Ever wonder what all of the hype is about? We’re here to tell you why you should visit Cusco, Peru. With everyone flocking to Peru to hike Machu Picchu, they’re all passing through the adorable mountain town of Cusco. Everyone I met when I was there was too busy sleeping, resting up for the big hike, or acclimating to the altitude.
What I realized was that Cusco is WAY underrated. I spent days walking around the city, drinking coffee at the local cafes, enjoying the views, and indulging in the BEST shopping that South America has to offer. (I actually ended up shipping an entire bag full of my Peru goodies back to the states!)
I made friends at the local markets, I watched the beautiful old women weaving intricate hand sewn garments, and I witnessed a local parade full of colorful costumes and musicians!
In addition to the main square and it’s surroundings, there is so much more to see around Cusco. Here is our list in order of what we highly recommend if you have more than a few days in this quaint city.
First, check out San Blas. It’s pretty, less busy, has our favorite coffee shops and restaurants, a handful of excellent independent clothing and jewellery shops, a chilled out vibe, great views of Cusco, and fun nighttime bars.
Second, take a cooking class or indulge in chocolate tasting. There are a number of local Peruvian cooking classes where you visit a local market with a Peruvian chef and then learn about the traditions of an authentic Andean kitchen.
If you love stars like I do, check out the local planetarium. The facility not only allows visitors to gaze at the stars in a small observatory, it seeks to be a cultural interpretation center for Incan astronomy and offers a personalized experience that you can rarely find at other planetariums around the world. Since the operation has limited size, you must request a spot in advance for the 2-mile shuttle ride from Plaza de Armas.
In addition to nearby sites, there are also a number of day trips from Cusco that we’d recommend.
If you’re spending lots of time in Cusco and aren’t hiking Machu Picchu, we highly recommend seeing the stunning Lake Humantay. Hike to this scenic body of water located at 13,779 feet, and learn about its sacred place in Inca mythology along the way.
Although we’re not normally ATV tour types, we ended up taking the ATV Tour to Moray, Maras and the Salt Flats. This tour absolutely blew us away as we flew through the sacred valley on country roads and visited so many cool places! The Salt Flats were definitely my favorite. There are about 3,000 salt pools that are still harvested by the community of local families who control the salt pans, the transport roads to the valley, and generally the entire salt production from the site, which remains much the same as as it was when the Inca discovered it over 1,000 years ago. It was an incredible site!
Last but not least is Rainbow Mountain. It’s a contradictory topic because it doesn’t look like the millions of edited photos that everyone puts on instagram but if you genuinely enjoy hiking, we’d suggest you adding it to your list. Note, it is an extremely long day and a challenging hike but it is beautiful and you do get to interact with locals and learn lots about the Andean community.