The Top 10 Sights of Cusco, Peru

The former Inca capital Cusco is now the tourist centre of Peru due to its proximity to the Sacred Valley with Machu Picchu and its impressive historic old town.

Cusco is called the "navel of the world". What seems a bit exaggerated from a global perspective definitely makes sense in Peru, because since the discovery of the world-famous Inca city of Machu Picchu, the royal city has clearly become Peru's tourist centre. Nestled in a magnificent mountain landscape and peppered with grandiose Inca and colonial architecture, Cusco impresses with its dazzling past of great peoples.


The fascinating city is on our list of top 10 sights in Peru and is the most visited attraction in the country, along with Lima and Machu Picchu.

Cusco is the perfect springboard for many more of Peru's top 10 sights. Fascinating Inca sites with sounding names like Saysayhuamán, Ollantaytambo, Kenko, Pisac and, of course, the famous Machu Picchu are no more than a day's journey from Cusco.

No wonder, then, that Cusco is Peru's most visited city next to the capital Lima. With hotels, restaurants and cafés, the pulsating "Heart of the Andes" is now perfectly prepared for tourism.

Mix of architecture in the old town of Cusco

The architecture in the old town of Cusco, Peru, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983 and has managed to retain its original charm - © flog / franks-travelbox
© flew / franks-travelbox

Cusco is a curious mix of perfect Inca walls and Spanish colonial palaces. After the Inca capital, then called Tahuantinsuyo, fell to the Spanish in November 1533, many sanctuaries were destroyed and vast quantities of gold and silver were transported away to Spain.

Nevertheless impressed by the Inca architecture, the Conquistadores built their own palaces, churches and monasteries in the New World on the remaining foundations. This gave rise to the unique architecture in the old town of Cusco, which has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1983 and has been able to retain its original charm.

Inca ruins and Inca museums in Cusco

The masterful architecture of the Incas is still visible in Cusco despite the destructive rage of the Spanish. The Calle Hatunrumiyoc is particularly famous. Here, the wall of the former palace of Inca Roca still stands, seamlessly composed of huge stones with up to 12 corners.

Also an Inca testimony is the Callejón de Siete Culebras, the "alley of the seven snakes" decorated with stone reptiles, which according to Inca belief stood for wisdom.


Otherwise, finds from Machu Picchu and other legacies of the Inca Empire are exhibited in various museums in Cusco. Inca enthusiasts should especially visit the Museo Inka and the Museo Machupicchu Casa Concha.

Peru's other pre-Columbian cultures, including the Mochica, Chimú and Nazca, are presented in the Museo de Historia Regional.

Plaza de Armas

Typical for Peru's cities, the central square in Cusco is also called Plaza de Armas - © flog / franks-travelbox
© flew / franks-travelbox

Typical of Peru's cities, the central square in Cusco is also called Plaza de Armas, or Plaza Mayor. In the shade of magnificent colonial churches, nice cafés serve hot chocolate and street vendors sell souvenirs and kitsch. The Plaza de Armas is a perfect starting point for a sightseeing tour through the historic centre of Cusco and is itself home to some of Cusco's top 10 sights.

Tip: Souvenirs are a lot cheaper in Cusco than in Machu Picchu, but still more expensive than in Puno! The best address for nice souvenirs is the art market on Avenida del Sol, corner Tullumayo.

Cusco Cathedral

The monumental Cusco Cathedral, with eight altars and two side churches, is one of the largest churches in the Americas, Peru - © flog / franks-travelbox
© flew / franks-travelbox

The massive Cusco Cathedral is one of the largest churches in the Americas and dominates the north-east side of the Plaza de Armas. It can be entered via the left side entrance and impresses with a precious silver high altar and magnificently carved choir stalls. In the left bell tower of Cusco Cathedral hangs the largest and heaviest bell in South America, weighing 6 tonnes.

Article: Cusco Cathedral

Iglesia La Compañía de Jesús

The Jesuits wanted to build the most beautiful church in the city at the Plaza de Armas in Cusco in the 16th century, which they succeeded in doing with the Iglesia La Compañía de Jesús, Peru - © flog / franks-travelbox
© flew / franks-travelbox

The church of the Jesuit order is located right next to the Cusco Cathedral and is by no means inferior to it in terms of splendour and pomp - on the contrary. Probably the most beautiful baroque church in Cusco, it was even built in the late 16th century specifically to outdo the cathedral and even triggered a church dispute.

The neighbouring former university of the Jesuit order now houses the Natural History Museum of Cusco.

Article: Iglesia La Compañía de Jesús


Basilica La Merced

View of the massive baroque tower of La Merced Basilica in the former royal city of Cusco, Peru - © flog / franks-travelbox
© flew / franks-travelbox

After Cusco Cathedral and the Iglesia La Compañia de Jesús, the Basilica of La Merced is the most important and impressive church in Cusco. Located one block south of the Plaza de Armas, it impresses with its masterful paintings and the precious church treasure with a priceless 22kg monstrance.

Article: Basilica La Merced in Cusco
Photo gallery: Basilica La Merced in Cusco

Santa Catalina Monastery

The Santa Catalina Monastery in Cusco functions as a museum of religious art and is also worth a visit for its colonial architecture, Peru - © flog / franks-travelbox
© flew / franks-travelbox

The former convent to the west of the Plaza de Armas now houses a museum of religious art. Besides the history and culture of women's convents in Cuzco, it also presents one of the most important Indian-Spanish art collections in Cuzco. The colonial architecture of the Santa Catalina Monastery is also worth a visit, with its painted archways, baroque frescoes and ornate arcades.

Temple of Coricancha and Convent of Santo Domingo

The temple Coricancha in Cusco at night, it was the most sacred place of the Incas and according to tradition lined with pure gold and silver, Peru - © Christian Vinces / Shutterstock
© Christian Vinces / Shutterstock

On the remains of the Inca's most sacred site, the Temple of the Sun God, sits the Santo Domingo Convent today. According to tradition, the important ceremonial site on Avenida del Sol was used for weddings, funerals and other Inca rituals and was covered in pure gold, silver and precious stones.

The riches of the Coricancha temple were looted by the Spaniards, the only thing left of the Inca today are 4 chambers of the original temple with architecturally perfect Inca walls.

Article: Temple Coricancha in Cusco

Artists' Quarter and Church of San Blas

The colourful window frames and carved balconies in front of light-coloured clay façades can be admired above all in the artists' quarter of San Blas. Between small studios and cosy cafés, one souvenir shop follows another selling Peruvian handicrafts.


The church of San Blas dates back to 1544 and is the oldest church in Cusco. Inside, it is worth taking a look at the carved pulpit - said to be the most beautiful woodwork in all of Cusco.

San Pedro Market

Another good place to shop is the San Pedro market, about 8 minutes' walk south of the Plaza Mayor. Instead of handicrafts, however, you can buy food here. If you want to sample the typical cuisine of Peru, this is the place to go.

Even on the way there, you can buy nuts, popcorn and dried fruit at the roadside. You can choose from a variety of foods from the region, freshly squeezed juices and whole menus - of course always in the authentic chaotic market hustle and bustle of Cusco.

Best time to visit Cusco

Cusco is over 3,400 metres above sea level, so it never gets really hot here. The daily highs are around 20 °C all year round. The best time to visit Cusco is during the summer months from May to September. This is when there are the most hours of sunshine and the least rainfall. Even in April and October, the weather can still be dry and warm.

Climate table Cusco

Climate and weather data for Cusco, Peru. Sunshine hours per day, water temperature, rainy days per month, minimum temperature, maximum temperature. - © FRASHO / franks-travelbox
© FRASHO / franks-travelbox

Journey to Cusco

Getting to Cusco, Peru, is either by plane via the city airport or by bus - © flog / franks-travelbox
© flew / franks-travelbox

Getting to Cusco is either by plane via the Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport or by bus. Countless long-distance buses travel to the royal city from basically everywhere, according to the motto "All roads lead to Cuso". The PeruRail train takes you from Cusco on to Puno and Machu Picchu.

Boleto Turistico - the ticket to the Inca world

Travellers to Peru need the Boleto Turistico as an entrance ticket to the sights of Cusco and the fascinating Inca sites in its surroundings. The tourist ticket can be purchased at the tourist office or online and is valid either for one day or for 10 days.

PICTURES: The Top 10 Sights of Cusco

Photo gallery: Royal city of Cusco


Excursions from Cusco

Around Peru's royal city lie countless other Inca sites worth seeing, and Cusco is a great base for exploring them.


The perfectly hewn stones made the Inca walls of Sacsayhuamán earthquake-proof and still make every master builder green with envy, Peru - © flog / franks-travelbox
© flew / franks-travelbox

The closest interesting place from Cusco is Sacsayhuamán with the snow-white statue of Christ Cristo Blanco. The impressive ruined city three kilometres north of Cusco impressively shows the millimetre-precise work of the Inca master builders and, together with the old city of Cusco, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The hidden entrance to the sacrificial cave, the very heart of Kenko, Peru - © flog / franks-travelbox
© flew / franks-travelbox

Already in the Valle Sagrado, the Sacred Valley of the Incas on the way to Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu, lies the mysterious cult site of Kenko, the mythological entrance to the underworld. Smoothly polished walls and stone blocks with numerous gullies and winding crevices bear witness to the ritual ceremonies of the Inca priests.

Around 8km north of Cusco are the water sanctuary of Tambomachay and the small mountain fortress of Puka Pukara.

Tip: If you take a taxi to Tambomachay, you can march back to Cusco as a day trip via Pukapukara, Kenko and Sacsayhuamán.

Inca City of Pisac

Historic Pisac, in the famous Valle Sagrado in southern Peru, had three meanings for the Incas: fortification, religious ceremonies and agriculture - © flog / franks-travelbox
© flew / franks-travelbox

Pisac is located less than an hour's drive northeast of Cusco in the Valle Sagrado, the famous Sacred Valley. Agriculture is still practised on its countless terraces.

Pisac is also known for its food and handicraft market, which takes place every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Although it is quite touristy here and the prices are sometimes exorbitant, the colourful spectacle is still worth a visit.


The ancient city of Chinchero in southern Peru near Cusco is a fascinating mix of old and new - © flog / franks-travelbox
© flew / franks-travelbox

Chinchero is also just under an hour's drive from Cusco, but to the northwest, towards Machu Picchu. This small town, which has remained completely unspoilt, also attracts visitors with its Inca legacies and the Sunday market of the traditionally dressed inhabitants.


In addition, there is a colonial church in the former summer residence of the Inca kings and the sensational view over the snow-covered Cordillera Vilcabamba to marvel at.

Related links:

Official website of Cusco