The city of Cusco is the heart of any visit to Peru. Tucked into the Andes, it’s the former center of the Inca Empire, cultural capital of the country, and gateway to South America’s most famous Wonder of the World, Machu Picchu.
Due to its rich culture past and present, there are countless Cusco attractions to witness whilst in this beloved city. The big question is, what are the top places to visit In Cusco? To help make the most of your time in the ancient Incan capital, we’ve curated a list of Cusco’s main attractions. From unmissable historical ruins to secret cultural and culinary delights, here are the top 10 places to visit in Cusco, Peru:
Like many South American cities, the historical main square is the perfect place to start getting a feel for the city. In addition to being a beautiful plaza with nice landscaping and classic architecture surrounding it, it is also flanked by several of Cusco’s top attractions. In between the charming artisan shops, restaurants with views, and boutique hotels sitting on the edge of the square, you’ll also find the famous Catedral del Cusco, multiple churches, Loreto alleyway and Inca ruins. If you can, try to visit the plaza once during the day and once at night: the impression is completely different after it lights up in the evening!
No visit to the heart of the Inca Empire is complete without seeing the most extensive ruins the city has to offer. One of the best things to see in Cusco is the ruins of Sacsayhuaman, perched atop the city next to the Christo Blanco statue. Often hosting some resident llamas, it’s a good introduction to the style and architecture of Inca ruins before you make it to Machu Picchu. If you’ll be visiting in June, make sure to experience the Inca sun festival of Inti Raymi – they use the ruins as a stage for the colorful event.
One of the most fascinating buildings in Cusco, Qorikancha possesses a variety of architectural elements including some of the oldest structures in Cusco. Don’t miss these historical Inca Ruins- also known as the Temple of the Sun. It also houses a beautiful courtyard and exquisite grounds, right in the city center and just a couple blocks from the Plaza del Armas.
Known as the artsy district of Cusco, San Blas sits on the little hillside just past the Plaza de Armas. Full of cozy cafes, art galleries, and creative locals, it’s a favorite neighborhood of most visitors. Make sure to come hungry- almost every restaurant here tops list of best places to eat in Cusco! Vegetarians won’t want to miss Greens Restaurant, and anyone craving an incredible sandwich should make a stop at Jack’s Café. If you come later in the evening, make sure to grab a pisco sour at Limbus Restobar for a view that’s sure to impress.
Right on the Plaza de Armas, the Catedral del Cusco is an emblematic sight in the city. Its imposing structure and architecture are best viewed with a tour guide for a full understanding of its style and significance.
This local market is the perfect dose of daily Cusco culture for any visitor. Full of regional produce, home-cooked meals, artisan goods, and many smiling locals, this is one of the best things to do to see Cusco culture in action. Bring cash- you’re likely going to see a lot of things you want to buy!
Although it’s one of the smaller museums in Cusco, the wonderfully informative and curated Pre-Columbian Art Museum does a magnificent job of introducing visitors to the many relics it houses. Artifacts range from precious artwork to gold and silver to pottery and hand-carved figurines. The museum itself is a sight to see, and even the restaurant gets rave reviews!
Just off the main square stretches the narrow street of Hatun Rumiyoc. Many visitors pass through it not realizing what all the commotion is about. One of the original Inca roads of Cusco, this narrow street is also lined with walls that represent one of the best remaining examples of classic Inca architecture. Namely, the twelve-sided stone. If you look (or see all of the other tourists taking photos), you’ll quickly see it. Masterfully fit amongst all the other stones, this sacred piece represents the mysterious ability of the Inca’s structures to exceed the usual limitations of construction during their time period.
Set inside Qurikancha, this gives a great introduction into Inca history that goes far beyond Machu Picchu. Exhibits and artifacts span pre-Inca and Inca times, with information on many other Inca ruins throughout Peru. The perfect spot to visit before touring the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.
Cusco may be full of bigger or better-known churches, but this one is always a standout. The interior of the church is intricately decorated, with unique architecture, masterful woodwork and ancient art. Make sure to climb to the bell tower afterwards to get an incredible view of the entire city and don’t pass up the audio tour!
In a city so rich with experiences to be had, it can be hard to limit yourself to just ten places to visit. Whether it’s the history, food, architecture or modern culture of Cusco that intrigues you most, you can be sure you won’t run out of places to visit in this remarkable city. And if somehow you do, there is always the neighboring Sacred Valley to check out.
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