If you’re planning a trip to Peru, you’ll no doubt find yourself in Cusco at some point and for good reason. Not only is Cusco the gateway to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu it’s a world-class destination in its own right. Full of beautiful colonial architecture, a vibrant food scene and local culture Cusco was, for me, and for many, the most beautiful city in Peru.
Cusco was the capital of the Incan empire for three centuries until the Spanish Conquest making it a hot pot of local, mystical Andean culture as well as its colonial history. While not being a very big city 2 days is enough to get your bearings and to see the highlights. Rustic, colonial houses, beautiful brick churches, hilltop ruins and city views? Cusco offers this and so much more.
Here are the top things to do and see in Cusco in just 2 days and why it’s a city that should be very high on your bucket list.
WHERE TO EAT
Green Point – The most popular 100% plant-based restaurant in all of Cusco for many years now. This place has become an institution and if there’s one place you can’t miss it’s this. A highlight is the daily lunch menu + their vegan barbecue, large enough for a group to share.
Chia Vegan Kitchen – Another great option in Cusco, this small, friendly cafe serves all kinds of Peruvian style, plant-based food using ingredients such as fresh veggies, rice, quinoa etc.
La Rabona Peruvian Deli – this little cafe is the perfect place for brunch or a light meal. They do great breakfasts serving dishes such as sandwiches on gluten-free bread and smoothies bowls as well as coffee/tea and fresh juices.
2 DAYS IN CUSCO- THINGS TO DO
EXPLORE COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE IN THE HISTORICAL CENTRE
Cusco is best explored on foot and one of the best things to do is to walk around looking up. Enjoy the narrow cobbled streets with rustic, stone houses, beautiful cathedrals in the Plaza de Armas and luxury, colonial buildings with brightly painted balconies. Some of the most photo-worthy buildings include the main cathedral, Santo Domingo church and convent and the Santa Clara Arch.
SAN PEDRO MARKET
Nothing gives a more authentic experience than seeing a local market. Head to this market where you can just wander and marvel at the amazing variety of local produce on offer from the Andes to the coast. Why not up your vitamin intake and stock up on fresh local fruit or even coca leaves? While the market is a great place to eat some local food, I found that the food here wasn’t particularly veggie friendly. What you can’t miss though, is ordering a local smoothie. Choose from countless fruit combinations or mix your own. Perfect for breakfast or mid-morning snack.
TRY A HOT CHOCOLATE AT THE CHOCO MUSEUM
Chocomuseo, while located in many cities across Latin America, provides an excellent pitstop during a day of wandering. They make a delicious hot chocolate with many flavours on offer. I tried the chilli one and it was amazing. In Cusco, it’s located in a gorgeous colonial building, so why not order a hot chocolate, take a seat on the rustic, wooden balcony and watch the city below. Chocomuseo also does a number of different ‘bean to bar’ workshops and even a cooking course. Check it out here.
ADMIRE THE VIEW FROM SACSAYHUAMAN RUINS
For one of the best views in the city, climb up to the ruins of Sacsayhuaman. While being a bit of a tough climb, especially at this altitude, you’ll pass through some charming streets on your way and get a glimpse at local life. Sacsayhuaman was an Incan fortress of which only the largest stones remain today and is a great introduction to the buildings and practises of the Incas. Take it in but make sure not to miss the amazing view. You can see the whole valley as well as the city of Cusco. I recommend coming up as close to sunset as you can for the best light and colours.
To visit Sacsayhuaman and many other ruins in the sacred valley you’ll have to buy a ‘boleto turistico’. You can do so at any of the major museums or sites.
Planning a trip to Lima too? Check out Your Short Guide to What to Do in Lima.
HANG OUT IN SAN BLAS
With 2 days in Cusco, you have plenty of time to explore the trendiest neighbourhoods. San Blas is the ‘hippie’ or ‘cooler’ neighbourhood of Cusco. In my opinion, it’s also the best place to stay in. It’s known as the bohemian part of the city, full of life both in the day and night. You can walk around, admire the independent boutiques and have a coffee at one of the many good coffee shops. It’s also full of bars and restaurants to keep you busy at night. When arriving in Cusco definitely make a beeline for this neighbourhood.
This site demonstrates perfectly the struggles between the Incas and the Spanish. The Golden temple was considered the most important site in Incan mythology and after emperor Atahualpa was captured by the Spanish, the Incans stripped and burned down much of the temple’s gold and silver to pay for his ransom. In true Colonial form, the Spanish then killed him and adding insult to injury, they pillaged the last remaining gold and built a church over the top of it. Visiting Corichanka gives you more of an understanding of Incan culture and the events that happened during colonial times.
EAT AT GREEN POINT
Wow…just wow, I still smile every time I remember a meal at Green Point. Green Point is one of Cusco’s best restaurants and obviously, it gets bonus points for also being vegan. I think I ate here every time I was in Cusco for lunch- lunch is the best time to go. They offer a Peruvian fusion almuerzo, a three-course vegan menu including a drink for a very reasonable price. Just don’t leave lunch too late, it sells out fast. They also have a standard menu available for lunch and dinner at slightly higher prices.
VISIT MACHU PICCHU
Let’s face it- most people visit Cusco on their way to or from Machu Picchu so leaving these remarkable Incan Ruins off this 2 day Cusco guide would be unthinkable. For more details on planning your visit to Machu Picchu check out How to Get to Machu Picchu and A Guide to Machu Picchu Tickets.
Spending 2 days in Cusco? Ask me anything! Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you.
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