The Inca capital of Cusco is famous throughout the world both for its own incredible attractions and as a starting place for visits to the number one attraction in all Peru (and in fact in South America) - Machu Picchu.
Obviously, most visitors to Cusco will visit Machu Picchu but the city itself has lots of its own attractions and you could easily spend weeks exploring this fascinating place.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Top Attractions in & Around Cusco
Sacasayhuaman Inca Fort Cusco
Just wandering around the city you can find some fasinating sites and there is wonderful colonial architecture at every turn.
There are also a number of trips that can be taken to explore some incredible places outside of the city.
Here is our pick of the top activities:
- Rainbow Mountain - In the last years a day trip to this multi colored mountain a few hours outside of Cusco has become the most popular day trip for visitors to the city.
Rainbow Mountain Tours leave early in the morning (most leave between 3am to 6am). Visitors partake in a short trek up the mountain but due to the altitude some can find it hard work. Luckily it is possible to rent mules at the mountain on the day.
Vinicunca ,the local name for the mountain, is very photogenic with its brightly colored stripes, dominated by reds and yellows and for this reason it is a popular social media post amongst travelers.
- The Sacred Valley - this is traditionally the most popular tour after Machu Picchu from Cusco and they are often offered as combined tours or also as day tours by themselves.
The tours to this area visit a number of Inca sites and colorful markets, accessed via winding roads through the Rio Urubamba valley. The market highlight is in the town of Pisac and is buzzing with tourists searching for colorful local handicrafts and souvenirs. Above Pisac town there is an Inca site with some impressive inca agricultural terracing. The steep walk up can be leave visitors out of breath but is worth the effort. Whilst it is possible to visit these places solo most people take a Sacred Valley Day Tour as they cheap and its much easier.
- Sacsayhuaman - located on a plateu above the city of Cusco this immense Inca Fort is well worth your time. The huge carved stones weigh up to 140 tons each yet fit together seamlessly. Hiring the services of a guide can here is recommended to truly appreciate the history. It is perfectly possible to visit this site by yourself,either on foot or by taxi from Cusco. You can also take a Cusco City Tour that will include a visit to the site as well as a number of other places and include a guide to explain everything.
- Qenko, Puka Pukara & Tambomachay - these 3 sites are usually combined with a visit to Sacsayhuaman being located on route. Qenko is a holy temple with a history of blood sacrifice, Puka Pukara the ruins of a Milatary site and Tambomachay is known as the Inca baths showcasing some impressive aqua engineering feats.
- The 12 Angled Stone - this famous example if fine Inca stone masonary is found on a street called Hatun Rumiyoc that is named after the building remians that the 12 sided stone is part of. The accuracy and precision of the stone cut is testament to skills of the Incas.
- San Blas District - Walking up Hatun Rumiyoc you will arrive in San Blas, a pictureesque part of Cusco popular with tourists. The area is full of colonial buildings and inca stonework, many of which are used as tourist shops, cafes, bars and restaurants.
- Plaza de Armas & the Catedral - In true spanish style the central point of cusco is its main plaza called Plaza de Armas. Dominating the plaza is the impressive Catedral . Its a great place to pass some hours either lounging on one of the benches or from a balcony cafe overlooking daily life.
- Coricancha & Santo Domingo Convent - this building is the amalgamation of two empires with the convent being built upon the inca temple of Coricancha. Inside you can still see some of the original parts of the Inca building.
- Mercado San Pedro - this is more of a traditional market and a good place to experience the vibrancy and color of a south america market. You can also find many of the tourist handicrafts here and often at cheaper prices than the central tourists shops.
This is just a handful of whats on offer around cusco but there are plenty of more options such as various museums, a lively nightlife, a wide range of restaurants and cafes plus wonderful shopping. There are other day trekking options such as the shorter Huchuy Qosqo 2 day trek or the longer more remote options to visit the lesser visited, although extremely impressive, Inca site of Choquequirao.
Machu Picchu Tours
There are a variety of ways to visit the ancient Inca citidel of Machu Picchu and these can be split into two categories of Tours - by Train and/or Bus and Trekking Tours.
There can be some crossover of course and some different variations such as private tours by car or trekking tours that include additional activities such as biking sections.
Trips By Train / Bus
For those not wanting to trek then traveling by train to Aguas Calientes, the town that sits below the site of Machu Picchu, is the most popular option.
The most common Machu Picchu by Train tours take 2 days , with a night in Aguas Calientes allowing for an early start to visit the site.
There are also 1 day Machu Picchu tours that very early in Cusco leaving around 3am by bus to meet with the 6.40am Train from Ollantaytambo arriving in Aguas Calientes around 9am.
For those on a tighter budget there are tours that are Machu Picchu Tours by bus that require a 3 hour hike a hike from Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes
Everyone has heard of the classic 4 Day Inca Trail Trek and most are aware how popular it is. If you wish to choose this option you should book in advance and during peak times you might need to book 6 months or more in advance due to the limited spaces per day.
There are alternative Inca Treks that finish with a visit to Machu Picchu though and many say they are just as spectacular as the classic option.
For much the same price you can do Salkantay Trek in 4 Days if your looking to save some time.
Another active option is the 4 Day Multi Activity Inca Jungle Trek that in additional to some trekking includes biking and optional extras of rafting and ziplining.Again for those short on time there is a 3 Day Inca Jungle Tour option aswell.
More remote than the other treks , the Lares 4 Day Trek passes through wonderful scenery and rural farming areas before a night in Aguas Calientes prior to the visit to Machi Picchu.
You can see some more variations of all the above options in our Machu Picchu Tours section of the site.
Cusco Tourist Ticket
Quechua Children Cusco
If you are planning to spend a few days sightseeing in Cusco, as most people do, then you will likely want to invest in the Cusco Tourist Ticket (Boleto Turistica del Cusco).
This is a ticket issued by the Ministry of Culture in Cusco that allows entrance to multiple sites.
The ticket DOES NOT include entry to Machu Picchu and an entirely different ticket is required for that.
There are a few different types of tickets offering entrance to different combinations of places and length of validity.
Full Tourist Ticket – All Cusco Sites & Sacred Valley
Valid for 10 Days – Cost in 2018 is 130 soles (US$45-48 approx) - Code (BTCI)
This ticket can be used to entry to 16 different sites in and around Cusco including the most popular sites of Saqsayhuaman the Inca Fort plus the Sacred Valley sites of Pisac and Ollantaytambo.
This is probably the most popular option as its 10 day validity is very flexible and many people want to visit the sacred valley site as well as Cusco ones and this is the best value way of doing this.
Includes Entrance to : Saqsayhuaman, Qenko, Pucapucara, Tambomachay, Museum of Popular Art, regional History Museum , Municipal Museum of Contempory Art, Korikancha Museum (not site entry), Qosqo Center of Native Art, Pachacutec Monument, Tipon, Pikillacta, Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero & Moray
Partial Tourist Ticket Circuit 1 - Saqsayhuaman
Valid for 1 Day – Cost in 2018 is 70 soles (US$21- 24 approx) - Code (BTCPI)
This single day ticket allows entrance to the Inca Fort of Saqsayhuaman and the 3 sites located on the way to/from the site. Good for those with just a day in the city for site seeing.
Includes Entrance to : Saqsayhuman, Qenko, Pucapucara, Tambomachay
Partial Tourist Ticket Circuit 2 – City Attractions & Southern Sacred Valley
Valid for 2 Days – Cost in 2018 is 70 soles (US$21- 24 approx) - Code (BTCPII)
This single day ticket allows entrance to a 8 sites only although these are considered to be the less popular sites in the region.
Includes Entrance to : Museum of Popular Art, regional History Museum , Municipal Museum of Contempory Art, Korikancha Museum (not site entry), Qosqo Center of Native Art, Pachacutec Monument, Tipon & Pikillacta
Partial Tourist Ticket Circuit 3 – Sacred Valley
Valid for 2 Days – Cost in 2018 is 70 soles (US$21- 24 approx) - Code (BTCPIII)
This 2 day ticket allows entrance to the main Sacred Valley sites . A handy option for those without time to explore the sites in Cusco city and just going on trips to Sacred Valley (and probably then Machu Picchu)
Includes Entrance to : Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero & Moray
It is easy to see why the Full Ticket is the most popular as most tourists will include visits to Saqsayhuaman and the Sacred Valley during their trip.
A full ticket is the best combination of price and time for these options and also give access to various other places.
Buying Your Ticket
You can purchase tickets at the entrances to each of the sites or in advance in central Cusco from one of the following places:
Tourist Information Office DIRCETUR - Calle Mantas (near Plaza de Armas)
Open from Mon to Sun 8am to 12pm & 2pm to 6pm
COSITUC Office - Av El Sol 103 (inside Galerias Turisticas)
Open from Mon to Sun 8am to 6pm
Important – you need to take your passport with you to buy the ticket and also carry it with you when visiting the sites as proof.
Tickets are valid from date of purchase and cannot be bought in advance but there are no limits so no need to worry about availability.
You cannot pay individual entrance fee at sites – only tourist tickets can be used to access the sites so if you are visiting any, even just one, of the sites you will have to buy one of the types of tourist ticket.
There are discounts for 10 to 17 years old with full tickets for 70 soles and partial circuit tickets for 40 soles.
- Try to plan your trip to take into account the altitude, especially if you are doing any trekking activities. Many people under estimate how much of an effect the altitude can have on them.
- If you are planning on trekking the classic Inca Trail be aware you need to book far in advance , especially in peak months. Also that the Inca Trail is closed in February.
- During popular festivals, such as Inti Raymi, accomadations in Cusco can fill up in advance so make sure you book ahead.
Last Updated 21st June 2018