10 things to see and do in Cusco, Peru


Peru’s most mysterious city, Cusco, sits at an altitude of 3,400 meters surrounded by the Andes. If its name is translated from Quechua, the official language of the Inca Empire, it sounds like the Center of the Earth – a naming that suits the capital role of the ancient empire. Catholic cathedrals, authentic restaurants, markets with wild products for Europeans, llamas on leashes – all this is so unusual, colorful and Peruvian, that it’s worth reading our new guide and go pack your bags to South America.

In some places in the guide, prices are listed in the local currency, Peruvian Sol. For convenience, we also give the dollar amount in parentheses.

The small Alejandro Velasco Astete airport in Cuzco is considered international, but only accepts flights from Bolivia’s La Paz and Colombia’s Bogota, as well as from several Peruvian cities. From Europe it is better to fly first to Lima (tickets can be found from $ 800 round trip) and then local airlines like LATAM, Avianca, SKY Airline and Viva Air Peru to get to Cuzco. The last two companies are low-cost, so the Lima-Cusco flight will cost $20 without baggage. But there is an example of not the cheapest composite route from Minsk: you take Belavia to Amsterdam, there you change to KLM to Lima, and from there you take LATAM to Cuzco. It costs about $1000 per one way (but there’s always an option to look for a sale or a later date). From Moscow you can choose S7 Airlines to Madrid, there change to Avianca and fly to Cuzco with connection in Bogota. You will pay about $650 one way. For the same money you can take UIA from Kiev to Madrid, change the Ukrainian carrier for Air Europa to Lima, and there choose LATAM to Cuzco.

There are many bus companies in Peru. The most important and safe ones are Cruz del Sur , Tepsa and Oltursa . They will take you from any big Peruvian city to Cuzco. For example, the trip from Lima will take about 22 hours without stops and will cost PEN 80 ($ 25). But don’t worry about the time – the buses are comfortable and have bed options, so you can safely choose night flights.

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Another option is the Peru Hop , a counterpart to the city’s red Hop-on Hop-off sightseeing buses. With a full Lima-Cusco ticket ($199), which is valid for a year, you can stop in any city along the route and continue your journey at any time. In addition, there is always an English-speaking guide on board, and tourists are taken to their hotels and free exclusive tours at the same time.

You can also get to Cusco by PeruRail train from Puno on Lake Titicaca, but this is not the fastest and cheapest way. A luxury tourist steam train with an observation deck takes 10 hours on a single track, and tickets start at $230. During the ride, guests are entertained with national dances and songs while incredible mountain scenery whizzes by outside the window. And from Cusco itself, you can take the PeruRail train to the town of Aguas Calientes, at the foot of Machu Picchu. The trip takes 3.5 hours with two stops – in Urubamba and in Ollantaytambo. Ticket prices depend on the type of train: the cheapest Expedition – from $ 60, the train with panoramic windows Vistadome – from $ 80.

There is no official shuttle from the airport to the city center, where most hostels and hotels are located. The fastest and cheapest way to get to your hotel is by cab. The travel time is 15 minutes, and the cost is PEN 15-20 ($5-6). Cabs in Cusco are inexpensive, but drivers tend to overcharge tourists. Use Uber and Cabify or book a car at the hotel if you need to go a long distance. A trip from the city center to the Poroy train station, where the trains to Machu Picchu depart from, will cost PEN 30 ($10).

Public transportation in Cusco is chaotic. There are dozens of private companies whose buses run on separate routes, indicated in large letters on the windshield or on the sides. There is no timetable, nor is there an official map with routes. But you can use an amateur map, where the main routes to the major attractions in the area are marked. For example, nearby towns like Pisaca and Urubamba can be reached by bus: shuttle buses leave from Puputi Street as they are filled, and the fare is PEN 5-10 ($2-4).

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Travelers usually stop in one of two neighborhoods, Plaza de Armas and San Blas, which is called the historic center. No locals live here, and there are hotels, restaurants, bars, souvenir stores and attractions at every turn. Wherever you settle, you’ll always be in the middle of the action. Tip: The San Blas area is elevated, so be prepared to do a lot of walking up and down the stairs.

Ecopackers (375 Santa Teresa) is an eco-friendly hostel in an old colonial building with nearly 500 years of history and a stunning courtyard. Rooms are single, double and dorms, and there’s a separate 8-bed room just for girls. All rooms have orthopedic mattresses. A bed in a shared room is from $8.

Intro Hostel (Cuesta Santa Ana, 515) is a budget hostel that has everything a traveler needs: free breakfast, Internet, lockers, its own bar, and evening activities that spill over into nightly parties. There’s even room for a campfire and a table tennis table. Overnight rates start at $10.

The quiet Milhouse Hostel (Calle Quera, 270) is near Plaza de Armas, Cusco’s main square, and is suitable for relaxing after climbing Machu Picchu. There are two spacious patios, a game room, bar and lounge. A night in a shared room is from $10.

The Kokopelli Hostel (260 San Andrés Street) has a creative atmosphere. Paintings and graffiti about love and friendship adorn the walls, turning the room into a work of art. In the evenings there are concerts, salsa lessons and barbecues. There are hammocks on the patio, a hearty breakfast is included in the price, and the dorms each have a bed with a curtain and a personal outlet. Prices start at $10.

For crazy parties, head to Inka Wild Hostel (Calle Matara, 261) . This place is known by every backpacker who likes to party rather than sleep at night. A place in a shared room is from $6, a double room is $20.

If you add beautiful views and nature to the parties, you get Wild Rover Hostel (Cuesta de Sta. Ana, 782) . Each room here has a view of the Andes, and the local soundproof bar is called the best local open-air bar. Nightly rates start at $10.

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The Pantástico Hostel (Carmen Bajo, 226) not only offers a night away from the bustle, but also a breakfast of fresh bread and pastries – there is a small bakery on the first floor. A place in a four-bed room costs $12; a double room starts at $20.

By booking a room at one of the Niños Hotel (Calle Fierro, 476 and Calle Meloc, 442), support the Niños Unidos Peruanos Foundation, a nonprofit organization that cares for underprivileged children in Cusco. Each room bears the name of an adopted child, and a portion of the income from the hotel’s restaurant and gift store goes to the organization’s foundation. A double room is $55.

A quick five-minute walk uphill from the main square leads to the family-run Corihuasi Guesthouse (Calle Suecia, 561), whose name means “house of gold” in Quechua. Colorful alpaca blankets, panoramic views of the city and a real fireplace in the dining room add to the coziness of the rooms. A double room starts at $56.

If you prefer to stay in apartments, look for options on Airbnb or book Quinua Villa Boutique (Pasaje Santa Rosa, A-8) for $90. Each of the four apartments with a fireplace comes with a full set of appliances, plus the price includes an American breakfast served in the same apartment and daily housekeeping.

They say it takes at least 10 days to see Cusco and the surrounding area. In fact, you can get around the city itself in a couple of days, and the rest of the time is spent on the Sacred Valley (Valle Sagrado de los Incas) and Machu Picchu. If you plan to visit everything, a boleto turistico (tourist ticket) will come in handy. You can not buy separate tickets for each place: either buy full ticket for PEN 130 ($ 40) to enter 16 sites, or partial – to visit 3-4 places for PEN 70 ($ 21). To see what’s included in each option, visit the website, and buy the right one at the COSITUC office (Galerías Turísticas, Av. El Sol, 103) . If you are a student under 25 with ISIC, you can get the tickets for half price.

Get to know the city from the heart of it all – the central Plaza de Armas, built on the site of the main plaza of the Incas. At any time of the day it is full of people (mostly foreigners) and there is always something going on. To the east, the square is dominated by the Plaza de Armas, with a splendid gilded altar inside. Next to the cathedral is the church of Del Triunfo (Triunfo, 373), the first Christian church in Cuzco. There is also the Andean Baroque Jesuit Church of the Compañía de Jesús (Plaza de Armas), where Spanish conquistadors and Incan brides were married.

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Plaza de Armas is the most popular pedestrian street, Salle Hatunrumiyoc, framed by the remains of the Inca walls: giant blocks so precisely arranged that you could not put a knife blade between them. If you go further, along an almost vertical street, you’ll reach the San Blas neighborhood (Barrio de San Blas) – Peruvian Montmartre. It’s a neighborhood of artists, artisan workshops, art galleries, and handmade stores. From here you can look at the panorama of the city with its red tiled roofs against the backdrop of the emerald mountains.

But the most spectacular view of Cusco is from the observation deck of the statue of Cristo Blanco, which is located on a mountain near the city. The ascent takes 40 minutes but you can take a cab for PEN 15 ($ 5). The town is said to have the shape of a puma.

Learn more about the cultural heritage of the local population at the Museum of the Incas (Ataud, 154), admission is PEN 10 ($ 3.50). For more information about the history of this once-great civilization, see the Coricancha Temple, on whose ruins the Spanish built the Santo Domingo Church (Ahuacpinta, 659-A), and the Historic Museum of Cuzco (Calle Garcilaso). The last two places are accessible with a tourist ticket.

The Museo Quechua (Av. El Sol, 185) will tell you about the Cuchua people, the original inhabitants of Peru. Half of the exhibits have price tags, which makes this place not only a museum but also a store for unusual Peruvian souvenirs. Admission is free.

Museo de Arte Precolombino (Plaza de las Nazarenas, 231) is a relatively new museum that brought in exhibits from the Larco Museum in Lima. The exhibit focuses on South American art before the arrival of the Spanish and consists of gold, silver, wood and stone objects that belonged to the peoples who inhabited Peru at the time. Admission is PEN 20 ($7).

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Stop by the Coca Museum (Cuesta de San Blas, 618) and learn how the Incas used this plant and what is produced from it today. At ChocoMuseo (Calle Garcilaso, 210), you can take a free tour and learn about Peruvian chocolate. If you pay PEN 35 ($11), they’ll teach you how to make your own sweets at a master class. Another unusual place is the City Planetarium (Fundo Llaullipata, Carretera a Sacsayhuamán, Km2), where visitors are told about Inca astronomy, the most important constellations for them and how the inhabitants’ lives were linked to the movement of the stars.

Peru is said to produce the best textiles in all of South America. Many artisans still use ancient weaving techniques, which can be seen in the museum at the Center for Traditional Textiles (Av. Sol, 603) . There’s also a store there with their colorful rugs, pillowcases, and quilts for sale here in the store. Trust me, it’s hard to resist.

If you’re interested in learning more about Cusco, sign up for a free Free Walking Tour in English. Cheerful guides will guide you through the main sights, talk about the history, architecture, and modern life in the city, and show you the non-tourist spots.

Don’t miss the opportunity to walk through the Inca ruins around Cusco – Machu Picchu is far from the only complex worth visiting. Two kilometers from the city is the archaeological park of Sacsayhuaman , six-meter walls which consist of the same perfectly fitted stones. Farther afield are the ruins of Kenko and Tambomachay . This is the closest archaeological circle of the Inca Empire, which can be visited with a partial tourist ticket.

The far archaeological circle is the Sacred Valley of the Incas on the Urubamba River. This is the Pisac complex, the Moray farming terraces, the ruins of Ollantaitambo and Chinchero. Entrance here is also by tourist ticket.

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