Cusco (also spelled Cuzco), or Qosq’o in the local Quechua language, is the main entry point for those planning to visit Machu Picchu. Cusco, Peru was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Although the region is considered a backpackers paradise, there are many family-friendly things to do in the Home of the Inca.
However, Cuzco Peru sits at 3399 m so it is not recommended for visitors to stay in Cuzco immediately. To avoid altitude sickness, many people choose to acclimatize by spending a few days exploring the Sacred Valley of Peru. Time in the Sacred Valley should be in every Peru itinerary. For those visiting Cusco with kids, it can be difficult to know where to start. There are so many things to do in Cusco, and many of them are family-friendly. You can read our entire two-week Peru itinerary here.
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Cutting your costs to visit Cusco with Boleto Turistico and Boleto Religioso Tickets
If you plan on including a few days exploring Cuzco on your trip to Peru. Or plan on packing as many things to see in Cuzco in a few days, we recommend purchasing the Boleto Turistico. The ticket is valid for 10 days and includes 17 of the most famous sites to see in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. These include entrance to Incan ruins: Sacsaywaman, Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Chinero, Moray, Q’uenqo, Pukapukara, and Tambomachay. For those that want to visit several religious sites, there is the Boleto Religioso.
What to See and Things to do in Cusco Peru
Plaza de Armas
A trip to The Plaza de Armas in Cuzco Peru is one of the best things to do in Cusco. The Plaza de Armas was once the heart of the Inca capital and continues to be a center point for festivals and local events. It is a wonderful place to visit with kids, much like the Plaza de Armas in Arequipa Peru. On the day we visited Cusco weather could not have been, more perfect. The sun was shining and there was a high school marching band competition going on in the Plaza de Armas. We sat on the park bench and enjoyed the celebrations for a while. The main square of Cusco was also a great place to people watch before heading to the Cathedral.
A visit to a colonial church is definitely one of the top things to do in Cusco. And the most popular of all the colonial churches in Cuzco Peru is La Cathedral in the Plaza de Armas. The Cuzco Cathedral is also known as The Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin. It took nearly a century to build. And the exterior was built using stones that were taken from the nearby Incan ruin, Sacsaywaman. The facade is dominated by an ornately decorated front entrance. While the door itself is simple, it is bordered by several archways.
Once inside you have the choice of 14 chapels to visit. Unfortunately, photographs are not allowed inside. This is not surprising as the church contains many priceless art pieces, including the oldest surviving painting in Cuzco. This painting is a depiction of the city during the devastating earthquake of 1650. And my favorite painting in the Cusco Cathedral is the 5 m x 4 m depiction of the Last Supper from 1753 by Quechua artist Marcos Zapata which contains a roast cuy (guinea pig) at the center of the table.
We started our tour though, by gawking at the intricately carved cedar choir. It stood in stark contrast to the shiny silver altar. That is until we learned that the original altar, which was also made of intricately carved wood, was hidden behind the present altar. We ended our tour with a quick visit to the tiny crypt, where past priests of the church were laid to rest. There are several other churches nearby including Iglesia del Triunfo to the right of La Cathedral and Iglesia de Jesus to the left which can be visited if you have more time than we did.
Cuzco is also home to several museums. However, at 6 and 3 years old, our kids are not very big fans of museums. So, we tend to skip museums unless we know there is a particular draw for children. For example, one of our favorites is the Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. The hands-on exhibits were a hit with both the boys. So, when we found out that the ChocoMuseo not only has exhibits about cocoa but, it is also a place to where you learn how to make chocolate by participating in a cooking class, we were very excited.
The chocolate making experience at the ChocoMuseo Cusco was a definite highlight of our Peru tour with kids. It was a bean to bar experience and our instructor made sure to explain the process but also made it a lot of fun. If you don’t believe me, just watch our video. Besides their location in Cuzco, there are two other locations in the Sacred Valley (Ollantay and Pisac) and another two in Lima (Lima center and Miraflores). You can read all about our experience at the ChocoMuseo in Cusco Peru here.
Although Cuzco is the gateway for Machu Picchu tours, the city actually also houses an impressive Inca ruin. Qorikancha is an Inca ruin found in the convent of Santo Domingo. We spent a couple of hours touring the site. When you enter, the first site is the open courtyard with an octagonal font. We learned that the font and in fact the whole site was one laden with gold. Hence the name, Qorikancha, which means “golden courtyard” in Quechua.
On either side of the courtyard are temples which we explored in turn. The largest were the Temples of the Moon and Stars. Besides the walls being covered in gold sheets, the temples also had gold altars and housed gold statues. Although the opulence of the temple is hard to imagine within the confines of the convent. However, there is one spot where a 6 m high curved wall still stands- a true testament to the amazing workmanship of the Inca. It is also possible to visit the church of Santa Domingo which is adjacent to Qorikancha. At the time of our visit, there was a service was going on so we only had a chance for a quick peek. You can read all about our visit to M Machu Picchu with kids here.
One ruin definitely worth visiting is Sacsaywaman. The Incan ruin of Sacsaywaman is an Inca citadel on a hill just north of the city of Cusco. In Quechua, Sacsayhuaman means “satisfied falcon” although many refer to it tongue in cheek as “Sexy Woman”. In 1983 the site was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the Cusco. Though there are many Inca ruins in Peru, I was looking forward to our visit to Sacsaywaman as I had previously seen videos of children sliding down some rock faces within the ruin. Therefore, our guide took us to this spot first on our tour of Sacsayhuaman. And I was right, it was a highlight for the boys!
Next, our guide took us to explore some caves in the area as the kids could not stop talking about how they love caves. In the last section, we headed over to the “Jaguar’s teeth”, a three-tiered zig-zag fortification made of massive rocks that perfectly fit together. We learned how Cuzco is shaped like a Jaguar and Sacsayhuaman is the head. I had no idea that the site was so large. I was impressed to find out that only about 20% of the actual site is left for visitors to explore today. It turns out that many of the perfectly carved stones of the Cusco ruins were used to build churches and structures in Cusco by the Spanish.
Pro Tip: If you have an extra free day in Cuzco, and you want to see more ruins, less than 10 km away at 3 other Inca ruins: Q’uenko, Pukapucara and Tambomachay. All 3 can be done as a day trip from Cusco and many taxis and agencies offer this tour.
Where to Stay in Cusco
There is an amazing selection of incredible places to stay in Peru. At the heart of many of these experiences is the beautiful city of Cusco. There are many Cusco hotels that are within walking distance of the historical center of Cuzco. The hotels in Cuzco also vary in price so there is something for all budgets. We stayed at Hotel Costa del Sol Ramada which is right in the heart of the historic district. It was only a few minutes walk to the Plaza de Armas. Like many of the hotels in Cusco, the Costa del Sol Ramada Cusco was a former colonial mansion.
The boys loved how the resident llamas would wander the grounds of the inner courtyard. We stayed in a two-bedroom suite. The room was spacious and the beds comfortable. The boys especially appreciated the welcome dessert tray that greeted us after check-in.
Where to Eat in Cusco
Peruvian cuisine is renowned worldwide with 3 of the 50 Best Restaurants in the World found in Lima, Peru. When I was perusing the list, I really wanted to try one of the three restaurants. However, all three sounded too formal to visit with our young children. So, when I read about the highly touted Cicciolina tapas bar restaurant in Cuzco, I just knew we had to check it out.
Cicciolina is a few minutes walk from the CuscoMuseo. Although, the entrance is hidden from the street so we had to spend a few minutes going up and down Calle Triunfo before we realized it we had to enter the courtyard to get to the second-floor entrance. The casual atmosphere meant our children didn’t stand out amongst the boisterous crowd. The tapas menu also meant we could try many dishes and if it meant the kids didn’t like something, they could just move onto the next dish.
Tip: Avoid disappointment and make reservations if you would like to eat at Cicciolina. We made our reservations months ahead of our visit and were glad we did.
Should you Visit Cusco with Kids?
Our boys absolutely loved Peru. From the warm-hearted locals to the incredible freedom of running through the ruins, the country was fun and exciting. Cusco, while busier than the more remote areas was a favorite place for family travel in Peru. Cusco with kids can be fun, educational and entertaining for the entire family. However, we highly recommend a visit to the Sacred Valley first to avoid any altitude sickness for anyone in the family.