I am a complete travel junky. You name the place and I will go! So, when my friend of two months, invited me to travel with her to Peru, I of course said yes! Our plan was to hike to Machu Picchu, but we decided to explore Cusco before beginning the trek I am so glad we did. Since you’ll also probably end up in this city at some point on your Peru trip, here are some things to do in Cusco besides Machu Picchu.
When most people think of Peru, they immediately think “Machu Picchu.” And for good reason — it’s an incredible site showcasing some of the best-preserved history in the world, and attracting around a million tourists a year. However, there is so much to do in nearby Cusco that shouldn’t be overlooked in your rush to Machu Picchu.
If you are traveling to Machu Picchu, you will likely fly into Cusco, Peru and begin your trek from there. My suggestion is that you take the time to explore the city of Cusco before heading off on your trek! I personally visited Cusco during Thanksgiving of November 2015. My group and I made sure to take a few extra days to not only adjust to the elevation but to also experience all that Cusco has to offer. There are some pretty exciting things you can do while in Cusco, so I have listed below a few of my favorites. Make sure to check them out!
1) STROLL AROUND THE PLAZA DE ARMAS
The Plaza de Armas is Cusco’s main square. If you visit this city you won’t be able to miss walking by this grand plaza. The square itself has is surrounded by beautiful architecture and colorful gardens, and contains both the Cathedral Church and the Church La Compania de Jesus. Enjoy sitting in the center and soaking up the sun or take a walking tour and learn about the history of the Plaza.
The Plaza has so many different activities to offer. One night, while staying in Cusco, we enjoyed having some Peruvian pizza and Pisco Sours and then headed to the chocolate factory (ChocoMuseo) for dessert. It was the perfect way to spend a night enjoying one another’s company and adjusting to the altitude change. The Plaza also offers a variety of pubs and nightlife. Lastly, just in case you were wondering, there is also a Starbucks in the square for those of you who can’t live without your basic latte.
2) TAKE AN ATV RIDE
Book an ATV tour to check out the Sacred Valley just outside of Cusco. You will begin your trip in Cusco and then head out to the open dirt roads and explore the beauty that this area has to offer. Whichever tour company you choose will provide you with a helmet and a handkerchief for your face — you will get dusty and maybe even muddy out there.
Tips: Make sure to wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. You can also combine your ATV tour to include visiting the salt flats and the Moray ruins, which I talk about in the next two paragraphs. So if this is your plan, bring a chance of clothes and maybe some wipes so clean the dirt off of your body.
3) VISIT THE SALT FLATS
So, this is where all our salt comes from! There are over 3,000 salt collection pools at these salt flats. It is such a visually stunning site to see. You have to pay a small fee to see this magnificent site, but it’s completely worth it. Be sure to dip your hand in and have a little taste! You won’t want to miss this stop. I booked my tour through Viator. You can follow this link to book yours as well.
4) EXPLORE THE MORAY RUINS
These Inca ruins are absolutely stunning! The Moray Ruins are located about 50km outside of Cusco in the Sacred Valley. It is thought that the Incas used this place to test and experiment with crops. This place is not very well known and very few people were there when I visited. Make sure to check it out before it becomes more touristy! You can book a tour to check out these ruins or take a taxi there yourself. (Again, don’t forget you can combine your salt flats tour with the Moray Ruins).
5) HOLD A BABY GOAT
You can’t miss out on the cutest photo opportunity out there! There are baby goats all over Peru and you can pay a small amount to hold one of them and take a picture. Trust me it’s worth it! They are so cute and friendly and it is a great picture for Instagram.
6) WALK THROUGH THE CUSCO MARKET
Walk on over to the San Pedro Market to get fresh fruit and veggies and much more! It is about an eight-minute walk south of Plaza de Armas. If you are interested in bringing home gifts for your family and friends, then this is the market for you. They have every souvenir you can think of, and they are willing to bargain with you! This website offers some further insight into the San Pedro Market in Cusco.
7) TRY A PISCO SOUR
This alcoholic cocktail comes has Peruvian origins and is a must try while in the country! This cocktail has a sweet/sour taste to it, hence the name Pisco “sour.” The “Pisco” is the base liquor that is used. The liquor is mixed with freshly squeezed lime juice, simple syrup, egg whites, Angostura bitters, and ice, and it’s a delicious and refreshing combination! The Pisco Sour was created back in the 1920s and has remained popular in the Peruvian culture ever since. Most places sell this drink, so it will not be difficult to find a spot to sit down and try this cocktail!
8) EAT AT NONNA TRATTORIA
All right, I know it sounds a little weird to suggest that you go to Cusco and eat some pizza, but honestly who doesn’t love pizza? The pizza at Nonna Trattoria is SO delicious! It is a cute little hole-in-the-wall that offers wood-fired pizza and, of course, delicious Pisco Sours. Plus, it was great service and reasonably priced!
Although this list is certainly not exhaustive of what to do while in Cusco, I hope it has helped give you some ideas about how much this area has to offer! If you’re heading to Peru to visit Machu Picchu, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to explore Cusco before beginning your trek. You’ll find delicious food and drinks, stunning natural landscapes, interesting cultural sites, welcoming people, and fun activities that will make for the trip of a lifetime.
Have you ever been to Peru? If you have any additional tips for our readers or questions please leave these in the comments below.
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