Things to do in and around Cusco

Cusco, a city with impressive architecture and idyllic cobblestone streets built 3,399 meters high. Walking around the city you’ll see colonial architecture, cathedrals, museums, alpaca wool boutiques and tons of good restaurants. From Cusco you can explore Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley and several famous natural wonders. Cusco is the number one most visited place in Peru, and with all it has to offer that’s no surprise. I’d recommend at least 5 full days to see the following things to do in Cusco, Peru.

Things to do in and around Cusco:

Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain

There are several ‘rainbow’ mountains you can visit from Cusco, but Vinicunca is the most well known. When ‘rainbow mountain’ is advertised, this is the one they mean. You could book a tour, but I highly recommend hiring a taxi so you can avoid the busiest time of day. Find a few other travelers to share the taxi and you’ll end up paying the same price anyway. The tours leave extremely early in the morning around 04:00. We decided to leave around 08:00 and arrived when most tours were already leaving. The drive is about 4 hours, so you don’t want to leave too late. After a 2 hour hike you will reach the top and get this incredible view!

Red Valley

The Red Valley is right next to Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain so it would be a shame not to pay it a visit! we walked up the side of the mountain until suddenly this view was revealed. I may have been even more impressed with the red valley then with rainbow mountain.

Palccoya alternative rainbow mountain

There is another rainbow mountain that is gaining in popularity. It is a slightly easier walk to the top at 5,000 meters and you will see a set of three rainbow mountains. Even though it’s becoming more well known, it’s still a lot quieter then Vinicunca and you’ll probably only see a handful of tourists.

Pallay Punchu- Alternative rainbow mountain 2

I had seen some photos and videos online of a third rainbow mountain that was more distinctly different as well. After some research I discovered it was Pallay Punchu. It’s only become a tourist destination in the last 2 years and you’re likely not to see anyone else when you visit. Just like the other mountains it’s a 4 hour drive to get there, but the views are worth it. I’d highly recommend doing either Vinicunca or Palccoya and this one if you’d like to do a second rainbow mountain. The colors and shape of these mountains are something completely different!

Pisac ruins and Pisac town – Part of the Sacred Valley

The Sacred valley is the 100 km long valley that stretches from Pisac to Machu Picchu. The valley is filled with archeological sights. Pisac is one of the most impressive ones. The ruins are only 45 minutes away from Cusco and you can take the local bus for 5 soles per person. You can find the small colectivo station on Calle Puputi in Cusco (find it here on Google Maps).

Maras Salt Mines

Also located in the sacred valley you’ll find the Maras Salt Mines. There are over 3,000 ‘pools’ and its collectively owned by 600 local families. The techniques used are ancestral techniques that are 500 years old. You can combine the salt mines with a visit to the ruins of Moray.

Mountain View experience

After your visit to the Maras Salt mines I highly recommend a stop at Mountain View Experience. We just stopped here for lunch, but you can stay here overnight as well. You can book a picknick, horse riding or quad biking to explore the valley a bit further. Or like us, you can have lunch there and feed the alpacas!

Moray -Part of the Sacred Valley

Moray is another archeological Inca sight  in the sacred valley. After Maras and the Mountain View experience, this was our final destination for the day. It was beautiful, but after reading online this was a sight not to be missed, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. There are several of these circular man made terraces where they tested different conditions for growing crops. They are impressive, but you can walk around them rather quickly and there’s not much else to see there. Combined with the salt mines and the Mountain View experience, it makes for a nice full day though.

Cusco’s Historical Center

Cusco’s center has a couple of spots that are worth a visit while you are there. There’s the main square, plaza de Armas, with the gorgeous cathedral. I also enjoyed a visit to Museo Casa Concha. The museum has a lot of interesting information about Machu Picchu and the excavations.

Machu Picchu

The most obvious activity on the list is of course Machu Picchu. Most people visiting Cusco come especially to see the ancient Inca City.  When visiting Cusco, it is best to plan a separate visit to Machu Picchu. However, if you are short on time, a day trip from Cusco is doable as well.

In this guide I explain everything you need to know about visiting Machu Picchu.

Humantay Lake

Located at 4,200 meters high you’ll find a stunning blue glacier lake named Humantay. I saw it as part of the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, but it can also be visited as a separate tour. The lake is surrounded by snowy mountain tops, but you have to get lucky to see it in clear weather. The hike to the top takes about 2 hours.

Viewpoints sunset

When getting acclimatized to the height, you may not want to do any big tours, but a little climb to one of the viewpoints is good practice. There’s a few spots that give you an incredible view of the city. There’s the white statue of Christ aka Cristo Blanco and on your way up or down you can pass by Plaza Sán Cristobal.

Best Restaurants in Cusco

The popularity of Cusco attracts many great chefs to the city. Cusco has some of the best restaurants in the country, from Italian and Japanese to Peruvian. And if you’re a vegan, Cusco is vegan heaven! These were our favorite restaurants in Cusco, Peru:

  • Oculto: trendy minimalist design and the most delicious food! In my opinion, the best restaurant in Cusco.
  • Sagrado: We had dinner here several times. The service was incredible and you have to try the trout basket!
  • Moray: Affordable local dishes. Great ceviche.
  • Cercania: Best sourdough bread! It’s a very small place, but must go for lunch.
  • Green point: For lovely vegan food

Where to stay in Cusco

I’d recommend staying in the historical center of Cusco, as it’s the safest and it has the most restaurant options. The San Blas neighborhood is also a nice area. We stayed in Terra Sagrada Cusco and absolutely loved our stay there. It has a very cute inner courtyard, amazing staff and a good breakfast. It was walking distance from most places we wanted to visit in town.

If you’re looking for a hostel try Viajero Kokopelli Hostel Cusco and if you’re looking the most luxurious accommodation you can’t go wrong with JW Marriott El Convento Cusco.