Cusco is more than just a stop on the way to Machu Picchu – it is an amazing tourist destination in its own right, with so many interesting things to see and do. In fact, Cusco, the ancient city of the Inca, is famed for its diversity, culture and tradition. Here are our top recommendations of things to see and do while you are in Cusco to make your tour of Peru memorable.
- Tour Koricancha
Koricancha was one of the most important Inca sites and is an intriguing place to visit, as it demonstrates the way the Spanish took over the Inca buildings and made them their own. What used to be a decadent temple was eventually turned into a colonial church known as Santo Domingo. It is a true mix of both Andean and Spanish architecture.
- Visit Sacsayhuaman
If you only have time to visit one Inca ruin, then Sacsayhuaman is definitely our recommendation. It was the largest structure built by the Incas and is evidence of their incredible masonry techniques. Sacsayhuaman can be taken as a solo tour or combined with three other ruins also located in Cusco: Puca Pucara, Qenko and Tambo Machay.
- Sample a Pisco Sour
You cannot visit Peru without tasting at least one Pisco Sour. It is a traditional Peruvian cocktail, made from the clear liquor, Pisco. You can opt for a standard Pisco Sour made from the traditional mix of lime, syrup, Pisco and egg white, or sample other more creative blends. Bear in mind they can be very strong, so you may find that one is enough.
- Try a Peruvian Meal or Two
You cannot visit Cusco, without sampling the national fare. While you may not feel brave enough to taste cuy (guinea pig), there are many other delicious meals including lomo saltado (beef stir fry served with French fries and rice), ceviche (marinated fish), rocoto relleno (stuffed peppers) or aji de gallina (creamy chicken).
- Visit San Pedro Market
Markets in Peru are very colorful, and San Pedro Market in Cusco is no different. Rows and rows of fruits and vegetables, hot food such as salchipapas (French fries and sausage), boiled corn and cheese. You can also find a wide array of herbs, spices, bread and more varieties of potatoes than you can ever imagine. The market also offers the odd souvenir to remind you of your South American adventure.
- Stroll the Plaza de Armas
Sitting in the Plaza de Armas and watching the world go by is an amazing experience in its own right. There are so many sights and sounds (and vendors), and you cannot help but admire the colonial architecture which surrounds the plaza itself. If you get a chance, visit during the day and in the evening for comparison. The Plaza de Armas lies at the heart of any Peruvian city, and in Cusco, it is no different.
- Seek out the cultural center of San Blas
Just a short, but steep, walk from the Plaza de Armas lies the bohemian area of Cusco known as San Blas. Also termed the artisans corner, you can sit down and enjoy a coffee or seek out some handmade souvenirs. The narrow cobblestone streets, boutique hotels and small bakeries make the walk up the hill worthwhile.
- Stop by the Cusco Cathedral
While its full title is quite a mouthful, the Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption, it is worth stopping by to have a look inside. It took over 100 years to complete and features a silver altar (originally gold) and over 400 paintings. The cathedral adjoins El Triunfo Temple, the first Christian church to be built in Cusco.
- Tour La Merced Church and Monastery
La Merced, like many other churches and important buildings in Cusco, was destroyed in the earthquake in 1650 and rebuilt. You can tour the monastery and museum, and view original paintings of San Pedro Nolasco, the founder of the Mercedarian order. You may be surprised to learn that buried in the vaults are the bodies of two famous conquistadors, Diego de Almagro and Gonzalo Pizarro.
- Take in a museum
There are many museums to choose from in Cusco, and it depends on how much time you have or what your interests are. You can visit the Choco Museum to sample some chocolate, the Coca Museum which traces the history of the coca leaf, the Inka Museum to learn more about the Inca heritage and see some mummies, or MAP (Museo de Arte Precolombino) to browse the Inca artifacts.
We hope you find the time to fit in a few of these suggestions on your next trip to Cusco. Of course, there are many more things to see and do in this fascinating city and, unless you are planning an extended visit, it can be difficult to fit them all in. Whatever you choose to do during your visit to the ‘Imperial City’, we guarantee you will not be disappointed.