Once you travel to Cusco it’ll be easy to see why it’s one of the world’s most popular destinations. Cusco is home to everything you’d expect from a great South American city! You’ll have exotic food in Cusco, magnificent scenery, interesting markets, and epic nightlife. Cusco’s modern attributes are appreciated, but not overpowering enough to ruin the authenticity that makes this place special. The history of Cusco is rich, making it the undisputed cultural capital of Peru. Join us as we take you through all the best things to do in Cusco!
Quick History of Cusco Peru
- The Incas seriously dominated back in the day! Using Cusco as their base, the empire stretched 2,500 miles and reigned over 16 million people at it’s height.
- Unfortunately for the Incas they were caught in the midst of their own civil war at the time the Spanish showed up on their conquest. We would’ve been pissed! “Uhh hey guys were kind of having our own war over here… Can you come back in 20-30 years? By the end of the 16th century an astonishing 90% of the Inca population was dead due to either war or disease.
- In the ensuing years, Cusco would undergo massive cultural and social change which has made it into the melting pot you see today. The European influence is clear, but the towering granite walls the Incas built still stand. They’re a constant reminder of the history of Cusco and its long lost empire.
- If you travel to Cusco today you’ll find a population of 500,000 and a booming tourist industry. Over 2 million people visit Cusco Peru every year!
- Cusco sits in the heart of the Andes mountains at a mind blowing 11,000 feet above sea level.
Best Things to do in Cusco Peru
Plaza de Armas
When you travel to Cusco it’ll be impossible to miss the great Plaza de Armas! Grab a bench in the square and take in the beautiful scenery. Plaza de Armas is situated in the center of the city, and is surrounded by the all the best nightlife and food in Cusco. Wherever you decide to stay, it would be wise to make it as close to here as possible.
San Pedro Market
This is the local spot to grab cheap food in Cusco and souvenirs. There’s so many markets in Cusco, but this was our favorite! We went here at least once a day to have something to eat and shop around. Make sure to hit the juice bar hard! $1.50 USD gets you an entire blender whether you can finish it or not.
If you’re lucky enough to be around on Sunday head to the plaza just outside San Pedro. Once a week the cities best chefs show up for one giant cook off. You haven’t seen the best of the Cusco markets unless you’ve been on Sunday!
After you hit the Cusco markets go and learn something new before you head to Machu Picchu. For just $40 you can get an all access pass to every museum and historical sites in the city. This is by far one of the best things to do in Cusco Peru!
Similarly to other South American cities, Cusco has a giant Cristo Blanco or “White Jesus” watching over its people. Now if you read our brief and violent history of Cusco earlier you may consider this a bit strange… However, this particular statue was actually a gift from Christians fleeing Palestine in 1945 who were seeking refuge in the city. Below you can see the various things going down at White Jesus.
Thank you white Jesus.
Best Drinks and Food in Cusco Peru
I like to think we have pretty strong stomachs, but the guinea pig was a little too much for us! Even with it being the national dish of Peru, all we could picture in my head was the little pets our friends had growing up.
Phew. Onto the good stuff now! Ceviche is the freshest of fish, cut up and usually soaked with lime juice and spices. Peru is known to have best ceviche in the world so this is a must try.
Cusco Food Tip: Go to Cicciolina’s restaurant for out of this world ceviche tapas. A little more upscale here, but 100% worth it.
Pork Belly deep fried in its own fat. Oh yeeah! While each country in Latin America has it’s own version of this treat, we found the best chicharrón on the streets of Cusco.
Like Ecuador, Peruvians use this magical animal for basically everything including food in Cusco. The llama burger is muy bueno if you get a chance to try it!
The locals drink this regularly for “medicinal” purposes, and even chew the leaves for energy. Feel free to try it when you travel to Cusco, but we wouldn’t ship any of this stuff back to the states!
Peru claims the Pisco Sour as their national drink, but don’t tell someone from Chile that! Made with Pisco brandy, lime juice, and bitters, this is just what the doctor ordered to get the night going.
Bar Recommendation: Check out Norton Rat’s Tavern for cheap drinks and a sweet view of Plaza de Armas.
Too often, travelers make the mistake of overlooking this amazing place on their way to Machu Picchu. Make sure you give yourself sufficient time to see all the best things to do in Cusco Peru! We spent three days in this glorious city, but it could have easily been more. Hope this gets you a little more familiar with what to expect on your visit.
Have any questions on our city guide, or want to share your own favorite things to do in Cusco Peru? Leave us a comment below!
Brigitte & Jake
Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar!
Where To Stay In Cusco Peru
Ultra Luxury (High End) – JW Marriott El Convento Cusco – To travel to Cusco and not stay at the JW Marriott would be a shame! This luxury hotel is one of the most incredible places to stay in all of South America.
Fun Vacation (Mid Range) – El Mercado – Located near all the best markets in Cusco, this unique hotel has a fun atmosphere and decor that everyone will enjoy. Enjoy a drink with a view on one of the terraces and be within walking distance of all the delicious food in Cusco.
Hostel Life (Budget) – Intro Hostels Cusco – If you’re looking for a place to meet other travelers then Intro is the place for you! The staff can help you with all the best attractions, and get you familiar with the history of Cusco before you get out and explore.*We receive a commission for purchases made through links in this post. This allows us to continue our travels and keep providing great content to our readers! Also, as an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.