Welcome to the Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide
Introducing our 2017 edition of the Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide in which we’ll cover things to do in Cusco.
If you are heading to Machu Picchu, chances are you are flying into the beautiful city of Cusco – formerly an Inca capital now turned tourist mecca.
Furthermore, what many people don’t realise is if you aren’t spending a lot of time here, you could miss out on some seriously amazing experiences that really embody the heart and soul of Peru.
With its (seemingly) never-ending festivals, bright colours, amazing food, cute cobbled streets and locals selling their beautiful handmade wares, what’s not to love about Cusco?
Even though it is known as one of the gateway sites for Machu Picchu (MP), don’t think Cusco doesn’t have some wonderful charms of its own.
Of course, you can plan your entire MP trip from here, but know that there are many more things to do in Cusco.
Hence you should make sure to factor in time to explore unique places to eat, go sightseeing, get some truly original custom-made clothing and really ‘see’ this town through the eyes of a local.
Because you’ll find treasures like incredible handmade chocolates and liqueurs at the Choco Museum (which originated in Cusco), remarkable Inca ruins, including the ‘Sexy Woman‘ (Sacsayhuaman) hill, quality handmade textiles and shoes and so much more.
We will share with you our top things to do in Cusco because, if you are going to visit, we want to make sure you get it right.
Most noteworthy, Cusco is one of those special places that will remain in your memory long after you actually have left.
Aside from being a gateway city to get to Machu Picchu – one of the most sacred sites in the world – there are many other reasons you might want to visit Cusco.
For starters, the scenery is truly something else.
Surrounded on all sides by the incredible Andes Mountains, as you head from the airport into the main town, some of the breathtaking images can be hard to take in.
There are majestic snow-capped peaks, quaint little shops and locals carrying huge brightly-coloured bags up ridiculously steep inclines.
Cusco not only provides a flood of flavours, smells and visual treats, but also an overwhelming feeling that you are in a special place indeed.
While tourism numbers grow every year, the town manages to maintain its unique sense of identity and character, which is what so many people are drawn to.
Oh and did we mention the food?
Cusco has ample restaurants, bars, European-style delicatessens, patisseries and more – including some of the best vegetarian and vegan food we have ever sampled.
Some must-reads about Cusco and Machu Picchu:
- Everything you need to know about Machu Picchu
- Scam in Machu Picchu ?
- Packing list for Hiking Machu Picchu
What many people don’t realise is that Cusco is noticeably higher in elevation than Macchu Picchu.
As a result, this is not only is it a great place to get used to high altitude but it’s also the perfect place to ‘train up’ before you tackle the Sacred Valley.
You will know upon landing in Cusco whether or not you need to take altitude tablets (we recommend the locally made Sirocha) or sip the coco leaf tea before you hit the Inca Trail.
In addition, Cusco is a brilliant base to reach other lesser-known, yet strikingly beautiful, hiking trails.
Most noteworthy, some amazing hikes are nearby which you can do in one day include Rainbow Mountain, Huchuy Qosqo – Lamay, Ollantaytambo – Inti Punku or Choquequirao.
And of course you can plan your epic Machu Picchu adventure from here as well.
How to prepare for Cusco
Some people worry they need to do something special when they are coming to Cusco (due to the high altitude).
However, in reality you can just wait until you get here in regards to managing altitude sickness.
While you do need to be aware of the drop in temperature in the evenings – it can get VERY cold at night – yet this is manageable.
However, thermals, warm clothes and gloves are definitely recommended as part of your preparation.
Most travellers decided to come in the months of June, July and August because the days are usually bright, warm and sunny.
In regards to phones, headsets and other material goods – see below.
Travelling with tech and personal belongings
No Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide would be complete without listing where you can sort your tech out.
After all, it is 2017.
Unfortunately, you won’t find an ‘Apple’ store in Cusco.
Perhaps one in Lima… (but not here).
If you lose a charger, smash an iPhone or have issues with a computer, well then good luck.
Losing your beloved tech gear in South America can be a Western traveller’s worst nightmare (or not being able to repair it).
Luckily for you guys, there is the ‘Electronic Market’ in Cusco, which may be able to help if you didn’t bring a spare phone or parts with you.
Located close to the San Pedro markets (I think it’s on the corner of Calle Nueva and Tres Cruces de Oro), this is ‘techie’ heaven and the closest you are going to get to the Apple store.
Obviously it’s totally not, as you don’t have to pay ridiculously inflated prices – which is a win in my book.
Yet this place is only really encouraged if you have travel insurance on your devices.
Or if you are desperate!
Otherwise, bring a spare phone, extra chargers and cables to save money and hassle.
Peru has very strict laws around theft.
Serious punishment awaits anyone who steals, plus there are higher consequences for anyone robbing or stealing from a foreigner.
This is obviously good news for tourists, as this law makes Cusco one of the safer towns in South America when it comes to personal safety and material goods.
Hence I haven’t had any issues walking around at night as a solo female traveller.
Main streets are quite well lit, but if you are staying slightly off the main strip it may be an idea to bring a flashlight with you.
By car/ bus / walk (cheaper option but not the safest)
Transfer/ train/ bus
Things to Do in Cusco – Inca Ruins and Museum
So, what are some of the other things to do in Cusco?
Again, there are so many options and attractions in this city – too many to list in this Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide.
But here are a selection of what we think are the best things to do in Cusco.
Please contact us if you think we should include anything else in our Ultimate Cusco Travel Guide!
Visit Inca ruins and museums in the region by buying a ‘Boleto Turistico’
You don’t have to travel all the way to Aguas Calientes to see classic ancient ruins.
Because one of the special bonuses of being in Cusco is your chance to purchase a 10-day pass called a ‘Boleto Turistico’.
A full pass costs approximately $50 USD and will grant you entry into five museums in Cusco, as well as access into different sites across the area.
With three different circuits available, you can also purchase a partial ticket if you don’t have time to see them all.
Circuit one contains:
- Sacsayhuaman Hill
- Puka Pukara
The second circuit:
- Museos de Arte Popular, Museo de Sitio Qoricancha (museum only, not the Qoricancha site), Historico Regional and the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo
- Monumento a Pachacuteq (Pachacuteq Statue)
- Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo (native art and folkloric dance)
Finally, Boleto Turistico tickets do not include Machu Picchu, the Religious Circuit (temples), the salt mines, the Pre-Colombian Art Museum, the Inka Museum, the site of Qoricancha and the Casa Concha museum.
Partial Cusco Ticket options (BTCPI) / Circuit I – Saqsayhuman
This partial ticket includes just four entrance fees with the attractions located just outside of Cusco and not in the city itself.
This ticket is valid for one day.
Validity: 1 Day
Price (2014): S/. 70 (US$ 25)
Included: Saqsayhuman, Qenko, Puka Pukara & Tambomachay.
Partial Cusco Tourist Ticket (BTCPII) / Circuit II – City & South Sacred Valley
This partial ticket includes eight entrances; with the attractions listed being the least visited of all in the Cusco region.
Hence places like the Museo Histórico Regional (the original home of Garcilaso de la Vega) and the Inca archaeological site of Tipon are definitely worth a look.
This ticket is only valid for two days.
Validity: 2 Days
Price (2014): S/. 70 (US$ 25)
Included: Museo de Arte Popular, Museo Histórico Regional, Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporáneo, Museo de Sitio de Korikancha, Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo, Monumento de Pachacutec, Tipon & Pikillacta.
Partial Cusco Tourist Ticket (BTCPIII) / Circuit III – Sacred Valley
This partial Cusco Tourist Ticket includes four entrances and includes the most important attractions in the Sacred Valley.
Therefore is the ticket you need to buy if you are only visiting attractions in the Sacred Valley and not Cusco.
Valid for two days only.
Validity: 2 Days
Price (2014): S/. 70 (US$ 25)
Included: Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero & Moray.
Where to buy:
You can buy tickets from the COSITUC office on Avenida El Sol 103, and from selected tourist offices and authorized travel agencies.
In addition, discounts are available for international students on presentation of their ISIC card.
Things to Do in Cusco – Cusco MUST
Get a photograph in front of the infamous 12-sided stone from Inca times.
Meet descendants of the Incas at the Sacred Valley
- A behind the scenes look at Peruvian Textile Weaving Experience
- Pachamanca , A Dining Experience in Peru Unlike any Other
Participate in a chocolate workshop at Choco Museo
- Read our blog post, Choco lovers Unite : A trip to Cusco´s Chocolate Museum
Explore interesting museums and Colonial Houses
If you have already purchased your Boleto Turisitico, you can use this to visit one of many museums in Cusco.
The Museo de Arte Popu, the Sitio del Qoricancha Museo, the Historico Regional and the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo are all ones you can visit as a result of having this ticket.
There are also lots of beautiful churches and buildings scattered throughout the Plaza De Armas that are well worth a look.
Enjoy Tapas and Pisco tasting at Pisco Museum
Things to Do in Cusco – Art
Create your own ceramic piece of Art
There are lots of different options to create your own art and one of our favourite things to do in Cusco is attend pottery or ceramics classes.
Most noteworthy, you might want to visit Tater Vera Ceramics in the main shopping precinct for unique gifts you can take home.
Or, of course, contact us if you would like us to arrange your own personalised pottery class.
Things to Do in Cusco – Food & Dining
Enjoy a huge variety of gourmet (meat and vegetarian) restaurants
One of the best things about Cusco would have to be the array of amazing restaurants and food outlets throughout the city.
Many offer incredible value three-course lunch specials and the quality is incredible.
Discover alpaca carpaccio, ceviche and many other decadent dishes.
In addition, check out some of the best vegan and vegetarian restaurants we have found.
Meat lovers also won’t be disappointed, with many opportunities to buy quality amazing Peruvian cuisine like cuy (guinea pig), roast pork and more.
Cusco has many boutique restaurants to choose from, so it is perfect for that romantic getaway or intimate family dinner.
Fresh organic vegetables, delicious pisco sours, incredible wines from Argentina and Chile – you will be spoilt for choice.
Classic Cusco cooking classes
Well, they certainly love their food here in Cusco.
Learning how to make some traditional dishes will help you impress those you love (or want to love).
So why not try whipping up your very own Lomo Saltado, Papas de Huancaina or even CHIFA in a traditional environment?
MAP cooking school offers incredible classes to tourists who want to take a little bit of Peru back home with them.
These classes run several times a week with options including drink creations as well.
Since we are great at customizing tours, contact us to help set up a culinary adventure for you.
Try delicious juices at San Pedro Market
Another renowned food and drink haven is the famous San Pedro Markets located in Cascaparo, Cusco.
So head over to buy a range of delicious freshly squeezed juices, snacks, souvenirs and more.
In addition, you can purchase ceviche and other speciality dishes, surrounding yourself in heavenly smells and flavours.
Try authentic Peruvian dishes, exotic fruits, herbs, healing medicine drinks and more.
Buy unique & colourful souvenirs from exquisite boutiques (or custom order your own)
You will see handmade crafts on street corners, in tiny stalls and in boutique shops throughout Cusco.
As a result, you can purchase beautiful handmade beaded classic ‘Cusco’ hats, ponchos and high-quality scarves.
Not to mention beautiful tapestries and high-quality gifts.
Due to there being so many exquisite designs and different textiles and colours to choose from, it is truly a shopper’s paradise.
There are also many options to have your own tailor-made garments created if you so desire, with private tailors on hand to help tourists.
Spoilt for choice in Cusco, this is the place to purchase beautiful alpaca wool garments – one of the most luxurious materials in the world.
Even more sought after is the soft, subtle and gorgeous ‘baby alpaca’ garments; you can find these in the way of jumpers, coats, scarves, baby clothes, matching hats and gloves.
Cusco is the place to find quality alpaca wool garments as well as high-quality artisan goods ranging from jewellery, pottery, art, designer clothing and more.
Buy artisan handmade Inca shoes
The options to create your own souvenir in the form of artisan shoes start at just 150 soles.
So why not pick yourself up a pair of custom-made boots or brightly coloured hiking shoes?
The prices move up the scale depending on the level of detail and design you want included, but there are no limits to the imagination here.
As a result, local shoe makers measure you in-store, take requests and get orders back within 2-3 days.
What better way to remember the colours of Cusco than to have wearable art!
In conclusion, you will find an array of shoe retailers around the Plaza Da Armas as well as in the back streets of San Blas.
Things to Do in Cusco – Accommodation
Stay at the most charming hotels in South America
Cusco also has its fair share of incredible hotels with many options for tourists.
Not only do many come with incredible views, but they also come with top quality food and service.
Most of all, you have the ability to choose from international brands such as the Marriot or from private hotels like the Palacio De Inka, Belmond Hotel Monasterio or the Casa Andina.
Contact us directly for even more comfortable and luxury hotel recommendations.
Things to Do in Cusco – Wonder of the World
Visit Machu Picchu (of course!)
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