3 days in Cusco is a fantastic finale to a two week trip to Peru. We visited Cusco (also known as Cuzco thanks to the Spanish Conquistadors) after eating our way through Lima and thoroughly exploring Peru's Sacred Valley including iconic Machu Picchu. Cusco will literally take your breath away thanks to the altitude (over 11,000 feet above sea level) so it's good to save this gem of a city which offers a fusion of Incan and Spanish architecture for the end of your trip to Peru. I present to you our recommendations for how to spend 3 days in Cusco featuring plenty of fun things to do in Cusco on your own plus a couple of kick-ass day trips from Cusco.
Dinner at Cusco's Marcelo Batata
We arrived in Cusco in the evening of the day that we visited Machu Picchu. We chose to travel to Cusco from Ollantaytambo with Taxidatum (just $37 USD for the 2 hour drive). One thing that we learned in our time in Peru is that Peruvian food is amazing. We were excited to explore Cusco's restaurant scene so we booked ourselves in for dinner at Marcelo Batata. You may recall from my post on Peru Food Facts that you can find over 3000 kinds of potatoes here. Marcelo Batata used this fact to maximum effect by serving up an appetizer of handmade potato chips. We devoured an appetizer featuring avocado and sea salt plus a sweet chicken dish with fruit and meat skewers. Our self-organized visit to Cusco was off to a great start.
Walk around Cusco and Stop to Catch Your Breath
After sleeping off our food coma from dinner at Marcelo Batata, we took a walk through the streets of Cusco the next day. Cusco is incredibly hilly so expect to get a workout during your explorations. Beautiful church bells and lovable mutts added charm to the city streets.
Explore Cusco's Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas is the heart of Cusco and all roads seem to lead downhill toward the center square so momentum alone will lead you there. Cusco's Plaza de Armas has great energy. We chanced upon a puzzling parade. We discovered later than students representing various disciplines at local universities were parading through the square in front of local military and political officials. I really loved seeing the pride in the students marching as representatives of their fields.
Tour the Cusco Cathedral
Cusco Cathedral is a must see stop on your 3-day itinerary. The most fascinating things to see at Cusco Cathedral on a self-guided tour is a painting of the Last Supper. At this last supper, Jesus is carving cuy, aka Guinea pig, a traditional Incan dish. It's fascinating to see the Incan and Spanish cultures collide when you explore Cusco on your own.
Eat Lunch at Pachapapa in Cusco
While away an hour in Cusco after a morning of exploration with lunch at Pachapapa. We sampled wood fired pizza, quinoa soup, and chicha de jura (a lightly alcoholic corn beer).
Buy A Cusco Combo Ticket to Visit San Blas Church
Buy a Ticket Religious Circuit (CTR) at any one of the attractions included on the list. We started at San Blas Church near Illa Hotel where we stayed in Cusco. We visited on a Monday when lots of the other museums in Cusco are closed. At San Blas Church, make sure to climb the bell tower for sweeping views of the town. Just don't ring the bell! There is a tempting sign warning you *not* to mess with the bell. I nearly broke the rules and gave it a go but managed to resist the calling.
See the Pre-Columbian Art Museum in Cusco
The Pre-Columbian Art Museum is a must visit if you spend three days in Cusco. The flowery descriptions of the works of art are worth the cost of entry alone.
Take A Breathtaking Climb to Cusco's San Cristobol Church
We were talked into buying the Ticket Religious Circuit (CTR) at San Blas Church. That motivated us to tackle another great thing to see in Cusco on your own: San Cristobol Church. The church looks deceptively far away from Plaza de Armas but Google Maps will reassure you that it's just a 9 minute walk from Point A to Point B. Be prepared for a grueling uphill climb but rest assured that you'll be rewarded with awesome views over Cusco. Time your visit with the sunset and watch the lights tinkle on the Plaza de Armas below. Head back to city center before it gets too dark.
Drink Peruvian Craft Beer at Nuevo Mundo (With Football)
Peru is home to over 20 craft breweries and Nuevo Mundo is in the center of it all on Cusco's Plaza de Armas. Reward yourself for the hike to San Cristobol with a delicious Peruvian craft beer. As an added bonus, Nuevo Mundo shows American Football on the TV screens in the bar.
Dine with Gaston at Chicha in Cusco
Gaston is probably the most famous chef in Peru. You'll need to book in months in advance for a reservation at Astrid y Gaston in Lima. Gaston's Chicha in Cusco is a good alternative. You still need a booking but only need to call ahead a couple weeks in advance. Flaky empanadas served with lime and fresh salsa were a highlight of our experience.
Explore the Layers of Cusco's History at Qoricancha
Qorincancha was originally an Inca Temple in Cusco. When the Spaniards conquered the Incas, they built the Convent of Santo Domingo above the original temple. An earthquake that hit Cusco in the 1950s conveniently revealed the Incan foundations when the colonial structures crumbled thanks to Mother Nature. Today, you can see the contrasts at Qorincancha with trapezoidal doors sharing the limelight with colonial arches. As an added bonus, you'll find a stunning rose garden at Qorincancha.
Pop Into Cusco's La Valeriana for Keke and Tea
Just a few minutes walk from Qorincancha, you'll find La Valeriana. Pop in to this modern cafe for an herbal tea and Peruvian cake (keke).
Take Time to Visit the Machu Picchu Museum in Cusco
Cusco features many museums that are easy to visit on your own. In particular, the Machu Picchu museum features interactive exhibits and Incan artifacts that pay homage to the last city of the Incas.
Visit Cusco's Museo de Historia Regional
Peru's Museo de Historia Regional is worth a visit on a 3-day trip to Cusco. See local artifacts and the story of Túpac Amaru II in graphic detail. Túpac Amaru II led a rebellion against the Spanish in Peru which ultimately failed and led to him being drawn and quartered on the streets of Cusco in 1781.
Fly by The Archbishop's Arte Museum
Our Ticket Religious Circuit included entrance to the Archbishop's Arte Museum. Visit less for the religious aspect and more for the architecture of the building and historic artwork.
Go Shopping for Peruvian Crafts in Cusco
Cusco features some great Peruvian souvenir shopping opportunities. Explore deep into the heart of Cusco at the Centro Artesenal. There are tons of souvenir shops lining the streets near San Blas. I took the opportunity to buy a sweater featuring imagery of awesome llamas (much like the ones you see on the streets of Cusco). Make sure to take some time for shopping as you round out your trip to Peru with 3 days in Cusco.
Enjoy Places to Eat in Cusco Like Pachapapa for Dinner
Pachapapa was such a great place to eat in Cusco that we decided to go there twice: once for lunch and once for dinner. This time, we sampled pizza with dried alpaca. If you have time to spare, you can wait in anticipation for one hour for a freshly roasted guinea pig (cuy) to arrive at your table. We were seated near the wood fired oven and saw the whole guinea pigs being prepared and served. We didn't have the patience (or the stomach!) to try Cuy ourselves though.
Take a Day Trip from Cusco to Pisaq
Pisaq is about an hour away from Cusco by car. Pisaq features some well-preserved Incan ruins clinging to the mountain side. Spend two hours hiking and exploring the ancient city. If you come early, you'll be rewarded with a closer parking spot and way fewer crowds. We left Cusco for Pisaq around 7:30 am and arrived at the ruins around 9 am. We had the entire place to ourselves.
Be warned, Pisaq is incredibly steep and sits at 9750 feet above sea level so the hike is definitely challenging. However, at this point we were pretty acclimated to the altitude and were able to power through.
Shop for Bargains at Pisaq Market
After exploring the Incan Pisaq ruins, our driver dropped us off near the entrance to Pisaq Market, a warren of pedestrianized streets lined with shops. Pisaq market is the best place to find inexpensive Peruvian souvenirs. I found scrunchies, water bottle holders, and novelty llama magnets as small, lightweight souvenirs to bring home.
Get Spit on By A Llama at Awana Kancha, Another Day Trip Destination from Cusco
On the return from our day trip to Pisaq from Cusco, we stopped at Awana Kancha, a llama and alpaca farm plus cultural center. For an unspecified donation, you can feed grass and hay to the animals that live here. I have mixed feelings when I say: achievement unlocked! I got spit on by a llama at Awana Kancha. I've heard warnings before to be careful of llamas because they spit. I was having a good old time feeding grass piece by piece to a polite crew of furry creatures. One llama got a little frustrated that I wasn't going fast enough and whomp! before I knew it, I was covered in llama spit! I like to think of it as good luck ;-)
Sample Empanadas and Coffee for lunch at Cusco's Eusebio and Manolo
We spent the final hours of our 3-day trip to Cusco walking about town. A light lunch of empanadas and coffee at Eusebio and Manolo was an ideal diversion before heading to the airport. Be sure to seek out this modern, hipster hole-in-the-wall on your visit to Cusco.
Toast Your 3-Days in Cusco with a Final Pisco Sour
We just couldn't resist... We had about 30 minutes before we needed to catch a ride to Cusco Airport. We took the opportunity to visit Pachapapa one last time for a farewell pisco sour and chicha morada. Not only were we saying goodbye after 3-days in Cusco but we were toasting the end of a fantastic 2 week trip featuring the highlights of Peru. We appreciated the opportunity to reflect on a magical visit while sipping on Peru's signature cocktail.
Have you spent a long weekend in the Sacred Valley of Peru? What are your recommendations for 3 days in Cusco?
Map of Things to Do in Cusco in 3-Days
Click on the image of the map below to open an interactive Google Map with points of interest highlighted in this 3 day Cusco itinerary.
For more tips on avoiding altitude sickness on your visit to Cusco, hop over to Travel for Difference.