Things To Do In Cusco While Acclimating

Are you looking for some things to do in Cusco while Acclimating? Maybe before visiting Machu Picchu?

If you’re a keen bean who doesn’t like to sit still, you’re going to need things to do while acclimating in Cusco. Luckily, even while acclimating, there’s a lot to do in Cusco.

We visited Cusco for about two weeks before doing the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. There is not really a need to stay that long if you’re just sticking around for acclimating. Nevertheless, there is a ton to do in this beautiful Andean town!

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Why Do You Need To Acclimate?

Altitude is not something many people are used to. Our bodies can’t immediately handle the composition of the air. There’s a lower air pressure and less oxygen.

Not to worry, our bodies are perfectly capable of handling this. They just need a little time to adjust and get used to it.

If you don’t acclimate and start exercising right away, you’ll ‘run’ (pun intended) into some problems. Remember, hiking is also exercise!

We visited Cusco during Inti Raymi. The yearly Inca festival of the sun. It was amazing and gave us a lot to do and see while acclimating before the Inca Trail.

It just so happens to be on my birthday, which is summer (or winter in the southern hemisphere, where Peru is located) solstice. I’d like to think the whole festival was just to celebrate my turning 28. It wasn’t, though.

a colourful looking street in Cusco, Peru

How High Is Cusco?

Cusco is one of the highest cities in the world: it’s at an astonishing altitude of 11,000 feet! (3360 meters)

This is why most people get altitude sickness in some form. Headache is the most common one, but it can get as bad as vomiting and lack of sleep. It normally isn’t dangerous, but it can be if it doesn’t go away by itself after a few days.

Considering Peru as your next travel destination? Check out this itinerary!

How Many Days Do You Need To Acclimate In Cusco?

You need to spend AT LEAST 2 days in Cusco before doing ANY activities. The Inca Trail, or any other hike for that matter, are dangerous if you don’t.

Luckily, acclimating isn’t difficult. You just need to chill. Which is something I’m very good at, but Callie not so much. We had Inti Raymi going for us, but there are many other things to do in Cusco while acclimating.

A woman making handicrafts in Cusco, Peru

Things To Do In Cusco While Acclimating

Let’s get down to business baby! The best things to do in Cusco that don’t take too much effort. Which is an important factor while acclimating!

Take a walk around the Main Square in the old historic centre

Right. I don’t mean literally around the square. It’s not very big. But the area around the square is full of cute little shops, cafes, restaurants, and ‘bigger’ brand stores like Columbia and The North Face. We prefer to buy from local shops, but they’re great if you’re just ‘wasting’ a little time. If you’re enjoying ‘wasting’ time, are you really wasting any?

The church is a great feature. And the steps in front are a good spot to people-watch. The streets surrounding the main square are also great fun!

Visit Cusco Cathedral

A trip to Cusco isn’t complete without a visit to the Cusco Cathedral. If you’re in the main square, called Plaza de Armas, you can’t miss it.

The cathedral is a colossal collection of colonial art. You’ll be stunned by the complex silverwork, impressive wood carvings, and great paintings. The cathedral’s altar is its amazing, but don’t miss the Last Supper painting featuring a local delicacy.

The most interesting fact (according to me) is that the paintings were made by the indigenous people of Cusco back in the Colonial times.

Go to the San Blas Market

This market is great for fresh produce, but also for having cheap lunch. You can get a fresh juice for S/3, and a local dish for around S/5. The market has a section with little restaurants which sell the daily menu (menu del día). It’s usually soup or salad as a starter, then some main course options, think chicken with rice or lasagna, and it comes with a drink of the day.

A western man sitting amongst the locals in the San Blas Market of Cusco

Visit the San Pedro Market

This market is a bit different from the San Blas Market, as it’s more focused on souvenirs and local crafts. You can find everything from hand-woven textiles to silver jewellery and alpaca wool products. It’s also a great place to try some traditional Peruvian dishes like ceviche and chicha.

Take a day trip to the Sacred Valley

If you have some extra time, consider taking a day trip to the Sacred Valley. This picturesque valley is home to many Inca ruins and traditional villages. You can also visit the famous Pisac Market where you can find beautiful handicrafts and souvenirs made by local artisans.

Join a walking tour of the city

To really get to know Cusco, I highly recommend joining a walking tour of the city. These tours are usually led by knowledgeable local guides who can provide insight into the history and culture of Cusco. Plus, it’s a great way to explore different parts of the city and discover hidden gems that you may have missed otherwise.

Overall, Cusco offers a unique blend of ancient traditions and modern influences. Some of the buildings hold secrets only the locals know. And who’s better to ask for restaurant recommendations than someone who lives there?

We loved walking tours, as you always learn something you didn’t expect.

Planning a trip? These are our favourite Travel Resources:

Take a day trip to the Maras Salt mines

Another must-see day trip from Cusco is the Maras Salt mines. These salt pools are not only stunning to look at but also have a rich history dating back to Inca times.

You can even participate in the production process and learn how salt has been harvested for centuries in this region. The production process hasn’t changed since the Inca times, which makes it a fascinating day trip.

Spend some time in Museo Casa Concha

Also known as the Machu Picchu Museum. For a deeper understanding of Inca culture and history, be sure to visit the museum. It houses a collection of artefacts that were rescued from Machu Picchu during its excavation. You’ll learn about the different aspects of Inca life and see some incredible pieces such as ceramics, textiles, and metalwork.

Enjoy Inti Raymi

Right. This one is a little mean because it’s only a few days a year. But I found it so amazing I just want to talk about it.

The Inti Raymi festival is a celebration of the winter solstice and was originally an Inca religious ceremony. Today, it is one of the biggest festivals in Peru and draws thousands of visitors to Cusco. The main event takes place at the ancient fortress of Sacsayhuaman and includes colourful processions, traditional dances, and music. It’s a truly unforgettable experience and a must-see if you happen to be in Cusco during June. Even better, plan your trip accordingly!

While the winter solstice is always on June 21st, the main festival will take place on the Saturday of that week. The pre-party will consist of days and days of traditional dances and parades. Cusco is FILLED with colourful people and traditional music.

Despite it being the busiest time of year in Cusco, I didn’t find it overcrowded at all. There were plenty of permits available for the Inca Trail without booking far in advance, and even though the prices were a little inflated, there was enough choice for accommodation as well.

Read our review of our tour company, Alpaca Expeditions, here!

Dancers performing a traditional dance during Inti Raymi

Tips For Acclimating In Cusco

When you first arrive in Cusco, the high altitude may knock the wind out of you — literally. Because it’s located over 11,000 feet, the city’s thin air can cause altitude sickness. Don’t let it catch you off guard. Give your body the chance it needs to adjust to the new environment.

Drink Lots Of Water

Water can be a lifesaver when it comes to adjusting to high altitudes. The dry air in Cusco means you’ll lose more water than usual, so be sure to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day.

Hydration is key, really. Try to drink around 3L of water, and have some electrolytes ready as well.

Take it slow

Don’t push yourself too hard when exploring Cusco and its surroundings. Take breaks often to catch your breath, and don’t be ashamed if you need to take it slow. Altitude sickness can affect anyone, regardless of fitness level.

You’ll notice the difference in air immediately. Try to walk uphill or up some stairs: you’ll be out of breath after only a few steps. Take this as a hint that you’re going too fast. Take breaks while walking, and go slow.

No Alcohol or Caffeine

It’s best to not drink alcohol or caffeine for the first few days in Cusco. These substances can aggravate altitude sickness symptoms and make it harder for your body to adjust. Instead, stick to water and herbal teas.

Alcohol and caffeine will dehydrate your body, which increases the symptoms of altitude sickness.

The main square of Cusco as seen from above

Sleep Lots

Your body needs extra rest to acclimate to the high altitude. Make sure to get plenty of sleep and take it easy during your first few days in Cusco. This will give your body the time it needs to adjust and help prevent altitude sickness. Plus, with all the activities and sights to see in Cusco, you’ll need all the energy you can!

One of the symptoms of altitude sickness is bad sleep. You might struggle to fall or stay asleep, so make sure to take enough time to get the sleep you need.

Drink Coca Tea

Coca tea is a traditional medicine for altitude sickness in the Andean region. It’s made from the leaves of the coca plant and has been used for centuries to help with altitude sickness. If you’re feeling any symptoms of altitude sickness, grab a cup of coca tea and see if it helps.

Just be aware that coca tea does contain trace amounts of cocaine, so you may want to consult with a doctor if you have any concerns. However, it’s generally considered safe and can provide some relief for altitude sickness symptoms. If you have to do any drug testing, maybe don’t. And absolutely don’t take any coca leaves home.

Eat Light Meals

Another helpful tip for managing altitude sickness is to eat light meals. This allows your body to focus on acclimating instead of digesting a large meal. Plus, high altitude decreases appetite, so it’s important to listen to your body and only eat as much as you feel comfortable with.

You’ll also want to avoid greasy or ‘heavy’ foods, as these can contribute to nausea and discomfort at high altitudes. Instead, opt for light and healthy options like soups, salads, and fruits.

a neighbourhood in Cusco, Peru

Best Places To Eat While Acclimating In Cusco

While mentioning light meals, let’s talk about the places to get them. These were my favourites!

Green Point Vegan Restaurant

This restaurant offers a variety of vegan dishes made with fresh and locally sourced ingredients. Plus, their cosy atmosphere and amazing staff make it a great place to relax while acclimating.

They’ve got a wide range of local, traditional and worldly dishes to choose from. Even some craft beers from Cusco!

It was a great experience. And their food was insanely good.

El Encuentro

A cute little family-owned vegetarian place. We had lunch here a few times. It’s affordable and good veggie food. There are many options, from traditional Peruvian to fried rice.

The music was fun as well. Traditional Peruvian panpipe versions of international classics. Like the song from Titanic.

San Blas Market

Yep. I’m mentioning the market again. I’m a little biased because we rented an apartment VERY close to here. It’s got some great affordable food. This is where the locals come to eat as well!

Think falafel, burgers, smoothies, and all sorts of other options. For a great price.

A street in the picturesque Cusco

Where To Stay In Cusco

Speaking of our apartment, let’s talk about accommodation options in Cusco.

📍Budget option – Casa Cristobal

This guesthouse is located close to the main square and has cosy rooms with private bathrooms. The staff are friendly and helpful, and the location is perfect for exploring the city on foot.

✅ Book Casa Cristobal right here!

📍Mid-range option – Munay Wasi Inn

This hotel is an artwork. It’s also located close to the main square and looks like a museum on the inside. A great traditional vibe and amazing staff!

✅ Check out Munay Wasi Inn via this link!

📍High-end option – Tocuyeros Boutique Hotel

For a more luxurious stay in Cusco, consider Tocuyeros Boutique Hotel. The rooms are beautifully decorated with traditional Peruvian textiles. Plus, it’s located in the San Blas area of Cusco, making it a 5-minute walk to the main square.

✅ Don’t wait too long – book Tocuyeros Boutique Hotel now!

Things To Do In Cusco While Acclimating – FAQs

I’ve tried my best to cover all bases. But What if I missed anything? Here are some questions that are frequently asked (plus their answers!):

Do you need to acclimatize if you plan to go to Machu Picchu by train?

While it’s not AS important as when you do the Inca Trail, it’s still highly recommended. Nothing worse than being sick while trying to enjoy the beautiful Inca history. And, Cusco is 100% worth staying at for a few days. There is so much to do, see, and take in, that it would be a waste not to spend time here.

A traditionally dressed woman and a horse near Cusco in Peru

When you arrive in Cusco do you get altitude sickness?

Not necessarily. But it is likely. Altitude sickness can’t be accurately predicted. It differs per person and depends on whether you’ve taken the recommended precautions mentioned before.

How do you get oxygen in Cusco?

Breathe! There is plenty of oxygen in the air. Your body just needs to adjust to taking enough in per breath. If you keep breathing normally and don’t stress yourself, you’ll probably be fine.

Remember: take it slow and you’ll be able to breathe normally!

Where can I relax in Cusco?

There are many places in Cusco to get massages. Because what is more relaxing, right? There even are a few spas. But make sure to read the reviews, because not all of them are good.

Other than that, people-watching on the main square or chilling in a pub are great options too! Just make sure you don’t drink alcohol the first few days.

the cathedral on the main square of Cusco

Things To Do In Cusco While Acclimating – Final Thoughts

Acclimating to the altitude in Cusco can take a little time, but there’s plenty to do that doesn’t require strenuous activity. From exploring the local markets to enjoying cathedrals and museums, you won’t have to worry about a dull moment in Cusco.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself falling in love with the city’s culture, charm, and kindness of the locals. Remember, take it slow, stay hydrated, and allow your body to adjust to the altitude. Cusco is an experience unlike any other, and it’s worth every minute spent acclimating.