Welcome to Cusco, Peru, the unique ancient Inca capital. Full of mystical places and legendary attractions, there are so many things to see in Cusco.
After spending almost a month in town, we know the city quite well by now.
So if you’re wondering what to see in Cusco, you’ve come to the right place. Because in this article you’ll find a practical Cusco 2 day itinerary to follow including amazing sights in Cusco and the surrounding area, as well as some practical travel tips for the region.
So let’s dive right in and spend 2 amazing days in Cusco.
What to find out in this post
- 1 Cusco, Peru Facts
- 2 Where is Cusco?
- 3 How to get to Cusco
- 4 Cusco Transport – How to get around the city
- 5 Where to stay in Cusco
- 6 Cusco 2 Day Itinerary – What to see in Cusco in 2 days
- 7 2 Days in Cusco – Day 1: Cusco’s Historical City Center
- 8 Day 1 Afternoon Options
- 9 Peru Itinerary – Day 2
- 10 More things to do in Cusco
- 11 *The Boleto Turístico
- 12 The best (Day-) Trips from Cusco
- 13 More helpful Cusco Travel Tips
- 14 FAQ about traveling to Cusco
Cusco, Peru Facts
- also spelled Cuzco, Qusqu or Kusko
- Name also means “center of the world“
- Situated at an altitude of 3,416 meters/11,200 ft.
- Historical capital of the Inca Empire
- UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983
- Capital of the region of the same name
Where is Cusco?
Cusco is located in the center of the Peruvian Andes highlands at 3,416 meters/11,200 ft. above sea level in the region of the same name. The former Inca capital is located about 75 km/47 mi from the modern wonder of the world Machu Picchu and just under 570 km/355 mi from the Peruvian capital Lima.
How to get to Cusco
In general, you can travel to Cusco by different means of transportation. In the following paragraph, you will find the different ways to reach Cusco.
Getting to Cusco by airplane
Alejando Velasco Astete Airport, which connects Cusco mainly with the capital Lima and the international cities of La Paz and Bogota, is located very close to Cusco.
Therefore, those who change planes in one of the mentioned cities can reach Cusco from international and intercontinental points of departure. Arriving in Cusco by plane is probably the most comfortable option and is therefore preferred by many travelers.
As always, you should book your flight well in advance and compare prices on price comparison sites like Skyscanner.
Fun Fact: Construction is currently underway on Chinchero Airport, which is scheduled for completion in 2024 and will replace Cusco’s airport.
Getting to Cusco by bus
If you want to have the lowest possible risk against altitude sickness (more about this later), you probably want to travel to Cusco by bus. There are trips from many national, but also international destinations (e.g. La Paz or Copacabana in Bolivia).
Since Cusco is high up in the Andes, the ride here can be quite bumpy and long. From the capital Lima, it is around 22 – 25 hours. If you don’t want to spend so much time on the bus, you can plan stopovers e.g. in Arequipa.
Bus tickets for Peru can either be bought on-site at the bus terminal (for long trips, it’s best to buy 1-2 days in advance) or online via bus comparison sites like Busbud.
Getting to Cusco by train
From some starting points, you also have the possibility to travel by train to Cusco. However, if you decide to take the train, you should know that the train travels very slowly here.
A train trip is usually chosen just to admire the scenic backdrop of the Peruvian Andes. However, you are on the road for a very long time. Most travel by train from Puno on Lake Titicaca.
Getting to Cusco by car
Another option is to travel to Cusco by car. This can be either a rental car or a car with a driver or by taxi. It is often not advisable to rent your own car, as it is quite difficult to manage the winding road. In addition, discomfort can come from the onset of altitude sickness.
On the other hand, taxis can be quite expensive if you cover the entire distance with a driver.
Cusco Transport – How to get around the city
Within Cusco, there are different ways to get from A to B. In the city center, you can easily discover many of Cusco’s sights on foot. The city center is not too big and so the distances are usually not too far.
If you need to go a little further, you can always take a taxi. Smaller and larger cabs drive around the city and can be easily stopped. Be sure to check with the driver about the price before you get in to avoid any unpleasant surprises.
Those visiting the sights around Cusco can also count on public transportation such as buses or colectivos. These usually depart from the Plaza de Armas and are quite affordable for Western standards.
The last option to see more distant attractions of Cusco is to take a tour. For some sights, it is much easier to join a tour than to try to get to them on your own. Before you book a tour, be sure to compare prices with other agencies. You can find reputable tours either at local travel centers or online through GetYourGuide.
Where to stay in Cusco
Best Budget-accommodation in Cusco
BiosWild is perfect for those who are traveling Peru on a budget but still do not want to sacrifice comfort. The rooms with private bathrooms are located in a privately run accommodation causing a relaxed family atmosphere.
The only downside is that the accommodation is located a bit outside the city center.
The best Hotel in Cusco
This hotel is located in the city center of Cusco, very close to the attractions. Besides being an ideal location, the hotel is popular for its excellent service, friendly staff, and delicious breakfast. There are rooms and suites of various sizes and features.
The best luxury hotel in Cusco
If you are looking for something a little more luxurious, this might be the right hotel for you. The 5-star hotel offers a great location directly in the city center, delicious breakfast, and great comfort. Casa Andina Premium offers rooms and suites of various sizes and features.
More accommodation in Cusco
Cusco 2 Day Itinerary – What to see in Cusco in 2 days
2 Days in Cusco – Day 1: Cusco’s Historical City Center
Plaza de Armas
Like most South American cities, also Cusco has a Plaza de Armas, also called Plaza Mayor. Plazas de Armas can be compared to the European market squares, thus the center of the city. Here, in addition to the cathedral and an important church, you can find other historic buildings of the city and some places of tourist interest.
Although the Plaza de Armas is characterized mainly by colonial architecture, this square was already an important square of the city in the times of the Inca Empire. At that time, the Plaza was much larger and consisted of today’s Plaza de Armas, Plaza del Regocijo and Plazoleta de la Merced.
From here, free walking tours start every day, which will guide you through the city and explain some of the backgrounds of the former Inca capital.
Iglesia de La Compañía de Jesús
Opening Hours Church: 09 am – 05.30 pm
Entrance Fee Church: 10 Soles (ca. $2.5 /2 €)
The impressive Jesuit church is located in the Plaza de Armas in the center of Cusco. It is not to be confused with Cusco’s Cathedral, which is next door.
The baroque church was built on an ancient Inca palace at the end of the 16th century. Less than a hundred years later, it had already fallen victim to a severe earthquake. However, only a few years later, it was rebuilt.
In addition to fantastic baroque architecture, inside there are also some works of art and sculptures worth seeing.
La Catedral del Cuzco – Cusco’s Cathedral
Opening Hours Cusco Cathedral: 06 am – 08 pm
Entrance Fee Cusco Cathedral: 25 Soles (ca. $6 /5 €)
Cusco’s imposing cathedral, whose full name is Catedral Basílica de la Virgin de la Asunción (Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary), is another notable building in the Plaza de Armas de Cusco.
With its two side chapels, the magnificent cathedral occupies more than 4000 square meters/13.100 square feet and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983. The construction of this Cusco landmark took place between the 16th and 17th centuries in the Spanish Herrera style.
Inside Cusco’s Cathedral, we find an interesting mix of different architectural styles. In addition, there are more than 300 local paintings and artistic wood carvings in the cathedral interior.
Plaza del Regocijo
Only a few steps away from the Plaza de Armas, there is already the next worth seeing Plaza of Cusco, the Plaza del Regocijo, also called Plaza Kusipata. Its immediate proximity to the Plaza de Armas is not coincidental. For once, the two, along with another plaza, belonged to an ancient, even larger plaza.
Around the plaza are some central historic buildings of Cusco, as well as numerous cafes.
Callejón de Loreto
If you want to take a little trip back in time to the Inca era, you should not miss Calle Loreto. Because in the 231-meter/757-ft long alley, you can experience how the streets of Cusco once used to look like.
With its impressive stone walls, the street belongs to the city’s Zona Monumental and therefore enjoys exceptional protection.
Let’s move on to another picturesque street of Cusco that dates back to the Inca era. In Calle Hatun Romiyoc (or Hatun Romiyoq), you get again the feeling of how it must have once looked here.
The peculiarity of the stone walls is that they fit exactly into each other, creating an orderly picture (Perfect-for the little monk in all of us). On top of the stone walls, the typical white buildings rise into the air.
If you are on your way to the San Blas neighborhood, you pass through the small street on the way from the Plaza de Armas.
Piedra de los 12 ángulos – The 12-angled stone
One of these stones, located in the stone walls of the Calle Hatun Romiyoc, stands out in particular: the Piedra de Los 12 ángulos, the 12-angled stone. As the name suggests, this stone has 12 angles and, in this way, seems to merge with its surrounding stones.
The stone is a splendid example of Inca architecture, in whose buildings one stone fits perfectly on the next, as in a puzzle.
San Blas District
The San Blas neighborhood is, in my eyes, one of the most beautiful areas in Cusco. The picturesque white houses with stone bases are typical for Cusco, and many of the small cafes and restaurants here look so inviting. It’s even hard to choose just one.
The neighborhood is quiet, but unfortunately quite touristy and offers some great viewpoints over the city. On the Plazoleta de San Blas, a small square in the neighborhood, you will find many souvenir stands and, on weekends, usually a small local market.
Drink a “Relaja-té” at La Bo’M
After a month in Cusco, this café in the San Blas neighborhood definitely became our favorite. With delicious tea, hot cocoa, and healthy snacks, we were just drawn back here again and again. If you’re looking to warm up a bit from Cusco’s cold and wet weather or just want a cute little place to relax, this café is just perfect.
Address: C. Carmen Alto, 283
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 08 am – 10 pm
Mercado Central de San Pedro
What better way to immerse yourself in a new culture than to explore a local market? And that’s exactly what we want to do at the Mercado Central de San Pedro. This market is the most important and oldest in Cusco.
It is the perfect place for a delicious lunch in the area or a snack in between.
This important market has been in the city since the 1920s. The design of the Mercado comes from none other than the Eiffel Tower designer Gustave Eiffel.
In addition to typical Peruvian food and groceries, you’ll also find plenty of souvenirs.
Day 1 Afternoon Options
Option 1: Coricancha – The Sun Temple
Opening Hours Coricancha: Mon-Sat: 08.30 am – 05.30 pm; Sundays closed
Entrance Fee Coricancha: 15 Soles (ca $3.6 /3 €) or Boleto Turístico*
Coricancha, also called Qorikancha, was the most sacred place in the city during Inca times. The Temple of the Sun (literally Golden Temple), like many important Inca buildings, was largely destroyed during the Spanish conquest.
After a major earthquake in the 17th century, only remnants of the walls remained. So the Spanish decided to build a Christian building instead, the Convento de Santo Domingo.
However, as life goes, this new building was also damaged by an earthquake in the 50s. In this way, the remains of the Inca temple walls were uncovered again and can be visited today.
Besides the impressive outer walls, inside, you can learn more about the history of this fascinating place.
Option 2: Museo de Arte Precolombio (MAP)
Opening Hours Museum: 08 am – 10 pm
Entrance Fee Museum: 20 Soles for Foreigners (ca. $5 / 4 €)
One of the most important museums in the city is the Museo de Arte Precolombio, Cusco’s pre-Columbian art museum. As the name suggests, the museum houses numerous ancient artifacts, works of art, and interesting exhibits from pre-Columbian times.
Many of the exhibits are very well preserved and allow visitors to understand better and experience firsthand the life and art of the Incas. The information in the museum is also exhibited in English.
Option 3: Museo Inca
Opening Hours Museo Inca: Mon – Fri: 08 am – 06 pm; Sat: 08 am – 4 pm; closed on Sundays
Entrance fee Museo Inca: 10 Soles for foreign visitors (approx. $2.5/ 2 €)
If you haven’t had enough of museums and want to learn more about the exciting culture of the Incas, you should definitely not miss Cusco’s Inca Museum.
The museum is especially suitable for people interested in history and Spanish speakers. Because so some information in the museum is unfortunately only available in Spanish.
Option 4: Chocolate Museum Cusco (Museo de Chocolate)
Opening Hours Chocolate Museum: 09 am – 07 pm
Entrance Fee Chocolate Museum: free of charge
If you have a sweet tooth like me, I highly recommend you trying the chocolate from the Cusco region. Whether in the form of hot chocolate, chocolate bars, or chocolates, the chocolate here is a dream.
So what could be better than a visit to the Cusco Chocolate Museum? Here you’ll find exactly what you’d expect from a chocolate museum: lots and lots of chocolate. Learn about the history of chocolate in Peru and discover some fantastic treats along the way.
Peru Itinerary – Day 2
Opening Hours Sacsayhuamán: 07 am – 05.30 pm
Entrance Fee Sacsayhuamán: Boleto Turístico*
If I could recommend only one sight that you shouldn’t miss during your sightseeing in Cusco, it would definitely be Sacsayhuamán, also written Saqsaywaman.
This magnificent attraction above the city center is the ruin of an ancient Inca fortress. The important fortress was built in the 15th century before the Spanish conquest and has since been partially destroyed by the Spanish and an earthquake.
Despite all this, you can still get a sense of its unique construction and impressive size by walking through the ruins. I recommend taking a guide who can tell you more about the history and background of each place for a little fee – it’s worth it.
Fun Fact: Translated, the name Saqsaywaman means something along the lines of “satiated hawk”.
How to get there
You have several options to get to Sacsayhuamán. The ruins of the fortress are located about 3 km/1.8 mi above the city center of Cusco and can therefore be reached by a short hike (make sure you acclimatize to the altitude in Cusco beforehand).
Another option is to join a tour that will bring you here. The tour guides will pick you up at your accommodation or inform you about a central meeting point (usually Plaza de Armas). Round trip transportation is included. You can find suitable tours in local travel centers or online here via GetYourGuide or Viator.
Another option for a trip to the ruins of Sacsayhuamán is by taxi. You can find suitable drivers anywhere in Cusco or at Plaza de Armas. Don’t forget to negotiate a fair price before getting in.
Mirador del Cristo Blanco
Not too far from the ruins of Sacsayhuamán lies the Cristo Blanco viewpoint. The name of this fantastic viewpoint is not chosen by chance. Because here you can find a huge white statue of Christ, looking with open arms over the rooftops of Cusco.
The 8-meter/26 ft. high statue stands about 5 km/3 mi outside the city center of Cusco. However, due to its illumination, you can see it at night from many corners of Cusco.
Opening Hours Qenko: 09 am – 05.45 pm
Entrance Fee Qenko: Boleto Turístico*
Qenko, also Keno or Q’enqo, is another archaeological site near Cusco. It is located just a short distance from the Inca ruins of Sacsayhuamán. The site was once significant to the Incas as a sanctuary to worship Mother Earth, Pachamama.
The Inca sanctuary got its name, which translates to “labyrinth”, because of its underground tunnel system that runs in a zigzag. It is believed that these tunnels carved into the rock were used during ceremonies held here.
More things to do in Cusco
Opening Hours Puka Pukara: 07 am – 06 pm
Entrance Fee Puka Pukara: Boleto Turístico*
Puca Pucara, also Puka Pukara, is another fortification ruin near Cusco. Therefore, if you are interested in this kind of ruins, you should not miss Puca Pucara.
The name is derived from Quechua and means something like “red fortress“. Unfortunately, not much more is known about the ruins here. However, it is believed to be one of the more recent Inca constructions for military purposes.
Also in Puca Pucara, the Inca architecture is again evident, where the large stones seem to fit perfectly together.
The ruins are located about 7 km/4 mi from downtown Cusco and are best discovered on a tour. You can find good tour offers on-site or online via Viator.
The Pachacuteq Monument & Museum
Opening Hours Museum: 09 am – 07 pm
Entrance Fee Museum: Boleto Turístico*
Pachacuteq Yupanki, also spelled Pachacutec, was one of the most important Incas in the history of the Inca Empire. He was the ninth ruler of the Incas and ruled from 1438 – 1471. Since 1992, a huge bronze statue commemorating him has stood in Cusco.
During his reign, he defeated the Chankas and drove them out of Cusco. Some researchers even suggest that it was through him that Machu Picchu was founded.
At the base of the tall statue, there is now a museum where you can learn more about the history and development of Cusco.
*The Boleto Turístico
To explore the sights of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, you need the so-called Boleto Turístico (Tourist Ticket). You can buy it at many of the sites themselves, at local travel agencies, or online via GetYourGuide.
Depending on how much time you have and how many sights you want to see, you have different tickets to choose from:
- Circuito I: 1 Day – 70 Soles (Sacsayhuamán, Qenko, Tambomachay, Puka Pukara)
- Curcuito II: 2 Days – 70 Soles (Museen, Pachacutec-Denkmal, Tipón, Pikillacta)
- Circuito III: 2 Days – 70 Soles (Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero, Moray)
- Cusco Intregral: 10 Days – 130 Soles (Includes all sights)
The best (Day-) Trips from Cusco
How could we write an article about sightseeing in Cusco’s surroundings without mentioning Machu Picchu? As one of the Modern Seven Wonders of the World, a visit to the famous Inca ruin is an absolute must for any visitor to the Peruvian Andes.
The famous Machu Picchu is located about 75 km/47 mi from Cusco and can be reached several ways. Many visitors opt for a multi-day hike to Machu Picchu. Others choose the train that takes them directly from Cusco to the foot of the mountain (Machu Picchu Pueblo).
Whichever way you choose, Machu Picchu is a real highlight that hardly leaves any visitor untouched. The enormous complex only gives you an idea of how impressive this structure must have been in the heyday of the Incas.
Sacred Valley of the Incas (Valle Sagrado)
In addition to Sacsayhuamán, already mentioned in the text, there are other impressive sights in the Sacred Valley of the Incas in the surroundings of Cusco. Many of the attractions are unique and more than worth seeing.
Our personal highlight is the Pisac ruins, located about a 50-minute drive away from Cusco. The sights of the Valle Sagrado (Sacred Valley) are included in the Boleto Turístico*. When purchasing your ticket, you have a choice of one, two, or ten days.
The attractions of the Sacred Valley of the Incas can be reached from Cusco either by cab, by public transportation such as bus or colectivo, or by joining a tour.
Admittedly, most of the sights on our list are man-made attractions. However, we should not fail to mention that the nature around Cusco is simply fantastic.
Dozens of hiking trails of different levels of difficulty invite you to long walks or extended hikes in the region – one place more beautiful than the next.
Cusco hiking tip: Adequate acclimatization is essential before any hike. Therefore, after arriving in the Peruvian Andes, be sure to give your body a few days to acclimate to the unfamiliar altitude conditions before setting out on your first hike.
Another fantastic hiking option from Cusco is Lake Humantay. This spectacular turquoise lake is located at an altitude of almost 4,000 meters/13.100 ft and offers truly fascinating scenery.
You reach Humantay via a hike up to the lake that takes you through typical Peruvian Andean nature.
Although the hiking route to the lake is theoretically accessible via public transportation, it is probably most worthwhile to take a tour. It’s best to book your tour at a reputable local travel agency or in advance online via GetYourGuide here.
Extra tip: If you visit Machu Picchu via the Salkantay Trek, the visit to the lake is already included in the hike.
Maras and Moray
Another recommended day trip from Cusco are Maras and Moray. Due to their proximity, the two can be perfectly combined.
Maras is one of the most important salt terraces in the country. With their colors and impressive size, the salt terraces offer a truly idyllic picture.
Moray, on the other hand, is part of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. These are impressive field terraces that date back to the time of the Incas.
Extra tip: We visited Maras and Moray on our own in combination with Chinchero and Ollantaytambo.
More helpful Cusco Travel Tips
Best time to visit Cusco
The best time to visit Cusco is the months of June – August. Because then there is winter in Cusco, but also the dry season.
Often the accommodations are already fully booked at this time of year. If you like it less touristy, but don’t want to miss the good weather of winter, the months April – June are worthwhile.
The worst weather awaits you in summer between October and March, with January and February being the wettest months.
Altitude sickness in Cusco
As already mentioned, Cusco is located at an altitude of more than 3,000 meters/10.000 ft. For many, this is unfamiliar at first. Therefore, your body may react to these new heights with altitude sickness.
The symptoms range from general malaise, headaches, stomach problems to vomiting and shortness of breath.
Therefore, it is important to acclimatize sufficiently after you arrive in the Peruvian Andes. Take it easy for the first few days, avoid alcohol, caffeine, and hard-to-digest food. After two or three days, your body will already have become accustomed to the new altitude conditions.
Peruvians also swear by coca leaves. These are available here in all possible forms: as tea, for chewing, or as candy. Just give it a try.
If you are worried, you can also ask your doctor for advice before you arrive. There are also pills that can help prevent altitude sickness.
Personally, we had few problems except for a little headache and malaise on the second day.
FAQ about traveling to Cusco
The name Cusco comes from the Quechua language (Qusqu) and is often referred to as the “navel/center of the world”. However, it is believed that the original name originated from the Aymara and means “rock of the owl”.
The Andean city of Cusco is located at an altitude of 3,416 meters/11.200 ft above sea level.
In Cusco, the main languages spoken are Spanish and Quechua.
It all depends on which mode of transport you choose. The fastest way is by train (a few hours). You can also hike or drive to Hidro Electrica (7 hours) and walk from there (about 2 hours).
Both spellings are correct. In English, however, Cusco is used more commonly.
There is an airport in Cusco that serves mainly Lima, La Paz, and Bogota.
The Inca ruins near Cusco are called Machu Picchu.
So, which sight in Cuzco do you definitely not want to miss? Let us know in the comments below!
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