Cusco in 3 days: The Best Things To Do!
Cusco, also spelled Cuzco, is one of the major cities of Peru high in the Andean mountain range. This city is the historic capital of the Inca Empire. For the preservation of both Inca and Spanish culture, UNESCO declared Cusco a world heritage site. Currently, Cusco is one of the most famous tourist destination hosting approximately two million visitors every year. So if you only had three days to explore the city and surroundings, what should you do? Even if you had 2 weeks, it is likely even then you wouldn’t be able to see it all. The city is chock-full of unique historical destinations, architectural sites, foodie delights, and bountiful nature sites.
We know you have limited time. Therefore, we’ve narrowed down the attractions that really stand out and will maximize your time to the fullest. We know this “Cusco in three days” itinerary will convince you to explore more of Peru down the line!
Day 1, AM – Cusco Comprehensive City Tour
Welcome to the Incan city of Cusco. Upon arrival, you will likely feel the altitude of the city, which sits at 3,399 m (11,152 ft) This could come in the form of a slight headache, and rapid heartbeat when moving. Your hotel will always have a pot of coca leaf tea, which always seems to reduce some of the negative impacts. It also provides a nice boost of energy and hydrates you. With most cities, we recommend going out and exploring as much as possible all day long, but for your first day in Cusco with only three days, we recommend a leisurely morning city tour followed by relaxing in the afternoon and exploring the town center and enjoying a delicious meal. When you aren’t accustomed to the high elevation, pushing yourself isn’t the best idea.
Koricancha Sun Temple
Start your Cusco city tour at the renowned sun temple, also known as the Koricancha. For the Incas, this temple is the most important for its dedication to the Sun god Inti. The site is built using ashlar masonry, a complex form of construction. Uniquely, the Incas only used perfect rocks, avoiding those with any imperfection or breaks. These rocks are massive, polished, and perfectly cut. This site was eventually conquered by Spanish conquistadors, and they used the temple as the foundation for their Convent of Santo Domingo. This is also a magnificent structure in its own right, with an immense stone courtyard. As you explore, you’ll find paintings and religious sculptures of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Additionally, there are modern works of art acquired by the museum.
After visiting the sun temple and Convent of Santo Domingo, you’ll head to the Cusco site of Sacsayhuaman, another UNESCO heritage site. Sacsayhuaman was an ancient fortress, with its construction starting in 900 CE by the Pre-Incan civilization known as the Killke culture. Once the Incan’s took over, they expanded on the construction until it became an imposing fortress. When the Spaniards conquered the site, Pedro Pizarro described what he saw:
“on top of a hill, the Inca had a very strong fort surrounded with masonry walls of stones and having two very high round towers. And in the lower part of this wall there were stones so large and thick that it seemed impossible that human hands could have set them in place…they were so close together, and so well fitted, that the point of a pin could not have been inserted in one of the joints. The whole fortress was built up in terraces and flat spaces.” The numerous rooms were “filled with arms, lances, arrows, darts, clubs, bucklers, and large oblong shields…there were many morions…there were also…certain stretchers in which the Lords traveled, as in litters.”
After Sacsayhuaman, you’ll be taken to one of the most prominent archaeological sites in all of Peru, Puka Pukara the red fortress. This Cusco site is built upon a high hill overlooking the Cusco valley and Tambomachay archaeological site, providing both a strategically useful and gorgeous view. After getting your fill of Puka Pukara, you’ll head down to Tambomachay, the highlights being the two ancient and distinctive aqueducts that to this day continue to provide clean water to the area.
Day 1 Pm – Relax, Shopping, Explore Cusco City Center, and Dinner
After all this activity, we know that you’ll be pretty worn out. From there, enjoy a few hours of relaxation and then head into the city center. The shopping is excellent, where you can find indigenous artwork, alpaca textiles and clothing, beautiful ponchos, and much more. Afterward, enjoy a delicious dinner in the city. We highly recommend the “Yaku Cocina de Altura,” which used all fresh local ingredients. The plates are delicious and beautifully presented.
Day 2 Humantay Glacier and Lagoon Full-Day Trip
Start the day early, with a pickup from your hotel taking you to the village of Mollepata. From here, eat a delicious breakfast. Afterward, take the windy pass up the mountain road leading towards Soraypampa, which will serve as the starting point for the trek.
You will then begin a 2-hour ascent along the slopes which border the plateau whilst taking the time to take advantage of the views of the impressive snow-capped mountains in the distance that are ever-present throughout the trek.
After making your way over the final hill, you will be greeted by the stunning views of the turquoise waters of the Humantay Lagoon, made even more spectacular by the sight of the Humantay Glacier which looms behind it. Here you will have a chance to relax and enjoy the tranquility of this magical spot before making your descent back to Soraypampa, where you will enjoy a picnic lunch. Once you are done eating and taking pictures, you will be transferred back to your hotel in Cusco. The remainder of the day is at your leisure
Total walking distance: 8 km / 5 miles
Estimated walking time: 3.5 Hours
Max. Altitude: 4,200 m / 13,780
Day 3 – Sacred Valley Pisaq Market, Fortress of Ollantaytambo – Aguas Calientes
Begin your day with a tour to the Pisaq market in the Sacred Valley. Originally a place where people from remote communities used to barter their products, Pisaq has evolved into one of South America’s most famous souvenir markets. Make sure to sample some ’empanadas’ baked in traditional clay ovens. Afterward, enjoy a buffet-style lunch in Urubamba.
Then, you will have an afternoon visit to the fortress of Ollantaytambo where the Temple of the Sun (formed of six gigantic monoliths, whose total weight exceeds 50 tons) and the Terrace of the Ten Niches stand out. Finally, arrive onto the Ollantaytambo train station for your next railroad journey to Aguas Calientes. The Inca Rail VOYAGER train ride takes you through the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Explore the small city of Aguas Calientes and have an excellent meal, and your next day will be spent exploring one of the seven wonders of the world!
Are you the type that prefers to hike the Inca trail to Machu Picchu? There are many paths of varying lengths and sceneries. For this reason, we recommend that you speak with one of our travel experts to find your perfect fit. Whether you want a single day walk or multi-day trek, there are plenty of options.