What are the five best things to see and do in Cuzco?

Alex Skjong

While some cities require stepping off the well-worn path to try something new, Cuzco is best experienced by sticking to the classic attractions—they're famous for a reason. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ picks on what to see to get the most out of your stay.
 
1. Machu Picchu. Though a separate destination reached by train, the real reason so many people find themselves in Cuzco is the opportunity to see Machu Piccu, South America's crown jewel of Incan structures and stunning natural views. While it's been swamped with tourists ever since its “discovery” in 1911 (indigenous people in the region knew of its existence), it's one of those few spots on the planet where the experience is going to outlive the hype in your mind. Do not miss the opportunity, but make travel arrangements with a tour group before arriving in Cuzco, since daily visitor limits are strictly enforced.
 
2. Qorikancha. Even for tourists on the fence about exploring ruins, this is an awe-inspiring experience. Formerly the finest temple in the Inca empire, the remains today serve as the base of a colonial church, doing double duty as both an impressive Incan stonework relic and an educational tool for visitors who want to understand more about the history of the city.
 
3. La Cathedral. Both a religious space and the home of the most extensive collection of colonial art in Cuzco, this is a formidable building that will make an impression on visitors. Construction for this structure began in 1559 and took nearly a century to complete.
 
4. Planetarium Cuzco. By focusing on how the Andean people understand the skies, this venue offers something different from your typical planetarium. The emphasis here is on the local culture’s interpretations of the constellations. It’s a fascinating and a fun experience that’s best followed by some actual stargazing in the startlingly clear Andean night sky.
 
5. Moray. For fit travelers who don't mind a bit of a hike to get to their destination, these spectacular spiral ruins—best viewed from up above but equally impressive from the center—are definitely worth the trip.

  • On July 17, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What attractions does Cuzco offer for foodies?

    Everyone knows that Cuzco is a center for adventure travel, but few know that the Peruvian city and gateway to Machu Picchu has much to offer foodies. There are plenty of dishes that can only be enjoyed in this particular region, plus unexpected surprises that will make a gourmet's day (like the plentiful array of chocolates that are available here and only here). Aside from the chance to sample local specialties like guinea pig and alpaca, there is a rich and aromatic world of cacao worth exploring.
     
    Because Cuzco produces more cacao than any other part of Peru, those who are interested in seeing where their favorite treat begins can actually go to a tropical plantation (by setting up a tour through the information desk at ChocoMuseo) and see the fruit harvested firsthand. Those who don't want to traipse into the field can stick around the museum and find out how the fruit grows and is turned into the tasty elixir that wins over chocaholics the world over. Or simply pick up a bar of Sol del Cusco for making hot chocolate at home, or try a Sublime bar (the local equivalent of Cadbury, Sublime is a once-small company whose chocolate is now mass-produced). Poking around markets will also yield unique local varieties, including bars made from wild varieties.
  • On July 17, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What is the best thing to bring home from Cuzco?

    Aside from a camera full of pictures that detail all of your outdoor exploits, the best thing to bring home from Cuzco is some of the top-notch local chocolate. Because the region around Cuzco produces the most cacao of anywhere in Peru, there are plenty of varieties to choose from. A classic pick would be a thick bar of Sol del Cusco, a vibrantly labeled local bar designed for making the thickest, richest hot chocolate. The street vendors hawking varieties of local candy bars are also a great resource for picking up presents to bring home.
  • On July 17, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best food experiences in Cuzco?

    From upscale fusion cuisine to grittier down-home cooking, there are plenty of delicacies and snacks well worth sampling while in Cuzco. Here are our picks for the five best food experiences to be found in Cuzco.
     
    1. El Masón de Espaderos. This is an adventure for the carnivores out there who don't mind eating grilled guinea pig. Located above the Plaza de Armas, this restaurant's best bet is the Parilla Inca, which combines a variety of meats from the Andes for a tasting tour of local meat.
     
    2. Pacha Papa's alpaca stew. Sure, you could go to the market and opt for a food stall serving up this very local, very savory dish, but it might be more enjoyable to enjoy it in the comfort of this reimagined version of a quinta, which takes traditional open-air dining and elevates it to a new level. Deservedly packed and highly recommended, this is a must-experience spot.
     
    3. San Medro Market. For the chance to gather one's own vast array of local fruits, colorful peppers, and locally harvested spices, there's no better place to go. Add some of the bread and cheese to your basket, and it's the perfect picnic for when you explore the areas outside of the city.
     
    4. Panadería. Conveniently (or inconveniently, depending on the crowds) located next to the market, this is where you'll want to go for fresh vegetables or homemade bread—or homemade bread stuffed with vegetables. For vegetarians visiting Cuzco, this is your best bet.
     
    5. Samana Wasi. This low-key restaurant forgoes frills for flavor, which is why you should visit if you want to try freshly-caught trout from the Urubamba River.
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  • On July 17, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    Where is the best nightlife in Cuzco?

    Because so much of the action in Cuzco focuses around being up and ready to explore ruins and natural wonders, there's less of an emphasis on clubbing and more of a focus on getting together around a hearth to sip a pisco sour and to discuss one's further travel plans. This can be done at any of the onsite watering holes in the more upscale hotels around the city center. For those who want something that's unaffiliated with a hotel, Paddy Flaherty's on Sunturwasi offers the chance to sip pints of Guinness and snack on cheesesteaks, while the low-key 7 Angelitos, located nearby, delivers a chance to throw back a few drinks while listening to Peru's homegrown Creole music.
  • On July 17, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What is the best way to see Cuzco in one day?

    Careful planning is the best way to make sure you see the most of Cuzco’s many sites in one day. Because most people visit Cuzco on their way to Machu Picchu, start your day by signing up for a Machu Picchu tour with a local outfitter and settling the logistics of a trip to the sacred site.
     
    Once your travel plans for Machu Picchu have been arranged, head to Qorikancha, which in its long history has served as the most important Incan Temple, a contemporary religious site and one of the best places in Cuzco to see Incan-made stonework. Reserve enough time to poke around before heading to La Cathedral, an operating cathedral that took nearly 100 years to build and currently houses a vast collection of colonial art. Circle back to the Plaza de Armas to find a generous bowl of Peruvian stew—or try cuy, a local specialty made from guinea pig—before heading off on an afternoon adventure. Cuzco’s outskirts are home to natural wonders which can be explored on foot or by horseback, including Las Salinas de Maras salt mines and the Saqsaywamán ruin, an Incan sun temple perched in the hills surrounding Cuzco that offers incredible city views and a stunning glimpse at the scale of Incan structural engineering. To top off your day, return to the city for dinner and some stargazing, perhaps under the helpful guidance of the Planetarium staff.
  • On July 17, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best places to eat in Cuzco?

    More tourists visiting Cuzco and nearby Machu Picchu means more dining options, so you're as likely to spot a pizza joint here as you are to stumble upon a Peruvian restaurant serving up traditional dishes. Here is Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ list of the five best places to eat in Cuzco.
     
    1. Pachapapa. This laid-back restaurant specializes in local cuisine, including plenty of stews you won't get the chance to try outside of the region (get adventurous and go for the alpaca stew). The expansive private courtyard is also a nice change of pace from overtly tourist-oriented spots that seat their customers in the middle of the city-street action.
     
    2. Macondo. This hip café is tucked into an art gallery, giving diners the chance to check out local works while enjoying their creatively-titled new Peruvian dishes. Most dishes lean toward the upscale, such as the alpaca mignon with a white wine sauce.
     
    3. La Bondiet. An inexpensive alternative to going Peruvian, this European-style bistro offers sandwiches, pastries and cakes along with some strong and flavorful local coffee options. The casual cafe plus it’s a welcome respite from the hubbub of the Plaza de Armas. 
     
    4. Incanto. This sleek fusion restaurant does Mediterranean-Andean cuisine successfully, and to great fanfare. The old-meets-new decor combines both a contemporary open kitchen and an original Inca-made wall on-site. For those traveling with children there are some kid-friendly options, including thin-crust pizza.
     
    5. Quinta Eulalia. There are plenty of quintas in Cuzco, but this happens to be the oldest. Established in 1941, it's been slinging Peru's version of soul food for over 70 years, making this quaint restaurant a go-to spot for chicharrones (fried pork) and—if you're feeling adventurous—cuy chactado (made with guinea pig, a local specialty).
  • On July 17, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best places to stay in Cuzco?

    While budget options abound due to its status as a backpacker mecca, Cuzco offers plenty of upscale hotels for those who don't want to go the shared-showers route. Here is Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ list of the five best places to stay in Cuzco.
     
    1. Hotel Monasterio. By far the most upscale offering in town, this hotel is a completely restored monastery that dates back to 1592, which means it might be the oldest place you've ever stayed. Upscale touches include enriched oxygen to make adjusting to the altitude more bearable, suites adorned with colonial furniture, and modern touches like flat-screen televisions and Wi-Fi for those who need to stay connected while on the road.
     
    2. Hotel Rio Sagrado. Located nearby Urubamba, this secluded hotel is tucked against the banks of the Urubamba River at the base of the mountains, making for an escape of unparalleled natural beauty. Choose a deluxe room, junior suite or villa residence (for up to 6 people), each of which have beds swathed in Peruvian cotton sheets and custom duvet covers along with views of the river and mountains outside.
     
    3. Inkaterra La Casona. One of the first luxury boutique hotels in Cuzco, this petite hostelry, housed in a Spanish colonial manor house, is an intimate retreat with suites furnished with antiques that overlook an interior courtyard. Exceedingly private, this hotel operates like a private manor house, which means you’ll have to arrange to meet your tour guides in the house foyer—only guests may explore the actual hotel.
     
    4. Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. The only hotel located inside the Incan sanctuary, this Orient Express hotel (a three and a half hour train ride from Cuzco) has 29 rooms and 2 suites with incredible views of the surrounding mountains. The hotel is the ideal base for those who want to be close to the ancient city, or simply take in the natural beauty of the mountainous landscape.
     
    5. Palacio Nazarenas. This recently opened Orient Express hotel, situated in a historic, renovated 600-year-old building in the center of historic Cuzco, has just 55 suites situated around several open courtyards, each decorated in a streamlined style that makes the most of the rustic, wood-beamed interiors. A 24-hour personal butler will do everything from arrange local tour guides to deliver to your room cocktails made from local herbs.
  • On July 17, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    Where is the best shopping in Cuzco?

    The best shopping in Cuzco, the closest town to Peru’s famed Machu Picchu, can be found in its many outdoor markets, which are tailor-made for tourists and teaming with handcrafted local goods. Picking up beautiful textiles made from the fibers of alpacas or llamas—two of Peru’s main livestock animals—is one of your best bets. Find brightly-colored blankets, rugs, wool sweaters and other goods at markets scattered throughout city streets. For reasonably-priced gifts that will last, Mercado Central de San Pedro combines local flavor, opportunities to try never-before seen produce and plenty of prospects for stocking up on souvenirs.
  • On July 17, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best things to do with kids in Cuzco?

    From energetic outdoor adventures tailored to older children, to train rides that will appeal to both kids and adults, there are plenty of engaging activities for the entire family in Cuzco. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ picks for the five best things to do with kids in Cuzco.
     
    1. The Planetarium Cuzco. Older children enamored with the night sky will love the learning experience here, where the focus is on how local cultures interpreted the stars. The planetarium also offers helpful contemporary information, creating an experience that is informative and engrossing at the same time.
     
    2. The Hiram Bingham Train. Departing from Wanchaq Train Station and weaving its way through the Andes mountains to Machu Picchu, this train is a great activity for children who will appreciate the views, while parents will enjoy the luxury touches of this Orient Express-operated train, complete with antique lamps and tablecloths.
     
    3. The Andean Explorer Train. With 1920’s Pullman-car observation cabins that offer glass-enclosed views of the landscape, a trip on this train also feels like a trip back in time. It runs between Cuzco and Lake Titicaca, so your kids will see everything from snow-capped mountains to high-altitude lakes.
     
    4. ChocoMuseo. It's a museum devoted to chocolate—what more must you know? If your children enjoy desserts, look no further for a tasty and educational afternoon activity.
     
    5. Las Salinas de Maras. Less than seven kilometers from the city center lay these sprawling expanses of salt, which are still in use today as a salt mine. For older children who can handle a horse ride or long walk, exploring them can be a fun way to spend a sunny day.
  • On July 16, 2012
    answered the question:

    What are the five best things to see and do in Cuzco?

    While some cities require stepping off the well-worn path to try something new, Cuzco is best experienced by sticking to the classic attractions—they're famous for a reason. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ picks on what to see to get the most out of your stay.
     
    1. Machu Picchu. Though a separate destination reached by train, the real reason so many people find themselves in Cuzco is the opportunity to see Machu Piccu, South America's crown jewel of Incan structures and stunning natural views. While it's been swamped with tourists ever since its “discovery” in 1911 (indigenous people in the region knew of its existence), it's one of those few spots on the planet where the experience is going to outlive the hype in your mind. Do not miss the opportunity, but make travel arrangements with a tour group before arriving in Cuzco, since daily visitor limits are strictly enforced.
     
    2. Qorikancha. Even for tourists on the fence about exploring ruins, this is an awe-inspiring experience. Formerly the finest temple in the Inca empire, the remains today serve as the base of a colonial church, doing double duty as both an impressive Incan stonework relic and an educational tool for visitors who want to understand more about the history of the city.
     
    3. La Cathedral. Both a religious space and the home of the most extensive collection of colonial art in Cuzco, this is a formidable building that will make an impression on visitors. Construction for this structure began in 1559 and took nearly a century to complete.
     
    4. Planetarium Cuzco. By focusing on how the Andean people understand the skies, this venue offers something different from your typical planetarium. The emphasis here is on the local culture’s interpretations of the constellations. It’s a fascinating and a fun experience that’s best followed by some actual stargazing in the startlingly clear Andean night sky.
     
    5. Moray. For fit travelers who don't mind a bit of a hike to get to their destination, these spectacular spiral ruins—best viewed from up above but equally impressive from the center—are definitely worth the trip.