The PERFECT 1 Day in Cusco Itinerary

The gateway to Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain, and so much more, Cusco is a popular tourist destination for anyone looking to visit these iconic sights. Most visitors choose to spend 2-3 days in Cusco to acclimate to the elevation, however a 1 day in Cusco itinerary is also feasible.

cusco city view overlook
Cusco City View

I spent 6 weeks living and working in Cusco. I spend the weekdays working and exploring the city and the weekends heading to the most iconic spots like Machu Picchu and Humantay Lake. I truly fell in love with the city and it’s culture.

Although I recommend spending at least a week here, yes I am biased, if you only have 1 day in Cusco, you will be able to see the big sights and get a food for the city.

This guide walks you through the perfect 1 day in Cusco itinerary, showing you the most iconic spots, delicious restaurants, and best places to shop! I even give insider tips about prices and local hidden gems. 

Let’s get started!

Table of Contents

The Perfect 1 Day In Cusco Itinerary

white street with cobblestone - Things to do in cusco while acclimating
San Blas City Street

Overview of Cusco – Cusco 1 Day Itinerary

The long-standing capital of the Inca Empire and the gateway to Machu Picchu, Cusco is a must-visit while in Peru. Over the years, Cusco has become increasingly popular with the rise of social media. 

Even if you are short on time with one 1 day in Cusco, it’s still worth a trip!

One of the most visited cities in South America, Cusco is known to be super touristy. Usually, I get a bit nervous by touristy places, but Cusco surprised me in all the best ways.

Cusco is a sizable city, around 1 million people live here. However, the tourist areas are all compacted together making it a very walkable city. As a visitor here, you should never really need to take public transportation to get anywhere.

Cusco’s tourist area is the historic center, where the streets are all cobblestoned, ancient ruins surround you, and there are loads of things to do for your 1 day in Cusco.

orange city street with street art and cobblestone stairs
Cusco Street in San Blas

How to Get to Cusco

Because Cusco is a touristy city, getting to Cusco is quite easy due to its efficient bus system and international airport.

If you are already in Peru, you can book a bus from nearby cities such as Arequipa or Puna. 

Additionally, Cusco is home to the Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport (CUZ). This international airport is small, but services many flights a day to surrounding countries and cities, including dozens to Lima!

How to get from Lima to Cusco is a popular question people ask, because it’s probably the place your coming from. To get from the USA to Cusco, you are more than likely needing to connect through Lima first.

The quickest and easiest way to get from Lima to Cusco is by plane. Flying is very easy between the two cities, about a 90 minute flight! I highly recommend this option.

cusco airport exterior with taxis
CUZ Airport

If you have more time, you could consider taking a train or bus.

The bus will be your cheapest option, however it takes over 22 hours. That’s a long journey! The reason it takes so long is because the bus has to traverse through the Andes Mountains, which can take a while.

There are no direct trains from Lima to Cusco, but you can route through Arequipa to take the train. The train is really scenic, it’s also expensive and takes time. I wouldn’t recommend this. If you want a train ride, consider taking it from Cusco to Machu Picchu. It will be a lot easier!

So in conclusion, the best way to get to Cusco is by flying.

Is 1 Day in Cusco Enough?

When dreaming about your trip to the mountains of Cusco, visiting Machu Picchu, and taking pictures with Rainbow Mountain, you’ll want to consider how long you need in Cusco.

Cusco is famous because it is the gateway to these iconic landmarks, but many tourists forget that the city of Cusco is amazing too!

You’ll want at least 1 day in Cusco to get lost in its beautiful city streets, but to get the full experience, I’d recommend 3 days in Cusco city to see it all.

Inca ruins in the sacred valley
Moray Sacred Valley

After living here for 6 weeks, I left still wanting more. I mean, there is so much to do here! This picturesque city is worth staying for.

It’s important to at least spend 1 day in Cusco acclimating to the high elevation. Cusco sits at an insanely high 11,100 feet elevation, or almost 3,400 meters! The altitude sickness is real, so it’s best to plan to give your body at least 1 day in Cusco to adapt.

1 Day in Cusco Itinerary

While you adapt to the altitude sickness, you’ll probably be itching to see bits of the city, that’s why I’ve created the perfect 1 day in Cusco itinerary! 

Although I recommend at least 3 days to explore Cusco, this 1 day in Cusco itinerary packs all the major sights into one day, while allowing you to customize it to fit your needs.

8 am – 930 am – Breakfast at San Pedro Market

exterior of san pedro market - 1 day in cusco itinerary
San Pedro Market

Start your 1 day in Cusco morning by heading to the most famous market in Cusco, San Pedro Market. With only one day in Cusco, it’s important not to waste any time, so get an easily start!

I recommend giving yourself about an hour to explore San Pedro Market. San Pedro Market is full of delicious and cheap food and souvenir shopping. It’s also a great place to buy snacks for your travels, such as peanuts or fruits.

Although it is very touristy, there are a lot of locals to frequent this market too. This keeps costs low, and is one of the cheapest places in town to stop for some food.

In the front of San Pedro Market, you will find all the touristy trinkets, souvenirs, and other goods. If you’re in the market for a souvenir, now might be a good time to buy it, as it doesn’t get much cheaper than here!

In the back of San Pedro Market is where you will find all the delicious foods. You really can’t go wrong anywhere here. Just be sure to watch the time, because you won’t want to miss what is coming up next!

10 am – 1 pm – Free Walking Tour

cusco city street with mountain views - 1 day in cusco itinerary
Cusco City Street

After you’ve filled up on breakfast, it’s time to learn about the city with a free walking tour. If you have read any of my other guides, then you will know that I LOVE free walking tours! In my opinion, it’s the best way to get a quick overview of the city, learn the important history, and get recommendations for the best restaurants and places to visit from a local.

However, there are many free walking tours in Cusco, all taking you to different areas in town. That’s how much there is to see! I took a free walking tour when I was in Cusco, and I highly recommend.

This tour gives a lot of history, covers the important parts of Cusco, and has minimal hiking compared to others. This is especially important when you are adjusting to the elevation in Cusco!

The free walking tour begins at 10:30 in Plaza de Armas, but you should arrive early to find your guide and explore Plaza de Armas. This area is the city center and usually has something going on. Also, it’s just a nice vibe to experience for a bit.

1 day in Cusco Itinerary

1 pm – 3 pm – San Blas Market for lunch

inside a food market in peru
San Pedro Market Inside

Next up, you’ll head to the famous San Blas Market. During your free walking tour, you probably experienced a bit of San Blas. This neighborhood is famous for it’s picturesque streets and trendy stores. It’s also infamous for being at the top of a pretty big hill.

exterior of san blas market with cobblestone streets and yellow building - 1 day in cusco itinerary
San Blas Market Exterior

However, now is not the time for instagram pictures of the city streets – it’s time to eat lunch! After your 15 minute walk from Plaza de Armas to San Blas Market, you’ll probably be hungry.

Go ahead and have a look around this market. It’s famous with backpackers and locals, both getting a good deal on delicious food. If you lean vegan or vegetarian, I recommend this vegan restaurant in the market. It has delicious vegan food that comes with a starter, main course, and tea for only 15 soles!

However, if you are wanting meat there are many other restaurants that serve traditional Peruvian food at a low cost – and I’ve heard all the food here is delicious!

3 pm – 5 pm – Hike Christo Blanco or Visit Qorikancha

Spend your 1 day in Cusco afternoon with some free time. There are a few options of ways to spend your time but I’d recommend hiking Christo Blano (White Jesus) or taking a visit to Qorikancha (Temple of the Sun).

Hike Christo Blanco

This free activity should be done only if you are not feeling altitude sickness. If you feel the effects of the elevation, it’s best to take it easy and not go on a hike. 

Christo Blanco - white jesus - 1 day in cusco itinerary
Christo Blanco

However, if you are up to it, Christo Blanco offers incredible views of the city and is one of the most popular things to do! There are actually two ways to get to the top, hike or take a taxi.

To hike to Christo Blanco from San Blas, good news! You are already halfway there from the market! The good news, is you can GPS it on your phone and follow those directions, instead of me listing it off. It should take about 45 minutes or less to reach Christo Blanco from San Blas.

The alternative is to take a taxi to the top. It should be less than 10 soles to the top. 

Actually, I recommend taking a taxi one way, and walking back down. This way you get both experiences, with less work.

Qorikancha (Temple of the Sun)

temple of the sun exterior and courtyard with big green field - 1 day in cusco itinerary
Temple of the Sun Exterior

Located inside the city center is the famous temple, Qorikancha. This temple is also known as the Golden Temple because of the beautiful gold ceilings inside.

This must-see attraction in Cusco costs 14 soles to get inside, and expect to spend 2-3 hours exploring. It’s huge!

This temple was an important temple in the Inca Empire because it worships the sun and pays tribute to astrology. It’s also home to many historic artifacts and beautiful murals inside.

Although I am not a big museum or church visitor, I really enjoy this one. The courtyard in the back is also a nice bonus!

1 Day in Cusco Itinerary

5 pm – 6 pm – Souvenir Shop around Plaza De Armas/ take in the views

After you’ve spent the afternoon exploring some famous sights around Cusco, it’s time to souvenir shop to commemorate your 1 day in Cusco!

After speaking to many backpackers and traveling a bit myself, I can confidently say Cusco is the place you’ll want to buy your Peruvian souvenirs. The selection here is wide and prices are low. It’s really easy to find almost anything you are looking for.

main city square with cathedral and people
Plaza de Armas

I recommend heading to Plaza de Armas first. During this time, the sun should be setting and it’s a really nice atmosphere. Hopefully you’ll find some live music in the square too! From here, all of the surrounding streets have souvenir shops. In fact, you’ve probably passed by hundreds already today!

However, now is the best time to get in any last minute souvenirs. Trust me, it’s much better to buy it in Cusco than in Machu Picchu where the prices will double!

6 pm – 8 pm – Dinner

Spend the evening having a nice dinner in Cusco. It’s almost impossible to recommend restaurants because there are so many fantastic ones, but I will give it my best go. If you have more than 1 day in Cusco, you can try even more!

  • Greenpoint Vegan Restaurant – Yes, I have to start with the vegan one! It’s just too delicious not too. This restaurant is popular among travelers because they do their best spin on traditional Cusco dishes while making then vegan. This gives many travelers the opportunity to try foods local to the region.
  • KusyKay – Located in Plaza de Armas, this restaurant is famous for it’s local Peruvian dishes. Most notably, Cuay or Guinea Pig. As an American, I will say I was not brave enough to try the Guinea Pig, as I see it as a pet. However, if you are an adventurous eater, this is the place for you!
  • Ceviche Seafood Kitchen – No trip to Peru is complete without trying Ceviche! This raw fish dish is most famous in Lima, but Cusco has it’s own spin on it too! In Cusco, they eat Trout Ceviche from the river. If you are in the mood for fish, this is the best spot for it.

8 pm – 10 pm – Nightlife

city plaza at night with streelights and mountains in the background
Plaza de Armas at Night

To end your 1 day in Cusco itinerary, after a long day of touring Cusco, you might be ready for bed. However, if you still have energy left, Cusco has a thriving nightlife.

The most famous drink to have in Peru is a Pisco Sour. Pisco is a local type of alcohol and the sour is from the lime juice in it. It’s a must try!

Also, most of the bars or clubs in Cusco begin each night with a free Salsa lesson. If you have never tried Salsa before, now is the time! Usually at the beginning of the night, closer or 9pm Salsa lessons will begin. You don’t have to drink alcohol to participate either! Just show up and join the class!

The most famous place to Salsa lessons is Inca Team, however, the surrounding bars and clubs also have lessons too. Usually they end around 11pm, and thats when the party actually gets started.

City View of Cusco

Final Thoughts on 1 Day in Cusco Itinerary

Cusco is a city filled with history, hiking, and delicious food. With only 1 day, it’s best to take it easy to adjust to the elevation. But with so much to see and do, you’ll want to get out and experience as much as you can! This 1 day in Cusco itinerary helps you see it all!

I absolutely love Cusco, and I think it’s a worthy stop on any traveler’s itinerary. However, if you are short on time and only have 1 day to spare, you have a big day ahead of you!

As the gateway to Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain, and so much more, Cusco is a must-visit for many traveler in South America!

orange city street with street art and cobblestone stairs

I’m Danika! A travel obsessed, Disney adult, with a knack for budgeting.

In 2020 I was furlough from my “dream” job at Disney and have pursued my first love of travel ever since. I have traveled to 33 states and 28 countries spanning 5 continents.

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