The 8 must-do things in Cuzco

Visiter Cuzco

Visiting Cuzco: the best things to see and do in the ancient capital of the Inca Empire

Often considered an essential stop-off point for climbing Machu Picchu, most tourists forget to visit Cuzco. And yet, Cuzco is one of Peru’s most surprising cities: between its archaeological ruins that tell of the past greatness of the Inca civilization, its hikes in picture-postcard landscapes with the Andes as a backdrop, its museums with rich collections and its gourmet culinary specialties, there’s a lot to do in Cuzco.

So to help you make the most of Cuzco, here’s our list of the 8 must-do things in Cuzco to make sure you don’t miss a thing.

1. Discover the Place d’Armes

Visiter Cuzco, place d'armes

As in most major Latin American cities, the Plaza de Armas is the vibrant heart of Cuzco and the ideal place to visit. If you visit Cuzco around June 24, it’s in this very square that you may be lucky enough to witness the famous religious ceremony, Anti Raymi, in honor of the sun. There’s so much to see and photograph in this square, you won’t know where to start, with the Andes peaks as your backdrop.

It’s impossible to visit Cuzco without entering the immense Baroque cathedral that sits at the center of the square: a superb edifice built in the mid-17th century on the palace of the Inca Wiracocha that will delight art lovers. We enter the Cathedral via another church, the Iglesia del Triunfo, the city’s first Christian church. A little further on, the Iglesia de la Compañía is another must-see on the Plaza de Armas. Built by the Jesuits, this church was a symbol of Christian supremacy.

2. Meditating at the Qoricancha

If you don’t know what to do in Cuzco, head for the Qoricancha, the most emblematic temple of the Inca empire. Dedicated to the sun, the Qoricancha – sometimes written Coricancha or Koricancha – is a sacred temple where, according to archaeological experts, more than 4,000 priests worshipped the elements of nature on a daily basis. It is also the best example of the marriage between Inca culture and the Spanish conquistadors.

Richly decorated with precious stones, gold and silver, the Qoricancha was the symbol of the greatness of the Inca people, and it was this very wealth that attracted the covetousness of the Spanish conquistadors and led to the Incas’ downfall, between looting and torture. You can see some authentic walls, with large, perfectly interlocking blocks of stone, typical Inca architecture. A visit costs 10 soles, about €2.60.

3. Stroll through the ruins of Cuzco

Visiter Cuzco, ruines

Photo credit: Flickr – David Stanley

Having been the capital of the Inca Empires, it’s not surprising that there are numerous archaeological sites and ruins in the vicinity of Cuzco. For lovers of old stones, there are 4 must-see sites in Cuzco: the fortress of Puca Pucara, Tambo Machay, Qenqo and Sacsayhuaman.

The good thing is that all these sites are within easy reach of each other, within an 8km radius of Cuzco. Once you’re on the bus, take advantage of the opportunity to admire the mountain scenery before you, and also to sample a local specialty, choclo con queso – giant corn with cheese – at the entrance to the various archaeological sites.

4. Visit Cuzco’s museums

Visiter Cuzco, musées

Photo credit: Flickr – C K Leung

If you don’t know what to do in Cuzco and want to learn more about the city’s past, Cuzco boasts some very fine museums, with incredible collections. Although the city and its surrounding region are open-air museums, it would be a shame to miss the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, with its fine collections of gold objects and works from the colonial era. You’ll also discover a wealth of information on Peru’s great civilizations, often unknown in relation to the Incas: Nazca, Mochica, Huari, Chimu and Chancay.

There are other very interesting museums, such as the Inca Museum, the Regional History Museum, the Religious Art Museum and the Cocoa and Chocolate Museum, with something for everyone.

5. Stroll through the San Pedro market

Located just off the Plaza de Armas, the San Pedro market is a must-see in Cuzco. You’ll find handmade tapestries, colorful clothes, fresh fruit and vegetables, colorful spices, meats with character… For lovers of fine clay and porcelain, you’ll be able to get them at rock-bottom prices. It’s the ideal place to meet and chat with the locals.

You can also eat directly at the San Pedro market, where under the central canopy, vendors prepare stews, tender cuts of pork and beef and local specialties at reasonable prices.

6. Drink a cusqueña

Visiter Cuzco, cusquena

Photo credit: Wikimedia – Sigoise

Cusqueña is to Peru what Guinness is to Ireland: a national symbol. It’s hard to find outside Cuzco, although it’s also sold in some U.S. cities where the South American community is well represented.

Cusqueña comes in 4 varieties: Golden lager, the best-selling and most popular blond in Cuzco, Red lager, a beer for the most demanding palates with a pretty reddish color, Dark lager and Wheat beer. Whatever your preference, all beers are good, so don’t hesitate to sit down in one of Cuzco’s many bars and cafés to enjoy one of them.

7. Marvel at Las Salinas and Moray

Visiter Cuzco, Moray

Moray is a surprising site in the Secret Valley: in reality, it’s a former Inca agricultural research laboratory. Here you can observe sumptuous amphitheatre-shaped terraces. Each terrace represents a different climate: the further from the center, the colder it gets. One thing you should know: to preserve the terraces, you can’t walk on them, so you can only see them from a distance.

Just a stone’s throw from Moray, there’s another interesting place to visit in Cuzco: las Salinas. And yes, these are indeed salt pans, with a hundred or so basins arranged in tiers where the Incas harvested salt. In fact, Peruvians still harvest salt here, and it’s possible to sample it on a tour that will cost you 10 soles (€2.60) per person.

To get to these 2 sites, you can take a collectivo from Cuzco in the direction of Urubamba. When you stop at the intersection for Moray, you’ll need to find cabs to take you to the various sites.

8. Climbing Machu Picchu

Visiter Cuzco, Machu Picchu

It’s hard to overlook one of the 7 Wonders of the World, the world-famous Machu Picchu. Situated at an altitude of 2,348 m, the ancient Inca city is one of the beauties of our planet not to be missed, especially if you’re in Cuzco. And to help you book your tickets, here’s all our advice on how to book your ticket online. And to take things even further, here’s our complete guide to visiting Machu Picchu. An essential guide to help you prepare for an ascent you won’t soon forget!

How to get to Cuzco

So you’ve decided to visit Cuzco? Getting there couldn’t be easier! Alejandro-Velasco-Astete International Airport is Peru’s second-largest airport. Find a cheap flight on the website of our partner Ulysses. Located 15-20 km from the city, it’s easy and safe to get to the center of Cuzco by cab. Don’t hesitate to negotiate your fare.

Where to stay in Cuzco?

It’s fairly easy to find accommodation in Cuzco, but you need to be careful, as the city is quite large. The best areas to stay are near the city center and Plaza de Armas, or near San Blas. You can find a cheap hotel in Cuzco by searching on this hotel comparator.

Map of hotels and accommodation – Cuzco,pe