Cusco was the first city I visited in South America, and what a delight it was. Cusco often spelt Cuzco is a city in southeastern Peru and is the historic capital of the Inca Empire. It is located nearby to Machu Picchu, the Urubamba Valley and the Andes Mountain ranges, offering any tour or activity than an adrenaline seeker could ask for, not to mention AMAZING scenery in every direction. This is a backpackers guide to Cusco: top things to do in Cusco, day trips and other recommendations.
Top things to do in Cusco
Machu Picchu: I am certain that anyone travelling to Cusco already has Machu Picchu on their itinerary. If you don’t, put it on there now. Machu Picchu is a world-renowned Inca site built in the 15th century. It is the most familiar icon of Inca civilisation and is extremely impressive. To better understand the history of Machu Picchu, I suggest taking a guided tour. If you are thinking of hiking to Machu Picchu, this is everything you need to know.
Hike the Inca Trail: If you love hiking, take the 4-day hike along the Inca Trail. Unfortunately, I booked too late and missed out but I hear from my friends that it was incredible.
Sacred Valley Tour: I took a day tour with Sacred Valley Tours and was completely amazed. We started at Pisac markets then made our way to Pisac Ruins, Ollantaytambo Ruins and Chinchero.
Hearing about the construction of the ruins is astonishing. Just imagine moving 100-pound rocks with no technology. Geologists have researched the ruins and state that it would be impossible to reconstruct the sites. It is a mystery how and why the ruins were constructed, but the theories are very interesting.
The Sacred Valley Tour cost $US14 and was well worth it.
Manu Amazon tour: I took the 4 days, 3-night tour into Manu National Park. I wouldn’t recommend this tour. If you want to see the Amazon go to Iquitos and do it properly. We spent 2 full days driving and didn’t see very much wildlife.
Whitewater rafting: One of my all-time favourite things to do, and one offering in Cusco.
Mountain biking: The terrain around Cusco would be ideal for the adventurous mountain biker.
Take a free city walking tour: It’s free, why not? Ask your hostel or hotel for details.
San Pedro Markets: Cusco’s local markets are a must see. Pick up some local handmade jumpers or souvenir’s and grab a fresh juice for 5soles. That’s $2US. Amazing.
Visit the local museums and learn about Inca history: There are so many museums in Cusco. When you purchase a ticket into the Sacred Valley, entry into the museums is included so why not check them out?
Ruins nearby to Cusco: There are 4 ruins within walking distance from Cusco. The ruins are also included on the Sacred Valley Tour ticket. These Ruins are Tambomachay, Pukapukara, Q’enqo and Saqsayhuman. You can easily see them all within one day however if you are limited for time, prioritise Saqsayhuman as it is the most impressive.
A Peruvian dish I enjoyed is Lomo Saltado – A Peruvian stir-fry that typically combines marinated strips of sirloin with onions and tomatoes and is served with rice and potato chips.
Climate in Cusco
Summer: December – February
Winter: June – August
I recommend travelling to Cusco/Peru in winter, as it is dry season and will be much more enjoyable.
Recommended trip length in Cusco
I recommend staying in Cusco for a minimum of 7 days as there is sooo much to do and see in the area.
Where to stay
Hostal Amaru: This hostel meets, and in my opinion exceeds Hostelling Internationals standards. This hostel is just 4 blocks from Plaza De Armas (the main square). The hostel is clean, the staff are English speaking and super friendly and more than happy to help you with any questions. I highly recommend this hostel.
Where not to stay
Hostal Pascana: Our group had a terrible experience at this hostel. We stored bags in the secure storage room, however, money was taken from the bags. We were locked out of the hostel after a night out and it took the night staff over 30 minutes to answer the door. Breakfast is meant to be served from 5 am however no one was awake at 5-30 when we went to get breakfast before our trip to the Amazon. Terrible customer service, don’t stay here.
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Disclosure: This blog on the top things to do in Cusco contains affiliate links.