Cusco, formerly the capital of the Inca Empire, is simply breathtaking and is a gateway to some of the best sites in Peru and a starting point for multi-day hikes like the Inca Trail, Salkantay Trek, and Ausangate. When thinking about visiting Peru it is impossible to skip a visit to Cusco but deciding how many days to spend there can be an overwhelming decision. With our recent visit to Peru, we recommend spending 4 days in Cusco.
4 Days in Cusco will give you enough time to spend exploring the city and visiting some of the most popular attractions around Cusco. This post will provide a day-by-day activity guide and alternative options if you are looking for something different. It is very easy to alter this itinerary to fit your needs.
Incredible 4 Days in Cusco Summary
- Day 1: Cusco – Explore the incredible city of Cusco, acclimate to the high altitude and taste Peru’s amazing food
- Day 2 & 3: Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu – Enjoy a visit to historic Incan ruins. Spend day 2 in Sacred Valley and then take a train and explore Machu Picchu on day 3.
- Day 4: Cusco or Humantay Lake – Either spend more time in Cusco visiting different historic sites or take a day hike to amazing alpine Humantay Lake.
Day 1: Cusco
Cusco is usually the gateway to Peru for most visitors. Located at 11,150 ft. elevation, for the first day, I recommend taking it easy, staying hydrated, eating light meals (soups, salads, etc.), drinking coca tea, and walking around the city.
After you check in to your accommodations, splurge on a delicious lunch at Morena Peruvian Kitchen and spend the rest of the day strolling through Plaza de Armas, enjoying the architecture and getting bombarded by street vendors to buy paintings or take pictures with alpacas.
Cusco, formerly the capital of the Inca Empire, is simply breathtaking and is a gateway to some of the best sites in Peru.
You can also explore the charming San Blas neighborhood and finish the evening at the Green Point Restaurant.
Day 2&3: Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu
Both Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu are at lower elevations than Cusco which makes them an excellent option to visit at the beginning of your trip while still acclimating.
Since Sacred Valley is half-point to Machu Picchu it is best to combine these two activities. Spend one day exploring Sacred Valley then take a train to Aguas Calientes and spend the next day in Machu Picchu. It is most convenient to hire a guided tour for this as they take care of all the logistics, and you must have a licensed guide to get in the Incan citadel (Machu Picchu) anyway.
Sacred Valley once the heartland of the Incan Empire due to its rich agricultural lands is now one of the most popular tourist attractions full of Incan ruins. You can visit dug-out amphitheater in Moray, salt-evaporated ponds in Maras or weaving cooperatives in Chincheros.
OPTION: Instead of walking around Sacred Valley you can choose to zipline over it and spend a night in one of the most unique accommodations on the side of the cliff – Starlodge.
The next stop is Machu Picchu. Nestled in the Peruvian Andes, Machu Picchu served as a site for religious ceremonies where sacrifices were made to appease the gods, never noticed or ruined by the Spaniards, only to be discovered by an American explorer in the 1900s. Machu Picchu is the most popular tourist attraction in the country. You will spend a couple of hours here exploring taking pictures and learning about the Incas.
To make your way back, you can either hike down the stairs to Aguas Calientes or take a bus ($12 per person) ride. The way back to Cusco is a combination of train and van transportation, depending on the tour company you have hired.
In Cusco enjoy dinner at Inkazuela with delicious food and views of the Plazoleta de las Nazarenas.
Day 4: Cusco or Humantay Lake
Today you can spend a day exploring ruins within Cusco and hopefully, by now you have acclimated enough to manage some elevation gain and stairs. Or you can take a day trip to Humantay Lake (1st part of the 5-Day Salkantay Trek)
If you decide to spend a day exploring the city, make your way up the Statue of Christ for amazing views of the city. Make sure you bring enough water to stay hydrated as it does get hot and dry, and when at high altitudes hydration is crucial.
From the Statue of Christ, it is a short walk to Saqsaywaman. This monumental complex is comprised of three platforms on top of each other. The enormous boulders were perfectly put together without using mortar and some of them weighed over 125 tons. You can spend a couple of hours walking around here and enjoying the views of Cusco.
On the way back to the city you can stop at Acueducto de Sapantiana and Twelve Angled Stone.
If you decide to take a day trip to Humantay Lake, prepare to hike up to 13,780 ft. Humantay Lake is a beautiful turquoise lake hidden in the Andes. It is a relatively short hike but once again at a very high elevation, so it will take longer than expected. After the hike, you will have lunch and head back to the city.
You can finish the evening with dinner at KION Restaurant – the fusion of Peruvian and Chinese food – Chifa.
This Cusco itinerary can be combined with a visit to Lima, Arequipa or Puno. All great options when spending more time in Peru.
More Things to Do in Cusco
Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain
Ausangate 7-Lakes Hike
Take a cooking class and a local market tour
Rafting and Ziplining in Oropesa
5-Day Salkantay Trek
4-Day Classica Inca Trek
3-Day Ausangate and Rainbow Mountain Trek