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Cusco Travel Tips: Everything You Need To Know


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Floria Hinkle



Welcome to Cusco, the mesmerizing city nestled high in the Andes Mountains of Peru. As the former capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco is steeped in history and rich in cultural heritage. This enchanting city is a popular destination for travelers from all around the world, attracting adventurers, history buffs, and nature lovers alike.


Cusco serves as the gateway to the famous Machu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. But Cusco itself is no less extraordinary, with its well-preserved colonial architecture, traditional markets, and vibrant atmosphere.


Stepping into Cusco is like stepping back in time, as you wander through narrow cobblestone streets lined with Inca ruins and buildings dating back to the Spanish colonial era. The blend of indigenous and Spanish influences is evident in every corner, from the intricately carved stonework to the vibrant festivals that fill the city with color and music.


Aside from its captivating history, Cusco also offers a plethora of outdoor adventures. Whether you’re exploring the iconic Sacred Valley, embarking on breathtaking treks, or challenging yourself with thrilling activities like white-water rafting or zip-lining, Cusco has something for everyone.


One of the highlights of any trip to Cusco is undoubtedly its gastronomy scene. From traditional Peruvian dishes to fusion cuisine, the city boasts a vibrant food culture that is sure to tantalize your taste buds.


With so much to see and do, it’s important to plan your visit to Cusco wisely. This comprehensive travel guide will provide you with all the essential information you need to make the most of your trip. From the best times to visit and how to get there, to where to stay, what to see, and where to eat, this guide has you covered.


So, get ready to embark on a journey through the heart of the Andes and immerse yourself in the magic of Cusco. Let’s dive into the enchanting world of this captivating city and discover why it has captured the hearts of travelers for centuries.


When to Visit Cusco

Cusco’s climate can vary greatly throughout the year, so choosing the right time to visit is crucial to ensure a pleasant and enjoyable experience. The city is located at high altitude, which means that temperatures can change rapidly throughout the day, and there are distinct wet and dry seasons.


The peak tourist season in Cusco runs from June to August, which coincides with the dry season. During these months, the weather is generally sunny, with clear skies and mild temperatures. However, it’s important to note that this is also the busiest time of year, with larger crowds and higher prices for accommodations and attractions.


If you prefer to avoid the crowds and take advantage of better deals, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons of April to May and September to October. These months offer a balance between good weather and fewer tourists. You’ll still enjoy relatively dry and pleasant conditions, but with slightly cooler temperatures.


November to March is the rainy season in Cusco, characterized by frequent showers and higher humidity. While this may not be the most ideal time for outdoor activities, it can still be a good time to visit if you don’t mind the rain. This is also the time when the landscapes are lush and green, offering a different perspective on the region’s beauty.


It’s important to keep in mind that the weather in Cusco can be unpredictable, no matter the season. We recommend packing layers of clothing, including a waterproof jacket or poncho, to be prepared for sudden changes in temperature and possible rain showers.


Ultimately, the best time to visit Cusco depends on your personal preferences and priorities. Consider the kind of experience you want to have and plan accordingly. Whether you choose to visit during the peak season or opt for a quieter time, Cusco’s beauty and charm will captivate you regardless of when you go.


How to Get to Cusco

Getting to Cusco is relatively easy, thanks to its well-connected transportation options. Whether you’re coming from within Peru or from abroad, there are several ways to reach this enchanting city.


If you’re flying from outside of Peru, the main point of entry is Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport. This airport has regular domestic and international flights, making it convenient for travelers from all over the world. From the airport, it’s a short 15-minute drive to the city center.


If you’re already in Peru, you have the option of taking a domestic flight to Cusco. Several major airlines operate daily flights from Lima and other major cities in the country. The flight from Lima to Cusco takes approximately one hour, offering breathtaking views of the Andes Mountains.


Another popular and scenic way to reach Cusco is by train. The PeruRail and Inca Rail services offer routes from various destinations, including Ollantaytambo, Pisac, and Aguas Calientes (the base town for Machu Picchu). The train journey allows you to fully appreciate the stunning landscapes of the Sacred Valley while enjoying a comfortable and relaxing ride.


For those who have more time and an adventurous spirit, traveling to Cusco by bus is also an option. Peru’s extensive bus network connects Cusco with various cities and towns, both within the country and from neighboring countries like Bolivia and Ecuador. However, keep in mind that long-distance bus journeys can be quite lengthy and may not be the most comfortable option.


Once you arrive in Cusco, getting around the city is easy. The city center is relatively compact and can be explored on foot. Taxis and ride-sharing services like Uber are available for longer or more convenient journeys. It’s important to note that the streets of Cusco are narrow and often filled with pedestrians, so be prepared for some traffic congestion.


Now that you know how to get to Cusco, it’s time to start planning your journey to this captivating city. Whether you choose to fly, take the scenic train, or embark on an adventurous bus ride, the beauty of Cusco and its rich cultural heritage await.


Accommodation Options in Cusco

Cusco offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit different budgets and preferences. From luxury hotels to cozy guesthouses and budget-friendly hostels, there’s something for every type of traveler.


The city center of Cusco, particularly around Plaza de Armas, is the most popular area to stay due to its convenient location and abundance of amenities. Here, you’ll find a mix of boutique hotels and upscale establishments offering luxurious accommodations and top-notch services. These hotels often feature colonial-style architecture and stunning views of the city or nearby mountains.


If you’re looking for a more authentic experience, there are numerous guesthouses and bed-and-breakfasts scattered throughout the city. These properties are often family-run and provide personalized service, giving you a feel for the local culture and hospitality. Many guesthouses are housed in traditional buildings with charming courtyards and gardens, adding to the overall ambiance.


For budget-conscious travelers, there are plenty of hostels in Cusco that offer dormitory-style rooms or private rooms at affordable prices. These hostels are a great option for meeting fellow travelers and often provide communal areas where guests can relax and socialize. Some hostels even offer additional services such as cooking facilities, organized activities, and bike rentals.


For those seeking a more alternative and unique experience, Cusco also has options like eco-lodges and homestays. Eco-lodges allow you to stay close to nature while minimizing your environmental impact, with accommodations ranging from rustic cabins to comfortable lodges surrounded by breathtaking landscapes. Homestays, on the other hand, provide an opportunity to live with a local family, immersing yourself in Peruvian culture and traditions.


When choosing your accommodation in Cusco, consider factors such as location, facilities, and amenities that are important to you. It’s recommended to book in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons, to secure your preferred choice and avoid last-minute hassles.


Whether you’re looking for luxury, comfort, or a budget-friendly option, Cusco’s accommodation options have something for every traveler. So, take your pick and make your stay in Cusco a memorable and comfortable one.


Sightseeing and Activities in Cusco

Cusco is a treasure trove of cultural and historical landmarks, offering a wide array of sightseeing opportunities and exciting activities for visitors. Immerse yourself in the magic of this enchanting city as you explore its fascinating attractions.


Start your exploration with a visit to the iconic Plaza de Armas, the heart of Cusco. This bustling square is surrounded by stunning colonial buildings and is the perfect place to soak in the atmosphere of the city. Admire the impressive Cusco Cathedral with its stunning architecture and magnificent artwork.


Don’t miss the chance to explore the ancient ruins of Sacsayhuaman, located just outside of the city. This colossal Inca fortress boasts massive stone walls and offers mesmerizing panoramic views of Cusco. Take your time to marvel at the incredible craftsmanship of the Inca civilization.


Continue your journey through history by visiting the Qorikancha, also known as the Temple of the Sun. This sacred site was once the most important religious complex of the Inca Empire, and its walls were once adorned with gold and precious stones.


For art enthusiasts, a visit to the Museo de Arte Precolombino is a must. This museum houses an impressive collection of ancient Peruvian artifacts and offers a glimpse into the rich history and artistic legacy of the various pre-Columbian civilizations that thrived in the region.


No visit to Cusco would be complete without exploring the vibrant San Pedro Market. This bustling market is a feast for the senses, with colorful stalls selling fresh produce, local handicrafts, and traditional street food. Taste flavorsome Peruvian dishes, try exotic fruits, and pick up unique souvenirs.


If you’re up for an adventure, embark on a hike up to the Rainbow Mountain. This awe-inspiring natural wonder boasts vibrant hues of red, yellow, and green, creating a surreal landscape. The hike may be challenging, but the reward of witnessing this extraordinary sight is well worth the effort.


For a glimpse into the traditional culture of Cusco, visit the traditional neighborhoods of San Blas and San Cristobal. These charming and picturesque areas are home to local craftsmen and artisans, offering a chance to witness their creative processes and purchase unique handmade goods.


These are just a few of the countless sightseeing opportunities and activities that Cusco has to offer. Whether you’re exploring ancient ruins, indulging in local cuisine, or immersing yourself in the vibrant markets, Cusco guarantees an unforgettable experience that will leave you in awe of its rich history and cultural heritage.


Exploring the Sacred Valley

Just outside of Cusco lies the enchanting Sacred Valley, a region full of breathtaking natural landscapes, ancient ruins, and vibrant indigenous communities. Exploring the Sacred Valley is a must for any visitor to Cusco, offering a deeper understanding of the Andean culture and the legacy of the Inca civilization.


Start your journey through the Sacred Valley with a visit to the town of Pisac. Here, you’ll find the famous Pisac Ruins, a sprawling archaeological site perched high on a mountain ridge. Explore the terraced agricultural terraces, admire the intricate stone craftsmanship, and enjoy panoramic views of the valley.


Continue your exploration by making your way to the small town of Ollantaytambo. This town is home to one of the best-preserved Inca sites in Peru, known as Ollantaytambo Ruins. These ruins served as a strategic fortress and temple complex and offer a fascinating glimpse into the Inca military and religious practices.


While in Ollantaytambo, take the opportunity to visit the local market, where you can find traditional textiles, handicrafts, and fresh produce. Engage with the friendly locals and immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of this quaint town.


Another highlight of the Sacred Valley is the Salinas de Maras, a unique site consisting of thousands of salt pans nestled among the mountains. The salt has been harvested here since Inca times and is still produced through traditional methods. Take a stroll through the maze-like salt pans and witness the mesmerizing hues created by the sunlight reflecting off the salt.


If you’re up for a challenging hike, visit the stunning ruins of Moray. These circular agricultural terraces were used by the Incas as an experimental agricultural laboratory. The temperature difference between the different levels of the terraces created microclimates, allowing the Incas to cultivate a wide variety of crops.


Whether you choose to explore the Sacred Valley on a guided tour, by renting a car, or by taking local transportation, the region offers a wealth of natural beauty and historical significance. Immerse yourself in the timeless landscapes, discover hidden gems, and connect with the rich Andean culture that still thrives in the Sacred Valley today.


Machu Picchu: The Jewel of Cusco

No visit to Cusco would be complete without a trip to the crown jewel of the region: Machu Picchu. Known as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, this ancient Inca citadel is a true testament to the ingenuity and architectural brilliance of the Inca civilization.


Machu Picchu is nestled high in the Andes Mountains, surrounded by lush greenery and dramatic peaks. This awe-inspiring site was built in the 15th century and was believed to have been a royal estate or sacred religious site for the Inca rulers. However, it was abandoned and forgotten for centuries until its rediscovery in 1911 by American explorer Hiram Bingham.


Visiting Machu Picchu is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will leave you mesmerized. The site itself is divided into two main areas: the agricultural zone, featuring terraces carved into the steep slopes, and the urban area, consisting of intricate stone structures and temples.


One of the most iconic features of Machu Picchu is the Intihuatana, or the “Hitching Post of the Sun.” This stone monument was used by the Incas as a solar observatory and was believed to hold spiritual significance.


To reach Machu Picchu, you have a couple of options. The most popular way is to take the Inca Trail, a multi-day trek that offers breathtaking views and the opportunity to immerse yourself in the Andean landscapes. However, if time or physical fitness is a constraint, there are alternative routes such as the shorter Inca Jungle Trek or taking a scenic train journey from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu.


It’s recommended to book your Machu Picchu visit in advance, as daily visitor numbers are limited to help preserve the site. Additionally, consider hiring a knowledgeable guide who can provide valuable insights into the history and significance of Machu Picchu.


Whether you choose to hike the Inca Trail, take an alternative route, or simply marvel at the splendor of Machu Picchu from the viewpoints, this archaeological wonder will leave a lasting impression on you. Be prepared to be transported back in time as you wander through the ancient stone structures and soak in the mystical atmosphere of this extraordinary site.


Cusco’s Culinary Delights

Exploring the culinary scene in Cusco is an essential part of experiencing the city’s vibrant culture. The Peruvian cuisine is renowned worldwide for its unique flavors and diverse culinary traditions, and Cusco offers a plethora of gastronomic delights that will tantalize your taste buds.


One must-try dish in Cusco is cuy, or guinea pig. While it may seem unusual to some, cuy has long been a traditional delicacy in the Andean region. Often served roasted or fried, it is known for its tender meat and distinct flavor. Don’t miss the opportunity to taste this local specialty and experience a true taste of the Andes.


Cusco is also a heaven for meat lovers, with dishes like alpaca and llama meat on the menu. Alpaca meat is lean and tender, often served grilled or in stews. Llama meat is slightly gamier, and dishes like Lomo de Llama (llama loin) showcase its unique flavor.


For those seeking vegetarian or vegan options, Cusco has a variety of delicious plant-based dishes. Quinoa, a staple in Andean cuisine, is often incorporated into hearty soups or used as a base for flavorful salads. Try a traditional Peruvian quinoa stew or quinoa salad with local vegetables for a wholesome and nutritious meal.


And of course, no visit to Cusco would be complete without trying ceviche, a popular dish made from fresh fish or seafood marinated in citrus juices and accompanied by onions, cilantro, and spices. The coastal influence on Peruvian cuisine shines through in this refreshing and zesty dish, which can be enjoyed at various seafood restaurants in Cusco.


Don’t forget to also sample some of the delicious local street food offerings scattered throughout the city. Anticuchos, skewered and grilled beef heart, is a popular street food snack that packs a flavorful punch. Pisco Sour, a cocktail made with Peru’s famous grape brandy, Pisco, is a must-try beverage that perfectly complements your culinary adventures.


To truly immerse yourself in the culinary culture of Cusco, consider taking a cooking class where you can learn to prepare traditional Peruvian dishes. Get hands-on experience in creating dishes like Causa, a layered potato dish, or Aji de Gallina, a creamy chicken stew flavored with yellow chili peppers.


With its vibrant and diverse flavors, Cusco’s culinary scene is sure to delight even the most discerning food enthusiasts. So, be prepared to indulge in a culinary journey through Peru’s rich culinary heritage and experience the unique flavors that make Peruvian cuisine so beloved around the world.


Shopping in Cusco

Shopping in Cusco is a delightful experience, offering a diverse range of traditional crafts, unique textiles, and artisanal products. Exploring the local markets and boutique shops is a must to find the perfect souvenirs and treasures to commemorate your visit to this vibrant city.


One of the best places to start your shopping adventure is the San Pedro Market, a bustling hub where locals and tourists alike gather to buy fresh produce, handicrafts, and textiles. Dive into the vibrant atmosphere as you browse through the stalls offering colorful textiles, alpaca wool products, handmade jewelry, and traditional Peruvian instruments.


Cusco is famous for its intricate and colorful textiles, woven with great skill and artistry. Visit the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco to learn about traditional weaving techniques and witness the creation of beautiful textiles firsthand. You can browse and purchase high-quality handwoven textiles, including ponchos, scarves, and blankets, directly from the weavers themselves.


For unique and one-of-a-kind pieces, explore the boutique shops and galleries scattered throughout Cusco’s historic center. These establishments often showcase the work of local artisans and designers, offering a selection of contemporary and innovative crafts, jewelry, and art pieces.


If you’re interested in traditional Andean ceramics, head to the district of Pisaq, home to a weekly market renowned for its ceramics and pottery. Here, you can find beautifully hand-painted ceramics depicting Inca symbols, traditional designs, and vibrant colors.


Another popular shopping destination is the town of Chinchero, known for its community of skilled weavers. Take the opportunity to visit the weaving workshops and cooperative stores to purchase authentic handwoven goods and support the local artisans.


When shopping in Cusco, remember to engage in friendly bargaining when purchasing goods from street vendors or at markets. It’s part of the local culture, and you may be able to secure a better deal. However, be respectful and mindful of fair prices, ensuring that you are paying a reasonable amount for the craftsmanship and quality of the products.


Shopping in Cusco is not just about acquiring beautiful souvenirs but also about supporting the local communities and preserving traditional craftsmanship. Take your time to explore the various shopping options, interact with the artisans, and bring home unique and meaningful mementos that will forever remind you of your time in this extraordinary city.


Safety Tips for Traveling in Cusco

While Cusco is generally a safe destination for travelers, it’s important to take precautions to ensure a smooth and secure trip. Here are some essential safety tips to keep in mind when traveling in Cusco:


1. Altitude Awareness: Cusco is located at high altitude, so it’s important to take it easy and allow your body time to acclimate. Stay hydrated, avoid overexertion, and listen to your body’s signals. If you experience severe altitude sickness symptoms, seek medical attention promptly.


2. Secure Your Belongings: Keep a close eye on your belongings at all times, especially in crowded areas or popular tourist spots. Use a money belt or a secure bag to carry your valuables and avoid displaying expensive items or large amounts of cash.


3. Transportation Safety: Only use registered and licensed taxis or reliable ride-sharing services when getting around the city. If you’re taking public transportation, keep an eye on your belongings and be cautious of pickpockets.


4. Stay Informed: Stay updated on the current safety situation in Cusco by following local news and government travel advisories. Avoid any areas or activities that may pose risks, especially during protests or demonstrations.


5. Drink Bottled Water: To avoid stomach issues, stick to bottled water and avoid tap water when in Cusco. It’s also a good practice to wash your hands regularly or use hand sanitizer before eating.


6. Protect Against Altitude Sickness: Some visitors may experience altitude sickness when arriving in Cusco. To minimize the risk, take it easy during the first few days, avoid heavy meals and alcohol, and consult with a healthcare professional regarding preventative medication if needed.


7. Respect Local Culture: Cusco has a rich cultural heritage, so it’s important to be respectful of local customs and traditions. Dress modestly when visiting religious sites and be mindful of local etiquette.


8. Stay Connected: Ensure that you have a way to communicate with others, whether it’s a local SIM card for your phone or a portable Wi-Fi device. This will help you stay connected and navigate your way around the city more effectively.


9. Travel Insurance: Consider purchasing comprehensive travel insurance to cover any unforeseen events, such as medical emergencies or trip cancellations. Check the policy details to ensure it covers high-altitude activities and any specific activities you plan to undertake.


10. Use Reliable Tour Operators: If you’re embarking on adventure activities or multi-day treks, choose reputable and licensed tour operators. Read reviews, ask for recommendations, and ensure they have proper safety measures in place.


By following these safety tips, you can have a memorable and worry-free trip to Cusco. Stay vigilant, be respectful of the local culture, and enjoy all that this captivating city has to offer.


Cultural Etiquette in Cusco

When visiting Cusco, it’s important to respect and embrace the local culture. Understanding and following the cultural etiquette will enhance your experience and show appreciation for the traditions and customs of the region. Here are some essential cultural etiquette tips to keep in mind:


1. Greet with Respect: When meeting locals in Cusco, it is customary to greet with a handshake and a friendly “buenos días” (good morning), “buenas tardes” (good afternoon), or “buenas noches” (good evening). Use polite titles like “Señor” (Mr.) or “Señora” (Mrs.) followed by the last name, unless given permission to use first names.


2. Dress Appropriately: Cusco is a city rich in history and tradition, and it is important to dress respectfully, especially when visiting religious sites. Avoid wearing revealing or offensive clothing, and opt for modest attire that covers shoulders and knees. This applies to both men and women.


3. Respect Sacred Sites: Cusco is home to many sacred sites and ancient ruins, which carry immense cultural and spiritual significance. When visiting these sites, show respect by staying on designated paths, not touching or removing any artifacts or stones, and refraining from making loud noises or disruptive behaviors.


4. Ask for Permission: If you wish to take a photo of a local person, especially indigenous individuals in traditional attire, always ask for permission first. Be respectful and sensitive to their privacy and cultural beliefs.


5. Support Local Artisans: Cusco is known for its vibrant artisan community and handmade crafts. When purchasing souvenirs or handicrafts, buy directly from local artisans or fair-trade shops. This supports the local economy and ensures that craftsmen receive fair compensation for their work.


6. Learn Basic Spanish Phrases: While many people in Cusco speak English, making an effort to speak basic Spanish phrases such as “hola” (hello), “por favor” (please), and “gracias” (thank you) will be appreciated by the locals and may even enhance your interactions.


7. Taste Local Cuisine: Embrace the culinary traditions of Cusco by trying traditional dishes and exploring the local flavors. Be open to new tastes and experiences, and show appreciation for the local food culture.


8. Follow Environmental Guidelines: Cusco’s natural beauty is a treasure that must be preserved. Respect the environment by following guidelines for waste disposal, avoiding littering, and minimizing your use of single-use plastics.


9. Participate Respectfully in Festivals: Cusco is known for its colorful and vibrant festivals throughout the year. If you have the opportunity to witness or participate in a cultural event, do so respectfully. Follow the instructions and guidelines given by organizers, and be mindful of the cultural and religious significance of the festivities.


10. Show Appreciation for Music and Dance: Music and dance are integral parts of the Peruvian culture. When attending traditional music or dance performances, show appreciation by clapping and engaging with the performers. Be respectful and observe performances without interrupting or causing disturbances.


By adhering to these cultural etiquette guidelines, you will demonstrate respect for the local traditions and enhance your cultural understanding and interactions during your time in Cusco.



Cusco, with its rich history, stunning landscapes, and vibrant culture, offers an enchanting experience for travelers. From exploring ancient ruins to indulging in delicious cuisine and immersing yourself in the warmth of local culture, Cusco has something for everyone.


Whether you’re marveling at the architectural wonders of Machu Picchu, shopping for unique handcrafted souvenirs, or hiking through the breathtaking landscapes of the Sacred Valley, Cusco will captivate you with its beauty and charm.


However, it’s important to travel responsibly and with respect for the local culture. Follow the cultural etiquette, be mindful of your surroundings, and take necessary safety precautions to ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip.


Immerse yourself in the vibrant markets, where you can find traditional textiles, ceramics, and other locally made products. Sample the diverse flavors of Peruvian cuisine, from cuy to alpaca meat, and savor the memorable dining experiences Cusco has to offer.


Take the time to explore the city’s historical sites, such as Plaza de Armas and the captivating ruins of Sacsayhuaman, soaking in the rich history and awe-inspiring architecture. Engage with the friendly locals, learn about their customs and traditions, and gain a deeper understanding of the Andean culture.


Cusco is a destination that will leave a lasting impression on your heart and soul. It’s a place where ancient traditions blend seamlessly with modern life, offering a unique and unforgettable travel experience.


So, pack your bags, prepare to be amazed, and embark on a journey through the heart of the Andes to discover the magic of Cusco. Let this captivating city envelop you in its beauty, and create memories that will last a lifetime.