Cusco is home to many breathtaking ancient structures, the most famous of which is Machu Picchu. This architectural and cultural wonder attracts approximately 1.5 million visits annually.
While Machu Picchu is definitely a must-see, Cusco has a lot of lesser-known gems you can explore.
In this blog, I'll give you a rundown of the top things to do in Cusco, from a visit to a colonial church to a stroll through an artsy neighborhood. Discover why Cusco is one of the most sought-after destinations not only in Peru but also in Latin America.
Where is Cusco?
The city sits at 3,400 meters above sea level, and altitude sickness is common among travelers, so make sure to allot a day or two for acclimatization when planning your itinerary. You can get to Cusco from Peru's capital, Lima, by bus or plane.
Things to do in Cusco
Cusco has become a popular tourist destination and a staple on Pinterest travel boards, thanks to its stunning ancient and colonial structures. If you're planning to finally check it off your bucket list, I've rounded up some of the fun things to do in Cusco.
It's nearly impossible to condense Cusco's rich and complex history into a single list of activities, but I still tried to cover as much as I could in this list. The Imperial City welcomes every kind of traveler, so read on to find out what it's got for you!
8. Unravel the mystery of Qenqo Temple
The word 'qenqo' means labyrinth or zigzag, which accurately describes the rugged and crooked cut of this massive temple carved out of rock. The Qenqo Temple is just one of the Inca temples and structures destroyed by European forces in the 16th century. This attraction is one of those that perplexed many people, including researchers, about the purpose it served during its time.
For this reason, exploring this unique attraction is one of the top things to do in Cusco, Peru, for travelers looking for other things to see aside from Machu Picchu.
This temple is constructed out of a gigantic monolith across a hillside. It consists of man-made tunnels and several chambers. There were some theories that it was used for sacrifice and rituals.
If you like to explore mysterious attractions, the Qenqo Temple makes the list of the best things to do in Cusco. The temple is located 3 km northeast of Cusco.
7. Explore the Cusco Cathedral
The Cusco Cathedral is one of the main attractions that you can't miss in Cusco. Visiting this colonial church deserves a spot on your list of things to do in Cusco, Peru.
Cusco's main church took over a century to build. It started construction in 1559 and was completed in 1669. The Cusco Cathedral boasts a Baroque façade and Renaissance interior. Inside, it features 14 massive pillars and 24 vaults.
Aside from the architectural beauty of the church, this building is an important reminder of the Spanish conquest of Peru. If you're a history buff or simply admire historical art, then Cusco Cathedral is a must-see.
6. Visit the Museo de la Coca (Coca Museum)
Head to Museo de la Coca to discover a different side of Peru's history. Museo de la Coca is one of the best places to learn about the importance of coca leaves to Andean cultures. The use of coca dates back to the pre-Columbian civilizations in South America, long before it gained global recognition.
In this museum, you will learn how ancient civilizations used the plant for nutritional and religious purposes. They believed it was a good source of medicinal properties that could cure a variety of ailments.
When you visit the Coca Museum, you will find artifacts, pictures, and art forms related to the plant. There is also a gift shop where you can buy souvenirs and stock up on your favorite coca products—from chocolates to teas. This museum is located in San Blas Square.
5. Explore the San Blas District
A trip to the picturesque San Blas District is one of the top things to do in Cusco. The neighborhood is located on the hill and is a favorite hub among tourists and backpackers. This small district is home to hip restaurants, cafes, bars, souvenir shops, art workshop venues, and more.
It is the best place to visit to get a glimpse of the Cusco way of life. And since it is located atop a hill, you can enjoy amazing views of Cusco from the main square. Historically, this area is popular as a meeting place among lovers and the youth. If you're the artsy type who likes to experience the local art scene when you're traveling, then make sure to visit the San Blas District.
4. Marvel at the Sacsayhuaman Complex
If you want to venture outside of the main area of Cusco a little bit, you will be rewarded with one of its most unique sights. Sacsayhuaman Complex is one of four archaeological sites in Cusco.
This pre-Industrial Incan complex is made up of three-tiered walls. It is an engineering marvel, especially given the time it was built. The complex features giant blocks that are fitted together tightly and are carved into square or rectangular shapes. Some historians theorize that this structure is what is left of a much larger fortress that had been destroyed through time.
Whatever the theories are about this Incan wall, there is no denying that it is an impressive showcase of Incan engineering that was way ahead of its time.
3. Visit the Sacred Valley of the Incas
This attraction needs no introduction. The Sacred Valley is a major tourist destination littered with ancient ruins that reiterate the architecture and engineering skills of the Incas. Aside from its historical and cultural legacy, the Sacred Valley offers spectacular views of the mountains. The land is also an important site for agriculture and home to traditional communities.
The Sacred Valley is located just outside of the center of Cusco, but it is well worth the journey to get here. If you wish to visit the Sacred Valley, you can find multiple tours available.
2. Discover the Ancient City of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is one of the reasons why most people come to Cusco. This world-famous ancient city is unique from other Incan sites because the Spaniards never found it. Perched on a hill, this breathtaking Inca citadel is made up of dry-stone walls. Just like most of the Incan structures in Cusco, the exact purpose of these structures remained a mystery.
It sits at an elevation of 2,430 meters. Many of those who visit Machu Picchu do so by hiking one of its many trails. The Inca Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in the world. There is no question about Machu Picchu making it to our list of top things to do in Cusco. Whether you're looking for an adventure or a spiritual journey, Machu Picchu is the place to go.
1. Climb to the Cristo Blanco Statue
The Cristo Blanco Statue is an 8-meter statue covered in marble and plaster. It depicts Jesus Christ with his arms open wide and is perched above the colonial center of Cusco. The outstretched arms of the Cristo Blanco are believed to signify the protection it brings to the entire city. It is Cusco's version of the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The statue is a gift from the Palestinian Arab community to the city of Cusco in the mid-20th century. It is a show of gratitude for the city's hospitality during the Second World War. The panoramic view of the city from the Cristo Blanco makes visiting it one of the best things to do in Cusco.
Explore Unique Things to Do in Cusco with Pilot!
If you're looking for things to do in Cusco besides Machu Picchu, then you have many options available. Travel confidently and discover more about this gorgeous country by checking out budget-friendly hostels in Peru. If you're ready to explore beyond Cusco, check out the must-do's in Lima and our Lima nightlife guide.