Cuzco, Peru: Top 10 Things to Do

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 and history lover in me, but I don’t think that’s all there is to it. Cuzco is truly unique, and has such a compelling and unparalleled history. It combines the ancient with the new in a way I’ve never seen elsewhere.

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 the influence of European architecture to create a truly matchless and exceptional place.

cuzco peru travel

The stories of the Incas are found all over the city. Expertly constructed stones beneath unassuming restaurants offer clues to its past. Festivals and celebrations recount the heroism and the tragedy of the Inca people. The atmosphere, the brisk climate, and the scent of food in the air all blend together to form a place no other can match.

After a visit here during a month long backpacking trip, here are my recommendations for the top 10 things to do in Cuzco!
ALSO- 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”. Read more about the name here.

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 plates of fine 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 in Cuzco, Peru, Cusco top things to do
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 in a very unique manner. Very few places in the world have evidence of two such different cultures connected in such a way.
Now, the site of 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 housed in the nearby archaeological museum. It is a far different site from what it once was, but it is amazing to see the dualities it represents.

2. See the Ruins of Sacsayhuaman

A citadel on the outskirts of the city, this complex is a wonder. A fortress located on a steep hill overlooking the city, it was the location of the historic battle of Cajamarca; An event that changed the face of Peru forever. This is where Pizarro and his men decimated Atahualpa and his soldiers, killing thousands and gaining control of the Inca Empire for Spain.
These walls and stones have seen their share of history, and over time it was slowly disassembled by the courteous 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. Top things to do in Cuzco

READ NEXT: My Post on What NOT to do when you visit 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 the perfect 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 historical 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 beautiful cathedral, gardens, and stone arcades all around the plaza which still stand today.

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 and inexpensive the food will get. While most Peruvian food is of course 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 essentially a local version of fried rice- YUMChaufa de Pollo: Peruvian Food

7. Check out 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 particularly exciting at first. It is notable however, because of the astounding masonry and architectural prowess 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 particular 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 also located at the entrance to the San Blas Barrio, a charming neighborhood filled with arts and crafts, and surprises around every corner.

9. Drive to Nearby Architectural Sites-

If you have time to leave the city center for a bit, the nearby architectural site and temple complex of Ollantaytambo (about a 2 hour drive) is absolutely worth a visit. The site of Písac (1 hour drive) is another worthy place to visit. Not frequently seen by tourists, these places create a sense of discovery for those who venture out. If you prefer to go on an organized tour, check out this list of ideas.

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!

As always, all reviews and opinions are my own. However, should you choose to book or purchase any of the products, hotels, or excursions listed above I will make a small commission. Thanks for reading my Cuzco things to do!


  • Reply Brie December 5, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    I am seriously pondering a trip to Peru next October. I am concerned about the safety of the country for tourists. Is there anything to stop me from going and taking my 14 year old daughter?

    • Reply Michelle W. September 16, 2018 at 5:00 pm

      Hi Brie- I hope you liked the email I sent you- Did you decide to go?

  • Reply Inka Time September 15, 2018 at 1:05 pm

    Hello, excellent information, I would like to add a trip to the list, it is a tourist destination that is in the city of Cusco, it is the Rainbow Mountain or called Vinicunca, if you still do not know it I invite you to discover it, Greetings.

    • Reply Michelle W. September 16, 2018 at 5:01 pm

      I’ve heard great things about Rainbow Mountain!!

  • 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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