The best things to do around Cusco
For better or worse, Cusco is known worldwide as the launch point for visiting the famed site of Machu Picchu. The oldest city in Peru and perhaps all of South America is a fantastic mix of Inca and Spanish culture that we absolutely loved.
It’s a shame to see so many travelers quickly fly in and out of a city that has so much to offer.
After spending nearly a week in and around Cusco we honestly wish that we had given ourselves more time here. Nevertheless, here are nine things we did have time for and we highly recommend you experience during your next visit!
1. Visit Machu Picchu
Unless you’re in Cusco for a second or third time, chances are Machu Picchu is top of your list (just like everybody else for that matter). Yes it’s crowded and will likely be the most expensive attraction you see in Peru — but getting the chance to see the ancient citadel reveal itself through the morning fog is so much more than just a check off the bucket list.
It truly is one of the most remarkable places we’ve set our eyes on.
There’s no doubt, Machu Picchu deserves to be at the top of the list.
For all kinds of information on saving money and how to best organise your trip to Machu Picchu, check our the blog post we wrote here!
2. Plaza De Armas: The Heart of Cusco
The city center of Cusco, known as Plaza de Armas, is probably the most picturesque of any city we’ve had the chance of visiting. Surrounded by mountains on all sides, the beautiful colonial architecture around the square is incredibly well preserved.
Sit in the park and admire the huge cathedral as the sun sets behind the hills. While you’re here, you may notice the two flags flying at the center.
The red-and-white Peruvian flag is the national flag and another rainbow-colored flag, which you could mistake as the symbol of gay pride. This flag is actually that of Tahuantinsuyo and represents the four quarters of the Inka empire.
Note that it’s worth coming to see the plaza twice, both during the day and at night. Seeing it lit up after dark and full of life is amazing.
3. Grab Coffee at L’Atelier Cafe Concept
Easily our favorite coffee shop in Peru, L’Atelier Cafe Concept boasts one of the best views in the whole city! You can sip a perfectly brewed cappuccino overlooking the narrow cobblestone streets of the San Blas neighborhood.
With only a few small wooden tables along with the coveted bar stool near the window, you may have to wait for a seat.
Even if you aren’t the biggest fan of caffeinated beverages, you definitely need to stop in to check out their amazing collection of hand crafted Peruvian goods.
You can get to Atelier Cafe Concept by walking uphill
4. Hike to Laguna Humantay
To our surprise, the most rewarding trek we went on in Peru wasn’t to get up to see Machu Picchu. Part of the famous Inca Trail, Laguna Humantay sits at over 5,000m in altitude and will take every ounce of your energy to reach. Once you do, the 4am wake up call and altitude sickness are quickly forgotten.
Known as the emerald gem of Cusco, this lake is exactly why you travel to Peru — take our word on this one.
For more on our incredible experience hiking to Humantay lake and the tour we recommend for this trek, click here.
5. Shop at the San Blas Artisan Market
San Blas is the neighbourhood we recommend you base yourself out of during your time in Cusco.
The steep narrow streets, proximity to the city center and amazing food and drink will provide a more authentic experience than staying right off of the main square.
Every weekend, locals come from all over to sell their goods in the Plaza San Blas. It’s a great place to practice your Spanish skills while bargaining for some bracelets or a classic Peruvian wool sweater.
Once you’re done shopping, head up the steps and enjoy the view from the top of the plaza. In Cusco, you’re never too far away from a stunning panorama of the mountains.
6. Find the Best View in Cusco
Being perfectly nestled in a valley, you need to get up high to get a good view of Cusco for sunset.
We’re all about getting out to find some hidden gems which still haven’t been blown up all over Instagram and there are still many of those spots around Cusco, you just need to get out and explore!
A good example is this massive boulder sits somewhere in San Blas. You can climb to the top to get some pretty stellar views. Hint: look around Casa Tandapata 😉
7. Sunset Drinks at Limbus
If you don’t have the time to go be climbing all around San Blas, a great place to catch sunset is at Limbus Bar. This skybar has the best views of any restaurant in Cusco.
While you’re here, we highly recommend enjoying Peru’s national drink, the Pisco Sour!
8. Take a Day Trip to The Sacred Valley
Hire a driver for a day to check out the inca ruins in The Sacred Valley around Cusco.
There’s far too much to see in just one day, so splurging a little extra dough for a driver is definitely worth it to make the most of your time.
The sites we most highly recommend seeing are the Salt Flats of Maras and the agricultural ruins of Moray.
We also recommend bringing a solid rain coat because the weather here is known to change very quickly.
9. Explore Iglesia de Santo Domingo
The Iglesia de Santo Domingo is one of the most beautiful building in Cusco. Chances are that after running around all the sites around Cusco and trekking in the high altitude of the Andes, you’ll need a chilled out afternoon or two just hanging around the city.
Situated close to the city center, this convent is a great place to learn all about the history of Cusco. Head to the second floor balcony for some good photo ops!
We hope this list gives you a place to start when planning your visit to Cusco. You can, as always, scroll down our Instagram page for more inspiration of places to see in this amazing city!