7 Must See Sites in Cusco
Cusco Peru, nestled roughly 11,000 feet in the Andes mountain range, is a large city with plenty of culture to experience! While many people go through Cusco on their way to Machu Picchu, there’s also some interesting things to see there before you leave.
It’s even one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, with its rich history from the Inca’s to the Spanish Conquistadors, there’s no shortage of things to do and see in Cusco.
The following 7 places are in my opinion, some of the best places Cusco has to offer.
- Plaza De Armas
- San Blas
- San Pedro Market
- Sacred Valley
On the outskirts of Cusco (a tiring hike up the hillside) lay the Saqsaywaman citadel ruins. Originally built around 1,100 AD, the ruins were built by the Killke people and have the obvious architectural traits of the Inca where the rocks are placed together without mortar.
An important note when visiting the site is to have cash (sols) on hand and it costs around 70 sols per person depending on if you’re a student, local, etc. Don’t be like me and forget to bring money and assuming they’ll take card.
I personally loved walking the ruins and there is also an overlook so you can view the city of Cusco below. It’ll be easy to see the view and take it in if you leave in the morning, as there wasn’t much foot traffic around while we were there. By the afternoon the ruins did start to get a little crowded.
Noticeable from the Avenida El Sol (the main road cutting through Cusco), Qorikancha is another well preserved ruin from the Incan empire. While it was used for other reasons by the Inca, the Spanish Conquistadors built a church in its location during their conquest. While there is a lot of religious history surrounding the site, there are remains of the original Inca masonry.
To get into Qorikancha will cost roughly 15 sols so it’s very affordable and if you’re a history buff it’s well worth it!
Plaza De Armas
As you may have guessed from the name, this site is a plaza in Cusco. It’s the main square in Cusco where they have numerous shops, famous churches, and amazing restaurants.
The week we spent there had us stumbling through the square multiple times, whether it was to eat or as a meeting spot for guides. Each time we found our way to the square, there was some celebration or parade going on. If you’re there for a few days you’ll notice the same, the Cusco natives love to have festivals!
I strongly recommend checking out the churches in the square and trying the restaurants as the cuisine was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Our favorite was the Inca Grill, as it offered a small menu with nothing but great choices.
After visiting Plaza De Armas, why not make your way to San Blas? San Blas is north and northeast of Plaza De Armas and is up quite a few staircases.
One of my favorite parts of going to San Blas wasn’t just seeing the area, but the walk up to San Blas from Plaza de Armas. Taking the ancient Incan road to San Blas, you’ll see the infamous 12-angled stone wall and numerous shops along the way.
There is a lot of information on San Blas and depending on your interests there are a few possibilities on what to see, so I recommend checking this guide for Peru to help learn more about it!
San Pedro Market
You’ll eventually want some souvenirs and maybe some native cuisine, right? The San Pedro Market is the perfect place to pick up any neat gifts and souvenirs you may have noticed around (just make sure to bring cash, as not everyone takes cards).
They also have some very interesting choices for food, from meats to numerous kinds of potatoes. Be wary if you’re a vegan, as we were walking into the market in the morning, a man was carrying an entire pig through the walkway and most of the meat hasn’t been fully chopped on display.
The Sacred Valley
This was one of my favorite parts of the trip to Peru. Some of the Inca Trail passes through the valley, so you get to experience the history of the trail and see the gorgeous mountain ranges! When I say gorgeous, the views aren’t hard to be impressed by.
Although I can’t say for certain if I was impressed by the view, or delirious from the high altitude, either way it was an experience I’d gladly do again!
If you are as concerned for safety as I was, most of the hike we took was safe and even the parts that “seemed” like a drop off, were very secure, and on reaching them weren’t scary at all.
Another Inca site but it isn’t certain exactly what the purpose of it was. Whether it was a military outpost, or a spa house is still up for debate. It is a multi-terraced structure with numerous aqueducts and canals that run through the rocks.
There are tours to view the site as it’s on the border of Cusco and is usually best with a local explaining the history. If you’re looking for more information, I highly recommend this site.
FAQ’s and Tips about Cusco
What is the currency in Cusco Peru?
The officially currency of Peru is the Sol, also denoted as PEN.
How do I deal with altitude sickness?
Many people experience altitude sickness when they first travel to Cusco. It’s not much of a surprise that it may cause people some issue when the city itself is 3,400m (11,000ft) above sea level. So, to help cope, most places sell small tablets to conquer the altitude. Also make sure to stay very well hydrated as your body will be working a little harder to get oxygen. Finally, try some of the coca leaves! They aren’t bad for you and you will notice a slight difference and it will help the headaches.
What is the local language?
Spanish is the local language in Peru and if you’ve taken any formal general Spanish courses, you’ll notice it’s similar. While there are dialects depending on where you go, most of the Spanish in Cusco is easy to understand if you know the basics of formal Spanish.