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Capital of the Inca Empire

For first time travelers to Peru, Cusco ticks all the boxes. Enigmatic ruins, gorgeous architecture, endless shopping, and a dramatic history from the beginning of the Inca Empire to the Spanish Conquest and beyond. Not to mention amazing restaurants, fantastic hotels, and a breathtaking location high in the Andes.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, but long regarded as a mere stopover on the way to Machu Picchu, Cusco has now come into its own. Discovery-minded visitors will be greatly rewarded.

  • Elevation 11,120 ft (3,400 m)
  • Temperature Daytime: 66 to 68°F (18 to 20°C)
    Nighttime: 32 to 45°F (0 to 7°C)
  • Dry Season From May to August
    Warm days with strong sunshine, but temperatures drop to freezing at night.
  • Wet Season From December to March
    During the day, anything from drizzle to downpour interrupted by periods of clear skies. Cloud cover means nights are warmer.
Explore the bohemian quarter of Cusco, home to the city’s finest artisans since Inca times.
Go for unbeatable people-watching and to marvel at monumental architecture from the city’s distinct periods.
Let your jaw drop when you see the gargantuan scale of these zigzagging stone walls.
Visit Santo Domingo Church to see what remains of Qorikancha, the Inca’s principal Temple of the Sun.
Navigate to the narrow alley called Hatunrumiyoc to marvel at an impressive example of Inca stone craftsmanship.
Hike from the city center to the base of this giant white statue for stunning panoramic views over Cusco.
Browse the aisles of a traditional market filled with vendors selling stacks of fruits, vegetables, fresh flowers, herbs, and more.
Glimpse artifacts spanning nearly 3 millennia of Peruvian history and from diverse cultures including the Nazca, Chancay, and Inca.
Chocolate lovers flock to take chocolate-making workshops and to sip on hot chocolate with a view from the cafe balcony.
A guided tour is the best way to take in the highlights of Cusco, visiting the Cathedral, Qorikancha, and the ruins of Sacsayhuaman.
See masterpieces of the 16-18th century Escuela Cusqueña art inside the city’s churches.
Take a day or two to explore the Sacred Valley towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo and their famous ruins as well as Maras and Moray.
Stop by one of Cusco’s museums, such as MAP or Casa Concha, to see artifacts, ceramics and textiles of Peru’s past civilizations.
Browse for trinkets and textiles in the streets surrounding the main Plaza or go to Barrio San Blas for vintage and boutique shops.
Treat yourself to a massage or body scrub at one of Cusco’s salons that incorporate Andean medicinal knowledge of herbs and salts.
Mountain biking, kayaking, zip lining, horseback riding and trekking are among your many options for an active Cusco vacation.
Marcelo Batata
Andean and Creole dishes slow cooked and flavored with native ingredients. Hearty main dishes include grilled alpaca topped with fresh mango chutney and aji de gallina. Rooftop tables overlook Cusco.
Calle Palacio 121
Great for groups of diners with diverse tastes. Choose from traditional Peruvian dishes like seco de cordero (slow-cooked herbed lamb stew) or international favorites such as fresh baked pizza or calzones. Specialties including the baked guinea pig and pachamanca (meat and veggies prepared in an in-ground oven) must be reserved at least 24 hours in advance via the restaurant website.
Plaza San Blas 120
The place to go for ceviche and delicious pisco cocktails. Make reservations and grab a table by the wide windows overlooking the Plaza de Armas. In addition to ceviche and a full sushi bar, Limo offers non-seafood Peruvian favorites like arroz chaufa (Peruvian-Chinese fried rice), cuy (guinea pig), alpaca steak, pork adobo, and more.
Portal de Carnes 236, 2nd floor
The restaurant of Peru’s celebrity chef Gaston Acurio. Local ingredients form the basis of a menu organized by geographical divisions – from the water, the land, Peru, and the world. Open for lunch and dinner, Chicha Cusco is a must try for any food fanatic.
Plaza Regocijo 261
Cafe Morena Peruvian Kitchen
Featuring traditional Peruvian cooking with a modern twist, and consistently garnering rave reviews, this is a great place to try classic dishes like chicharron (deep fried pork) and lomo saltado, as well as fresh juices and smoothies.
Plateros 348-B
La Bodega 138
Above and beyond the standard pizzerias found on every street corner of Cusco, the focus here is on made-to-order wood-fired pizzas with a selection of gourmet toppings, paired with your choice of wine, craft beer, or non-alcoholic drinks.
Herrajes 138
Peruvian and international dishes with Italian touches shape the menu at this renowned restaurant and tapas bar where reservations are a must. Don’t miss the lamb ragu and the causa de cuy.
Calle Triunfo 393, 2nd floor
Dive into a menu of Mediterranean flavors using local ingredients with options ranging from seafood to thin crust pizzas. Pair your meal with a glass of wine from the South American focused selection.
Calle Ruinas 465
Granja Heidi
Order from a farm-to-table menu that is equal parts Peruvian and international, with options like zapallo (pumpkin) soup, lomo (beef tenderloin) in red wine sauce served with Spätzle (German pasta), and crepes.
Cuesta San Blas 525, 2nd floor
Jack's Cafe
Always buzzing with customers thanks to an excellent menu that caters to Western tastes. Go for all-day breakfasts, huge sandwiches, hearty salads and other tasty treats including stir-fries and burgers.
Choquechaka 509
Greens Organic
Vegetarian-friendly but with a menu of enticing chicken, fish, and alpaca options too, all dishes are made with fresh organic ingredients. Located on the second floor of a colonial building, the best seats have views of the Plaza de Armas.
Santa Catalina Angosta 135, 2nd floor
Green Point
Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Green Point is a go-to for vegetarian and vegan diners. The daily set meal is an inexpensive, filling, and delicious option.
Carmen Bajo 234, San Blas
Green Patio
The younger sibling of Green Point serves up 100% vegan goodness. Enjoy your meal in the shaded outdoor patio.
San Francisco Plaza 310
A cozy 10-table restaurant with a menu that appeals to vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. Dishes are prepared with fresh ingredients from Sacred Valley farms.
Calle Resbalosa 410
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Cusco Travel Tips

Visitors traveling from sea level to Cusco at 11,150 ft (3,400 m) above sea level, should be aware of the possibility of altitude sickness. Most visitors to Cusco experience only minor symptoms (headache, lethargy, nausea) which usually ease within 1-2 days. If you’re planning to hike to higher elevations, plan to spend 2-3 days acclimating in Cusco before beginning a trek. If possible, try to schedule an intermediate stop in Arequipa elevation - 7,638 ft (2,328 m) - before continuing to Cusco or Lake Titicaca.

Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration and take it easy as your body adjusts to the altitude. Drink bottled water only and avoid drinking water from questionable sources. Agua sin gas is mineral water; agua con gas is carbonated water — both are available for sale at kiosks and small markets all over Cusco. Ice is typically made from filtered water and safe to consume.

Cusco is considered one of the safest cities in Peru. Standard travel precautions apply: don’t leave your bags and belongings unattended and take extra care in crowded places. Leave jewelry and excess cash in the safety box at your hotel.

Walking is the best way to get around the historic center of Cusco. You can stroll from one side of the historic center to the other within 15-20 minutes. Around the Plaza de Armas you’ll find Cusco’s top attractions, restaurants, and nightlife options. The area around the main plaza is mostly flat, but the streets become steeply inclined when you walk toward the San Blas, San Cristobal, or Santa Ana neighborhoods.

Be sure to carry local currency (Peruvian Sol, or Soles for short) to pay for taxis, tips for guides and porters, small purchases, and meals at cafes and restaurants. Vendors are always reluctant to make change for large bills. For small purchases, it’s best to have low denomination bills and coins. Larger balances at shops, restaurants, hotels, and some tour agencies can be paid with credit card. As of January 2018, 1 USD = 3.2 Soles.

Money exchange offices and ATMs are located throughout the historic center and on Av. El Sol (ask your bank about international banking fees). For payments in USD or to exchange USD or Euros to Soles, you’ll need crisp bills with no blemishes of any kind. Bills with tiny rips, marks, and other defects will likely be rejected.

Cusco is generally warm during the day and cold at night. Bring sunblock and sunglasses for day tours, and don’t forget your warm clothes for the evenings. A thermal undershirt paired with a fleece, windproof jacket, and long pants is usually sufficient for Cusco cold nights when temperatures drop to 40°F (5°C) or colder.

For the rainy season, packing the right clothes to stay (relatively) dry can make the difference between an enjoyable experience and a wet, miserable one. Pack long pants made of synthetic quick drying fabric (not jeans), a rain poncho to go over your head and your backpack, and an umbrella to use during day tours.

Some portions of your Cusco trip may require you to leave your heavy luggage behind, for example to take the train to Machu Picchu (passengers are limited to 1 bag or backpack weighing 11 lbs/5 kg) or for a multi-day trek. This is generally not a problem as most hotels provide luggage storage for guests at no additional charge.

Traveling to Peru in the peak season (June, July, August) requires lots of planning several months in advance. This includes booking hotels in Cusco and Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu), flights to/from Cusco, train tickets to/from Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu tickets (limited to 400 and sell out weeks in advance) and Inca Trail permits if applicable.

To avoid the crowds and the worst of the rains, plan your trip to Cusco for April, May, September or October.

Traveling during the high season from June to August increases your chance for good weather, but be prepared for crowds.

The rainy season can be a good time to travel for smaller crowds, but be prepared for rainy conditions and weather-related travel delays.


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