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.
#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.
#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. It’s 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.
#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 place. Indigenous communities from around the valley sell handicrafts, traditional clothing and local specialties.
#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!
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
For less carving and more taste, try alpaca. With a texture 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.
#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.