The Incan ruins in Cusco are amazing, and going from Cusco to Machu Picchu is great, but what else is there to do in Cusco? Here are 10 things to do in Cusco besides ruins for those days when you want to experience modern culture in Peru!
After visiting 10 sets of Incan ruins near Cusco (including the 6 ruins in Cusco which are most worth it), many museums, monuments, and shows with our Cusco Tourist Ticket (so worth it!), and a day trip from Cusco to Machu Picchu, we were a little sick of seeing archaelogical sites in the area. They are beautiful, fascinating, and worthwhile, but sometimes you just need a little break from seeing… ahem… similar things over and over.
Cusco, the capital city of the Peruvian Andes Mountains region, isn’t just the archaelogical hotspot of South America. Cusco is also an adventure-lovers paradise if you know where to go. The area offers numerous mountains, rivers, and small towns each offering their own unique specialty. There is so much to explore here!
From eating exotic foods to mountain biking down the mountains and rafting through the rivers, here are the top things to do in Cusco!
Top Things to do in Cusco that aren’t Incan Ruins
If you’re looking for other things to do in Cusco after all the wonderful ruins, we have you covered. Here are the top Cusco things to do besides Machu Picchu and other Incan sites!
1. Eat Cuy in Tipon ($9-12)
Cuy (pronounced coo-ie) is guinea pig. Yes, there is a big of a squire over what may have been your elementary school pet turned into a common food, but there it is. Cuy is, in fact, a big part of the cuising in certain areas of South America, including the Cusco region of Peru.
Cuy is such a common food in Cusco that you’ll see Cuyerias (restaurants specializing in fire-baked cuy) all over Cusco and the Sacred Valley. If you are interested in fully imersing yourself in this new culture a visit to an authentic Cuyeria must be on your list!
Not every Cuyeria is made the same, however. According to locals, the freshest cuy can be found in the Sacred Valley town of Tipon. Surrounding some beautiful ancient Incan ruins are more cuyerias than you could imagine. Everyone seems to have an opinion on their favorite place, but it’s hard to imagine that cooking a guinea pig in a clay oven differs all that much.
Just get yourself to Tipon (you can easily catch a cheap, public colectivo bus here from Cusco) and then walk around until you find one you like, or ask locals or a taxi driver for their recomendation.
Here’s what you need to know about ordering and eating cuy:
- You can choose between small (around 30 soles) and large (40 cuy)
- A plate will be served with other side items (rice, pasta, potatoes, chili rellenos, or fries, for example)
- Cuy will be served with it’s head and claws in tact, but sliced in half and without fur
- It can be difficult to find the meat on the animal’s tiny frame
- Tastes like dark turkey meat
2. Shop for authentic textiles in Chinchero (Free demonstration)
The Cusco region of Peru is famous around the world for finely-crafted textiles. You can find all sorts of fabric goods here- pillow covers, blankets, hats, sweaters, scarves, table runners, wall hangings, place mats, rugs, gloves, hand bags, and even leg warmers (just to name a few!).
These items are traditionally made using alpaca and sheep fibers which are brightly dyed from natural, local products. The end result is beautiful, unique piece which is soft, warm, and anti-pilling.
While you can easily find craft markets and souvenir stalls featuring any of these products all over Cusco, the most authentic and best-quality items are made and sold in the small town of Chinchero. In Chinchero you can be sure all items are hand- or loom-made, not machine made in a factory, with fibers dyed by hand. Additionally, buying your textile souvenirs in Chinchero will insist that the most money goes directly to the women responsible for making the product.
What you need to know about buying textiles in Chinchero:
- Products are better quality with lower prices than in Cusco
- Fibers are dyed with a variety of herbs, flowers, and even bugs found in the area
- Visiting one of the many showrooms in Chinchero will include a demonstration of how the fibers are collected, dyed, and woven into products
- You are welcome to negotiate the price of products, especially if buying more than one item
- You can ship items around the world quickly and reliably with DHL. Check their office in downtown Cusco for prices, as they only increase at certain weight points. You may be able to ship extra stuff home for no additional shipping charges!
3. Fly on the longest zip line in South America ($35)
The fourth longest zip in line the world (only recently bumped out of the top 3 by Dubai’s newest adventure activity) is found in Cusco, Peru!
An hour outside of Cusco you’ll find a zip line which allows you to fly across the Sacred Valley. The zip line, located in Maras, is made of stainless steel cables and pulleys designed by top adventure engineers around the world. An experienced, bilingual professional will help each member of your group into secure harnesses and helmets and onto the pulley one at a time. You then descend 1.3 miles across a beautiful portion of the Sacred Valley, with views of the mountains and fields nearby.
What you need to know about zip line Cusco:
- Cusco Zip line is through Eye of the Jaguar adventure tour group
- Cost is $35/ person, which includes round-trip transportation from Cusco
- Children are allowed (with special equipment provided on-site)
- Zip lasts nearly 2 full minutes
- Wear a light-weight jacket, as the wind on the zip gets cold
4. Visit the Maras Salt Pans ($3)
The Maras Salt Pans are a collection of individually-owned salt flats which collect and harvest salt from the local canyon. Peruvians have been collecting salt here for centuries, using it as currency, for food preservation, and seasoning.
The salt pans are still individually managed by local families today. Visitors to the salt pans are charged 10 soles to enter the area, which includes an overlook and souvenir stalls.
Here is what you need to know to visit the Maras Salt Pans:
- Join this inexpensive, top-rated tour to cover the Maras Salt Pans and Moray archaelogical ruins!
- Or hire a local driver to take you from the Maras bus station to the salt pans before or after visiting the Moray ruins
- Costs 10 soles/ person to enter
- Visitors are no longer allowed to walk across individual salt pans, but you can access two viewing platforms which overlook the entire operation
- Buy salt harvest from the salt pans at the souvenir stands
- Get a free demonstration on how salty the original canyon water and how it is used
5. See the giant Cristo Blanco statue overlooking Cusco (Free)
Just outside of Saqsaywaman Incan Ruins in Cusco is Cristo Blanco, a giant white Christus statue. The statue was a gift from Arabic Palastinians seeking refuge in Cusco after World War II. It features open arms extending to Cusco, with excellent views of the city from it’s hillside location.
Cusco’s Cristo Blanco is built in the same style as the famous Christus in Rio de Janeiro, but at 8 meters (26 feet) high is a slightly smaller version.
What you need to know about visiting Cristo Blanco in Cusco:
- Accessed by bus or short hike from Central Cusco
- Free to enter
- Visit before 11:00 am to beat the tourist busses
- Can purchase souvenirs from local women who set up temporary craft stalls in the parking lot
- Only takes a few minutes to walk around and enjoy the view of downtown Cusco
6. Go White Water Rafting in Urubamba ($55)
Where mountains and valleys are, rivers will follow. Cusco and Sacred Valley are home to flowing rivers which rage during the rainy season. While some rivers are so swift it’s unsafe to raft them at any time of year, a trip down one section of the Urubamb River provides the adventure of flowing over class II and III rapids (up to class IV+ in the rainy season) while still keeping you safe.
White water rafting is a great activity for any adventure lover who enjoys moving quickly, being in water, and feeling powerful. Not only does white water rafting in Cusco offer this adrenaline rush, it also puts you in a perfect seat to enjoy stunning 360-degree views of the surrounding canyon.
What you should know about white water rafting in Cusco:
- Book your space in advance here (this tour group has a 4.5 star rating, with recent customers stating the friendliness and professionalism of the guides, customer safety, comfort, and hot lunch being among the best things they offer.)
- Rafting the Urubamba trip lasts around 9 hours, including pick up and drop off in Cusco
- This trip includes a hot sauna, shower, and Peruvian lunch after river rafting
- No need to bring anything but your clothes and swim suit. You won’t be shopping, and they provide all necessary equipment (including wet suits)
7. Ride Quad Bikes Through the Andes Mountains ($39)
Quad bikes, 4-wheeled ATVs, are a common sight around the open fields of the Sacred Valley. Locals and visitors will race around the foothills and through mud puddles past local farmers and grazing llamas. It’s one of the most unique ways to experience this beautiful area!
Quad bike tour agencies are easy to find, and often offer the option to drive a quad bike on your own or to rent a double. Tours begin with a lesson on how to operate the ATV, which is suitable for all skill levels and even safe for child passengers!
What you need to know about riding quad bikes in the Andes:
- Book this top-rated tour which includes round-trip transportation from Cusco, all necessary equipment, and stops at Maras Salt Pans and Moray archealogical ruins.
- Bring sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen. The sun feels really harsh at this altitude!
- Wear comfortable clothes, including long layers to stay warm in the wind
- You will go off-road in questionable surroundings and weather, so be prepared to get your clothes and shoes dirty
- Choose an early outing to avoid other riders
The best day trips from Cusco:
Have more time in this ancient city? Take a few days outside of the general Cusco region to enjoy some of the incredible, unique scenery Peru has to offer!
1. Day trip from Cusco to Machu Picchu
Curious about the most popular visitor site in South America, Machu Picchu? The Incan mountaintop town was only discovered in 1911, and was protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and became one of the 7 Modern Wonders of the World in 2007.
While the truly adventurous can choose to take the 4-day hike to Machu Picchu, those with less time can still see the unique site with a day trip to Machu Picchu from Cusco. Read all the details on how much it costs and what a daily schedule is like!
2. Hike or Horseback Ride to Rainbow Mountain
Only recently opened to tourists, Peru’s Rainbow Mountain has soared in popularity in the last 5 years. Visitors take a bus from Cusco early in the morning to reach the mountain hike’s starting point before the sun is too strong. You can choose to either hike for 90 minutes to the summit, or rent a horse (and local guide) for 60 soles to get you to the top.
Once at the summit you’re greeted with breathtaking views of a steep mountain peak featuring 7 distinct colors. The colors are formed naturally from chemicals in the Earth, yet they come together in a truly unique way at Rainbow Mountain!
Not only does the actual mountain make the trip worth the early rise, the surrounding valley is also beautiful. Take your time hiking up or down the mountain to see llamas grazing on the grass and river nearby, and even see Cusco’s local glacier!
We took and recommend this Rainbow Mountain tour whole-heartedly. It included a friendly, English-speaking guide, a great buffet breakfast and lunch, help up the mountain, and a comfortable transport van.
3. Hike or Horseback Ride to Humantay Lake
Humantay Lake is a turquoise lake filled with glacial runoff hidden in an upper valley of the Andes mountains. It requires a 2-hour hike to reach the lake 13,800 feet above sea level, but the hike pays off with stunning views of Peru’s tallest mountains, the glacier, and the turquoise lake.
Incas considered this region sacred land, and it’s not hard to understand why. Vastly less popular than Machu Picchu and the Rainbow Mountain, visitors to Humantay Lake Peru can still experience the quiet beauty of the lake and it’s surrounding mountainscape.
A day trip to Humantay lake involves waking up at 3:00 am, taking a bus from Cusco to Soraypampa (with a stop for Western-style breakfast), hiking 2 hours to a viewpoint of the lake (oxygen and walkign poles are available to those who need it), and then slowly trekking down to a neighboring village for a local lunch before starting your journey back to Cusco.
Interested in other things to do in Cusco besides Machu Picchu? Pin this article for later!