A Complete Guide to Cusco, Peru

cusco peru

Cusco: The Crown Jewel of Peru

There are so many great things to say about the former capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco, Peru. The scenery and hiking surrounding Cusco are up there with the best I’ve ever seen and the city itself is so rich in history. Many believe the Incas designed the city in the shape of a puma, a sacred animal in their culture. The architecture and cobblestone streets make you want to take a picture every corner you turn. To top it off, there are plenty of outstanding restaurants, and bars with sweeping views of the city.

The culture is not so authentic in Cusco as more than a few make a living dressing in traditional clothes and charging for pictures with alpacas. But, there are nearby towns where the indigenous culture is authentically present in language and clothing. Another awesome part about Cusco is even though it attracts so many tourists, there are still fantastic hikes that don’t get many visitors.

Cusco features on the 10 best places to visit in South America. Check out the rest of the list!

Cusco Tourist Ticket: The Best Deal in Peru

If you plan on visiting the archeological sites in the Sacred Valley, this pass is a fantastic deal. For 16 sites and museums, the cost is 130 soles (S/) and it’s valid for 10 days. You can buy it at any of the sites the ticket covers.

What to Do

Machu Picchu – There’s not much I need to say about one of the world’s most famous sites. Here are a few tips for visiting. Wear a poncho (in the rainy season) and don’t book your ticket for the 6-8 AM entry because the skies usually clear up closer to noon.

The market in Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu town) is a safe option and it’s S/30 cheaper than a restaurant. I suggest visiting Machu Picchu after you’ve seen many of the archeological sites in the Sacred Valley because it will feel like the culmination of the full Inca experience. 

Chinchero – This fascinating archeological site is located in the town the Incas called the birthplace of rainbows. In the 1500s the Spanish burned the Inca temples and built a church on top of the ruins. The views from here are stunning and I highly recommend making the 2-hour downhill hike to Urquillos after. Part of the hike is along marked Inca trails and the scenery is incredible.

To get to Chinchero take a colectivo from Jirón 21 de Mayo street, labeled “Colectivos Chinchero” on Google Maps. After the hike, walk to the highway from Urquillos and you can get a colectivo back to Cusco. 

Related: 5 Important Rules to Riding a Colectivo

Rainbow Mountain – A must-visit not only for the rainbow mountain but for the surrounding scenery, which is just as impressive. There will be crowds, but if you’re acclimated and in good shape, you can surpass them. The 4 km hike to the 5,036-meter high viewpoint takes 90 minutes on average, but for some, it will take less than 1 hour. The tour costs S/90 and it includes breakfast and lunch. 

Laguna Humantay – One of Cusco’s most popular tours is to this beautiful blue lagoon at the base of a snow-capped mountain. Seriously, this lagoon might be the most stunning place in Peru. It’s a 3-hour drive each way and the hike to reach the lagoon is 75-90 minutes. The tour costs S/90 and it also includes breakfast and lunch. 

laguna Humantay
Laguna Humantay

Ollantaytambo Sanctuary – These ruins with fantastic valley views were unfinished at the time of the Spanish attack. Its main function was as a temple and it’s considered a sacred site due to the numerous surrounding mountains. You can hire a guide at the entrance for S/60-80 per group.

Ollantaytambo is known as the “living city of the Incas” due to its strong indigenous culture and I highly recommend spending a couple of days here. To get there go to the bus stop labeled “Pavitos Colectivo A Ollantaytambo” on Google Maps. The journey takes 1.5 hours and vans leave as soon as they are full. 

Walk the streets of San Blas – The sloped, cobblestone streets and colonial architecture make this bohemian neighborhood Cusco’s prettiest. It’s rather quiet compared to the streets surrounding Plaza de Armas and it provides a much-needed break from street vendors.  

Huchuy Qosqo – These ruins aren’t heavily trafficked because you can only reach them on foot. The hike to get there is 25 km, but it’s beautiful and mostly flat. It’s a great way to get away from the crowds (only saw 3 tourists) and the transport and entrance only costs S/14 total.

The ruins dating back to pre-Inca times later became the royal estate of the eighth Inca, who fled here during a revolt. The hike passes through an abandoned village and you’ll follow Inca trails to reach Huchuy Qosqo. In total, the hike takes 7-8 hours. Find out more about the Huchuy Qosqo hike!

cusco peru
Huchuy Qosqo Hike

Free Walking Tour – Learn about the fascinating history of the former Inca capital and get recommendations from a local. Inkan Milky Way has fantastic guides not just in Cusco but throughout Peru. They are some of the best walking tours I’ve experienced in any country. 

Cusco Cathedral – A 17th-century cathedral most famous for its painting of The Last Supper with a guinea pig on the platter. There are 3 churches inside this cathedral and it’s full of Cusqueño art and gold-plated altarpieces. The entrance is S/25, or you can pay S/30 and get access to 3 other religious sites. The highlight of the other sites is climbing the bell tower at Iglesia de San Cristóbal.   

Related: The Best 1 Month Peru Itinerary

Saqsaywayman – A former Inca hilltop fortress with sweeping views of Cusco that wasn’t excavated until the 1930s. During construction, the Incas brought the fortress’s massive stones 20 km to the site and they have survived strong earthquakes. Upon arriving in Peru, the Spaniards took the smaller stones to build houses in Cusco. A fun bonus is the alpacas roaming around the site. 

Pisac Archeological Park – These Incan ruins are spectacular and the views are even better. It served as a place where the people from the jungle came to trade with those living in the Sacred Valley. You’ll want to hire a guide at the entrance for S/50 to fully appreciate the site. Although there’s no guarantee there will be English-speaking guides available.

The guided tour takes 1 hour, but it doesn’t cover the whole park. After the tour, start walking towards Pisac town and there’s another part of the complex that is less crowded where you can spend an hour exploring. You can either take a taxi from town or make the 1 hr 45 min walk to the entrance.

Pisac ruins
Hidden Sector, Pisac Archeological Park

Pisac is a laidback town and getting there requires a 45-minute colectivo ride (the station is “Calca & Pisac Combi” on Google Maps). The vans depart regularly and leave as soon as they are full. 

Tipón, Pikillacta, Andahuaylillas day trip – This packs a variety of interesting attractions into one day trip, all of which are easy to visit independently. Tipón is an archeological site where the water that the Incas worshipped still flows through the canals. Make the short walk to the upper complex for views of Cusco and the snow-capped Ausungate mountain. The walk from the highway to the site is 45 minutes uphill or you can take a moto-taxi.

Pikillacta was a pre-Incan city home to Wari people. Within walking distance is Rumicolca which served both as an aqueduct and as the gate to Cusco. The Incas learned urban planning from Wari cities and the contrast between Wari and Incan architectural styles is fascinating to observe.

Saint Peter the Apostle of Andahuaylillas church is referred to as the “Sistine Chapel of the Andes”. The inside is full of ornate gold and murals combining Incan and catholic symbols. To reach these sites, take a colectivo headed towards Urcos and return to the main road after visiting each site to catch the next colectivo. The colectivo stop in Cusco is labeled “Terminal de Buses Urcos” on Google Maps. Both of the archeological sites are a part of the tourist ticket and the entrance to the church is S/15.

Tipón Sacred Valley
Tipón Ruins

Mirador Cristo Blanco – A 30-minute hike from the main plaza for the panoramic views of the city. If you’re fatigued from hiking, Mirador de Plaza San Cristóbal is a much easier walk. 

Qorikancha – The most important Inca temple had gold-plated walls before the Spanish arrived and converted it to a church. Qorikancha has gardens with nice views of the city as well. The entrance is S/15 and you can hire a guide for S/20-30. If you have visited other sites like Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu, or Pisac, I don’t think a guide is necessary.

The signs provide enough info and the guides repeat a lot of general Inca history that you will have heard at other sites. The adjoining church, Iglesia Santo Domingo, has a spectacular gold-plated altarpiece and you can visit for free at 6:30 PM. 

San Pedro Market – Cusco’s central market is a great place to try local juice and chocolate or stock up on snacks before a hike. The market extends west into the streets, where it gets very chaotic and crowded.   

Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco de Asís – A 17th-century church and convent with catacombs and an impressive art collection. The entrance is S/15 which includes a guided tour. 

Related: 10 Amazing Restaurants in Peru

Where to Eat

Morena Peruvian Kitchen – Many consider Morena to be the best restaurant in Cusco and their lomo saltado was certainly one of the best meals I had in Peru. They serve typical Peruvian dishes with extra flavor you won’t find at most restaurants. 

Rucula – Traditional Peruvian and vegetarian dishes with fresh, organic ingredients from nearby farms. The food is wonderful and the presentation is even better. 

Ceviche Seafood Kitchen – The value for money is noticeable lower than ceviche in Lima and coastal Peru, but this is the best you’ll find in Cusco. The desserts and ambiance were wonderful and I left with a big smile on my face.

Cusco Peru
Trio Marino, Ceviche Seafood Kitchen

Kao Cusco Fusion Cuisine – Albeit with a limited choice of main courses, the Thai-Peruvian fusion hits the spot. 

Los Toldos Chicken – A traditional restaurant with mouthwatering pollo a la brasa. Don’t let the low ratings discourage you. Peruvians hold their chicken to high standards and nearly every pollería has poor ratings. 

La Osteria – If you’re looking to mix things up, this cozy restaurant with 4 tables has delicious pasta. 

Inkazuela – Traditional stews called cazuelas are perfect for Cusco’s chilly nights. The cazuelas here are very flavorful, unlike the stereotypical bland, hearty stew.

Related: 15 Best Hostels in South America

Where to Stay

Gaia House Hostel – A modern hostel with fantastic staff and pod-style dorms in the bohemian San Blas neighborhood. Gaia House is one of my favorite hostels in South America and it truly felt like a home away from home.

Kokopelli Hostel – With an on-site bar and plenty of organized activities, this hostel has a very fun atmosphere.

VIP House Hostel – A solid budget option with spacious dorms, big common areas, and a bar with very cheap drinks. 

Where to Next

Bookaway is a great resource that allows you to compare the prices of both buses and flights, and secure your seat in advance!

Pisac (45 minutes by colectivo) – A laidback town with incredible Inca ruins and hiking.

Ollantaytambo (1.5 hours) – The “living city of the Incas” has strong indigenous culture, archeological sites, and picturesque salt pools. 

Arequipa (10 hours) – The “White City” has beautiful architecture and delicious regional food.

Huacachina (18 hours) – A desert oasis with the country’s coolest adventure activity and pisco tastings.

Lima (75-minute flight) – The best food city in South America is also home to 3rd-century ruins and a chaotic Chinatown.

Now that you’re ready to go to Cusco, read the most important things to know before visiting Peru!

This post may include affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a comission at no extra cost to you.

1 thought on “A Complete Guide to Cusco, Peru”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.