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What to do in Cusco: Prettiest Places to Take Instagram-Worthy Photos of Cusco

what to do in Cusco best places to take photos (1) copyLROne of my absolute favorite activities when visiting a new place is simple - wandering the streets with a camera in hand, hunting for pretty nooks and corners. When I was researching what to do in Cusco,I found some good suggestions, but ended up stumbling on others by accident. So I wanted to compile the best places to take photos of Cusco in one place.

The town of Cusco is touristy, but so charming and picturesque. The theme of the city centro seems to be white and blue - white historic buildings with varied shades of blue ornate doors. There are also some shots of color, plenty of winding cobblestone walkways, some pretty flowers, and lots of historic architecture. It’s really a perfect city to get lots of Instagram worthy shots!

photos of cusco

what to do in cusco what to do in cusco

photos of cusco

So if you like finding the prettiest spots in a new city, scroll through to find my 6 favorite places to take pretty photos in Cusco. I also added 6 picturesque day trips to the end of the post - so if you’re looking for what to do in Cusco region - there are plenty of pretty things outside the city too!

 

What to do in Cusco: Prettiest Places to Take Instagram-Worthy Photos of Cusco

 

Sacsayhuaman

sacsayhuaman what to do in cusco photos of cusco

If you ask anyone what to do in Cusco, their first answer will probably be to visit Sacsayhuaman. These main ruins in Cusco and are perched on a mountain overlooking the city. The view alone makes this a perfect place to take photos of Cusco. But beyond that, the ruins are impressive and large.

You can easily walk there from the city centro via a wide stone path. It’s not a far climb, but the altitude is quite high! You’ll want take your time making the walk up and bring plenty of water. You can also take a taxi up if you’re tired and make the walk down later.

Once inside the ruins, be sure to hit the mirador that overlooks the city. There are plenty of signs pointing it out. You’ll walk down a long path and then be greeted by a giant cross and a great view of the city below. This is a perfect place to get your aerial photos of Cusco.

sacsayhuaman cusco

sacsayhuaman

Then wander through the ruins. You can climb many of them, and you’ll be impressed by the giant stones that they were able to carve and arrange to build their city!

sacsayhuaman what to do in cusco

inca ruins cusco photos of cusco

photos of cusco sacsayhuaman

Tips: If you want to beat the crowds, it’s a good idea to go early before the tour buses arrive. And bring several layers since the weather at this altitude can change quickly!

Cristo Blanco

cristo blanco cusco what to do in cusco

Cristo Blanco is another site overlooking the city with another great view to take photos of Cusco. It’s not too far from Sacsayhuaman, so you can do both in one day if you have the time. If you go separately, there is a different path to Cristo Blanco from the city below. You can take a path of stone steps up the mountain from San Blas.

walking up to cristo blanco cusco photos

Take your time and bring plenty of water. The elevation here is no joke! Don’t be alarmed if you have to stop often to catch your breath.

Once at the statue, you can take photos of Cusco below, or photos of the giant statue.

cristo blanco statue cusco

cusco cristo blanco what to do in cusco

Tip: Combine this visit with a visit to the ruins at Sacsayhuaman to save time.

Convento La Merced

I didn’t find anyone suggesting to visit this convent when I did online research, and I can’t imagine why - this convent blew me away! If you’re looking for a beautiful place to take photos in Cusco, this is a must visit.

This 17th century church and convent is beautifully restored and has a gorgeous central courtyard with lush greens and flowers. Wander around here and then head upstairs to the second floor. The brilliant red hallway and arches are dramatic and picturesque.

photos of cusco convent la merced

what to do in cusco convent la merced la merced convent cusco

convent la merced cusco

There are also rooms you can enter with large and impressive paintings.
where to take photos in cusco

If you’re looking for what to do in Cusco, this is a beautiful and underrated site. It was almost completely empty when we visited - allowing us to absorb the setting, and take unobstructed photos!

Tip: Go in the late afternoon so you can get beautiful golden hour light.

San Blas

what to do in cusco san blas cusco

If you’re looking for the artistic neighborhood in Cusco - San Blas is it. It’s filled with cute cafes, bars, restaurants, and shabby chic buildings. In other words, it’s the perfect place to take photos in Cusco!

The neighborhood is perched on a steep hill, so there are tons of narrow cobblestone streets and stairs that wind their way up the mountain. It’s fun to wander, occasionally stop for a coffee or beer, and discover hidden nooks.

photos of cusco san blas

cute streets photos of cusco san blas

san blas neighborhood cusco

winding streets in san blas cusco

street art san blas what to do in cusco

If you’re looking for what to do in Cusco, this neighborhood will also likely have many events - live music, yoga classes, art shows, etc..

Tip: It’s also a great place to stay if you prefer to be in a more residential area rather than the busy centro, but it’s still easy walking distance to all the tourist sites in the city center.

Plaza de las Armas

plaza de las armas cusco

The Plaza de las Armas is the absolute center of the city - it’s the main square and is surrounded by the cathedral, as well as government buildings. It’s the center of what to do in Cusco.

It’s also excellent for people watching. Settle in on one of the benches and take in the activity and the pretty architecture on all sides. There are also often events and parades here.

parade in cusco plaza de las armas what to do in cusco

what to do in cusco plaza de las armas

main square cusco plaza de las armas

photos of cusco church plaza de las armas

cathedral door what to do in cusco

Tip: Head into the bar, Norton’s Rat Tavern, and grab a chair on the balcony. It’s the perfect place to get a birds eye view of the activity on the square below, as well as enjoy a craft beer.

The Markets

artisan market what to do in cusco

When I was thinking about what to do in Cusco, I knew I wanted to visit the local markets. I think it’s always one of the best ways to get to know a new place and culture - that’s where everyday life happens!

The markets here are a great place to take photos in Cusco. I recommend to visit the main central market - San Pedro. This market has lots of artisan goods, but also has great fruits and veggies, and almost anything else you want. It’s a good look into local life.

san pedro market cusco

There are also tons of artisan markets scattered throughout the centro and San Blas. Wander into any of them for some fun shopping or some colorful photos of Cusco artisan goods.

what to do in cusco, artisan market

Tip: Be polite and ask to take a photo before you snap a picture of a local at a market stand.

What to do in Cusco Bonus: Day Trips Outside the City for Photos of Cusco Region

Pisac: What to Do in Cusco Region

pisac what to do in cusco

Pisac is an easy town to visit on a day trip from Cusco. There are two major things to do in Pisac - the market and the ruins.

If you’re in Pisac on a Sunday, you’ll have the pleasure of strolling the large outdoor market, sampling the local food, and buying beautiful artisan goods.

pisac market what to do in cusco

pisac market sunday what to do in cusco

You can then take a taxi up the mountain to the Pisac ruins. These are unique because they are in a semi circular shape. And like almost all ruins in this region, they have an amazing view of the valley below. A perfect place to take photos of Cusco region!

pisac ruins photos of cusco

Tip: Go on a Sunday so you can see the large bustling market.

Tipon: What to Do in Cusco Region

tipon ruins what to do in cusco

Tipon is also an easy day trip from Cusco city. It’s often missed by tourists since it’s southeast of the city, and many of the tourist sites are to the northwest. But it is an amazing site - if you have the time, I highly recommend a visit!

Getting here is easy by public bus. You can then take a taxi up to the ruins. Once there, wander the large site. The main ruins are large and impressive green terraces. But there is also another ruin if you climb further up the mountain, and irrigation channels that stretch up and up the mountain. We tried to follow them to find their source, but it went on for so long that we finally turned back!

Tipon is famous for their irrigation channels that still supply the site with running water. The system is impressive and makes for great photos of Cusco region ruins.

tipon water ways what to do in cusco

tipon photos of cusco
Looking down at the water channels that come from the mountain.

tipon ruins views

foliage at tipon what to do in cusco

Tip: Hike up to second higher ruin for even better views of the valley below, and less people. Also, Tipon is famous for their cuy - or roasted guinea pig. Try it at one of the restaurants near the highway before you leave.

Chinchero: What to Do in Cusco Region

chinchero ruins what to do in cusco

Chinchero is another village that has a great market AND impressive ruins. In fact, I thought this was the best market I’ve visited in Peru!

If you’re looking for what to do in Cusco Region, this is an awesome Sunday day trip. You can easily arrive by public bus, and then walk to the public market. There are rows of women selling gorgeous, well-made colorful textiles, bags, baskets, and more. You will take your most colorful photos of Cusco here! If you continue to the back, there are a few rows of food stalls.

sunday chinchero market photos of cusco

what to do in cusco chinchero market

photos of cusco chinchero market

chinchero market sunday

chinchero market sunday

After you get your lunch and make your purchases. Continue on to the ruins. These are perched above a canyon and have an amazing view of huge impressive mountains in the distance. Like all the Inca ruins, they are terraced, and fun to climb over, and explore.

walking to the chinchero ruins

chinchero ruins what to do in cusco

photos of cusco chinchero

chinchero ruins cusco
See me down there at the bottom? The mountain behind me is HUGE!

Tip: Go on a Sunday so you can experience the local market. I think this is the best place to stock up on well-made artisan goods to bring home! If you plan on buying a lot, get to Chinchero early so you can visit the ruins early before heading to the market.

Ollantaytambo: What to Do in Cusco Region

ollantaytambo what to do in cusco

Ollantaytambo is the gateway to reach Machu Picchu, so most tourists pass through here. But on it’s own, it’s a super cute and charming town, and has tons of ruins. You could add it as a destination for a night or two during your stay in the Cusco region, or at least try to spend a couple extra hours here as you pass through.

This town is full of charming and narrow cobblestone streets which are ideal for taking pretty photos of Cusco region. Wander through and notice all the details.

ollantaytambo cusco what to do in cusco

visiting ollantaytambo

ollantaytambo photos of cusco

You can then visit the ruins that the town is famous for, as well as the Pinkullyuna ruins that are free, and on the opposite mountainside. Both are just steps from the town center and provide beautiful views of the valley below.

ollantaytambo ruins entrance
The entrance to the main Ollantaytambo ruins
Pinkullyuna ruins ollantaytambo
The PInkullyuna ruins opposite the main Ollantaytambo ruins. The Pinkullyuna ruins are free to enter.
Pinkullyuna ruins ollantaytambo structure
Inside the Pinkullyuna ruins
Pinkullyuna ruins ollantaytambo view
View from the Pinkullyuna ruins looking back at the Ollantaytambo ruins.

Tip: Add this as a stop before or after Machu Picchu. It’s much more authentic than over touristy Aguas Calientes, so a better place to spend the night.

Rainbow Mountain: What to Do in Cusco Region

rainbow mountain cusco

Rainbow Mountain is fairly new on the tourist scene, but you will see photos of this colorfully striped mountain all over social media! It’s a must visit if you want gorgeous photos of Cusco region.

You can take a 1 day tour, waking early and hiking straight up to the overlook with tons of other tourists. But I highly recommend taking the two day hike to see the super impressive mountains and landscape of this mountain range. It’s a challenge - it’s very high elevation and there are steep portions, but you will be rewarded with maybe your best photos of Cusco region, and amazing memories of the glaciers, snow capped peaks, unique wildlife, and remote camping experience. Check out my post for all the details on the two day Rainbow Mountain trek.

what to do in cusco rainbow mountain

rainbow mountain trek cusco

where to take photos of cusco

what to do in cusco

photos of cusco rainbow mountain

Tip: If you're physically fit and up for a challenge, do the 2 day Rainbow Mountain trek for a much more in depth look at the Ausangate mountain range and photo ops of many different types of mountains and landscapes.

Machu Picchu: What to Do in Cusco Region

what to do in cusco machu picchu

Finally the most obvious and famous of all, Machu Picchu! This is obviously a must visit if you are in Cusco, and for good reason. No other site in the world is like it, from the well preserved and impressive ruins, to the otherworldly location perched on the razor edge of a dramatic mountain.

photos of cusco machu picchu

machu picchu what to do in cusco

view machu picchu from sun gate

I highly recommend hiking at least a portion of the Inca Trail, to get a better feel for the region, history and culture. Check out my post on the short Inca Trail hike if you’re considering a visit to Machu Picchu.

Tip: Do the Short Inca Trail hike for a much more in-depth understanding of Machu Picchu and the Quechua history and culture. It only adds another day, and you'll learn and see so much!


cusco doors

what to do in cusco

And that’s it! These are my favorite places to take photos in Cusco plus a guide of what to do in Cusco. Did I miss anything? What is your favorite thing to do in Cusco?

Want a customized map of all the places I mentioned above + some of my favorite restaurants and bars in Cusco?

 

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Cusco best places to take photos (2) copyLR
what to do in cusco

16 Responses

  1. John
    | Reply

    Great pics and great post!

    • Susan Ripley
      | Reply

      Thanks, Johnny! 🙂

  2. Andi
    | Reply

    You really did get some primo spots! And a wide variety of subject matter, from color markets and streets (love the bug!) to multi-colored landscapes. I also love just wandering around a city/town without any plans, the best things happen that way!

    • Susan Ripley
      | Reply

      Thank you! And yes I agree, wandering and finding unexpected nooks is so fun and satisfying. The neighborhood of San Blas is perfect for that!

  3. Jenn and Ed Coleman
    | Reply

    Sacred Valley and Painted Mountains are classics. I love the colorful doorways and markets too but what really surprised me was Convento La Merced. It looks like it came straight out of Casablanca.

    • Susan Ripley
      | Reply

      I agree! No one talks about La Merced and I just can’t imagine why. It was so gorgeous and we had the whole place to ourselves. A great gem to visit!

  4. Ivy
    | Reply

    Your pictures are amazing Susan! The colorful doors and markets are my favourite. I guess Machu Picchu ain’t too shabby either 😛 I seriously need to add Cusco to my list!

    • Susan Ripley
      | Reply

      Thank you so much! And yes, MP isn’t too shabby. 🙂 It’s really an amazing area to visit.

  5. Jen
    | Reply

    You took gorgeous pictures! And I agree that the Chincero market is a must. I would love to go back and see the rainbow mountains!

    • Susan Ripley
      | Reply

      If and when I ever settle into a home, I have vowed to come back to Cusco and make a huge shopping trip to Chinchero’s Sunday market. Some of the best textiles I’ve ever seen!

  6. Cat
    | Reply

    So many beautiful places in Cusco! The architecture at the plaza de las armas is impressive with all the details. The ruins at Sacsayhuaman make you look so tiny!

    • Susan Ripley
      | Reply

      It’s amazing how diverse all the different types of tourist attractions are there – from architecture to natural landscapes. 🙂

  7. Allison Wong
    | Reply

    This post is making me wanna go to Cusco now! So many pretty places to take pictures! I’ll go crazy at places like this 😀

    • Susan Ripley
      | Reply

      hahah, me too! I love places like this with so many amazing photo ops. 🙂

  8. Agness of Fit Travelling
    | Reply

    Cusco seems so picturesque and astonishing! When’s the best time of the year to explore it?

    • Susan Ripley
      | Reply

      Hi Agness! Glad you think so. Cusco is a lovely city.

      I believe tourists visit all year round and there are advantages and disadvantages for each season. Peru’s winter (our North American summer) is the most popular time to go because it’s their dry season. You’ll find every day dry and sunny. The downside is that it’s quite cold! During their summer (North American winter), it will be a little bit warmer, but it’s rainy season so you will have more chances of showers.

      Hope that helps!

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