We visited so many museums and churches in Cusco that I decided to separate them into their own post. We visited many of these either because they were included in the Cusco Tourist Ticket or because we needed more indoor things to do while it rained, so some I’d recommend more than others. Also, several had multiple names depending on the map you use, so I tried to include equivalent names where possible.
I’ve roughly organized these in order of my preference, starting with my favorites.
Qorikancha (aka Santo Domingo)
One of my favorite museums in Cusco, the highlights were a beautiful courtyard alongside Inca ruins, a couple of huge, amazing paintings of the sun and constellations as seen by the Incas, and the beautiful grounds. To save money on multiple sights, go to the Santa Catalina Cloisters first and buy the combination ticket that includes the Santa Catalina Cloisters and the Qorikancha.
Palacio Arzobispal (aka Museo de Arte Religioso)
I recommend this museum purely for the courtyard with painted tile walls, beautiful carved wooden benches, and gorgeous carved wooden doors. Almost every door has a different design, and with my affinity for carved wood you can guess what I spent most of my time photographing. To save money on multiple sights, buy the combination ticket that includes La Catedral, La Compañia, the Palacio Arzobispal, and the Templo de San Blas.
Museo Machu Picchu de la Casa Concha
Contrary to what you might find online, this is not included in the Cusco Tourist Ticket. However, it’s worth the entrance fee. After you visit Machu Picchu, you’ll likely have many questions that aren’t easily answered with google searches (such as when they finished excavating Machu Picchu, how many of the buildings had to be reassembled, and when the site was opened to tourists), so you’ll enjoy the opportunity to see photos from the original excavations of Machu Picchu and learn about what recent archaeological studies have discovered about its inhabitants. This is also one of the newest museums in Cusco, so it has short videos (with English subtitles) that provide insight along the way, as well as well-translated English equivalents to the Spanish information plaques throughout.
More of a chocolate store and cafe with facts and history about chocolate printed on the walls, this was a nice place to relax and try some interesting foods. We drank cacao tea (delicious tea that also tastes somewhat like hot chocolate), tasted chocolate-based jams and piscos, and snacked on a very rich brownie (so much so that a quarter of the brownie would have been plenty for the two of us) and a skewer of frozen strawberries coated in chocolate. Altogether it was a very decadent rest stop. A couple of fun-sounding options that we didn’t try were to take a 2-3 hour workshop to make a chocolate bar or truffles (I wish I’d known about these in time to try one out!), or sign up for a tour of cacao and coffee plantations on the way to Machu Picchu.
Museo de Arte Precolombino (aka Casa Cabrera)
This museum has some interesting artifacts and a nice courtyard.
La Compañia de Jesus
One of two huge churches facing the Plaza de Armas, this one has cheaper entrance and fewer crowds than La Catedral. You can also climb to the second floor balcony for a nice view do the plaza. To save money on multiple sights, go to the Palacio Arzobispal first and buy the combination ticket that includes La Catedral, La Compañia, the Palacio Arzobispal, and the Templo de San Blas.
A beautiful, huge cathedral facing the Plaza de Armas, it has enough simultaneous tour groups within it that you can eavesdrop to learn more about most of the sights within it (especially if you understand Spanish). To save money on multiple sights, go to the Palacio Arzobispal first and buy the combination ticket that includes La Catedral, La Compañia, the Palacio Arzobispal, and the Templo de San Blas.
Museo Máximo Laura (Free)
A quick visit, this is a beautiful tapestry gallery that opened in Fall 2013 and showcases the works of the artist after which the gallery is named. My favorite tapestry was one filled fanciful brightly-colored fish and sea creatures.
Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporáneo
Included in Cusco Tourist Ticket – A fairly quick visit, this museum has some interesting art (pictured above: art by Hector del Castillo and Edson Chacon Huari), and the art gallery in the same building has a beautiful blue-balcony-lined courtyard. Check it out if you have the tourist ticket.
Templo de San Blas
The highlights here were the intricately carved wooden pulpit (carved from a single piece of cedar), the unexplained bones strewn in a dirt basement room (perhaps a crypt?), and the ascent to the bell tower with a nice view of Cusco. When you go, notice near the pulpit there are paintings which must have been added later, as they cover part of the doorway to the pulpit, the nearby arch, and some murals painted above the arch. To save money on multiple sights, go to the Palacio Arzobispal first and buy the combination ticket that includes La Catedral, La Compañia, the Palacio Arzobispal, and the Templo de San Blas.
Museo Historico Regional (aka house of the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega)
Included in Cusco Tourist Ticket – This museum contains information about the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (born of an Inca princess mother and a Spanish conquistador father, he wrote books about Inca life and the Spanish conquest). This museum was primarily for its history of this figure. I’m glad to have seen it, but I wouldn’t have been very sad to have missed it.
Santa Catalina Cloisters
For me, the most interesting part was seeing where the nuns lived when they first joined the convent (a room lined with cubicles just large enough to each hold a small bed, a bedside table, and a trunk).
Also, you can usually buy delicious homemade treats (caramel-filled cookie sandwiches, shortbread-like cookies, marzipan, etc) in the courtyard. To save money on multiple sights, buy the combination ticket that includes the Santa Catalina Cloisters and the Qorikancha.
San Francisco (Free)
We stepped into this church for a quick visit on our way to the Mercado San Pedro. I liked its combination of brick and whitewashed walls, and it had some beautiful designs on the ceiling.
Also, since we visited shortly after Christmas, we saw elaborate nativity scenes like this one in every church.
We briefly stepped into the back of this church during services a couple of times. It faces a small plaza southeast of the Plaza de Armas. You’ll see signs on the building both for the “Basilica Menor de la Merced” and “Convento de la Merced.”
We weren’t able to enter through the doors facing the plaza, but instead through a metal gate into the courtyard next to the building.
Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco (Free)
Again, more of a gift shop with some historical information included, this small museum is a very quick visit and contains some nice examples of traditional textiles and garments. Consider stopping in if you’re in the area (Note: If you’re flying LAN airlines home, you can check into your flight via a self-service kiosk at the LAN office on the same block; we couldn’t check in via wifi on our phones since their website uses flash).
Contains interesting information about the Incas and Machu Picchu (including a 3D model of the ruins), but I’d recommend going to the Museo Machu Picchu de la Casa Concha instead, as it’s a newer museum with more up-to-date information in an easier-to-digest format and has an even better 3D model of Machu Picchu.
Museo de Arte Popular
Included in Cusco Tourist Ticket – We stopped in five minutes before the museum closed on our way to dinner on our last day, and that was enough time to do a quick walk through this two-room museum. Nothing spectacular, but interesting to briefly wander through if you’re in the area and have the tourist ticket.
Museo de Plantas Sagradas, Mágicas, y Medicinales
This one comes last on the list simply because we didn’t get to see it. Reputed to be the only museum of its kind in the world, unfortunately we discovered it would be closed until late March while the museum moved locations.