The Ultimate Guide to Visit Cusco in Peru

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Cusco in Peru is the gateway to many great sites, including the new world wonder of Machu Picchu. This is one of the most impressive places to visit in the country, and it seriously has so much to offer.

Visit Cusco and you'll find out why it is our favorite city in Peru, and one our favorites in all South America. The blend of architecture from Incan and colonial times makes you feel like you are walking throughout history. The landscapes surrounding it will make you feel as if you are another planet, and the food is some of the best we had in the country.

Cusco is one of those places that you could spend weeks exploring! The reason being, that it is the hub for many different treks in the South of Peru. Surrounded by ruins, markets, and breathtaking nature, it can be overwhelming to plan a trip here. That's why we're here to help. Let's check out everything to know for visiting Cusco in Peru.

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The History of Cusco in Peru

Something to highlight about Cusco, if you are planning on doing a trip around Peru, is that its customs are a little bit different from the rest of the country. This is due to its cosmopolitan nature.  It was once the capital of the Incan Empire until the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.

Visit Cusco in Peru to see Machu Picchu

Cusco is the gateway to the famous Machu Picchu.

It was declared in 1983 a World Heritage Site by UNESCO with the title "City of Cuzco" and nowadays it hosts around 2 million people every year.

We recommend two weeks if you want to see a lot, and believe us, it’s easy to spend more there. Here is a guide to everything you need to know before your trip to Cusco.

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Where is Cusco in Peru?

Cusco is located in the south east of Peru. It is surrounded by the Urubambu Valley, which is in the Andes mountain range. Peru is on the west coast of South America, south of Ecuador, north of Chile, and west of Bolivia.

where is Cusco in Peru

Cusco is in the south east of Peru.

How to Get to Cusco in Peru

In order to get to Cusco, you'll first have to find a way to Peru, preferably to Lima. Lima has flights to Cusco pretty much every half hour, and alternatively there is one flight daily to Cusco from Arequipa.

Lima is actually one of the biggest hubs in South America, and has plenty of affordable flights from anywhere in the Americas. You can even find flights from the US to Lima for under $100, and flights from Lima to Cusco cost as low as just $20.

Flight Tip: Using Skyscanner you can put from "your city" to "Peru". This way you can see which is the cheapest airport in the area to fly. Also, you can check the calendar to see which are the cheapest dates for getting to Cusco.

Search for a flight to Cusco, Arequipa, or Lima:

If you are already in Peru and don't want to fly, you can actually easily get a bus to Cusco. This is how we made our way around the country, and found that the overnight buses were a great option for saving money while traveling. With their fully reclining seats, you can sleep comfortably for affordable prices.

Want to book your bus to Cusco from surrounding cities? Here are a few popular routes:

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Entry Requirements for Peru

Before planning a trip anywhere, you'll need to keep in mind the requirements for entering. Here is everything you need to know for traveling to Peru.

Visa Requirements for Peru

Most nationalities from the Americas and Western Europe can visit Peru visa-free for a period of up to 183 days. The only thing you will need is your passport, with a validity of 6 months from the date of departure. Citizens of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Uruguay may enter the country with their national identity document. If you'd like to know if you need a visa, make sure to check with the local embassy.

We do suggest getting your yellow fever vaccine as well, since it can be a risk, and is required in many countries in South America.

Covid Requirements for Peru

Peru is currently requiring travelers to either be vaccinated, or to have a negative Covid-19 test taken within 48 hours of their flight. Keep your vaccination card on you, as certain places will require it in order to enter their establishment. Make sure to carry a mask too, as it is still required on public transportation (updated December 2022).

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Local Adjustments

Whenever you travel there are things that you may forget about, that could be different from where you are coming from. These are what we call local adjustments, and here are the ones for Cusco in Peru.

What Language is Spoken in Cusco?

The official language in Cusco is Spanish. Peruvians speak pretty clear, so they are actually much easier to understand than some of the surrounding countries (such as Chile for example). Cusco has plenty of people that do speak English, but it definitely helps to speak Spanish so you can get better deals and avoid getting ripped off.

What Currency is Used in Cusco?

The currency used in Peru is the Sol. Each USD is equivalent to about 3.83 Sol right now (September 2023). There aren't a ton of places that accept credit card in Cusco, so we definitely suggest going to an ATM and taking out plenty of cash.

What Plug Adapter Do I Need for Peru?

The electrical outlets in Peru support plug types A & C. Type A is the two flat pins that are used in the US, and type C is the two round pins that are used in Europe. The standard voltage is 220 V, with a frequency of 60 Hz. It may be smart to bring an electrical adapter, as the outlets vary depending on where you go.

Is Water in Cusco Drinkable?

The water is generally not safe to drink in Cusco, so we suggest sticking to bottled water. You'll have to stay extra hydrated, as the city of Cusco in Peru has a lot of hills, and the landscapes around them take a lot of effort to do because of the elevation. We suggest buying giant jugs of water, and refillable a reusable water bottle to be prepared for wherever you go.

Tipping Culture in Cusco

The tipping culture in Peru is a standard 10 %, and tips are always expected in cash.

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Things to Do in Cusco, Peru

Inside the city of Cusco itself, you could spend a few days enjoying all that it has to offer. Outside the city there are so many options that you coud easily spend a month exploring all that this area has. Here are some of the best things to do for your visit to Cusco in Peru.

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1. Explore the Old Town of Cusco (1-2 days)

Cusco has a beautiful old town which should definitely not be missed. Wander the streets, enjoy the views, and acclimate yourself to the altitude, before venturing out to see all that the surrounding areas have to offer.

Old town of Cusco in Peru

The Old Town of Cusco deserves a full day of exploring its quaint streets.

Looking for a city tour in Cusco? We've found a few for you to check out:

2. Machu Picchu (3-4 days)

Machu Picchu is one of the seven wonders of the world, and the main reason that hundreds of thousands of people visit Cusco in Peru each year. 

Trek to Machu Picchu

The trek to Machu Picchu has incredible landscapes

There are several different options for traveling to Machu Picchu, the two most popular being the train and doing a trekking tour. The train is the more expensive and luxurious option, while the trek is truly immersive and thrilling.

Machu Picchu trek, Cusco in Peru
Cloudy Machu Picchu, Cusco in Peru
Machu Picchu, Cusco in Peru

Machu Picchu is a must when you visit Cusco.

Huaynu Picchu

Huayna Picchu is another thing to check out inside of Machu Picchu. It requires an additional ticket, and is inside the grounds of Machu Picchu. The views are truly unbeatable, and worth checking out while you are there.

If you are planning on visiting Machu Picchu, make sure to read our full guide. Our article includes more details of what to expect, and how to prepare for this magical journey.

Hi there! If you are here, it's probably because you are planning a trip to one of the new 7 wonders of the world, and wanting to hike Machu Picchu. Whether you've seen it through your friend's travel pictures or in an article somewhere, something we can all say is

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3. Sleep in a Million Star Hotel (1 ½ days)

Get ready for one of the most memorable experiences of your life! Sky Lodge Adventure Suites, located in the Sacred Valley are a real bucket list item.

This is more than just a hotel, but an entire experience. Climb all the way up to reach your capsule that hangs off the side of a mountain overlooking the Sacred Valley.

climbing to SkyLodge, Cusco in Peru
descent from SkyLodge, Cusco in Peru
SkyLodge Adventure Suites, Cusco in Peru

Skylodge Adventure Suites are a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Want to see what it feels like to be hanging off of a mountain? We have a Full Travel Guide to check  out!

4. Vinicunca, a.k.a. Rainbow Mountain (1 day)

This colorful mountain was only discovered a few years ago, but it really something worth seeing. There are many tours that go here. But be prepared, because you will most likely have to leave at 3 am. Check out our complete travel guide for more details if Rainbow Mountain is on your list.

Note: There are actually now three different rainbow mountains! All are beautiful in their own way and worth visiting. We only visited Vinicunca, which was the most popular at the time.

We've found some tours for you to check out for Rainbow Mountain:

5. Red Valley, Inside Vinicunca (1 Full day)

Located right next to Rainbow Mountain, this valley has a pink/red hue. It is an extra 10 soles to enter (about 3 USD) but is definitely worth the stop if you are going to Rainbow Mountain.

Red Valley, Cusco in Peru

The red valley is connected right to Vinicunca (Rainbow Mountain)

We suggest going without a tour so that you have time to really experience both beautiful surroundings. If you'd like more info, make sure to check out our full travel guide about Rainbow Mountain.

6. Red River (1 full day)

The red river is stunning and unlike anything you will ever see. Its red hue is due to the rain run off from the nearby Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain (which is a different rainbow mountain than the above mentioned) It is located 3 hours south west of Cusco.

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There are not many tour agencies that advertise this tour service, but there are some out there. Renting a car is also a great idea as you can explore the whole region on your own clock.

Note: The river is not always red. Depending on the time of year and day depends on the color of the water here. Consult with locals before making the trip out there.

7. Saqsaywaman and Other City Ruins (1-2 days)

Let's head back to what's actually inside the city of Cusco in Peru!

These ruins are in the heart of the city and can be easily walked to. The entrance is 70 soles (about 22 USD). This is a little expensive for Cusco, but the ticket also includes all of the different ruins in the city.

Being that there are several other smaller ruins, we definitely think it is worth it if you have a few extra days in the city.

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8. Humantay Lake (1 Full day)

This gorgeous bright blue lake nestled between the mountains is something not to miss.

Day tours leave around 4 am and are easy to find. If you go on your own you can rent a car or hire a taxi, which are better options so that you can enjoy more time there and go at a different time than all of the crowds.

We've searched and found some full day tours to Humanity Lake from Cusco:

9. Maras Salt Flats (1 day)

Located in the Urubamba Valley, just 40 km north of Cusco, lies a town well known for its salt evaporation ponds. To get here you can either go with a day tour, or you can get a colectivo (bus) to Urubamba, approximately 45 minutes away from Cusco.

There are plenty of great tours that go to Maras Salt Flats:

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Food & Drinks in Cusco

Cusco isn’t like any other place in Peru. The food is extremely tasty, healthy, and affordable. Out of the entire country, we loved the cuisine in Cusco the most, and it was extremely unique.

You would be surprised on how many good types of meat and veggies you can find here. Just to give you a hint, they produce around 3,000 varieties of potato cultivated by the people.

Yes, you read that right! There are 3,000 different varieties of potato. Of course we didn't have a chance to taste them all, but the ones we were able to try were unbelievable tasty.  Want to know more about the cuisine? Well here are a few things to try while there.

Menu of the Day

This is something you usually find for lunch, and is a great way to save money, while eating a fulfilling and typical Peruvian meal.

You can find many local restaurants that have menus for only 10 soles (about $3 USD) which include an appetizer (usually soup or salad) and an entree (usually meat or fish with rice and fries).

menu of the day Cusco in Peru

The menu of the day usually includes a meat, rice, and vegetable.


One of our favorite dishes was Alpaca. This meat is very tasty and tender, and is really only found in this area of Peru. Plenty of restaurants in Cusco serve Alpaca, and it is definitely worth a try. 

Our favorite restaurant was at a hostel that we stumbled upon called Ayni Organic. This restaurant is seriously amazing- healthy food, fair rices, and gorgeous views. If you go here get the stuffed Alpaca- you won’t regret it!

Alpaca, Cusco in Peru

Alpaca meat served with mashed potatoes in a berry and wine sauce at Ayni Organic.


Just like the potato, Peruvians really specialize in quinoa! When you visit Cusco you will find that it is a very staple in their cuisine.

Being the leading provider in the world of Quinoa, Peru has 2,000 different types of quinoa. Not only is it great to eat in restaurants, but there are plenty of shops that sell different types to take home to your family and friends.

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One of the most popular street foods in Cusco is corn on the cob. Choclo is a larger kernel type of corn that is found in Peru, and grilled to serve as a snack on the go.

Mate de Coca

When it comes to a visit to Cusco, hydration is key! The roads are hilly, and the altitude is high, so having plenty of fluids is super important.

One of the best things to drink is a nice cup of "Mate de Coca" which is tea made from the leaves of the coca plant. Not only is it tasty, but it helps boost energy, as well as help with altitude sickness.

mate de coca in Cusco in Peru

Mate de Coca is great for digestion, energy, and altitude sickness.

How to Get Around Cusco in Peru

The old town of Cusco is fairly easy to get around and very walkable. However, there are many steep streets, so if you are just arriving or just leaving, we definitely suggest an Uber or taxi to get to your accommodation with your luggage as going up and down the hills takes a lot of effort with the high altitude.

Visit Cusco in Peru

The city of Cusco is beautiful to explore by foot. Just make sure you're hydrated and take breaks.

We made a list of travel apps you can use to get around much easier. 

As far as getting to places such as Rainbow Mountain, the red river, etc., the two main options are to either rent a car, or go with a tour group. There are a lot of agencies around that will offer competitive prices, and the tours usually go out on a daily basis.

Where to Stay in Cusco

When it comes to places to stay when you visit Cusco, the first thing we can say is to stay in the old town. Being right in town  will make everything very accessible.

This is also a good choice (even if you find it a little bit more expensive than in the surroundings) because there are a lot of uphill and downhill streets and, as we mentioned before, altitude makes it hard to walk even a few blocks.

Loki Hostel

Personally, we stayed at Loki Hostel, and it was the time of our lives. It is a hostel where you can spend a full day and not be bored. They have beer olympics on Saturdays and parties every night. There are tons of people that are doing long stays in Cusco that stay there so it is easy to make friends.

The staff are great and whenever you do a tour or leave for a few days, they will keep all of your luggage free of charge. The beds even in the shared dorms are bigger than any other bunk bed we’ve seen anywhere else and are very comfortable.

Loki Olympics Cusco in Peru

On Saturdays Loki has beer Olympics with many fun different games.

Loki has a great location, competitive prices, and a fun and friendly atmosphere that we highly recommend.

Note that Loki is located on a steep street so will have to do an effort to go in an out. If for any reasons you can't expose yourself to this kind of daily effort, we suggest you to look for a different option.

Want to check out other great places to stay in Cusco? Just check the map below for options:

Is Cusco in Peru Safe?

Overall, South America is an area of the world where you'll want to be extra mindful. There is a lot of petty theft, and if you are walking around alone or at night, you could easily become a target. Always book things inside shops (not by strangers on the streets), and be extremely aware of your surroundings, especially your belongings.

We had a great experience in Cusco, but also had instances around other surrounding areas that were not the best. It is definitely not anything that should deter you from traveling, but to just keep your eyes open so you don't find yourself in a bad situation.

Other Things to Know About Visiting Cusco in Peru

Now you know almost everything you need to know about visiting Cusco in Peru. But there's more! We have tips for packing, weather, and some other tips for traveling to Cusco.

Important Info About Visiting Cusco in Peru

Unlike many other cities, Cusco is very special in certain aspects. There is a lot to know before you visit Cusco in Peru, so we're going to key you in on a few things we learned.

Altitude Sickness

In Cusco altitude sickness is real, and very intense. If you are not acclimated properly, you can really suffer. The moment you arrive make sure you take an altitude sickness pill. Even if it’s just right before you’re about to go to bed. (We say this from personal experience).

Keep pills with you, stay hydrated, and buy coca leaves to chew. Mate de Coca (Tea made from Coca leaves) is delicious, healthy, and really helps with altitude sickness as well, so make sure you stop by a cafe here and there and grab a cup.

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Booking Tours From Cusco in Peru

Refrain from booking ahead for all tours! Booking online is way more expensive, and there are so many options once you arrive in Cusco. Head downtown and there are a ton of offices with competitive prices. Shop around for what fits your needs.

Don't Do Back to Back Tours

Having so much to do in so little time can be overwhelming. Normally, we love to pack in as much as possible so we don't miss out on a thing! This unfortunately was a big mistake on our part, as we got completely burnt out.

This is because every activity takes significantly more energy due to the change in altitude. Even a short walk uphill can put you out of breath (and there are a lot of hills in Cusco!)

Give yourself a day between trips. Don’t book all your excursions back to back. There is a lot of hiking involved, and most need a day of recovery afterwards. Even just walking around the city can be exhausting, so let yourself recoup and regain your energy back. Trust us!

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Weather in Cusco

There are two seasons in Cusco- the rainy and dry seasons. The dry season is from May-October, and the rainy season is from November- April. Temperatures don't drastically change, and there are generally warm days and cool evenings.

The Best Time to Visit Cusco in Peru

The best time to visit Cusco in our opinion is on the shoulder season, right before or after the dry season (the high season). If you happen to visit in April, you'll have the opportunity to still witness the deep hue of the red river, and still have chances of the weather getting better before the crowds start pouring in.

What to Pack for a Trip to Cusco in Peru

Dressing to visit Cusco can be tricky, as the temperatures vary widely. During the day, it can be scorching hot, while the temperatures can drop drastically at night. The most important thing is to always be prepared.

Bring layers and carry an umbrella or poncho at all times because you’ll never know what you’re going to get.

For example, we when we went to Machu Picchu, we were religiously checking the weather. It said there were supposed to be rain and thunderstorms every day. Each day was extremely sunny and hot, but there could be a shower for 15 minutes.

Packing List for Cusco:

  • Sunscreen
  • Reusable Water Bottle (we use this water bottle from Cafago because it holds the temperature)
  • Sneakers (for all of the hikes)
  • Layers (for the mountains)
  • Zippered Bag or Backpack (to secure your belongings) - take a look at these backpacks for travelers!
  • Power Bank (we use Anker power banks, as they are super long lasting and sturdy)
  • Drone (We use the Mavic Mini Pro 3 because it's super light and has great quality)
  • Action Camera (we use the Insta 360 X3 because it's small & waterproof)
  • Travel Adapter (we use Insignia travel adapters as they are affordable and reliable)

Definitely make sure to visit Cusco on your trip to Peru. The city itself has a lot to offer in terms of architecture, places, food and experiences. We went there for a few days, and came back after going on a 4-day trip to Machu Picchu.

If you are planning on going to South America, we recommend you to put Cusco in Peru on your list of places to visit!

Need help planning your trip? We do customized itineraries for each of our travelers out there. We'll help you save money, all while exploring more! Want to learn how? Set up a free consultation.

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