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24 Hours in Cusco - Our Top 10 Things To Do

A young guide explaining a couple paintings from the Cusco School in a colonial hotel featuring beautiful arches
January 16, 2024
9 min. read
Cusco · Peru

While most of the conventional trips to Peru focus primarely on visiting the iconic cathedral and the Koricancha Sun Temple, the former capital of the Inca empire has much more to offer to the inteprid traveler.

And what's more, the city's compact historic center makes it incredibly walkable, eliminating the need for taxis and allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the atmosphere of this charming Andean metropolis. Here's a curated list of the top 10 things to do in Cusco in 24 hours, ensuring you make the most of your time in this captivating destination.

Take in the magnificent view from the bell tower of the Compañía church

Firstly, we recommend visiting the bell tower of the Compañía de Jesús church in Cusco. The views will give you a good look at the city's layout.

The impressive church was built by the Jesuits in 1571 and was reconstructed after the earthquake in 1650. After photographing the intricate stonework of the exterior of the church and marveling at the captivating artworks inside (no photos allowed inside), make your way up a narrow staircase to an observation deck at the base of the bell towers. From here you will have an amazing view of Cusco’s main plaza and the nearby cathedral!

A traveler photographing from La Compania Church

Drink a cocktail in San Blas while watching the sunset

Furthermore, a must-see neighborhood in Cusco is San Blas. We recommend spending some time in this area to explore the steeped cobblestone alleys while soaking in Cusco’s artistic atmosphere. After visiting some of the local galleries, make a stop at Limbus Resto Bar. Here you can enjoy a delicious cocktail while watching the sun set over Cusco’s rooftops. (Just make sure you are acclimated to Cusco's high altitude before consuming any alcohol!).

Bottle with cocktail at Limbus Restobar in San Blas, Cusco

Try a local pizza or ‘guinea pig’ made with an artisan oven

After enjoying your cocktail at Limbus, make your way to Pachapapa restaurant in San Blas (only 200m from Limbus). The traditional restaurant features exquisite Peruvian as well as Andean dishes.

Enjoy a local pizza fresh out of their wood fire oven! Or if you want to try something unique, order the local 'chicharrones' (fried pork belly), 'anticuchos' alpaca skewers or roasted guinea pig! Known locally as ‘cuy’, guinea pig is one of the most popular local dishes and Pachapapa claims to serve the best one in Cusco!

Alpaca skewers served with potatoes and salad
Anticuchos (skewers)
What to Eat in Cusco - Cusquenan-style fried pork belly served with maize, potatoes and onion salad

Vegetarian options include dishes made with quinoa (yes, the superfood :-)), local giant corn, or trout (if you are a pescatarian). Our final tip for veggies: Cusquenos love the traditional 'Capchi' (a stew prepared with wild mushrooms, broad beans, and local cheese). And yes, you will find Capchi on the menu at Pachapapa.

A reinterpretation of the local 'Capchi' dish from Cusco made with wild mushrooms
Quinoa soup Cusco

Explore the 12 Angled-stone at Hatunrumiyoc Street

Take a walk along Hatunrumiyoc Street named after the 12-angled stone visible in the remaining walls of what used to be Inca Roca’s Palace. This stone with 12 angles fits seamlessly in the surrounding wall and is an example of Incan ingenuity. In fact, the Inca laid the stones around it so precisely that the use of mortar to hold them together wasn't necessary.

Next, head to the Palacio del Inka hotel for a drink. Their 'Rumi' (Stone) bar features an original Inca wall with an 8-angled stone. It is said that if someone would try to remove this stone, the entire wall would collapse entirely!

History & Fine Dining at MAP

The MAP (the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art) offers a collection of pre-Inca, Inca, and colonial art with easy-to-understand written explanations in English. Check out their online virtual tour to get a teaser of the amazing collection they have!

Considered one of the most beautiful and best-preserved colonial houses in Cusco, the museum also features one of the best restaurants in town. The MAP Café is literally an out-of-the-box dining option for an intimate yet sophisticated gastronomic experience. Set in a glass box in the museum's courtyard MAP serves beautifully presented re-interpretations of Peruvian cuisine.

MAP glass-box within the Casa Cabrera in Cusco
MAP Cafe within the MAP Museum

Experience an art tour & cooking class at a colonial monastery

Right across from the MAP, you will find the five-star Monasterio Hotel, a colonial gem. The property is a former 16th-century Jesuit Monastery and boasts stunning paintings of the ‘Cusco School’.

If you have the time, we recommend taking part in the hotel’s Art Tour and Cooking Class (for a minimum of 2 participants). An expert in religious art will guide you through the hotel’s vast collection of art before you give the art of cooking a try. Following an introduction to the development of Peruvian cuisine, you will have the chance to prepare two dishes, lomo saltado, and ceviche.

Guide at the Monasterio Hotel in Cusco explaining the colonial paintings to guests

Empower Local Artisans with Souvenir Shopping

If you are looking for unique Peruvian souvenirs that make a positive impact, Cusco is the perfect place to shop.

Start at Cocoliso Cusco, where Peruvian artisans craft alpaca wool treasures. For those in search of handmade crafts that tell a story, make your way to Isa Luna's boutique. Here, you'll discover a treasure trove of one-of-a-kind pieces, each intricately handcrafted with love and care.

Alalau Cusco in San Blas embodies the spirit of slow fashion. Their unique pieces, inspired by local styles and fabrics, offer a contemporary twist on traditional Peruvian clothing.

Explore Xapiri Ground for indigenous-inspired handcrafted items. Hilo Cusco, by Eibhlin Cassidy, fuses Irish design with Peruvian authenticity. Your purchases at these establishments aren't just souvenirs; they're meaningful connections to Cusco's culture and support local traditions and communities.

Cheers to an amazing time in Cusco with a Coca Sour 

Finally, before leaving Cusco, we recommend enjoying a Coca Sour for a memorable farewell toast. Infused with traditional Coca leaves, a Coca Sour is a must-try while in Cusco (next to the famous Pisco sour, of course!).

Support Women and Visit the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco

Top 10 Things To Do in Cusco - Andean Textiles

Exploring the rich tapestry of Cusco's rural communities unveils a captivating story woven into the fabric of tradition.

For those with time constraints, an excellent alternative awaits in the heart of Cusco – the CTTC (Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco). More than just a center, CTTC is a non-profit association dedicated to the revival of ancestral weaving traditions and the empowerment of female weavers. Here, weavers from ten partner communities showcase their extraordinary creations, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the vibrant heritage of Andean textiles. By eliminating intermediaries, CTTC provides weavers with a direct platform to share their exquisite pieces.

A visit to CTTC is not just a shopping experience. Written explanations in English accompany the displays, offering visitors a deeper understanding of the cultural significance behind each masterpiece.

Hands of a female artisan wearing a traditional attire weaving with wool threads

Where To Stay

La Casona Inkaterra ($$$) is a stylish boutique property set in a colonial building in top location. Intimate experience (only 11 rooms). Part of the exclusive Relais & Chateaux Collection.

JW Marriott El Convento ($$$) the former San Agustin colonial convent is a a 5* hotel today. With a spa, jacuzzi, and indoor pool. Guests can see artifacts of the pre-Inca and Inca culture unearthed during the excavations as well as original Inca walls. Just 2 blocks from the main square.

Belmond Palacio Nazarenas ($$$$) a grand hotel set in a convent from the 16th century. With courtyards, beautiful gardens, an outdoor pool and spa. Only 8-minute walk from Cusco's main square.

Antigua Casona San Blas ($$) is full of character. While being a colonial property, the hotel is beautifully restored, in a superb location. 52 rooms in three different categories. Family-friendly and features a yoga room.

Tariq Boutique Hotel ($) charming and cozy, full of art and located in San Blas artist's quarter. Centrally located, however, is an option only for the fittest (there is a short walk uphill at an altitude of 3200m/10500ft ).

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