Most interesting things to do in Cusco

Cusco, often referred to as the gateway to Machu Picchu, is a city rich in history, culture, and natural beauty. Nestled in the Peruvian Andes, this former capital of the Inca Empire offers visitors a diverse array of experiences. From ancient archaeological sites to vibrant markets and breathtaking landscapes, Cusco has something to captivate every traveler. Here’s a comprehensive guide to some of the most compelling things to do in Cusco.

  1. Discovering the Historic Center of Cusco

Plaza de Armas

The heart of Cusco is the Plaza de Armas, a bustling square surrounded by colonial architecture, restaurants, and shops. This historic center is a perfect starting point for exploring the city. Visitors can admire the majestic Cusco Cathedral (see more), a 16th-century structure built on the foundations of an Inca temple. The cathedral is renowned for its impressive collection of colonial art and its stunning architecture.

Church of La Compañía de Jesús

Located on the Plaza de Armas, the Church of La Compañía de Jesús is another architectural gem. This Jesuit church, with its intricate Baroque facade and beautiful interior, showcases the artistic prowess of the colonial period. Visitors can also climb to the rooftop for panoramic views of the plaza and the city beyond.

  1. Exploring Inca Ruins

Sacsayhuamán

Just a short walk or drive from the city center, Sacsayhuamán is one of the most important and impressive Inca sites. This fortress, with its massive stone walls, offers insight into Inca engineering and military strategy. The annual Inti Raymi festival, held here every June, reenacts the Inca sun worship rituals, providing a vivid glimpse into the past.

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Qorikancha (Temple of the Sun)

The Qorikancha, originally an Inca temple dedicated to the sun god Inti, was later converted into the Santo Domingo Convent by the Spanish. Today, visitors can see the juxtaposition of Inca and colonial architecture, with finely cut stone walls and beautiful Spanish courtyards. The site also houses a museum with Inca artifacts and religious artworks.

  1. Immersing in Local Culture

San Pedro Market

This vibrant market is a great place to experience local life and sample Peruvian cuisine. Visitors can try local specialties such as empanadas, tamales, and fresh juices.

Traditional Textile Workshops

Cusco is known for its rich textile traditions. Numerous workshops and cooperatives in and around the city offer demonstrations of traditional weaving techniques. Visitors can learn about the intricate process of creating textiles from alpaca and llama wool and purchase beautifully crafted items directly from the artisans.

  1. Day Trips and Outdoor Adventures

Sacred Valley

The Sacred Valley of the Incas, located just outside Cusco, is a must-visit for its stunning landscapes and historical sites. Key attractions include the picturesque town of Pisac, known for its vibrant market and impressive Inca ruins, and Ollantaytambo, a living Inca town with remarkable terraces and fortress ruins.

Rainbow Mountain (Vinicunca)

For those seeking adventure, a trek to Rainbow Mountain is highly recommended. This natural wonder, with its striking, colorful stripes, is located about three hours from Cusco. The trek can be challenging due to the high altitude, but the breathtaking views and unique geological formations make it well worth the effort.

  1. Delving into Museums and Cultural Institutions

Museo Inka

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The Museo Inka, housed in a beautiful colonial mansion, offers an extensive collection of artifacts that provide insight into the Inca civilization. Exhibits include pottery, textiles, mummies, and ceremonial items. The museum also features detailed models of Inca sites, including Machu Picchu, helping visitors understand the grandeur of Inca architecture.

Pre-Columbian Art Museum (MAP)

Located in a restored colonial mansion, the Pre-Columbian Art Museum showcases a diverse collection of artifacts from various pre-Columbian cultures. The museum’s exhibits include ceramics, jewelry, and sculptures, offering a glimpse into the rich artistic traditions of ancient Peru. The museum’s setting and curation provide a serene and enlightening experience.

  1. Experiencing Cusco’s Festivals

Inti Raymi

One of Cusco’s most significant festivals is Inti Raymi, the Festival of the Sun, celebrated every June 24th. This event commemorates the winter solstice and honors the Inca sun god, Inti. The main ceremony takes place at Sacsayhuamán, providing a dramatic backdrop for the festivities.

Corpus Christi

Another major festival is Corpus Christi, celebrated 60 days after Easter. This religious event features processions of richly adorned saints and virgins from various churches in Cusco. The statues are paraded around the Plaza de Armas, accompanied by traditional music and dance. The festival is a vibrant display of Cusco’s blend of Inca and Catholic traditions.

  1. Gastronomic Delights

Peruvian Cuisine

Cusco’s culinary scene is a reflection of its rich cultural heritage. Visitors can enjoy traditional Peruvian dishes such as ceviche, lomo saltado, and cuy (guinea pig). Many restaurants in Cusco also offer innovative fusion cuisine, blending local ingredients with international flavors.

ChocoMuseo

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For those with a sweet tooth, a visit to ChocoMuseo is a must. This museum and workshop offer an interactive experience where visitors can learn about the history of chocolate, from bean to bar. The highlight is the opportunity to make your own chocolate, a fun and delicious activity for all ages.