The ancient capital of the Inca Empire is one of the cities that has fascinated me most on my tour of Peru. It is an obligatory stop. That’s why today I want to tell you things to do in Cusco in 3 days.
The city of Cusco has been declared the historical capital of Peru, something you will surely agree with as soon as you set foot on one of its streets.
Wherever you look, history and culture are everywhere. Its buildings, monuments, ruins and even its streets invite you to explore and photograph every corner.
There are so many places to visit in and around Cusco, so my recommendation is that if you have a bit more time, try to spend between 5 and 7 days.
But in case you don’t have a whole week to dedicate to this incredible city, below I will share with you an itinerary with the essential points that you should consider when touring Cusco.
🔝 If you are going to visit Cusco you will surely want to know one of the 7 wonders of the world. Here is a guide to visit Machu Picchu.
📜 TABLE OF CONTENTS
Suggested itinerary to visit Cusco in 3 days (and map!)
- DAY 1 – Cusco city tour (Plaza de Armas, the Cathedral, the Market and the Qorikancha Ruins)
- DAY 2 – Around Cusco (Saqsaywaman Fortress and other archaeological complexes).
- DAY 3 – Suggested excursions (Rainbow Mountain, Humantay Lagoon or any other).
📢 IMPORTANT! The activities we propose for day 3 are full day excursions. Therefore, you should choose one and if you have more time, leave the other excursion for another day.
As you read through this article, you will realise that 3 days is too little time to spend in this city. But not only because there are so many things to do in and around Cusco, but because the people will make you fall in love, the cuisine will delight you and you will want to spend much more time just enjoying the day to day.
10 must-see places to do in Cusco in 3 days
Now that you have the itinerary with the main places to visit in Cusco in 3 days, I will tell you a little more about each place so that you know what you are going to find and you can plan your trip well.
📷 You should know that Cusco has a tourist ticket that allows you to save money in museums and archaeological sites. See what’s included and sign up for it right here.
🔘 Check out the rest of the World Heritage Sites we have visited.
1) Take a Free Tour around the city of Cusco
One of the things I like to do when I first arrive in a city is to get an overview of its most important sites and its history.
The ideal way to do this is to take a Free Tour, which basically consists of a guided tour around the city where a specialised guide takes you to the most emblematic places and tells you a little about their history and culture.
This type of tour usually lasts approximately 2:30 hours and can be booked up to 24 hours in advance.
It almost always starts at the Plaza de Armas, located in the centre of the city of Cusco.
The great thing about this Free Tour is that you can tour Cusco and its most important sites without paying a fixed amount and from the hand of a person who knows the city like the back of his hand.
👉 Free Tours are trendy because it is a “cheap” way to get to know a place. It is an introduction to then continue touring on your own or go deeper in a paid tour. Why cheap and not free? Because FREE is actually a word with a double meaning in English. Yes, on the one hand its translation is “free of charge”, but it is also related to “freedom”. That is to say, tours are at will and the amount you will pay will depend on whether you liked it a lot or a little, and the budget you are traveling with. It is recommended to leave a minimum of 5 € per person attending.
📷 Take this free tour of Cusco. Book your place!
2) Visit the Cathedral of Cusco in the Plaza de Armas
The Cathedral of Cusco is located in the centre of the main square of the city and is one of the most important historical buildings in Cusco.
It was built over an Inca temple, with a gothic-renaissance style structure on the outside and is a true Cuzco art.
It took more than 100 years to build and it is said that much of the stone was quarried from the nearby fortress of Saqsaywaman (located to the north of the city).
Inside you can admire a baroque-style structure, several examples painted on canvas and carved wooden altars.
You can also contemplate great works by local artists of the Cuzco school, a large silver main altar and the most valuable work portraying Jesus and his disciples at the last supper.
If you go around Cusco with the Free Tour that I recommended in the previous point, you will probably visit the cathedral, but only from the outside.
So I recommend that you take a short break and then go on your own to see inside.
Admission is free, but you can opt for a guided tour.
Also, in the Plaza de Armas, don’t miss out on everything that is going on around you. Sit on one of the benches in the square or on the steps of the Cathedral and watch the crowds.
The other religious temple on the square, which is not the Cathedral of Cusco, is the Church of the Society of Jesus. It is built entirely of stone over what was once an Inca palace inhabited by the rulers of the village.
3) Visit the central market of San Pedro.
The central market of San Pedro is located in the historic centre of Cusco, a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas.
It is a local market full of fruits, vegetables, meats, handicrafts, medicinal plants and typical food at very cheap prices.
In addition to being able to have breakfast or lunch at very affordable prices, visiting the San Pedro market will allow you to leave the more typical tourist activities to one side for a while and see Cuzco society from the inside, sharing with locals and learning about their daily lives.
The central market is free of charge and is open every day during a wide range of hours. So you can take a walk any time you have free time.
4) Visiting the Qorikancha Ruins
📷 Both Qorikancha and the other archaeological sites can be visited on a guided tour of Cusco and its 4 ruins. It also includes a tour of the centre. Very complete!
Qorikancha, also known as the Temple of the Sun, was one of the most sacred and respected temples of the Inca empire. There they worshipped and paid tribute to the gods.
The delicacy of its walls shows in its maximum splendour the level of engineering reached by the Incas. In ancient times its walls were covered with a band of gold, until it was sacked during the English Invasion.
Today you can find a museum with objects found during an excavation of the archaeological site.
It has several rooms where historical artefacts such as pottery, tools, royal mummies, textile cloaks and even skeletal remains are on display.
The good thing about this archaeological site is that it is located in the centre of the city of Cusco, which makes it very accessible.
5) Visit the imposing Saqsaywaman fortress.
Within our suggested itinerary to visit Cusco in 3 days we cannot miss one of the most extraordinary historical sites located in the outskirts of the city.
The Saqsaywamanes Fortress is a building of the Inca Empire that was built as a ceremonial object in honour of one of their gods, the sun.
Today it is used to celebrate Peru’s most important ancestral festival, the Inti Raymi or Festival of the Sun.
From this historic site you can get unbeatable panoramic views of the city of Cusco.
During your visit you will be able to walk along its walls, towers and tunnels and you will also be able to appreciate the Inca throne, a stone structure in the form of a seat carved by the Incas with great perfection.
In addition, the gigantic stones of the walls are perfectly embedded. They are not glued together. And they are said to have a lot of energy, so it’s good to lean on them and fill yourself with strength and power.
The Saqsaywaman fortress is part of an archaeological circuit that should definitely be on your list of things to see in Cusco in 3 days.
This circuit also includes Tambomachay, Puka Pukara and Q’enqo (which I will tell you about next) and you can visit all 4 archaeological sites on the same day, either by taking a City Tour or on your own.
6) Discovering the Q’enqo Archaeological Complex
The Q’enqo Archaeological Complex is the second stop on the archaeological tour of the outskirts of Cusco.
Here you can find the ruins left by the Spaniards during their conquest. You will also be able to access an underground chamber used by the Incas to make offerings to their gods through sacrifices.
From Q’enqo you get a view of the city of Cusco that is worthy of admiration.
📌 If you don’t know much about the history of this place, it is recommended that you take a tour with a guide in order to understand what it is all about. Otherwise, it will simply look like a collection of stones.
7) Visiting the Puka Pukara Archaeological Centre
The Puka Pukaraes Archaeological Centre is a fortress made up of walls, terraces and stairways which, during the Inca Empire, was used as a military surveillance centre.
It is very close to Tambomachay so you can walk from one ruin to the other.
The complete tour of the Puka Pukará can take no more than an hour and a half, but it is well worth the effort to stop by and admire the incredible scenery that unfolds around the archaeological centre.
In order to understand a little more of what this site is about, I recommend that you take a tour with a guide who can explain its history to you.
8) Enjoying the history and nature of Tambomachay
A walk through Tambomachay or the Ñusta bath is another must-do in Cusco.
It is a complex located between hills surrounded by grass and a lot of green that was created by the Incas to worship the water and as a place of rest.
In Tambomachay you will find different canals, aqueducts and springs of crystalline water that were built by the Incas with carved stones.
Furthermore, from there you can see the peaks of Ausagante, Pachatusan and Cinca, sites that were considered sacred by the Inca culture.
9) Hike to Vinicunca Mountain (Rainbow Mountain)
We come to the last day of our suggested itinerary with the best places to see in Cusco in 3 days.
Before I continue, I must make a clarification. Both the Vinicunca Mountain and the Humantay Lagoon are two incredible sites, but they are not located in Cusco, but are accessible by full day excursions.
So, if you are only going to be in Cusco for 3 days, you should choose one of these two options.
The Vinicunca Mountain, also known as Rainbow Mountain, is a mountain located at 5,200 metres above sea level and is characterised by containing several minerals that make it possible to appreciate 7 different colours.
The National Geographic magazine placed it on its list of the 100 places you must see before you die, and the truth is that this natural spectacle is well deserved, and that is why we also include it in our list of the best places to visit in Cusco and its surroundings.
This site is located about 100 kilometres from Cusco and, as I mentioned before, you can get there by taking a tour from the city.
These tours usually start at 4 am where you are picked up from your accommodation and after a 2 and a half hour bus ride, you arrive in Tintinco for breakfast and then continue for another hour to Llacto where the trek begins.
⚠️ The hike can take between 2 and 3 hours and is uphill. Because of the altitude it can be difficult for those who are not in good physical condition. You should also bear in mind that this is a place where it is very cold, so I recommend that you go fully equipped to combat the cold.
When you are there you will see that it is possible to hire a horse to take you to the base of the viewpoint, but we do not recommend this option.
🐘 As a traveler you should be watchful, be aware of possible abuses of animals during your holiday, not participating in them. We also encourage the tourism industry to identify practices that put animals at risk and to make informed decisions to avoid promoting them.
📷 Take a look at this excursion to do the Rainbow Mountain Trekking and don’t miss this wonderful place.
10) Visit the Humantay Lagoon
The Humantay Lagoon is another of the places to visit in and around Cusco that I highly recommend.
Although walking there can be a little difficult and tiring, the beauty of this lagoon is certainly worth the effort.
The tour to the Humantay Lagoon also usually starts in the early morning. And the journey to the start of the trek is 3 hours with a stop in the middle for breakfast.
The hike is even more demanding than the Vinicunca Mountain hike, but the scenery on arrival is priceless. A turquoise lagoon surrounded by glaciers. Highly recommended.
⚠️ It is a one and a half hour hike where you climb from 3,900 to 4,200 metres above sea level. It is quite demanding.
📷 Book your place to visit the Humantay Lagoon on an excursion from Cusco.
11) Entering the Sacred Valley
There are more places to visit in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, such as the ruins of Pisac or the villages of Chinchero or Ollantaytambo (from where the train to Machu Picchu also departs).
In addition, many of these places have markets and strolls to go and buy some colourful handicrafts or fabrics to take home as souvenirs or gifts.
📷 The best thing to do is to hire an excursion like this one to visit the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
Useful facts to visit Cusco
Now it’s time to get to know Machu Picchu
The next stop is the ruins of Machu Picchu, so here are two useful links:
- Our mega guide to Machu Picchu.
- And, inside the guide, the summary of how to get there with all the excursions and ways to do it on your own.
More activities to do in Cusco, adventure here we come!
There are many other things to do in and around Cusco, such as a tour to the Maras and Moray salt mines., Huchuy Qosco, Pikillacta and even a 5-day trek along the Salkantay Trail. (I didn’t have time to do it, but many travellers were delighted with this excursion), but we wanted to limit the proposal to a short stay.
In any case, you should know that in addition to the places mentioned above, you can also experience super original adventures:
- Paragliding over the Sacred Valley.
- Rafting on the Urubamba River and zip line over the South Valley..
Buy your travel insurance and travel safe!
🚑 Take a look at these tips for choosing the best travel insurance (updated to 2023 and with juicy discounts) for the type of traveller you are, and they will also help you clear up the most common doubts. Travel safe!
Where to stay in Cusco
You can find very good value for money accommodation in Cusco in the historic centre itself, so our recommendation is not to stray too far from there. It is the perfect location to have restaurants, markets and sightseeing close at hand.
If you choose accommodation further afield, don’t worry, as most excursions include transfers and will pick you up from your hotel. Taxi transfers are not that expensive either.
🏨 Find here the best hoteles in Cusco.
📷 Book your transfer from Cusco airport to the city here and travel in comfort!
Discounts and useful resources to save on your trip
- Cheap flights with Skyscanner
- Rent a car with Auto Europe
- Interrail Pass
- Eurail Pass
- Train Tickets with OMIO
- Bus tickets with OMIO
- Ferry tickets with OMIO
- Asia tickets with 12Go
Activities and Tours
– Comparison of Travel Insurance 2023 –
Others for your trip
For your travel blog
- Hosting with Webempresa
(25% discount with the code “gracias25”)
- Web translation plugin with WPML
I hope this guide with the best places to see in Cusco in 3 days will help you to plan your trip to the historic city of Peru.
You can leave your questions in the comments.
Leave a Reply