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Cusco Travel Guide

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Cusco Travel Guide

Everything you need to know about traveling to Cusco, Peru.

Traveling in the Cusco region of Peru is a truly unforgettable experience, as it offers a rich blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. The area is home to Cusco, the former capital of the Inca Empire, which is now a vibrant city with a fascinating mix of Inca and Spanish colonial architecture. Exploring the cobblestone streets, you’ll find lively markets, colorful textiles, and enticing cuisine.

Beyond the city, the region boasts many archaeological sites, including the world-famous citadel of Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley with its terraced landscapes and Inca ruins, and the lesser-known but equally stunning Choquequirao ruins. The region also offers diverse outdoor activities such as trekking, mountain biking, river rafting and opportunities to experience traditional Andean culture in rural communities.

The Cusco region of Peru is undoubtedly worth visiting, as it is considered one of the top travel destinations in South America, if not the world. Its rich history, archaeological treasures, and natural beauty make it a must-see for travelers interested in exploring the roots of the Inca Empire and experiencing the authentic Andean culture.

The region offers something for everyone, whether you’re a history buff, an adventure seeker, or simply looking to immerse yourself in a unique and captivating destination. From the majestic Machu Picchu to the vibrant city of Cusco and the serene landscapes of the Sacred Valley, the Cusco region is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that should not be missed.

🗺️  Cusco Peru Map


✨ Cusco Travel Tips

  • Acclimate to the altitude: Cusco sits at an elevation of approximately 3,400 meters (11,200 feet) above sea level, so it’s essential to give yourself time to acclimate to the altitude. Spend at least a day or two in Cusco, taking it easy and staying hydrated, before venturing on to higher-altitude destinations or engaging in strenuous activities.
  • Learn some basic Quechua phrases: Although Spanish is widely spoken, Quechua is the native language of many people in the Cusco region. Learning a few basic phrases, such as “Ñawi” (hello) and “Solpayki” (thank you), can help you connect with locals and show respect for their culture.
  • Visit lesser-known archaeological sites: While Machu Picchu is undoubtedly the star attraction, the Cusco region is home to numerous other impressive sites worth exploring. Consider visiting lesser-known ruins like Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Moray, and Tipón to gain a deeper understanding of the Inca civilization.
  • Take advantage of the Boleto Turístico: The Cusco Tourist Ticket (Boleto Turístico) is a single ticket that provides entry to many attractions in and around Cusco, including museums, archaeological sites, and cultural events. Purchasing this ticket can save you money compared to paying individual entrance fees.
  • Explore the city’s culinary scene: Cusco is known for its diverse and delicious cuisine, so be sure to sample traditional dishes like alpaca, cuy (guinea pig), and quinoa-based meals. Don’t miss out on trying chicha morada, a refreshing, non-alcoholic beverage made from purple corn.
  • Dress in layers and prepare for varying weather: The weather in the Cusco region can be unpredictable, with temperature fluctuations throughout the day and sudden rain showers. Pack clothing that can be easily layered, as well as a lightweight rain jacket or poncho to stay comfortable and dry.
  • Be prepared for taxi negotiations: Unlike many other cities, taxis in Cusco generally do not have meters. Before getting into a taxi, make sure to negotiate the fare with the driver to avoid overpaying. It helps to ask locals or hotel staff for an approximate fare for your intended destination.
  • Respect local customs and sacred sites: When visiting indigenous communities or sacred sites, be respectful of local customs and traditions. Avoid touching or climbing on ancient structures, and always ask for permission before taking photos of people or cultural events.
  • Try a traditional healing ceremony: For a unique and immersive cultural experience, consider participating in a traditional Andean healing ceremony led by a local shaman. These ceremonies often involve the use of local plants and rituals to cleanse and balance your energy.
  • Plan your visit around local festivals: The Cusco region is famous for its vibrant festivals, such as Inti Raymi and Corpus Christi. By planning your visit around these events, you can experience the region’s rich cultural traditions and witness colorful processions, traditional music, and dance performances. Just be sure to book accommodations in advance, as these events can attract many visitors.
cuzco travel guide

🚦 Getting around Cusco

  • Local buses: In Cusco city and its surroundings, local buses, known as combis or colectivos, are an affordable and authentic way to get around. They typically have set routes and are easily identifiable by signs on their windshields displaying their destinations. Fares are generally less than 1 USD, but be prepared for crowded conditions during peak hours.
  • Taxis and mototaxis: Taxis are widely available in Cusco and can be hailed on the street, called through a taxi service, or found at designated taxi stands. Keep in mind that taxis in Cusco generally do not have meters, so negotiate the fare before starting the trip. Mototaxis, or motorcycle taxis, are a cheaper alternative for short distances within the city and smaller towns.
  • Train: The PeruRail and Inca Rail train services connect Cusco with the town of Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu. The train ride offers a comfortable and scenic journey through the Sacred Valley, with various classes of service available, from standard to luxury.
  • Long-distance buses: To travel between Cusco and other regions in Peru, long-distance buses are a popular and cost-effective option. Various bus companies offer services with different levels of comfort, from basic to VIP, and the quality of the buses and the safety standards can vary, so it is essential to choose a reputable company.
  • Private car or van: Renting a private car or hiring a driver with a vehicle can provide greater flexibility and convenience for exploring the region at your own pace. However, this option can be more expensive, and driving in the region may be challenging due to unfamiliar road conditions and traffic rules.
  • Guided tours and treks: For those who prefer a more structured experience, guided tours and treks can be an excellent way to explore the Cusco region. Many companies offer a variety of options, from day trips to multi-day adventures, with transportation, guides, and sometimes meals included.
  • Biking: Mountain biking is a popular activity in the Cusco region, and numerous operators offer guided biking tours. Renting a bike can also be a fun and eco-friendly way to explore the area on your own, though be prepared for challenging terrain and high altitudes.
  • On foot: Walking is an excellent way to explore Cusco’s historic center, as many streets are pedestrian-friendly and several attractions are within walking distance of each other. For more adventurous travelers, trekking is a popular way to access remote archaeological sites and experience the region’s stunning landscapes.
  • Horse riding: Some tour operators in the Cusco region offer horseback riding excursions, allowing you to explore the countryside and visit nearby archaeological sites in a unique and leisurely way.
  • Domestic flights: While not a primary mode of transportation within the region, domestic flights can be a convenient option for travelers looking to save time when traveling to or from Cusco. The Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport in Cusco offers flights to Lima and other cities in Peru.
cuzco travel guide

☀️ The best time to visit Cusco

The best months to visit the Cusco region for great weather are typically during the dry season, which runs from May to October. During these months, you can expect sunny days, clear skies, and milder temperatures, making it an ideal time for outdoor activities and exploring the region’s many archaeological sites, such as Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. June, July, and August are the most popular months for travel, offering the most stable weather conditions. However, be aware that nighttime temperatures can drop significantly, so it’s important to pack warm clothing for the evenings.

The cheapest months to visit Cusco coincide with the rainy season, which spans from November to April. During this time, you’ll find fewer tourists, lower accommodation prices, and better availability for tours and activities. While the weather can be more unpredictable, with frequent rain showers and overcast skies, the region’s natural beauty is still on display, with lush, green landscapes and fewer crowds at popular sites. If you’re looking to save money and don’t mind the possibility of encountering rain, traveling during the off-season can be a cost-effective option. To find a balance between weather and affordability, consider visiting Cusco during the shoulder months of April, May, October, or November, when prices are generally lower than during the peak season but the weather is still relatively pleasant.

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📍 Places to visit in Cusco

  • Machu Picchu: The most iconic and well-known attraction in the Cusco region, Machu Picchu is a breathtaking Inca citadel nestled in the Andean mountains. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
  • Cusco’s Historic Center: The former capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco’s historic center is a captivating blend of Inca and Spanish colonial architecture, with cobblestone streets, bustling plazas, and impressive structures.
  • Sacsayhuamán: This massive Inca fortress, located just outside Cusco, showcases impressive stone masonry skills and offers panoramic views of the city below. It is also the site of the annual Inti Raymi festival.
  • Sacred Valley: This fertile valley stretches from Pisac to Ollantaytambo and is home to numerous Inca ruins, traditional villages, and colorful markets. Key sites include Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and the Maras salt mines.
  • Rainbow Mountain (Vinicunca): Known for its striking, multi-colored geological formations, Rainbow Mountain is a popular day hike or multi-day trekking destination, offering a unique natural wonder and stunning Andean landscapes.
  • Qorikancha: Once the most important temple in the Inca Empire, the Qorikancha was converted into the Santo Domingo Church and Convent during the Spanish colonial era. The site showcases a fascinating blend of Inca and Spanish architecture.
  • Cusco Cathedral: Overlooking the Plaza de Armas, this stunning cathedral is an important religious and cultural site, featuring a mix of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architectural styles, as well as numerous important artworks.
  • San Pedro Market: This bustling market in Cusco is a vibrant and authentic place to sample local cuisine, purchase traditional textiles, and experience the region’s rich culture.
  • Moray Archaeological Site: An intriguing Inca site with circular agricultural terraces believed to have been used as an experimental agricultural laboratory, Moray showcases the region’s agricultural history and Inca ingenuity.
  • Choquequirao Ruins: Often referred to as the “sister city” of Machu Picchu, the remote Inca site of Choquequirao is accessible only by a challenging multi-day trek, offering a more off-the-beaten-path archaeological experience.
  • Tipón Archaeological Complex: This lesser-known Inca site features impressive terraces and sophisticated water channels, showcasing the Inca’s advanced agricultural and hydraulic engineering skills.
  • Pisac Ruins and Market: The Pisac archaeological site boasts impressive Inca ruins with stunning views of the Sacred Valley, while the nearby Pisac market is a vibrant place to shop for traditional textiles and handicrafts.
  • Ollantaytambo Fortress: This well-preserved Inca fortress and town in the Sacred Valley features impressive terraces, temples, and storehouses, offering insights into the Inca’s urban planning and architectural skills.
  • Maras Salt Mines: These ancient salt evaporation ponds near the town of Maras have been in use since pre-Inca times. The visually stunning terraced pools are still actively harvested today, providing an interesting look at traditional salt production.
  • Chinchero Village: Known for its traditional weaving cooperatives and Sunday market, Chinchero is a charming village where you can learn about Andean textile production, support local artisans, and experience the region’s rich cultural heritage.
ancash travel guide

🏖️ Top things to do in Cusco

  • Explore Machu Picchu: No visit to the Cusco region is complete without seeing the iconic Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. This UNESCO World Heritage site is nestled in the Andean mountains and offers a unique glimpse into the Inca civilization. Choose between taking the train to Aguas Calientes or embarking on a multi-day trek, such as the Inca Trail or the Salkantay Trek.
  • Discover the Sacred Valley: The Sacred Valley of the Incas is a fertile region stretching from Pisac to Ollantaytambo. Rich in history and natural beauty, the valley is home to numerous Inca ruins, traditional villages, and vibrant markets. Popular sites include the Pisac ruins and market, the Ollantaytambo fortress, and the Maras salt mines.
  • Wander through Cusco’s historic center: Cusco’s historic center is a captivating mix of Inca and Spanish colonial architecture. Stroll through the narrow cobblestone streets, visit the Plaza de Armas, admire the stunning Cusco Cathedral, and explore the Qorikancha, an Inca temple converted into a Catholic church.
  • Experience the San Pedro Market: Immerse yourself in local culture and flavors at the bustling San Pedro Market. Sample traditional dishes, purchase colorful textiles, and browse the vibrant stalls selling everything from fresh produce to handicrafts.
  • Hike to the Rainbow Mountain: Vinicunca, also known as Rainbow Mountain, is famous for its striking, multi-colored geological formations. A challenging day hike or a multi-day trek will take you through remote Andean landscapes to this natural wonder.
  • Visit the ruins of Sacsayhuamán: Just outside Cusco, the impressive Inca fortress of Sacsayhuamán offers panoramic views of the city and showcases the Inca’s extraordinary stone masonry skills. The site is also home to the annual Inti Raymi festival, celebrating the Inca Sun God.
  • Participate in a traditional weaving workshop: The Cusco region is renowned for its exquisite textiles. Visit a local weaving cooperative, such as those in the village of Chinchero, to learn about traditional weaving techniques and support the local economy.
  • Attend a local festival: Time your visit to coincide with one of Cusco’s many vibrant festivals, such as Inti Raymi or Corpus Christi. These events provide a unique opportunity to experience traditional Andean music, dance, and cuisine.
  • Trek to the Choquequirao ruins: Often referred to as the “sister city” of Machu Picchu, the remote Inca site of Choquequirao is accessible only by a challenging multi-day trek. The journey takes you through diverse landscapes and offers a more off-the-beaten-path experience.
  • Explore the Moray archaeological site: Moray is an intriguing Inca site featuring circular agricultural terraces that descend into the earth. Believed to have been an experimental agricultural laboratory, the site offers a fascinating look at Inca ingenuity and the region’s agricultural history.
cuzco travel guide

🍲 Food from Cusco: what to eat

  • Cuy al Horno: Cuy, or guinea pig, is a traditional Andean dish and a delicacy in the Cusco region. Cuy al Horno is roasted guinea pig, seasoned with local herbs and spices, and typically served with potatoes and a spicy sauce.
  • Lomo Saltado: A popular Peruvian dish with Chinese influences, Lomo Saltado consists of stir-fried beef, tomatoes, onions, and peppers, seasoned with soy sauce and vinegar. It is typically served with French fries and rice.
  • Alpaca Anticuchos: Alpaca is a lean, tender meat with a delicate flavor. Anticuchos are skewers of marinated alpaca meat, grilled over an open flame and served with boiled potatoes and a spicy rocoto sauce.
  • Chiriuchu: A traditional dish served during the Corpus Christi festival, Chiriuchu is a cold platter consisting of various ingredients, including roasted guinea pig, chicken, corn, cheese, sausage, and seaweed. Each ingredient represents a different aspect of Cusco’s diverse culture and history.
  • Rocoto Relleno: This dish features rocoto peppers, a spicy Andean variety, stuffed with a mixture of minced meat, onions, garlic, olives, and spices. The stuffed peppers are then topped with cheese and baked, usually accompanied by potatoes or rice.
  • Sopa a la Criolla: This hearty soup is made with beef, onions, tomatoes, and noodles, seasoned with spices like cumin and paprika. Sopa a la Criolla is often served with a poached egg and a slice of bread.
  • Quinoa Soup: Quinoa, a highly nutritious grain native to the Andes, is the star of this traditional soup. It is typically prepared with vegetables, potatoes, and sometimes meat or chicken, creating a nourishing and comforting dish.
  • Tamales: A popular breakfast food in Cusco, tamales are made from corn masa (dough) filled with seasoned meat, cheese, or vegetables, wrapped in a corn husk, and steamed. They are often enjoyed with a cup of hot chocolate or coffee.
  • Causa Rellena: A cold, layered dish made from mashed potatoes, Causa Rellena is typically filled with a mixture of chicken or tuna, avocado, and mayonnaise. It is seasoned with aji amarillo, a Peruvian yellow chili pepper, giving it a spicy kick.
  • Adobo de Chancho: This flavorful pork stew is a traditional Sunday morning dish in Cusco. Pork is marinated in a mix of chicha de jora (fermented corn beer), garlic, aji panca (red chili pepper), and spices, then slow-cooked until tender. Adobo de Chancho is usually served with bread for dipping into the rich, savory sauce.
cuzco travel guide

🛏️ Cusco Hotels & Accommodations

In the Cusco region of Peru, you’ll find a wide range of accommodation options to suit different budgets and preferences. Here are some common types of accommodations with approximate price ranges in USD:

  • Hostels: Popular among backpackers and budget travelers, hostels offer dormitory-style rooms and sometimes private rooms as well. They often include shared facilities, such as bathrooms, kitchens, and common areas. Prices typically range from $5 to $20 per night for a dorm bed, depending on the hostel’s location and amenities.
  • Budget hotels: Budget hotels provide basic private rooms with en-suite bathrooms and standard amenities, such as Wi-Fi and daily housekeeping. Prices can range from $20 to $50 per night for a double room.
  • Mid-range hotels: These hotels offer more comfortable and well-appointed rooms, often including additional amenities like on-site restaurants, bars, or fitness centers. Prices for a double room in a mid-range hotel usually range from $50 to $150 per night.
  • Boutique hotels: Boutique hotels in the Cusco region often feature unique design elements, personalized service, and a more intimate atmosphere. They can be found in both the city and surrounding areas, with prices ranging from $100 to $300 per night for a double room.
  • Luxury hotels: Offering the highest level of comfort and service, luxury hotels in Cusco typically have premium amenities such as spa facilities, gourmet restaurants, and concierge services. Prices for a double room in a luxury hotel can range from $200 to over $500 per night.
  • Bed and breakfasts: Bed and breakfasts provide a more homely atmosphere, with private rooms and a home-cooked breakfast included in the price. They can be found in various locations throughout the Cusco region, with prices ranging from $30 to $100 per night for a double room.
  • Guesthouses: Similar to bed and breakfasts, guesthouses offer private rooms in a more residential setting, often run by local families. Prices for a double room in a guesthouse can range from $20 to $80 per night.
  • Vacation rentals: Vacation rentals, such as apartments, houses, or villas, are available for short-term stays in the Cusco region. They offer more space, privacy, and flexibility than traditional hotel accommodations and are ideal for families or groups. Prices can vary greatly depending on the size, location, and quality of the property, ranging from $50 to several hundred dollars per night.
  • Homestays: For a more immersive cultural experience, consider a homestay with a local family in the Cusco region. Homestays typically include a private room and meals, with prices ranging from $15 to $50 per night.
  • Eco-lodges and haciendas: Located in rural areas or close to nature reserves, eco-lodges and haciendas offer accommodations that focus on sustainable and responsible tourism practices. They often provide unique experiences, such as farm stays or nature excursions, with prices ranging from $50 to $300 per night for a double room.
cuzco travel guide

💵 Cost of travel to Cusco

Accommodation prices in Cusco

Accommodation prices in the Cusco region of Peru can vary greatly depending on the type of lodging and location. Budget travelers can find dorm beds in hostels starting from $8 to $15 per night, while private rooms in guesthouses or budget hotels range from $20 to $50 per night. Mid-range hotels and boutique accommodations typically cost between $50 and $150 per night, and luxury hotels or high-end boutique properties can range from $150 to $500+ per night.

Food prices in Cusco

Food prices in Cusco can cater to a wide range of budgets. Local markets and street food vendors offer affordable meals for $1 to $4, while casual restaurants or cafes may charge $4 to $10 for a main dish. More upscale dining experiences at high-end restaurants can range from $15 to $50+ per person, depending on the establishment and menu choices. In general, dining in Cusco tends to be less expensive than in Lima, but prices can be higher in heavily touristed areas.

Tour prices in Cusco

Tour prices in the Cusco region are dependent on the type of activity, duration, and level of service. A one-day guided tour of the Sacred Valley can cost between $20 and $50 per person, while a two-day guided tour to Machu Picchu, including transportation and accommodation, may range from $200 to $400 per person. Multi-day treks, such as the Inca Trail or Salkantay Trek, can range from $500 to $1500+ per person, depending on the trekking company and level of service provided.

Transportation costs in Cusco

Transportation costs within Cusco and the surrounding region can vary depending on the mode of transport and distance. Local buses within the city are very affordable, typically costing less than $1 per ride. For longer journeys, such as to the Sacred Valley, colectivos (shared vans) and minibuses are popular options, with fares ranging from $1 to $5 per person. Taxis are more expensive, with short rides in Cusco costing around $3 to $6, while longer trips can be negotiated for $20 to $50. Train tickets to Machu Picchu can range from $50 to $200 one-way, depending on the class of service and time of year.

cuzco travel guide

🏧 ATMs, credit cards, and more!

ATMs in Cusco

ATM withdrawals in Cusco are convenient and widely available throughout the city and major tourist areas. The best Peruvian banks for ATM withdrawals are Banco de Crédito del Perú (BCP), Interbank, Scotiabank, and BBVA. These banks generally offer reliable services, and their ATMs are compatible with international cards. However, it’s important to be aware of withdrawal fees and daily limits imposed by your home bank, as well as the Peruvian banks.

Using credit cards in Cusco

Credit cards are widely accepted in Cusco, especially in hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions. Visa and Mastercard are the most commonly accepted cards, followed by American Express and Diners Club. However, smaller establishments, local markets, and rural areas may only accept cash, so it’s a good idea to carry some Peruvian soles with you.

Currency exchange in Cusco

Currency exchange in Cusco can be done at banks, exchange bureaus (Casas de Cambio), and some hotels. It’s generally recommended to exchange money at reputable Casas de Cambio, as they often offer better rates and lower fees than banks or hotels. The US dollar is the most widely accepted foreign currency, but other major currencies like the euro and British pound can also be exchanged. Avoid exchanging money on the street, as it may lead to scams or counterfeit bills.

Tipping culture in Cusco

Tipping culture in Cusco and the rest of Peru varies depending on the situation. In restaurants, a tip of 10% to 15% is customary for good service. For hotel staff, such as bellboys and housekeepers, a small tip of 1 to 3 soles is appreciated. For tour guides and drivers, tipping is not obligatory, but a tip of 10 to 20 soles per day for guides and 5 to 10 soles per day for drivers is common for exceptional service. Tipping is generally not expected in taxis, but rounding up the fare is a nice gesture.

cuzco travel guide

🤑 Cusco Money-Saving Tips

  • Plan ahead: Booking accommodations, transportation, and tours in advance can help you secure better deals and avoid last-minute price increases, especially during peak tourist seasons.
  • Eat like a local: Avoid touristy restaurants and opt for smaller, local eateries, where you can find delicious, traditional Peruvian cuisine at a fraction of the cost. Look for “menu del día” or set lunch menus, which offer a multi-course meal at an affordable price.
  • Use public transportation: Instead of relying on taxis or private transfers, make use of Cusco’s local buses or colectivos (shared vans) to get around. They are significantly cheaper and will give you an authentic experience of local life.
  • Bargain at markets: When shopping at local markets or street vendors, don’t be afraid to negotiate prices, as bargaining is a common practice in Peru. Just be respectful and fair in your negotiations.
  • Free or low-cost attractions: Look for free or low-cost activities and attractions, such as exploring Cusco’s historic center, visiting the San Pedro Market, or attending free cultural events and festivals.
  • Stay in budget accommodations: Opt for budget-friendly accommodations like hostels, guesthouses, or budget hotels, which can offer significant savings compared to mid-range or luxury options.
  • Travel in the off-season: Traveling to Cusco during the off-peak season (November to April) can help you save on accommodations and tours, as prices tend to be lower during these months. However, be prepared for more unpredictable weather, as this period overlaps with the rainy season.
  • Group tours and discounts: When booking tours or activities, inquire about group discounts or join group tours, which are often more cost-effective than private options.
  • Use a local SIM card: If you need mobile data during your trip, consider purchasing a local SIM card from one of the main providers (Claro, Movistar, or Entel) instead of relying on international roaming, which can be expensive.
  • Limit ATM withdrawals: To avoid accumulating fees for ATM withdrawals, plan your cash needs in advance and make larger withdrawals less frequently. Also, use ATMs from reputable banks to minimize the risk of additional charges or fraud.