Cusco & The Sacred Valley: 10x To Do, See & Eat

Peru’s Cusco region has something on offer for everyone. Savor Andean specialties, explore the Inca Empire or hike through stunning landscapes. These are ten activities not to be missed in and around Cusco.

DO

#1- Machu Picchu

Given the hour of stair-climbing that leads up to this Wonder of the World, a visit to Machu Picchu definitely falls into the “DO” category. And that’s not taking into account the numerous possibilities to climb the surrounding mountains. If you search more action and sweeping views, consider hiking the four-day Salkantay trekking to Machu Picchu.

IMG_0303.JPG

#2- Rainbow Mountain

The trek to Vinicunca Mountain is becoming increasingly popular, and with good reason. The view over the colorful mountain ridge is simply breathtaking. Its the high altitude that makes this hike somewhat challenging. At 5,200 meter above sea level, every step feels like ten. Waking up at 3:00 AM for your hotel pick-up adds to the challenge. But that’s all quickly forgotten when you make it to the top – albeit on the back of a mule like many. Destiny Peru Tours offers one-day treks from Cusco at very reasonable prices.

IMG_0106IMG_0088.JPG

#3- Pisac Market & Ruins

At a short bus ride from Cusco awaits the town of Pisac. The Inca ruins in Pisac lie atop a hill, which comes with a stunning view of the valley. Guides are available for just a couple of dollars and bring the heaps of stone to life. Make the most out of your trip by going on a Sunday morning, when the colorful Pisac Market takes places. Indigenous communities from around the valley sell handicrafts, traditional clothing and local specialties.

IMG_0042.JPGIMG_0034.JPG

#4- Ollantaytambo Ruins

You might have reached your saturation point for Inca ruins by now, but the town of Ollantaytambo deserves an extra push. If not for the ruins, for another sweeping view of the Sacred Valley. The Intitambo Hotel in Ollantaytambo has you waking up with sunrise over the ruins. We hired a driver to take us on a beautiful trip through the Sacred Valley, from Ollantaytambo to Moray and Maras and back to Cusco. His five-year old son tagged along as cute copilot!

IMG_0347.JPG

See

#5- Moray & Maras

Two very different sites separated by just a 15-minute drive, both Moray and Maras deserve a visit. The circular terraces of Moray are believed to have served as an agricultural laboratory in Inca times. The different levels allowed them to test different crops. Despite the clever explanation, Moray keeps a mysterious feel to it! Another ingenious system is the Maras salt mines, in use since pre-Inca times. The salt squares make for great pictures and delicious take-home gifts.

IMG_0350.jpgIMG_0366.JPG

#6- Cusco View From San Blas

Besides being a hub for exploring the Sacred Valley, Cusco is a great attraction on its own. San Blas’ cobble stone streets lead to great views on the red roofs of Cusco. Samay Wasi Hostel is a backpacker’s heaven in the middle of San Blas. The view from the terrace is easily worth more than the modest room price.

IMG_3672.JPG

#7- Plaza de Armas

Cusco’s main attraction is the beautiful Plaza de Armas. The Cathedral is flanked by colonial establishments, offering front row seats on their antique balconies. For a laid-back experience with stunning views of the Cathedral, head to Nuevo Mundo draft bar.

IMG_0391.JPG

EAT

#8- Cusco’s Cuy

No visit to Peru’s Andes region would be complete without carving into a cute little cuy. We keep guinea pigs as pets in Belgium, so it pretty much felt like eating a cat to me. Luckily, Pachapapa’s outdoor patio came with dimmed lighting. Even if you’re not tempted to try cuy, stop by Pachapapa for its live music, amazing cocktails and delicious causa.

IMG_3704.jpg

#9- Alpaca

For less carving and more taste, try alpaca. With a structure similar to a juicy steak, alpaca brings a unique flavor to the table. Enjoy this delicate piece of meat in Cusco’s Marco Batata restaurant. The view of the Cathedral will make you savor every single bite.

IMG_3687IMG_3680

#10- Chicha Morada

This local drink could just as well serve as a meal. Chicha Morada gets its taste and unique color from purple corn. Local Cusco joint La Chomba Ajha Wasi serves both the non-fermented and fermented (alcoholic) version. They both come bucket-sized.

IMG_3696.jpg