Top 10 Things to Do in Cuzco, Peru

I’ve been to many places around the world, and in all sincerity, Cuzco is one of my favorites. Maybe it’s the Spanish teacher in me, but I don’t think that’s all it is!

Cuzco is truly unique. It has a compelling and unparalleled history. It combines the ancient with new in a way I’ve never seen.

The indigenous cultures blend together in the city’s art and history, dotted with evidence of the Spanish conquest. The native art, food, and traditions combine with European architecture to create a truly matchless and exceptional place.

The stories of the Incas are found all over the city. Expertly constructed stones beneath unassuming restaurants offer clues to its past. 

Things to do in Cuzco, Peru. The ancient Inca capital.

After a visit here during a month long backpacking trip, here are my top 10 things to do in Cuzco, Peru!

♥ In this post, I’m using the “English” spelling of “Cuzco”, but in Spanish it is “Cusco”. The Inca name for it, in Quechua, is “Qosqo”.

Some links in this post are affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these, I may earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you!).

1. Visit the Temple of Q’orikancha

This temple was once the most revered site in the Inca capital. Its walls were literally covered in gold, and it had a large courtyard filled with solid gold statues. This was the epicenter of worship for the Inca people.
When the conquistadors arrived, they ransacked it and sent all of the gold back to Spain. Then, to add insult to injury, they demolished the temple.
Once demolished, the Spaniards used its foundations to build a Cathedral right on top of it. They wanted to suppress and insult the Inca, and I’d say they did.
Q'Orikancha Temple exterior, one of many things to do in Cuzco Peru
The Former Inca temple turned Monastery
For visitors today, it is a rare sight to see. The Spaniards incorporated the Inca stonework in to the base of their church. Very few places in the world have evidence of two such different cultures connected in such a way.
Now, Q’orikancha includes the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo. There isn’t much gold left to be seen, and the scarce few artifacts that have remained in Peru are in the nearby archaeological museum.

2. See the Ruins of Sacsayhuaman

A citadel on the outskirts of the city, this complex is a wonder. A fortress on a steep hill overlooking the city, it was the location of the battle of Cajamarca; an event that changed the face of Peru forever.
These walls and stones have seen their share of history. Over time, they were slowly disassembled by the Spaniards, who used the stones to build their own homes.
Today, it is still used for the yearly festival of Inti Raymi– a celebration of the winter solstice!p things to do in Cuzco

READ MORE:  What NOT to do in Cuzco!

3. Take a Tram to the Cristo Blanco Overlook

Take the local tram tour (Tranvía Cusco) to see the sprawling city. Walking too much can make you feel sick from the altitude, so this is a good option!
The tram will take you to the top of a beautiful overlook (Cristo Blanco) with a view of the mountains and city below.

4. Stroll the Plaza de Armas

The epicenter of the city, this plaza is hard to miss. During the Inca times, it was known as the “Square of the Warrior”, and was home to many important events.
It saw Francisco Pizarro’s proclamation of defeat over the Inca Empire, and the brutal public death of Inca leader Tupac Amaru.
Over the years, the Spaniards made it their own. They constructed a cathedral, gardens, and stone arcades all around the plaza which still stand today.
About an eight minute walk away from the plaza is the San Pedro Market. This is the perfect place with stalls for produce, meat, clothing, juices and more!

5. Step in the Church of Cuzco (La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús)-

This church was built by the Jesuits in 1576, and is the focal point of the Plaza de Armas. It was built on the foundations of Amarucancha, which was the Inca royal residence.
Go inside and admire its colonial architecture, or peer down into the underground chapel. A good idea is to pay to go to the top, as it has a great view of the plaza below.The Cathedral in the Plaza de Armas of Cuzco, Peru

6. Experience Peruvian Food-

 The further you venture away from the plaza, the more authentic the food will get. While most Peruvian food is delicious, I particularly recommend:
  • Empanadas: Delicious meat-filled pastries filled with veggies and garnished with limes and onionsPeruvian Food: Empanadas in Cuzco
  • Cancha & Choclo: Cancha is basically unpopped popcorn- tasty and salty! Choclo is boiled corn- soft and delicious!Peruvian Food: Cancha and Choclo in Cuzco
  • Chaufa de Pollo: Peruvian cuisine with a Chinese influence, this is a local version of fried rice- YUMChaufa de Pollo: Peruvian Food

7. Visit the Pre-Columbian Art Museum-

This museum has an unparalleled Peruvian art collection, and is located in the Casa Cabrera (a mansion that dates back to 1580). Inside, there are 450 artifacts that include ceramics, jewelry, carvings, and artifacts from Q’Orikancha dating from 1250BC up to 1532AD.

8. Marvel at Cuzco’s Twelve-Sided Stone-

Known as Hatun Rumiyoc, this stone might not seem too exciting at first. It is notable however, because of the astounding masonry and architectural skill it represents. The Inca were able to carve stone in rounded edges, and place them together without mortar.
Not only this, but they are so perfectly matched that one cannot even pass a piece of paper through the precise stones. This stone has 12 sides to it, and shows the jigsaw-puzzle style in which these pieces were expertly matched.
Now there are colonial era buildings standing on its foundations, but it is the epitome of Inca architectural expertise. It is located at the entrance to the San Blas Barrio, a scenic neighborhood filled with arts and crafts.

9. Take Day Trips to Nearby Architectural Sites-

If you have time to leave the city center, the nearby architectural site and temple complex of Ollantaytambo (about a 2 hour drive) is worth a visit. The site of Písac (1 hour drive) is another worthy place.
Another very popular day trip out of Cusco is the hike to Rainbow Mountain. While beautiful of course, the hike is not just for anyone- it’s very intense especially given the altitude!

Rainbow Mountain. Things to do near Cusco Peru.

10. Hike the Inca Trail to (nearby-ish) Machu Picchu: Obviously!

View of Machu Picchu: Near Aguas Calientes and Cuzco, Peru
I was lucky to be there on a cloudy day!

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  • Reply 13 Things to Know Before You Go To Cusco and Machu Picchu, Peru December 11, 2018 at 8:47 am

    […] Picchu? Check out this post for more amazing things to do in Cusco, or this post for the top 10 things to do in Cusco, or this massive guide to 101 things to do in […]

  • Reply Neishka January 14, 2019 at 3:56 pm

    Hiiiii Everybody!!!! My name is Neishka and I will be traveling to Lima and Cuzco this upcoming April for a law school trip. It’ll be my first time in the country, and I was wondering, what ya’ll could tell me about the costs, and other things to see in Lima (if ya’ll know any) since I will have a free day on each city. We will be there for a week. I would also like to know about the weather and this you guys recommend to take clothing wise, etc. Thanks in advance!!!! 🙂

    • Reply Diana O February 8, 2019 at 4:29 pm

      Hi Neishka! I’m from Lima, and I can tell you that, if you have one day in lima, use it to visit: Plaza de Armas in the morning, then, go Barranco and Miraflores (those are district). Plaza de Armas is the center of Lima, is not a safety place, so.. be careful. Barranco and Miraflores are safety. The weather in April is still hot (23°C)

  • Reply Best Tips for Planning & Visiting Machu Picchu | Savored Journeys June 15, 2019 at 5:58 am

    […] Cuzco, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a city located at just over 11,000 ft above sea level in the Peruvian Andes — once the capital of the Inca Empire. It is the main launching point for visits to Machu Picchu. And it’s an authentic and vibrant city. There is plenty to do in Cuzco, including hiking and adventure tours to nearby archeological ruins, such as the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and the Ollantaytambo ruins you’ll find in the valley, learning about the culture and customs of the Incas, shoppping and exploring the ancient city, and dining on new and exciting local cuisine. (Read more about Cuzco.) […]

  • Reply Isa March 23, 2022 at 1:47 am

    Plaza de Armas looks stunning!!

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