Before setting off on our four-day trek to Machu Picchu, we spent three days in Cusco exploring the capital of Inka culture and acclimatizing to the high altitude.
During our three days in Cusco, we had a blast — and the only thing I regret is not staying longer! Between eating everything in sight, shopping for colorful, handcrafted goods, walking Cusco’s charming cobblestone streets, taking photos with baby alpacas, and visiting historic sites, our three days in Cusco were jam-packed. And completely awesome.
In this post, we’ll detail exactly how you should spend three days in Cusco, to make the most of your time! We’ll also let you in on some vital information to help your trip run smoothly! *This post contains affiliate links.
How to Spend Three Days in Cusco
Prepping for Your Trip to Cusco
Before we get to the fun stuff, let’s quickly talk about what you need to know before you visit Cusco…
This information is vital to a successful, fun, and healthful trip to Cusco! But note, however, that I am not a doctor, and my words should not be taken for professional medical advice. When traveling out of the country, it’s best practice to consult your doctor!
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get started!
If you didn’t already know, Cusco is nestled up in the Andes at 11,152 feet — or 3,399 meters — above sea level. That’s pretty high up, guys!
Altitude sickness is no joke — in fact, it can even cause death — so don’t take it lightly. Before you visit Cusco, there are a few necessary precautions to take.
Drink lots of water
When you travel to high-altitude destinations like Cusco, it’s very important that you stay hydrated.
It’s a good idea to start drinking lots of water the day before you arrive in Cusco, during your flight, and especially throughout your first day in Cusco. Drink enough water, and you’ll have a better shot at avoiding symptoms of altitude sickness.
Drink coca tea
Let’s get this out of the way first. Yes, cocaine is made out of the coca plant, but coca itself is not cocaine; it’s perfectly safe for you to consume. In fact, for centuries, Andean people have used coca leaves to treat altitude sickness, among many other ailments.
During your time in Cusco, you will likely be offered coca tea, or coca leaves. Our hotel actually had a station where we could make our own coca tea 24/7, and I indulged often.
In my opinion, chewing on coca leaves or sipping coca tea helps immensely with altitude sickness, and aside from that, coca tea is quite good.
Get altitude pills
A few weeks before you plan to leave for Peru, call your doctor, and let him/her know that you will need some medication to help you acclimatize quickly.
Usually, you’ll be prescribed acetazolamide, which, “is used to prevent and reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness. This medication can decrease headache, tiredness, nausea, dizziness, and shortness of breath that can occur when you climb quickly to high altitudes” (WebMD).
The moment we arrived in Cusco, I was feeling a bit queasy, but it quickly subsided. Without my pills, it would have been much worse; no doubt, I would have spent my whole day in bed, sick.
If you’ve never traveled to an exotic destination such as Peru before, there’s a good chance you don’t have all the vaccinations you need. Check with your doctor to see if you’re missing any recommended vaccinations for traveling to Peru, and then consider whether or not you want to get them.
Traveler’s Diarrhea pills
While you’re at it, ask your doctor for some medication to treat traveler’s diarrhea, should the need arise.
Hopefully, you’ll choose your meals wisely, drink only purified, bottled, and canned beverages, and avoid traveler’s diarrhea completely. But sometimes, it happens anyway. And trust me, the last place you want to spend your trip is in the bathroom.
Make sure you’re prepared with some prescribed traveler’s diarrhea pills, and maybe some Pepto, too!
Where to Stay in Cusco
There are many options for accommodations in Cusco, from five-star hotels to hostels. When choosing your accommodation, the most important thing is to book a place that’s within the Centro Histórico, so that you’re within walking distance from everything!
If you’re after a more luxurious stay, the Palacio Del Inka or the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco are the very best! Both hotels are located in the heart of the Centro Histórico and are very affordable luxury options!
If we could do our trip all over again, we might have splurged on a more luxurious accommodation in Cusco because when you’re acclimatizing, or coming back from your trek to Machu Picchu, an ultra-comfy bed and a quiet room are all you want.
During our three days in Cusco, we stayed at the Tecte Guest House, which we adored. The staff members were very friendly, and they even let us store our luggage inside of our guest room while we trekked to Machu Picchu. The hotel also offered to make us lunch for the first day of our trek! After the trek, we came back to our familiar, homey guest room, with all of our things waiting for us. For less than $100 per night, the Tecte Guest House was very affordable, centrally located, and we highly recommend it!
What to Do in Cusco
While in Cusco, the Centro Histórico is likely where you’ll spend the most of your time. In this area, you’ll find a mix of locals and tourists, all enjoying the city’s beautiful architecture and lively atmosphere.
Within the Centro Histórico, there are also many important points of interest like the Plaza de Armas, Cusco Cathedral, Museo Inka, and the Convento y Museo de Santa Catalina.
Plaza de Armas
The Plaza de Armas is the heart of Cusco’s Centro Histórico. It’s here that tourists and locals alike gather to enjoy the city’s greatest colonial architecture, gardens, and a central fountain.
The Plaza de Armas is home to the Cusco Cathedral and the Compañía de Jesús Church, along with a myriad of restaurants and shops, so there’s no way you can miss it!
During your three days in Cusco, make sure to spend some time in the plaza, simply sitting on a bench and observing life in Cusco unfold before your eyes. Watch the happy children playing soccer, the locals chatting it up, and the street vendors peddling artwork and bracelets. Just sit back, and admire the beauty of it all.
The Cusco Cathedral demands the attention of all who visit the Plaza de Armas. And visitors gladly oblige.
This cathedral, which opened in 1654, oozes with history. It’s absolutely stunning, seriously giant, and well worth going inside for a look around; every inch of the structure, inside and out, is beautifully and ornately crafted — and there’s no shortage of gold-coated details either!
Note that you’ll need a ticket to enter the cathedral, which will cost just under $10 USD.
Mercado Central de San Pedro
The Mercado Central de San Pedro is, quite possibly, my favorite place in Cusco. And no doubt, it’s the most colorful. We spent a few hours here looking at the overwhelming amount of beautiful products, exotic produce, and talking with the locals.
This market is where everyone in Cusco goes to buy and sell handmade goods, ingredients, produce, flowers, and more. There are also stalls that serve up hot, traditional meals. Any day of the week, this market is bustling with people and bursting with authenticity, so if you want to understand the culture of Cusco, this is the place to do it.
We’ll cover the culinary aspects of the market a bit later!
San Blas is Cusco’s most picturesque, captivating district, and it’s also known as Cusco’s historic artisan quarter. In San Blas, artisans’ vibrant shops line the area’s quaint cobblestone pedestrian streets, making this the perfect district to buy authentic, beautiful souvenirs that will last a lifetime.
San Blas is one of Cusco’s hilliest areas, with steep stairs lending incredible panoramic views of Cusco’s orange rooftops and the surrounding Andes.
During your three days in Cusco, San Blas is the district you can’t miss.
Plaza San Blas
Cusco’s Plaza San Blas is home to an open-air artisanal market that often features live Andean music. This is just another one of the many places to buy jewelry, pieces of artwork, and other gifts to bring home to your friends and family.
While you’re exploring San Blas, the main plaza is definitely worth a visit — especially for that incredible music.
Even if you’re not a fan of cooking, we highly recommend booking a cooking class in Cusco.
Most of the cooking classes in Cusco include a trip to a market to pick up some traditional ingredients. Then, you’ll be escorted back to the kitchen where you’ll learn to cook — and later eat — a delicious multi-course Peruvian meal (think of dishes like ceviche, lomo saltado, ají de gallina, and drinks like pisco sours and chica morada).
Yum, yum, yum!
Throughout Cusco, you’ll have so many opportunities to pick up beautiful souvenirs, gifts, and home decor/goods that you and your friends will love.
So when it comes to shopping in Cusco, let me give you two words of advice: buy everything.
When you’re browsing inside the San Pedro Market and you find a purse you like, buy it. If you find beanies, backpacks, blankets, bracelets, key chains, or place mats that you like, buy them all. Got that? Buy every last one!
Now, here’s why.
When we were in Cusco, we found so many handcrafted items that we loved. But we only bought a few items, thinking that we might find things we liked more later on in our trip. But we were wrong. So wrong.
The best of everything you can buy in Peru can be found in the markets and shops in and around Cusco; nothing else we saw compared.
Now, we’re back in California, wishing we’d purchased all of the colorful, handmade goods we found in Cusco, because the opportunity never presented itself in the other places we visited!
Don’t make this mistake, or you will be very sad.
Chinchero or Pisac on Sunday
If — after you’ve visited the Mercado Central de San Pedro — you still want to shop, the towns of Chinchero and/or Pisac should be your next stop! These towns both lie less than an hour outside of Cusco, and their outdoor markets are nothing short of spectacular. Both markets offer opportunities to buy more colorful and authentic artisan products, immerse yourself further into Peru’s Andean culture, and interact with locals!
Both markets are largest and busiest on Sundays; however, the Chinchero Market is also open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while the Pisac Market is open daily.
If you’re interested in discovering more about how the ancient Inka lived, the Museo Inka is where you should go. Here, you’ll learn about Inka history, lay eyes on ancient artifacts, and even see real mummies!
This museum is small, costs only about $3 USD, and will take up about an hour of your time in Cusco. While this museum is not a must-see, if you have a bit of downtime, it’s worth a visit!
Take photos with the locals
And by locals, I mean both the baby llamas and the humans.
However, keep in mind that these women dress up in traditional clothing and allow you to take photos with them and their llamas because it’s their job.
In other words, after you finish your photo shoot, they will expect a tip from you.
While that may seem cheesy to you now, it’s really worth it because you’ll cherish those photos for the rest of your life!
Half-day trip to the Sacred Valley
If you’re trekking to Machu Picchu later on, you might opt to skip touring the Sacred Valley, to maximize your time in beautiful Cusco. However, for those who have extra time, or for those who fancy getting out of the city for a bit, a half-day trip into the Sacred Valley might be a good idea! Throughout the valley, points of interest range from ancient Inka ruins and small towns, to salt flats and rivers, and there are various tours that might suit you.
Consider booking one of these two tours:
Where to Eat in Cusco
Firstly, let me just say that the food in Cusco is heavenly.
All of the produce is bright, super fresh, and often grown organically. While in Cusco, you’ll have the chance to try exotic fruits and vegetables that you may have never heard of before, from granadilla and tumbo, to lucuma and aguaymanto! You’ll also be impressed by the sheer size of the produce (everything is gigantic compared to USA standards), the different flavors you’ll encounter, and the respect and attention each ingredient receives.
Whether we ate at a market stall, out on the streets, or in nice restaurants, everything we tasted in Cusco was memorable and delicious.
For all of my fellow foodies, spending three days in Cusco might not be enough. But nevertheless, here are the best places to eat with three days in Cusco!
Mercado Central de San Pedro
After talking up how incredible Peruvian cuisine and produce is, it seems only fitting to start off with the amazing Mercado Central de San Pedro!
This local market is the place to experience Cusco’s bright, flavorful food culture.
Between food stands serving up traditional dishes like caldo de gallina (chicken soup), lomo saltado (Peruvian beef stir fry), and roasted cuy (guinea pig), rows upon rows of exotic, fresh produce, and stalls selling Peruvian grains (like quinoa), spices, dried fruits, nuts, and more, the Mercado Central de San Pedro is any curious foodie’s paradise!
We spent a few hours roaming through the market, looking at everything. We sampled the fruits we’d never seen before, and I was even brave enough to eat at a seemingly locals-only food stall; I tried the caldo de gallina, which was rich, homey, and absolutely delicious — and no, I did not get sick whatsoever from eating it!
Morena Peruvian Kitchen
Morena Peruvian Kitchen is a trendy, atmospheric restaurant that features modern Peruvian cuisine.
Here, we savored Amazonian-style chicken anticuchos (skewers) marinated in wild lemongrass, garlic, ginger and lime, and served with jungle chili chutney and toasted sacha inchi nuts; traditional Peruvian ceviche with tangy lime marinade; lomo saltado (Peruvian-style beef stir fry) served with potatoes, peppers, onions, mild yellow chili, pisco, and soy sauce, among other ingredients; and tacu tacu criollo, a traditional pan-fried mixture of rice and beans, lomo saltado, prawns, calamari, scallops, mild yellow chili and fresh herbs.
Like the rest of the restaurants on this list, you can’t miss Morena Peruvian Kitchen during your three days in Cusco.
Uchu Peruvian Steakhouse
Uchu Peruvian Steakhouse is one of the best restaurants in Cusco, serving up modern steakhouse fare with a distinctly Peruvian twist.
We tried quite a few dishes at Uchu, and each of them dazzled; I’m not kidding when I say I still think about this meal at least once per week! And on top of that, the service was top notch.
Here’s what we ordered at Uchu:
- Tradito de los Uchus: Fresh mahi mahi sliced in thin strips, marinated in a cream of hot Peruvian chilis, ginger, roasted garlic, fresh lime juice, celery, and a touch of milk
- Pink Native Potato Cream: A soup of highland potatoes, garlic, almonds, tarragon, beet, and olive oil, topped with caramelized pecans and sour cream
- Mango & Avocado Salad: The freshest mango, pomegranate, and avocado tartar, chopped organic lettuces, black quinoa crusted chicken strips, and tumbo vinaigrette
- Stone-Cooked Beef Tenderloin: The most tender, juicy steak ever, served with a fresh salad, potatoes, and dipping sauces
If you don’t go to Uchu, during your three days in Cusco, you are missing out. Just don’t forget to make a reservation!
Organika is another restaurant you can’t miss during your three days in Cusco!
This restaurant grows its own organic produce on its own farmland, somewhere in the Andes. Organika celebrates each ingredient and puts an unmistakably Peruvian spin on this farm-to-table cuisine; needless to say, everything is incredibly fresh, vibrant, and simply beautiful — and you will probably never have produce this pure again in your life.
When you go, I dare you to try something different! Order the grilled alpaca with handmade gnocchi, and you’ll be in for an interesting, but surprisingly delicious culinary journey.
We also loved our handmade beet fettuccine with pumpkin sauce, as well as our luscious green salad with passion fruit vinaigrette, avocado, tomatoes, and cheese. Oh, and I can’t forget Organika‘s perfect cream of carrot and pumpkin soup!
Barrio Ceviche Seafood Kitchen
Barrio Ceviche is the place for seafood in Cusco.
And since this is Peru we’re talking about, indulging in at least one amazing plate of ceviche is necessary. Trust me, you can do that at Barrio Ceviche.
We tried the ceviche dish called Barrio, with cubes of fresh fish marinated in lime juice, spiced with onion and mild yellow chili, topped with crispy calamari, and served with Andean corn and sweet potato… Seriously, it doesn’t get better than that.
If you’re in the mood for a juicy, flavorful cheeseburger, Papacho’s is the spot for you.
This place has 17 succulent burgers on the menu, emphasizing both classic and Peruvian flavor profiles. After a long day of exploring Cusco — or better yet, after returning from your trek to Machu Picchu — a giant burger, fries, and a beer will be exactly what you want and need.
Note, however, that the portions at Papacho’s are quite large. If you’re super hungry — like we were — don’t make the mistake of ordering way too much food — just like we did.
Three Days in Cusco, Peru
Ready to spend three days in Cusco? After reading this post, we think you are!
For us, Cusco was one of the highlights of our trip. Between eating all of the incredible food, experiencing the city’s rich, unique culture, and meeting so many warm, kind-hearted locals, we loved everything about Cusco.
Like I said before, our only regret was not staying longer.
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Have you been to Cusco before? What did you think? Did you eat at any of the places we listed? What were your favorite things to do?
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