15 BEST Things To Do in Cusco While Acclimating + Tips! (2024)

Dreaming of visiting Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain, or the Sacred Valley? Cusco is the gateway to these magical destinations. This tourist hub serves as the gateway to some of Peru’s most famous landmarks, so most tourists choose to spend a day in Cusco before heading to their next stop. However, Cusco sits at an extremely high elevation, which complicates things. But have no fear! There are plenty of things to do in Cusco while acclimating to the high elevation.

white street with cobblestone stairs in cusco
San Blas City Street

I had the opportunity to spend 6 weeks in Cusco volunteering in a school where I taught English. I spent the weekdays working and exploring the city and the weekends heading to Machu Picchu and other famous sights. It truly was the best time, and I am already looking forward to visiting again. 

With 6 weeks in Cusco, I had a lot of time to do all the touristy (and not touristy) things! After experiencing altitude sickness, and seeing so many others deal with it too, I have learned a lot. So, I have compiled a list of the best things to do in Cusco while acclimating to the elevation.

Let’s get started!

Table of Contents

cusco city street with mountain views - things to do in Cusco while acclimating
Cusco City Street

15 Things To Do in Cusco While Acclimating + Tips!

cusco city view overlook
Cusco City View

How Many Days to Acclimate in Cusco

In short, 2-3 days is how many days you need to acclimate in Cusco. things to do in Cusco while acclimating. Don’t worry, there are plenty of things to do in Cusco while acclimating to fill your time!

How high is Cusco? Well, Cusco sits at an extremely high 11,152 ft above sea level (3,399 meters)! This is higher than any incorporated city or town in the United States! 

The altitude sickness is real here because it sits at this high elevation. In fact, most people experience altitude sickness to some degree, however it differs greatly from person to person.

In my experience, when I arrived in Cusco I felt fine, until about 16 hours later. I then became very dehydrated and felt nauseous. I was sick for a few hours in the evening, until I could drink more water. Trust me, you DON’T want to feel this way.

My body needed 2 days of things to do in Cusco while acclimating.

Sitting at 11,100 feet in the dry Andean Mountain air, your body will feel effects differently. The most common side effects are headaches and nausea, shortness of breath, and just overall feeling tired.

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

Altitude Sickness usually lasts only a day, however in more extreme cases it can last for 2-3 days. It passes quickly, so it’s nothing to be scared of, however, I highly recommend preparing your body. You are not invincible!! (I learned this the hard way!) 

So, when needed to acclimate before the Inca Trail, or other big excursion you find yourself on, you will want to take some time in Cusco to adjust. 

Tips to help acclimate in Cusco

Although there are many things to do in Cusco while acclimating to the elevation, there are some steps you should take to help minimize the side effects.

The best way to prevent altitude sickness is to start preparing a few days in advance, so it’s best to begin following these tips 3-5 days before you arrive in Cusco!

Drink lots of water

DRINK LOTS OF WATER! There, I said it! The most important thing you can do to prepare for a high elevation is to drink lots of water. The air in Cusco is very dry, and the elevation will dehydrate you quickly. After all, you’re much close to the sun here, so it will suck all the water out of you! 

The week before you arrive in Cusco, drink lots of water. In fact, drink double the amount of what you think you should. It doesn’t hurt to drink too much water.

Before I arrived in Cusco, I was touring Lima for a few days. During these days, I did a terrible job hydrating because I was having too much fun running around Lima. However, I regretted this quickly once I started feeling the sickness kick in.

So, learn from my mistakes, and begin to hydrate before your arrival.

peru rail train in the jungle from cusco to machu picchu
Peru Rain

Coca leaves

Upon arriving in Cusco, you will find Coca leaves sold everywhere. From pharmacies to supermarkets to street vendors, they are everywhere. These Coca leaves are meant to help with altitude sickness, and they are sold in many forms. You can buy the physical leaves, candied versions, gum, tea, and more.

This is one of the most popular things to do in Cusco while acclimating because everyone needs it!

The Coca leaves are popular in the Andean culture and are believed to help with altitude sickness.

Although I never needed to take any, I saw many travelers utilize these, especially on the day trips to the even higher mountains. However, I did try it as a tea and it was really nice.

Sleep lots

Sleeping is one of the best things to do in Cusco while acclimating!

Your body is going to be working harder at the higher elevation. The sun is stronger and the air is thinner, so odds are you will be more tired than usual. Plan to use your first day in Cusco to relax and get plenty of sleep. Of course, find time to go out and explore the beautiful city, but don’t go out partying and staying up late.

Your body needs time to adjust to the new location, so take care of it.

white city street in san blas cusco
San Blas Street

Slow down

Going off of sleeping lots, you’ll want to slow it down during your first few days in Cusco. When exploring things to do in Cusco while acclimating, go slow. There is no need to get anywhere quickly. If you’re going to walk somewhere, take your time. Not only is Cusco at a high elevation, it’s also filled with steep hills and cobblestone streets.

When exploring the city, go slowly, and pack water too.

Avoid Alcohol or Caffeine

Alcohol and caffeine dehydrates. I’d recommend avoiding bars or coffee shops while searching for things to do in Cusco while acclimating During the days leading up to your arrival in Cusco, and your first few nights there, try to avoid these two things.

You’re going to only want to drink water and Coca tea during this time.

Eat light meals

Because there’s a chance you could feel nausea as a side effect of altitude sickness, eat light meals. 

Also, it’s best to begin your time eating “safe” food, or food that is more similar to your culture. The food quality here is much different from the food in the United States, and probably your home. Your stomach will need some time to adjust to the new food.

The last thing you’ll want to be when altitude sick is to also be sick from food. Try your best to remain as healthy as possible to allow your body to adjust as easily as possible.

Overview of Cusco City 

Cusco has to be one of the most magical cities in the world. With a rich and well-preserved history, delicious food, and beautiful mountains, what more could you ask for?

Cusco was the long-standing capital of the Inca Empire. Now the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cusco has just about 1 million people and has almost doubled its population in recent years. Tourism has taken over the city.

What’s so great about Cusco is its walkability. As a tourist, everything is within walking distance for you. The streets are easily connected and it’s quick to get from one place to another.

However, if you don’t like walking up and down hills, you’ll need to rely on a taxi lot during your stay. There is no public transportation through the historic city center, but I never found it to be a problem.

There is no shortage of things to do in Cusco while acclimating with it’s picture perfect streets and museums galore!

Things to Do While Acclimating in Cusco

Book a Free Walking Tour

City View of Cusco

When looking for things to do in Cusco while acclimating, the best thing you can do is book a free walking tour. Free walking tours are always my recommended thing to do on the first day in any new city because they allow you to understand the city quickly and get some good recommendations and inspiration for what to do during the rest of your trip.

During your free walking tour, you’ll learn about the city’s history, visit some of the most popular sights, and get inspiration on where to eat and shop in the city.

The walking tour is also an opportunity for you to slow down. The guide will make many stops throughout the city, allowing your body time to adjust to the elevation.

Immediately upon arriving, you’ll know that Cusco is a beautiful city with a lot to learn, so don’t miss out on the free tour!

Visit Coffee Shops

Coffee Shop in Cusco

Cusco is a city of cute cafes and coffee shops, which I absolutely adore! Take some time to relax at a coffee shop when you are looking for things to do in Cusco while acclimating, just make sure to stay hydrated with water too! Many of which come with incredible views of the city. Here are a few of my favorites.

  • L’atelier Cafe Concept – this coffee shop is small on the inside with only a few tables and has the coziest atmosphere with incredible views. This shop is quite popular with tourists because of its views of the city, too.
  • Three Monkey’s Coffee Cusco – This coffee shop is filled with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating and delicious coffee at fair prices. This coffee shop is great if you need more space to work or just want to sit with some more space.
  • Xapiri Ground – Located in the San Blas Neighborhood (up a big hill), is this adorable cafe and art gallery. I really love the natural lighting and relaxed atmosphere here. Also, the snacks are good too!

Take a Cooking Class

Peruvian food is known to be some of the best in South America, so why not take a cooking class? One of the best things to do in Cusco while acclimating is a cooking class! A cooking class is a great, slow-paced, activity that teaches you more about their culture while taking it easy.

The great part about taking a cooking class in Cusco is their culture is unlike the rest of Peru. They take a lot of influence from the Andean Mountains and local traditions. So, in your cooking class, you will be learning the Andean way to make food.

There’s many different types of cooking classes you can take in Cusco, but I recommend this one.

On this tour you’ll get to make the famous dish, Ceviche, and also one of my favorites, Lomo Saltado!

inside a food market in peru
San Pedro Market Inside

Make Chocolate

If you are a chocolate lover, you are in luck, because chocolate is an important product here in Cusco! Actually, Peru is one of the top chocolate producers in the world! One of the most popular things to do in Cusco while acclimating is to learn how to make chocolate!

Take a tour of a chocolate museum or take a chocolate making class! The chocolate classes teach students about why cocoa is so important in this region, and take you through the many steps to make this delicious treat!

If you are looking for a fun chocolate class at an affordable price, I recommend this one

Visit Qorikancha (Temple of the Sun)

Temple of the Sun Exterior

One of the more dominating buildings in Cusco is Qorikancha, also known as the Temple of the Sun. Qorikancha was originally built to honor the Inca Sun God. This temple is beautiful and the inside is one of the most intricate interiors I have seen. Actually, it was also built to observe the sun and other solar events. They used this building to learn about our world.

Additionally, the outside courtyard is also worth visiting. 

This activity is one of the best things to do in Cusco while acclimating because it is a slow-paced activity. 

Visit Museums/ Tourist Ticket

Museum in Cusco

Cusco is filled with museums, many of which are included on the Cusco tourist ticket. This tourist ticket costs around 120 soles, is good for 10 days and includes a lot of major sights and museums both inside Cusco and in the Sacred Valley.

Your first few days in Cusco will be one of the best things to do in Cusco while acclimating because there are lots of activities on the list.

I bought the tourist ticket during my time in Cusco, and for me, many of the inclusions were not too exciting, but nice to do to fill the time.

By far my favorite museum on the list was the Museum of Regional History. Here you can spend an hour or two learning about the region more. I found this to be the best museum because it included the most historical information. The other museums were more art galleries.

I highly recommend purchasing this ticket while acclimating in Cusco.

Relax in Plaza De Armas

main city square with cathedral and people
Plaza de Armas

There is no shortage of things to do in Cusco while acclimating, and Plaza de Armas is no exception.

In the heart of Cusco, you will find Plaza de Armas. Plaza de Armas is the main square and gathering area. Here you will find many restaurants, cafes, shopping, street food vendors, and street performers. During your first day in Cusco, while acclimating, this is a must-do.

Spend some time exploring the area, plan your travels, and enjoy the atmosphere. Odds are there will be some street performers out and about too.

Take a tour of the Sacred Valley

Inca ruins in the sacred valley
Moray Sacred Valley

While I don’t recommend this for your very first day acclimating in Cusco, if you are limited on time, take a tour of the Sacred Valley! This trip is a MUST DO while in Cusco, and a good thing to do in Cusco while acclimating because the elevation is actually lower.

Sometimes when acclimating in Cusco, it is good to go a bit lower to catch your breath.

A tour of the Sacred Valley takes you to many Inca Ruins and other incredible sights. I really enjoyed my tour of Moray Ruins and Maras Salt Mines Tour. The tour teaches you a lot about the region, allows for cool pictures, and also gets you out into the mountains.

This tour is also nice because it’s minimal driving. Many of the day trips from Cusco require hours of driving, but not this one!

I highly recommend taking a tour of the Sacred Valley as one of the things to do in Cusco while acclimating, but if you have some time, maybe wait until day 2 or 3 to take this tour.

Monumento Pachacuteq

Monument Pachacuteq cusco city street
Monument Pachacuteq

Just a 20-minute walk (or 10-minute bus ride) from Plaza de Armas is Monumento Pachacuteq. Located in the center of a busy round-about, this 6-story tall tower is dedicated to the great Inca, Pachacuteq.

I love this activity in Cusco when you are looking for things to do in Cusco while acclimating. It allows you to get outside of the touristic center, something not many travelers do.

Inside the monument, you will find 4 exhibits outlining the history of the Inca empire, the region of Cusco, and the great Pachacuteq and his family. Then, once you reach the top you get a beautiful outdoor overlook, with 360-degree views of the city. Of course, it’s best to do this on a nice sunny day, as you will get the best views.

From the top you will be able to get a feel for the size of the city and take in the mountains. Admittedly, this is not the best view in Cusco, as you can find better in San Blas, but it’s still a nice way to get out of the touristy city center while acclimating in Cusco.

San Blas Market

Back to the city center, up a big hill, you will find the beautiful neighborhood of San Blas. This neighborhood is known for its picturesque streets, cool shops, and incredible views. However, the most popular thing to do is the San Blas Market. This food market is home to some of the best food with the best prices in Cusco!

Who doesn’t love to eat delicious Peruvian food at a good price? I sure do! This has to be one of the best things to do in Cusco while acclimating.

It’s popular among both tourists and locals, so you know it’s good. Here you can find traditional food of the region or hip vegan restaurants. The choice is yours! Also, if your accommodation has a kitchen, this is a great spot to stock up on fruits and vegetables, as the prices are really good here too.

San Pedro Market

exterior of san pedro market
San Pedro Market

The biggest market in Cusco is the San Pedro Market, and it’s located less than a 10 minute walk from Plaza de Armas. The San Pedro Market is arguably one of the best spots in town to barter for souvenirs, but there is also lots of food options here. Actually, when I lived in Cusco for 6 weeks I frequently did my grocery shopping here, as I found it was better prices than my local convenience store!

Anyways, this is one of the best things to do in Cusco while acclimating because it has it all! You could easily spend hours exploring this market.

Finish Souvenir Shopping

textiles in cusco
textiles in cusco

Piggy backing off of San Pedro market, consider souvenir shopping when thinking of things to do in Cusco while acclimating. Actually, I have heard that Cusco is the best city to buy souvenirs in in all of Peru. This is because of the huge tourist scene here. I mean there are loads of shops with all kinds of souvenirs.

The best part is that usually, you can barter for a price that you think is fair for the good. However, remember this is their livelihood too and they need to make a living.

But, spend some time wandering the city streets, I am sure you will find something you like for everyone around here.

Hike to Christo Blanco

Christo Blanco - white jesus - things to do in Cusco while acclimating
Christo Blanco

If you have the energy, Christo Blanco (The White Jesus), is one of the most famous landmarks in Cusco. It also provides the most vast views of the city. Christo Blanco sits on top of the mountain outside of the city and is easily accessible by hiking, bus, or taxi.

This is one of the things to do in Cusco while acclimating if you feel like you have energy and your body is okay.

Honestly, it’s a tough hike because it’s steep and your body is probably still getting use to the 11,000 feet in elevation. So, it will feel much more difficult than it would elsewhere.

However, the views at the top are really magical and worth visiting.

Additionally, it’s also close to Saqsaywamon, a very famous Inca Ruin. You will find this spot on most lists of things to do in Cusco. However, I find that it is incredible, but if you are already seeing a lot of Inca ruins during your time in the Andean mountains, I think it’s best to spend your time getting to know the city of Cusco.

Take Spanish Classes

One of the most unique things to do in Cusco while acclimating is to take a Spanish class!

If you have time to spare, I highly recommend taking Spanish classes! Getting to know the local language is one of the best ways to integrate into the culture. Many classes are week-long, but there are also options to take 1-day private lessons. If you just want a base of Spanish, this could be the way to go.

The best part about taking Spanish classes is getting recommendations from your teacher. Your teacher will be a local to the city, and will know all the best spots in town!

Calle 7 Borreguitos and The Sapantiana Aqueduct

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

Last, but certainly not least, when searching for things to do in Cusco while acclimating, consider stopping by the most picturesque street in Cusco, Calle 7 Borreguitos.

This street is made famous by Instagram, with its white walls, beautiful plants, and steep incline. It really is a beautiful street to visit.

Additionally, right around the corner from it are some Inca Ruins and also the unique Sapantiana Aqueduct. The aqueduct is a beautiful walk to it and is a unique feature in Cusco. You won’t see anything else like it!

Final Thoughts 

Cusco is a beautiful city filled with so much to do! However, it is important to take it easy on your first few days. There are plenty of things to do in Cusco while acclimating, from museums to mountains to classes, there is something for everyone. 

After having lived in Cusco for 6 weeks, it will always have a special place in my heart. When heading to Machu Picchu or Rainbow Mountain, be sure to experience some of this cities magic on the way.

white street with cobblestone - Things to do in cusco while acclimating

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.

follow me on social media

Get insider secrets, stories from the road, and my free packing list!

Read More About Post: 15 BEST Things To Do in Cusco While Acclimating + Tips! (2024)

Pha Khao Viewpoint in Nong Khaiw with mountain and village

A hidden gem of Southeast Asia, Nong Khiaw is a small town in northern Laos that is not to be missed! And Nong Khiaw Viewpoints

Read More »
muang ngoy things to do - small village with dirt road and mountain in the background

Surprise! You made it to Laos, and you have probably hear murmurs about how cool Nong Khiaw is in the north. However, you may be

Read More »

A backpackers rite of passage, the 2 day slow boat to Luang Prabang is a bucket list item for some, and a long dreaded day

Read More »
koh tao viewpoint with ocean and mountains

Best known for its scuba diving and snorkeling, but it’s also home to some of the best beaches in Thailand! These 10 best beaches on

Read More »

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Comments are manually moderated.