Peru’s history is best known for the rise and fall of the mighty Inca Empire, but the countries known past goes back much further to the Norte Chico civilization some 5,000 years ago. From the desert shores to the rugged Andes to the depths of the Amazon Jungle, over the years Peru’s landscapes have been dominated by dozens of different cultures. So when visiting Cusco, what museums offer the best insight into the history of this epic land? Over the last few weeks I took some time away from the office to re-visit my favorite museums in Cusco. Here is my list of the 8 Best Museums in Cusco, including some more traditional museums as well as a few newer alternatives.

Museo Inkariy

Museo Inkairy is technically not located in the City of Cusco but rather an hours drive away in the Sacred Valley. It is indeed such a good museum that it must be featured in my list of the 8 best museums in Cusco. Unlike many other traditional museums, Museo Inkariy focuses on the human aspect of Peru’s past. Eight halls showcase not only Inca culture, but also the pre-Columbian cultures of Caral, Chavin, Paracas, Moche, Nazca, Wari, Lambayeque and Chimú. Each hall is divided into two areas. The first offering a more traditional overview of each culture including information on structures, temples, clothing, rituals and artefacts from the period. The second area depicts life-sized recreations and scenes of the culture. The life-like figurines, intricate outfits, sound-effects and lighting are captivating and informative.

Pros: Super onsite restaurant. Great for adults and kids alike. World-class museum.
Cons: Not in located in Cusco, but rather in the Sacred Valley.

Address: Km. 53 Carretera Cusco – Calca – Urubamba, Calca, Valle Sagrado, Cusco.
Opening times: Mon – Sun: 9am – 5.30pm.
Price: S/35 (US$ 11), Children (aged 6 – 17) & students – S/. 15 (US$ 4.50).
Recommended duration of visit: 2-3 hours.
Ranking in the 8 Best Museums in Cusco: No. 1

Museums in Cusco
Museo de Máximo Laura

Master Peruvian craftsman Máximo Laura exhibits his collection of world-class handmade tapestries. Recognized by UNESCO and the Peruvian government, Maximo Laura was awarded the status of ‘Living human treasure whose role has preserved and elevated the culture of his homeland.’ In a museum (first floor) come shop affair (second floor), spectacular colorful tapestries from Máximo Laura’s private collection sit alongside other tapestries that are available for purchase. Vibrant colors and radical designs inspired by nature, Peruvian history and mythology are the trademark of this incredible artist. One of the most impressive tapestries in the collection and a must see is ‘the fraternity song,’ located on the second floor (for sale at a mere US$ 60,000). If you are an art lover or not, I highly recommend a visit to this museum. I might be a little bias though as I also own a Maximo Laura tapestry.

Pros: Entrance is free. Some of the finest hand-crafted tapestries in the world.
Cons: The reception staff were a little cold.

Address: Santa Catalina Ancha 304, Cusco
Opening times: Mon – Sat: 8am – 9pm, Sundays: closed.
Price: Free entrance.
Recommended duration of visit: 20 – 30 mins.
Ranking in the 8 Best Museums in Cusco: No. 2

Museums in Cusco
Museum de Vida Monastica

A hidden gem right in the heart of Cusco. Museum de Vida Monastica (Museum of Monastic Life) offers a unique insight into the 17th century Santa Catalina Monastery and the nuns that live within its walls. The Monastery was built on site of Aqllawasi, a massive Inca compound that housed the aqllas (chosen women or wives of the Inca). Visitors are allowed access to a small portion of this still active monastery which includes the workroom, the mortuary, the study, the refectory, the church, the chapter house and the sleeping quarters. There is also a spectacular exhibition of religious art which features three paintings from the indigenous artist Diego Quispe Tito, which are among some of the finest painting in the city. This well-presented museum is an interesting and educational way to spend an hour or so exploring the colonial and religious history of the city.

Pros: Well-presented. Educational. Good English descriptions. Close to Cusco’s main plaza.
Cons: None.

Address: Santa Catalina Ancha 401, Cusco.
Opening times: Mon – Sat: 8.30am – 5.30pm, Sundays: closed.
Price: 10 Soles (US$ 3).
Recommended duration of visit: 1 hour.
Ranking in the 8 Best Museums in Cusco: No. 3

Museums in Cusco
Museo de Arte Precolombino (MAP)

A sophisticated museum located on Plaza Nazarenas a couple of blocks from Cusco’s main square. Funded by Peru’s BBVA Bank Foundation and displaying artefacts from Lima’s Larco Museum, Museo de Arte Precolombino or ‘MAP’ Museum for short is one of Cusco’s best museums. Darkened halls covering two-floors of an colonial mansion offer well-presented exhibitions of artefacts covering more than 3,000 years of Peruvian pre-Columbian history. Exhibitions include artefacts made from bone and shell to gold and silver, plus ancient wooden carvings and impressive (often rather cute) ceramics. A new video salon at the entrance to the museum offers a well-presented overview of Peru’s principal cultures. Why not finish your visit with a meal at the renowned onsite MAP Restaurant.

Pros: Well presented. Detailed English descriptions. Open until 10pm.
Cons: Entrance price is one of the highest in Cusco.

Address: Plaza de las Nazarenas 231, Cusco.
Opening times: Mon – Sun: 8am – 10pm.
Price: 20 Soles (US$ 7).
Recommended duration of visit: 1-2 hours.
Ranking in the 8 Best Museums in Cusco: No. 4

Museums in Cusco
Museo Inka

Located half a block from Cusco’s main plaza in Palacio del Almirante (Palace of the Admiral), Museo Inka is an educational museum for the serious museum goer. Owned and run by UNSAAC (Cusco’s National University), the museum is full of original artefacts, photos and historical information predominately focusing on Inka and Andean culture. Since my last visit some 6 years ago this museum has drastically improved, though a lack of detailed descriptions on some exhibitions is still painfully missing. During this visit I found particular joy in appreciating scale models of Machu Picchu, Moray, Korikancha (the Inca Temple of the Sun) and the Q’eswachaka Bridge. The reconstruction of the Mallkiwasi temple (house of the ancestors) was slightly haunting, but never the less very interesting.

Pros: The best original artefacts of any museum in Peru. Close to Cusco’s main plaza.
Cons: Not all exhibits have information in English.

Address: Ataud 154, Cusco.
Opening times: Mon – Fri: 8am – 6pm, Saturdays: 9am – 4 pm, Sundays: closed.
Price: 10 Soles (US$ 3).
Recommended duration of visit: 1 – 3 hours.
Ranking in the 8 Best Museums in Cusco: No. 5

Museums in Cusco
Museo Machu Picchu (La Casa Concha)

Located on Calle Santa Catalina Ancha, Museo Machu Picchu is just a 2-minute stroll from Cusco’s main plaza. Complete with original frescos, terracotta tiling and grand fire-places, the museum occupies the colonial house ‘La Casa Concha’. The museum showcases the history of Machu Picchu from its scientific discovery in 1911 until today. Small exhibition halls explore different aspects of Machu Picchu from the initial discovery by the American Explorer Hiram Bingham, to ancient photos of the site, to recovered lithic and metallic artefacts. The exhibition on infant cranial deformation practiced by the Incas is interesting yet a little unsettling. The giant scale model of Machu Picchu is the highlight of the museum and allows visitors to get a superb overview of the immense size and dimensions of this epic world wonder.

Pros: Well located. Cheap entrance fee. Excellent scale model of Machu Picchu.
Cons: A little unloved. Lacking the attention to detail found in better museums.

Address: Santa Catalina Ancha, Cusco.
Opening times: Sat – Sun: 9am – 5pm, weekdays: 8am – 7pm.
Price: S/20 (US$ 6) general entrance. S/10 (US$ 3) for students with a valid ISIC card.
Recommended duration of visit: 1-2 hours.
Ranking in the 8 Best Museums in Cusco: No. 6

Museums in Cusco
Museo de Chocolate

A fun alternative to your typical museum. The Museo de Chocolate takes you on a journey of discovery of the history, nature and production of the chocolate making process in Peru. Onsite staff will guide you free of-charge, or you can take one of the many hands-on workshops for a more in-depth experience. I highly recommend the ‘bean-to-bar’ workshop that operates 4 times a day at 11am, 1:30pm, 4pm and 6:30pm. Other classes include a truffle making lesson or a market visit and cooking-class. Museo de Chocolate also offers unique trips to local cacao producers for that truly authentic experience. If you are a chocolate lover or looking for a unique gift to take home, be sure to explore the onsite shop before you leave.

Pros: Fun. Not a traditional museum, but very educational. Great for kids.
Cons: Not good for your waistline.

Address: Calle Garcilaso 210, Cusco.
Opening times: Mon – Sun: 9am – 7pm.
Entrance cost: Free
2 hours Workshop:
60 Soles (US$ 18).
Recommended duration of visit: Take the bean to bar class (2 hours).
Ranking in the 8 Best Museums in Cusco: No. 7

best museums in Cusco
Museo del Pisco

The name of this museum maybe a little misleading because Museo del Pisco is actually a trendy bar located close to the J.W. Marriott hotel. Set in a colonial house over three levels the Museo del Pisco bar has become renowned for serving up the finest cocktails and pisco sours in Cusco. Try a signature cocktail like the Amelia made with macerated pisco cactus seeds, or a Jose Antonio prepared with Peruvian tumbo juice. If you want to learn more about the secrets of this Peruvian white brandy, pisco making classes and tasting classes are available at very reasonable prices. A sophisticated place to kick back a relax in Cusco after a day of sightseeing or visiting other more traditional museums!

Pros: Large selection of Peruvian cocktails. Has some hot food snack options.
Cons: Fairly expensive by Peruvian standards. Hard to find a table when busy.

Address: Santa Catalina Ancha 398, Cusco.
Opening times: Everyday 1pm – 1 am,
Ranking in the 8 Best Museums in Cusco: No. 8

Museums in Cusco

Summary

My personal pick form the 8 Best Museums in Cusco would be a visit to the Museo Inkariy in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. This highly detailed museum allows visitors of all ages to quickly learn about Peru’s complex history with captivating life-size recreations. If you are short on time and prefer to visit museums only in Cusco, I suggest starting at the MAP Museum, before heading to Calle Santa Catalina to visit the Museum de Vida Monastica, spending a few minutes at the Museum of Maximo Laura and ending with a visit to Museo Machu Picchu. Then finish the day with a refreshing cocktail at the Museo del Pisco!

If you are looking for some info before your trip to Cusco be sure to check out our blog posts on the best luxury hotels in Cusco as well as our picks for the best restaurants in Cusco!

 

 

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