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Travel Guide for Cusco

Cusco is located in southeastern Peru and on the eastern slope of the Andes. It is a tourist destination by excellence and everyone who visits it, is enchanted by the kindness of its people, the imposing nature of its mountains, the warmth of its streets, and the history that still lives in each of its corners.

The city of Cusco is also the gateway to the Sacred Valley of the Incas, which will dazzle you with its unique landscapes, its ancient culture, and its famous trekking routes. You can also access the wonderful Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, departing from the city of Cusco or from the town of Ollantaytambo. In our Destination Guide Cusco, you will find important information and above all inspiration to plan your next adventure in the Peruvian Andes!

The city of Cusco (Cuzco), known as the capital of the Inca Empire, is the main tourist destination in the country. Its cobblestone streets and the perfect fusion between colonial and Inca architecture will transport you back in time to experience firsthand the ancient culture that still prevails in this corner of the world. It is not without good reason that Cusco was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

The City

Located at 3,399 meters above sea level, this city will literally take your breath away. Its narrow streets will lead you to one of the most beautiful main squares in the world (according to many of our travelers), where the Inca Roads from the four suyos (regions) come together. Once on the square, the imposing Cathedral will reveal itself before your eyes. Alongside, competing in beauty is the Church of the Company of Jesus. The mountains, the tiled rooftops, and the San Cristobal neighborhood in the background complete the magical landscape.

What is the best way to tour the city? Considering that Cusco is a destination visited by many tourists, we have designed our own way of getting to know it, trying to avoid the crowds and showing you those hidden treasures of the city. Our Cusco Walking Tour will take you to Qenqo, Sacsayhuaman, the artistic neighborhood of San Blas, the Temple of the Sun and we will also make a strategic stop to enjoy Amazonian art in a nice gallery cafe in the city.

Apart from just wandering around and discovering various lovely streets and squares, other activities you can do in Cusco city are short walks, for example to Inkilltambo or the so-called Temple of the Moon (Amaru Marcahuasi or Laqo). If you prefer cultural activities you can visit the various museums in the center of the city. And definitely, something you should not miss is to taste its delicious cuisine. We will help you to find out which are the best restaurants in Cusco or if you prefer to prepare a typical dish yourself, you can take a look at our interactive Cooking Class, including a visit to a local market. We will soon be adding more workshop-like activities in Cusco for you to dive into the art and social projects.

Cusco is a destination that positively amazes and that has a lot to offer, no matter which way you go. Next, we describe the most interesting attractions outside the city that you should definitely consider including in your trip.

San Blas - Cusco - Peru
San Blas Neighborhood

The Sacred Valley of the Incas

Located at the foot of the Peruvian Andes, this territory is made up of rivers and small towns with a lot of history. At the time of the Inca Empire, the valley was of great importance and was home to palaces, temples, fortresses, and trails that are now World Heritage Sites (Machu Picchu and the Qhapaq Ñan).

The Sacred Valley of the Incas offers you an endless number of activities, depending on your interests and the type of traveler you are. You can visit the different archaeological centers, such as Pisac and Ollantaytambo, and if you are adventurous, you can go biking, kayaking, Stand-up Paddle Boarding in the Piuray Lagoon, zipline or opt for the different hikes of one or more days, depending on the time you have and your physical condition. The markets full of color thanks to their unique textiles, clothing, and art pieces, are also a must-stop.

If you are interested in Community Based Tourism (you know it’s our passion!) you can visit the different communities that still inhabit the valley and preserve their customs to this day, many of them still live under the laws that prevailed in Inca times. There are so many options: depending on whether you are more interested in gastronomy, art, culture or adventure you will find a community that offers an ideal experience for your tastes.

Saqsayhuaman - Cusco - Peru
Saqsayhuaman complex

On the way to Machu Picchu

From the city of Cusco, you can get directly to Machu Picchu through a train ride that takes approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes. But if you are already in the valley we recommend taking the train that leaves from Ollantaytambo station (approximate duration of the train ride: 1 hour and 45 minutes). In case you wonder: there are no roads leading to Machu Picchu (only the Inca Road, haha!).

If you have a more active spirit you can choose one of the multi-day treks that lead to Machu Picchu such as the Lares Trek or the Salkantay Trek, or opt for one of the most requested routes by travelers from all over the world, the famous Inca Trail. Other trekkings like the Ausangate (spectacular mountain landscapes) or the Choquequirao (less visited archaeological site of Machu Picchu-like grandeur) can also be considered; if you’re up for the physical challenge. If you prefer to avoid the crowds we recommend our Coffee Route to Machu Picchu, a hike that will allow you to meet and share with coffee-growing families, while enjoying beautiful landscapes. Our Coffee Route comes in several flavors but if you can’t find your ideal Coffee Route, get in touch with our travel designers for a bespoke experience to Machu Picchu.

The stone gate of Machu Picchu is the real access to the citadel | RESPONSible Travel Peru
The stone gate of Machu Picchu is the real access to the citadel

What we reccomend for you

If you come to Cusco directly from the city of Lima or from any city that is close to sea level, we recommend you to go straight to the Sacred Valley of the Incas so you can acclimatize better and avoid altitude sickness. There are lovely accommodations to everyone’s taste and do not forget to check out the must-see places such as Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Maras, and Moray. Read this article to learn everything you need to know about altitude sickness and staying healthy when traveling to Cusco.

What to pack for your trip to Cusco?

To prepare for your trip to the altitudes and strong sunshine of Cusco, take a look at our blog about What to Pack for your Trip to Peru. You will find recommendations and a full packing list can be downloaded so that you will enjoy Cusco and its surroundings in the best possible way.

How long should I spend in Cusco?

Please leave enough time for Cusco itself, too, you can easily spend several days in the city. With all the activities done outside the city, time flies when you also include the city’s cultural visits, shopping for the most beautiful souvenirs, and dining in the many great restaurants. Did you know that the biggest Inca festivity is also held in Cusco? This is Inti Raymi, celebrated each year on June 24th. If you like a colorful experience and don’t mind the crowds, this spectacle should not be missed!

How it connects to other destinations

Thanks to the fact that it is an important tourist destination, the city of Cusco connects very well with several other regions.

There are flights to and from many destinations throughout the country. For example, with Lima, Arequipa, and Juliaca a flight takes approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes. We always recommend traveling by bus to the closest cities, because you are able to enjoy beautiful landscapes and are more environmentally friendly.

By bus, you reach the city of Puno. The 7-hour direct trip will take you to the city from where the boats depart to the islands of Lake Titicaca.

From Cusco, you can also access Arequipa by bus, the trip will take you 10 hours and 30 minutes. Here you can enjoy the views of the Misti Volcano and visit the Colca Canyon. Great tip: three times per week, there’s also a direct tourist bus service between Cusco and the Colca Canyon.

If you want to add the jungle area to your itinerary, from Cusco you can connect your trip with the Tambopata jungle, 10 hrs by bus to Puerto Maldonado approximately. You can also visit the Manu Reserve; for both destinations, it is best to add at least 4 to 5 more days to your trip.

If you want to leave Peru through the south, you can travel from Cusco to the city of La Paz, Bolivia. The trip will take you approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes by air. There are direct buses, too, they take 14 hours.


As you can see, Cusco is a destination rich in landscape, activities, gastronomy, history, and above all a good connection point to visit other places inside and outside Peru.

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ABOUT RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL PERU

RESPONS’ mission is to improve living conditions in Peru through developing and promoting sustainable tourism. We’ve implemented a business model in which all areas of human relations are respected, and - equally important - respect for the planet is incorporated.

Following this business model, we practice fair trade, foster cultural identity, promote equal opportunities, and we preserve the environment that surrounds us and other species.

Together with you we improve, day by day, on the always-demanding path towards sustainability.

Tours in Peru

Travelers and locals playing volleyball together on a visit to the floating Uros Titino islands at Lake Titicaca - RESPONSible Travel Peru

Peru the Local Way: our signature trip

Car driving by lamas and alpacas in the Andes - Road Trip - RESPONSible Travel Peru

A Different Kind of Road Trip through Southern Peru

Selia and three young travelers showing off the dishes after the cooking class | Responsible Travel Peru

Cooking Class in Cusco

Child Matsiguenga posing for our photographer | Responsible Travel Peru

Exploration to the heart of the Manu National Park

Spectacular view of the snow-capped mountains of the Cordillera Blanca from the community of Vicos | Responsible Travel Peru

Short immersion in the Andean community of Vicos

Guido assisting the locals in Vicos with opening the Pachamanca and gathering the freshly cooked potatoes. Community-Based Tourism in the Andes - RESPONSible Travel Peru

The complete Vicos experience with Pachamanca

San Martin square is characterized by the big monument to the independence leader | Responsible Travel Peru

Lima Walking Tour

Close up of a chef serving ceviche on a dish | Responsible Travel Peru

Lambayeque Gastronomy Workshop