When you think of Peru, chances are you envision what is the city of Cusco, whether you realize it or not. What was once the capital of the Inca Empire and home to Machu Picchu, Cusco, is a breathtaking city in the remarkable Peruvian Andes. Aside from the unbelievable Incan structures constructed hundreds of years ago, the city holds many other attractions that will immerse you into the traditional lifestyles of those in Cusco. A few of these include markets, art, and museums! To plan a trip that will provide you with the best experience possible, check out some of the best places to visit in Cusco and Machu Picchu, described in more detail below.

Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Trek or Train to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is on the bucket lists of many, and with a visit to Cusco, how could you miss it? This Incan citadel above the hilltops consists of huge agricultural terraces and unbelievable stone architecture. Millions of visitors come to Peru every year to see it! The easiest and most common way of traveling is the Machu Picchu day trip from Cusco by train. The journey is 3.5 hours each way and is a beautiful and slightly intimidating ride. More active people may prefer a Trekking tour to Machu Picchu rather than sitting on a train. Many tour groups can guide you through the journey, depending on your skill level! All hiking groups require stopping to camp at specific points as it is a multi-day journey. A visit to Machu Picchu requires planning no matter which route you choose, but the fantastic Inca city and looking into ancient society will be worth the trip.

Experience the Plaza de Armas

Like Lima, Peru, Cusco also has a central square called the Plaza de Armas. It is a bright, busy space that stands as the city's colonial center. The square includes gorgeous gardens, historic buildings, restaurants, nightlife, and more! Historically, the Great Inca Square was once before the Spanish colonists took over and replaced it with today's European architecture. Many important festivals and gatherings take place in this city center, such as the Inca Festival of the Sun and the religious festival of Corpus Christi. Additionally, you can expect to see many local vendors strolling through the plaza and selling anything you can think of, from paintings to clothing, making it an excellent spot for souvenirs. A visit to Cusco would not be complete without wandering through one of the most culturally important city centers.

 Tour the Coricancha and Covent of Santo Domingo

The Coricancha, also known as the Temple of the Sun, was one of the Inca empire's most sacred and significant buildings. The architecture of the buildings represents the highest level of engineering by the Incas, and the walls and doors are said to have been covered by gold before the Spanish invasion. There are many different enclosures within the building that represent other areas of worship, such as the enclosure of the sun, the sacrificial enclosure, and the ceremonial fountain, to name a few. The Coricancha is now a museum that those who want to learn more about an Incan place of worship could be visited.

Directly next door to the Coricancha in the Covent of Santo Domingo. This is a Catholic religious temple that the Spanish built to replace the Inca gods with Western gods. It was built on the ruins of the Inca site and suffered damage from multiple earthquakes years after its building. A visit to both the Covent and the Coricancha offers an exciting insight into the eradication of the Incas and the Spanish colonization of Cusco.

 Wander through Sacsayhuaman

Like much of Cusco, Sacsayhuaman was once inhabited by the Incas. As a former fortress, it is located high above Cusco. It is more convenient to experience Incan history without venturing into the mountains to Machu Picchu. You can walk to it directly from the Plaza de Armas, you don't need public transportation, and you don't need a tour group! The site has three terraces that all served different purposes for the Incas. There are also examples of the Incas' precise stonework with the fitting of huge boulders within the ruin. You could spend hours exploring this vast complex with plazas, altars, steps, walls, and more! Take an easy trip to Sacsayhuaman to put yourself in the Incans' shoes and return in time.

 Participate in Incan Festivities

If you haven't already noticed, Cusco was mainly built upon its Incan history and influence. Luckily, suppose you aren't interested in temples and ruins. In that case, you can explore Incan and Andean indigenous cultures by attending some of the many festivals in the city that honor them and their beliefs. Many have religious significance and a different tone, though visitors can still enjoy and respect them!

The Inti Raymi, also known as the "Sun Festival," is a religious ceremony of the Incas that honors the god Inti, one of the most revered deities in their religion. The celebration and festival occur on June 24th, the shortest day of the year between sunrise and sunset of the Inca New Year. It was the most important of the four Inca festivals in Cusco and took place in the city's central plaza.

Quyllurit'i is another large spiritual festival, and it is held in the Sinakara Valley, which is in southern Cusco. The indigenous people in the nearby Andean communities recognize this celebration as honoring the stars and the return of the Pleiades constellation, which introduces the harvest and New Year. This festival typically occurs in late May or early June and coincides with the moon cycle.

The above are only a few of the many festivals that honor the different cultures that exist or have existed in Cusco. Attending one of these is a beautiful way to experience indigenous communities' belief systems and histories truly.

See What Guinea Pig Tastes Like

Guinea Pig, known as Cuy in Peru, is a delicacy to be enjoyed on special occasions. However, many adventurous visitors to the country can eagerly try it at many restaurants in the area. These cuties were eaten for many years in Peru, and it wasn't until the Spanish came and began sending them to Europe that they were domesticated. Their meat is considered higher quality as it has a greater protein concentration and lower cholesterol than other commonly consumed meats. Cuy is most often served baked as “cuy al horno” or fried as “cuy chactado.” Its taste has been said to resemble dark meat chicken or duck, and sometimes even pork. Most of the meat comes from its hind legs. If you have more adventurous taste buds and want to try a Peruvian dish that has existed for centuries, there are many great restaurants in Cusco to try eating guinea pigs.

Look at the Stars at the Cusco Planetarium

If you have visited a planetarium, you'll quickly discover that the Cusco Planetarium is unlike any you've ever been to. It will put the universe into the perspective of the minds of the ancient Incas. The building is a traditional local structure, where inside, you can observe the wonderous connections between the stars and Peruvian culture. It is located just ten minutes from the Cusco city center and is in Sacsayhuaman Park. Anyone can have a fantastic time wandering through the planetarium and learning about astronomy through Incan eyes while sipping hot coca tea and even enjoying a light show at night's end.

Grab Some Goodies at San Pedro Market

For the scavengers that love local markets and goodies, the San Pedro Market is for you! It is just an eight-minute walk from the Plaza de Armas and has even more street vendors than the plaza. Many different kinds of goods are sold, such as snacks, dried foods, clothes, plants, gifts, and so much more. The colorful plant goods and spices will completely overwhelm your senses but in the best way possible. You'll have to be careful to get a good deal, though, because many vendors will try to rip you off, especially if you're a tourist! But if you are a savvy shopper and don't get haggled, you can leave with some fantastic items such as Pachamama dolls, empanadas, and juice from one of the many juice stands! The San Pedro Market is the ultimate stop to support local businesses while on vacation.

Stroll through the San Blas Neighborhood

Most of the tourist attractions in Cusco have ties to Incan history, with the San Blas neighborhood no exception. It was the home of essential families devoted to architecture and craftsmanship. One of the most critical Incas who ordered the construction of Machu Picchu even lived here! Once the Spaniards arrived, the neighborhood adopted its modern-day name, and unfortunately, the few temples there were destroyed. They were replaced with the colonial architecture that you would see there today. The neighborhood has managed to maintain its artistic and creative influence with the well-known artistic families who reside there and their art galleries. Additionally, the area has restaurants and bars, an observatory, and a colonial temple. Make sure to stroll through this culturally significant neighborhood, snap photos of the beautiful architecture, and enjoy its history, food, and more.

 Photograph the Twelve-Angled Stone

The Twelve-Angled Stone is yet another marvel of Incan architecture. It is a part of the structure called Hatun Rumiyoc, located directly near the Plaza de Armas. It was built with large polygonal stones that seem to fit perfectly and so well that the wall continues to stand today. The twelve-angled stone is one of the stones that are part of the wall, and as you can guess, it is made up of 12 angles that allow it to fit perfectly. It is made of green diorite about six feet deep and weighs over six tons. The stone was initially part of the Roca Inca Palace. Still, it became a part of the Archbishop's palace after the Spanish invasion, and it originally represented the division of the 24 families of Cusco. Although it is just one stone, it is highly significant to the city's history and worth snapping a picture with at least.

Explore even more Cusco History at a Museum

For many, learning about a city's history through a museum organization is more straightforward than running around the different historical sites. Maybe you prefer to do both! Luckily, Cusco has many historical, archaeological, and religious museums to supplement your knowledge of the city.

The Museum of Pre-Colombian Art is located in the district of San Blas. It showcases artifacts and art from over Peru and nearly 3000 years ago! They even have several exhibition rooms where you can participate in interactive learning experiences about ancient societies.

For a more specific Incan education, check out the Museo Inka, which is inside an old palace! It holds pre-colonial ceramics, jewelry, metalworks, textiles, and more! Before leaving Cusco, this is the best way to refine your expertise in Inca society.


Cusco may not be Lima's big modern city, but it offers a different and fulfilling perspective on Peru. As the former Inca capital surrounded by the towering Andes mountains, there is tremendous Incan cultural influence on the city, in addition to the indigenous and Spanish touches. Visitors can immerse themselves in it by visiting the many marvelous ruins, museums, and festivals. They can also walk the streets, view the Spanish/Andean architecture, talk to the locals, and grab tasty treats from the vendors. Cusco and all its glory should be next on everyone's bucket list.