“Stefan look: rainbow flags are everywhere…it must be Cusco Pride right?”
Seby wasn't wrong. One of the first things you notice when walking the streets of Cusco are all the rainbow-like flags flying proudly all across the city. But to our disappointment, it has nothing to do with the LGBTQ community. This is the Inca flag, similar to our Pride rainbow flag, but with an extra blue stripe added. Unless you're in Cusco in late-June, that's the extent of any gay Pride you're going to see happening here…
Cusco was once the historic capital of the Inca Empire. Today it is Peru's #1 tourist destination, receiving almost 4 million annual visitors who mainly come to visit Machu Picchu. We've been to Cusco, loved it so much, we visited a second time a decade later, doing the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu on both occasions and also exploring the stunning Sacred Valley surrounding the city.
We're not gonna lie – Cusco is not a party destination, not by a long stretch! It's a small city, a very beautiful one, but one where you come for the rich cultural heritage and impressive landscapes over anything else. Whilst there is a small gay scene here, we suggest you get all the partying out of your system over in the big coastal capital city, Lima before heading over. Cusco is instead a rewarding cultural journey into Peru's historic Inca civilisation, one that we loved and would happily return to in a heartbeat!
This is our gay travel guide to Cusco based on our firsthand experience travelling here as a gay couple. In this guide, we set out the best gay friendly hotels we tried for all budgets, the queer bars/clubs we found, inspiration for the best things to do, our important practical safety tips for LGBTQ travellers to Peru, and more.
Landing in Cusco soon?
We recommend sorting out your airport transfer before arriving. Remember, this is a city located at 3,400m (11,150ft) altitude – you sure as hell feel it when you first touchdown at Cusco airport! The last thing you want to be doing when trying to acclimatise is having to deal with the stress of finding a reliable taxi driver. By booking your private transfer, you'll ensure you will have an English speaking driver waiting for you at the Arrivals hall, ready to take you straight to your hotel.
How safe is Cusco for gay travellers?
Cusco is very safe for gay travellers for the simple reason that it is so international here, with tourists visiting all year round, from all over the world. Tourism drives the economy of the city so foreigners are welcome whether they're gay or straight. At least that's what it felt like for us.
On a local level, however, Peru is a conservative country with a mixed, sometimes negative attitude towards homosexuality, mostly driven by the Catholic Church. Change is in the air, with more progressive politicians pushing for pro-LGBTQ laws in Peru. For example, anti-discrimination laws to protect the LGBTQ community were introduced in 2017, same-sex marriage laws are being debated and Pride events are increasing every year in more places around the country, including the Marcha del Orgullo Cusco in June (see more about this below).
It therefore pays to be vigilant by avoiding public displays of affection unless you're in a queer friendly space, like the ones we set out below.
Must see in Cusco: the Rainbow Mountain
Yup, you read right: there is a mountain that looks like a slice of rainbow cake! When we first heard about it, we knew instantly this had to feature in our Instagram feed and it went straight to the top of our Cusco planning Bucket List. We recommend this full-day Rainbow Mountain tour, which involves plenty of hiking. But be warned – it's a very early 4am start!
Gay hotels in Cusco
At 3,500 metres (11,480 feet), Cusco is one of the highest cities in the world. No matter how old or young, fit or unfit you are, you will inevitably be affected by the altitude. For example, after walking up a few steps, you'll feel like you've run a marathon, panting away like an old man. For this reason, we advise first staying for a few days in the Sacred Valley which is located several thousand feet lower down in order to acclimatise.
The Sacred Valley, also known as the “Urubamba Valley” (Valle Sagrado in Spanish), was once the heartland of the Incas. Today it is home to many typical Andean villages and is one of Peru's top tourist destinations.
We stayed at the very exclusive Relais & Châteaux Sol y Luna near Urubamba village, located around 50 minutes by taxi from Cusco. The subsequent 3 recommendations are in Cusco centre. In all cases, we were warmly received as a gay couple.
Sol y Luna Relais & Châteaux
Located in The Sacred Valley
Why we love it
- Romantic setting in the Sacred Valley
- Stay in a luxurious casita set in exuberant tropical gardens
- Relax in the outdoor heated pool + Jacuzzi with an impressive mountain backdrop!
- Hacienda restaurant with daily horse shows to watch
Sol y Luna is the stuff of dreams, where honeymooners go. Set in the heart of the Sacred Valley, this stunning gay friendly retreat offers the peace and tranquility to help you conquer the altitude in luxury. That's why we chose it for our holiday splurge in Cusco before tackling the mighty Inca Trail.
As a member of the Relais & Châteaux brand, you know you're going to be spoilt rotten, and Sol y Luna didn't disappoint! Here you stay in one of the 43 high-end luxury and super cosy casitas (small houses). The superior ones have their own entry porch, foyer, living room, underfloor heating system, fireplace, private terrace and garden.
The casitas are also full of character – decorated with handmade furniture, local tapestries and beautiful frescoed murals. The 43 casitas make up just half of Sol y Luna. The rest of the hotel land consists of a large communal area on one side and horse ranch on the other. The communal area has the formal Killa Wasi restaurant, spa, a gorgeous heated outdoor pool with Jacuzzi, and a small gym. The large horse ranch of Sol y Luna has the Wayra restaurant and massive wine cellar. We loved eating here because they put on an impressive cowboy-like horse show to watch every lunchtime – put it this way: tour groups even make this a stop on their Sacrey Valley trips!
The food at both restaurants is delicious, a mix of Peruvian classics, like ceviche, guinea pig, delicious Pisco Sours and more. They also do Western classics like steak, burgers and pastas. Both restaurants are famous in the region, attracting non-hotel guests every day.
Our favourite memory of Sol y Luna is that outdoor pool. There is nothing more calming or romantic than chilling here with the backdrop of the Andes mountains.
Wake up with the view of Machu Picchu
The Belmond Sanctuary Lodge is the only hotel that sits right at the entrance of the famous Machu Picchu Inca citadel. All other hotels are a 40-minute shuttle bus ride to the nearest town called, Aguas Calientes.
Staying here is not only a luxurious experience, it's also super gay friendly. In addition, this is the only place you can enjoy Machu Picchu at sunrise and sunset – ie before/after the hoards of tourists have arrived/left!
Palacio Del Inka
Why we love it
- Luxury 5* hotel in Cusco's historic centre
- Full of charm and character: a former sacred Andean temple
- Spoil your lover at the Inti Raymi highly rated restaurant
- Modern and spacious fitness centre
Checking into Palacio del Inka after 4 days trekking the Inca Trail sure feels gooood! But at first we were disorientated, thinking we'd got lost and walked into a museum instead of a hotel?!
There's good reason for that! The Palacio del Inka (part of the very gay friendly Starwood Luxury Collection) is full of history. As the name suggests, it used to be an Inca palace – an extension of the Inca Templo del Sol. In 1533 when the Spanish invaded Cusco, it was claimed by Francisco Pizarro's brother, Gonzalo, who converted it into a colonial home. It was then converted into a museum for Inca/Spanish artefacts, and today, a very charming hotel.
We spent hours wandering the hotel lobby admiring the different paintings, ceramics and lost amongst the labyrinth of stone arches and courtyards. It felt like we were in a completely different world! Our room was equally as impressive, plenty of space with hardwood furnishings, a dark stained desk, brass lamps, huge mirrors and fresh flowers. As we said, after a 4-day intense Inca Trail trek, hanging out here was a well-earnt lavish splurge that we welcomed!
The Palacio del Inka has the Inti Raymi restaurant, which is a shrine to Andean ingredients and focuses on fusion food. The taster menu is worth trying out to get a hearty introduction to the Andean cuisine. Other gems to check out at the Palacio include the spa, which not only has many different treatments to choose from, it also has a hydrotherapy pool, sauna and steam room. Also a gym. Yes, apparently there's a gym here (which is very modern and spacious for the record!) as well. But we'll be honest, we never went anywhere near it 'cause our Inca Trail was so exhausting, we made our stay at the Palacio del Inka all about chilling and relaxation – and it certainly didn't disappoint!
STAY WITH A GAY LOCAL
Misterb&b is the Airbnb equivalent for the LGBTQ community. Unlike on Airbnb, you know your host is gay, avoiding any nasty surprises when you check in. It is also a great way to meet gay locals and discover the underground gay scene. Click below to get 10 € (or $10) off your first booking.
JW Marriott El Convento
Why we love it
- Luxurious hotel set in a former convent
- Impressive Swarovski crystal installation in the lobby
- Enriched oxygen available for altitude sickness
- Marble bathrooms with marble-lined tubs
Head into the mammoth, grand open-air entrance and you're welcomed with a gigantic 75,000 Swarovski crystal installation in honour of the Inca sun god… Welcome to the gay friendly JW Marriott El Convento!
The luxurious grand theme continues as you proceed through this former 16th century convent along the cobbled lobby with the original arcades and archways. Oh, and that's no fewer than 26 brick arches in the courtyard, making it one of the largest (and most impressive!) in all of Cusco.
Our room at the JW Marriott was sexy, sleek and super stylish – marble bathrooms anyone? The dark hardwood flooring gave it a homely feeling of quality and sophistication. In terms of views, some rooms overlook Cusco’s iconic terracotta rooftops and the Andes, others overlook the inner courtyard of the hotel. The most unique thing of all is that the hotel offers enriched oxygen to guests who are having altitude sickness induced breathing difficulties. Remember you're in Cusco, a city which has an altitude of 3,500 metres (11,480 ft).
In terms of communal areas, the Marriott doesn't have a gym or fitness centre, but there is a pool, a steam room and sauna. Seby particularly loved the poolside shower which has nine jets of water, flashing lights and the option to play music! The Marriott also has a spa with treatments ranging from hot stones and reflexology. History geeks (like me!) should head to the basement level where there is an archaeological site of Inca masonry and ceramics. Every day at 6pm, they lead a free guided tour to tell you more about it, which I definitely recommend doing.
Los Apus Hotel and Mirador
Why we love it
- Our favourite budget gay friendly hotel in Cusco
- Excellent location in trendy San Blas
- Rooftop views across Cusco and the Andres
- Set in a charming 17th century colonial building
Los Apus is a charming and affordable gay friendly accomodation in the trendy San Blas neighbourhood of Cusco, only a few minutes walking distance to Plaza de Armas.
It has a homely feel with sweet, smiley and gay friendly staff. We felt very welcomed here as a gay couple.
Although a small hotel with just 20 rooms, Los Apus oozes charm, set in a 17th century building decorated in colonial style.
Our room had a private bathroom and private balcony which we loved – those views over Cusco and the Andes, you just can't beat it! As we said, oozes charm and character here – wooden floors and authentic Inca walls. It's also super quiet. Fellow guests were mainly solo travellers, couples and the odd family who were heading to Machu Picchu (or just returned from it).
The location is perfect. It's the hip San Blas neighbourhood which is around 5-10 minutes walk from Plaza de Armas. Lots of artisanal shops and local markets around here. Also handy to note – there's a laundrette's a few minutes walk away – post Inca Trail you're gonna need this!
The only small downside is there is no elevator. For us, this wasn't a problem – the staff even offered to take our bags up for us. Whilst we think this adds to the charm of the hotel, but if you have mobility issues, you may want to bear this in mind.
Gay bars in Cusco
Sadly there are no official gay bars in Cusco since Fallen Angel closed in early 2020. There are many cool balcony bars surrounding Plaza de Armas where you can get some amazing drink deals, but these all cater to a straight crowd. We found a few cool, hipster bars, attracting open-minded young Peruvians and tourists, which we set out here. However, remember these are straight bars, so best minimise full-on PDAs.
Best advice is to touch up on some basic Spanish, connect with local gay guys via Grindr and find out if any underground ad hoc parties are taking place in any of the bars.
We loved the Museo del Pisco for the simple reason that they make the best Pisco Sour in all of Cusco! They specialise in it here even offering cocktail making classes, with some history on pisco and how it’s made.
On weekends and during National Holidays (like NYE, Carnival and Easter), the Museo del Pisco hosts large parties worth checking out.
Museo del Pisco is open daily from 7:30pm until around 3am. It is located at Calle Santa Catalina Ancha 398.
We came here after our free walking tour on the recommendation of our local guide. It's a cool, hip bar, with Inca murals on the walls and 2 for 1 cocktail offers. They usually have a local live Peruvian rock band playing later in the evening.
The crowd here is very artsy, young and open-minded. We also noticed a few gay guys hanging out here.
Ukukus Bar is open daily from 7:30pm until around 3am. It is located at Calle Plateros 316.
Gay clubs in Cusco
As we said in the intro, don't come to Cusco expecting epic gay parties. That being said, there are a few gay clubs in Cusco which get busy on weekends – a warm welcome in the absence of any gay bars:
Paradise Queen is a guaranteed fun gay night out in Cusco on weekends, especially the Ibiza nights which have plenty of hot topless local guys, live DJ and drag shows.
During big events and National Holidays they have special themed parties – like Valentines' Day, the Christmas Party and the “Stripper Show” in June – don't ask, just go!
Paradise Queen is located at Av. de La Cultura 230-c, just a few blocks away from the Plaza de Armas. It is only open on Friday and Saturday evenings from around 8pm until the early hours of the next day! Find out more in the Paradise Queen Cusco Twitter profile.
Rokas is the other main gay club of Cusco with gay nights, sometimes for just the men other nights just for the guapas – check the Rokas website and their Facebook page for the most up-to-date info.
Rokas attracts a lot more local guys compared to Paradise Queens, so definitely the best way to bag yourself a sleeping dictionary and practise some of your Spanish. Music-wise here, right up our alley: full-on Latino pop hits all the way!
Rokas is open only Thursday-Saturday from 10pm until around 6am. It is located at Avenida Pardo 570. Find out more on .
Mama Africa is the main club of Cusco, located right in the Plaza de Armas. It's also one of the oldest in the city, having been around since the early 1990s.
Note this isn't a gay place. It's officially a straight club. But every time we came here, we always noticed a few groups of local gay guys and tourists hanging out. Also, all local gay guys in Cusco we spoke to told us this was their preferred gay hangout in the city because it attracts a chilled, fun and open-minded crowd.
Mama Africa is located centrally in the Plaza de Armas and is open daily from 9pm until 6am.
Gay Pride in Cusco
Cusco has a gay Pride event taking place at the end of June / early July each year called the Marcha del Orgullo Cusco. It started in 2015 and is becoming more popular each year. However, unlike the mega Pride festivals of cities like Madrid, Sao Paolo and New York, Cusco's is more lowkey. It's more of a local political demonstration rather than a festival. The main organiser is the Derechos Humanos Sin Fronteras Cusco who also host other similar events throughout the year.
On the subject of gay events in Cusco, one queer-friendly festival you may want to look out for is the CUCIF – Cuzco Underground Cinema Festival. It's an independent film festival that takes place every October, which includes a jury awarding prizes for different categories. Two of the categories include “Best Feature LGBT” and “Best Short LGBT”. Find out more on the CUCIF Facebook page.
Things to do in Cusco
The most popular must-do for any visitor to Cusco will inevitably be visiting magical Machu Picchu, which you can do as a day trip. There are also lots of other highlights you should consider when visiting Cusco, least of all that fabulous Rainbow Mountain we made reference to towards the start of this article!
The lost city of the Incas, the reason why you travelled to Peru in the first place! Machu Picchu (which means old mountain in the Quechua language) is THE famous Inca site located 2,430 metres (7,970 feet) above sea level. It was initially built in around 1450 by the Incas at the height of their Empire. When the Spanish invited 100 years later, the Incas had to flee and left it abandoned. The Spanish never discovered Machu Picchu and as a result it remained lost to the world until 1911 when it was discovered by American explorer Hiram Bingham. The site has since become super touristy so the government heavily regulates entry. We advise booking your Machu Picchu tickets online a few months beforehand!
The Hiram Bingham experience
This is a truly unforgettable way to travel to Machu Picchu! The Hiram Bingham Luxury Train is an all-inclusive day trip to/from Machu Picchu aboard the historic 1920s Pullman cars. It includes fine dining on board with a full 3-course gourmet meal, unlimited drinks, super attentive (English speaking) staff and a live Peruvian band. On arrival, it includes a guided tour of Machu Picchu, Afternoon Tea at the opulent Belmond Sanctuary Lodge and your return trip to Cusco. Just be warned: the staff on board the train make some of the best Pisco Sours we've tried in all of Peru – at these high altitudes, you get tipsy/drunk a lot quicker!
Free walking tour of Cuso
When we first arrive in a new city, we always like to check if they have any Free Walking Tours. They are always run by inspiring and passionate locals. It's the best way to quickly learn about a new city and get your bearings. We love them and always support them when we find them. In Cusco, we recommend this free walking tour, which we found on Tripadvisor. Note, the guides rely on tips for payment. Obviously, that's personal and entirely up to you, but we always aim to give generously and encourage you to as well.
See the Rainbow Mountain
When we first saw this on Instagram we both instantly agreed we HAD to visit! The Rainbow Mountain is a multi-coloured layered mountain – also known as “Montaña de Siete Colores” – which means the mountain of 7 colours. The colours are due to the mineralogical composition: pink from the red clay, white from the sandstone, red from the claystone, green from the phyllites, brown from fanglomerate and yellow from sulphur. The Rainbow Mountain can be visited as a day trip from Cusco and involves a 2 hours trek at 5,000 metres (16,400 feet) altitude. You pass Andean villages along the way along with lots of alpaca, sheep and herd dogs.
Learn to cook Peruvian food
Peru is a foodie's paradise! We strongly encourage you to delve right into it, for example by booking a cooking class. Our class included a visit to the San Pedro market with Maria, who had lived in Cusco all her life. Then went to a restaurant where we learnt to make Peruvian classics like the Jaucha (an ancient Andean dish appetiser), Causa Limeña, Papa a la Huancaína and Quinoa Salad. The class also included teaching us to make Lomo Saltado, Ají de Gallina and Quinua Atamalada. Obligatory tasting afterwards, which is always the most rewarding part…washed down with a few tasty Pisco Sours.
Horse riding to the temple of the moon
If you love horse riding, we recommend a half-day horse riding tour around the rural areas of Cusco, which takes you all the way to the Incan Ceremonial Temple of the Moon. The tour also includes horse riding through the “Devil's Balcony”, which is a natural cave formed thousands of years ago, considered sacred by the Incas. We particularly loved this tour with the Saqsayhuaman Ranch because the guides are friendly, super patient (Seby on a horse requires a LOT of patience!!) and you can tell their horses are very well treated.
Where to eat in Cusco
Eating out in Cusco is always so rewarding – an experience in itself. There are so many excellent restaurants in the city to suit all budgets and tastes. You can never get bored eating out here, whether you want to try Peruvian classics, or if (like us), you need to load up on your carbs in the pizza joints post-Inca Trail!
MAP Cafe is a really pretty restaurant oozing with character. It's tucked away in the courtyard of the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, which is itself housed in a colonial mansion. The space itself is surrounded by glass walls within the museum courtyard, which makes it so unique! The food is a mix of Peruvian fusion by famous local chef, Coque Ossid. Some highlights we tried and loved include the Andean Mushroom Soup, raw Amazon fish, the Corvina and alpaca. In terms of desserts, we recommend the lemon pie and the aptly named Lucuma Kisses!
We loved the atmosphere at this cosy and authentic restaurant. We found it when we were searching for a good local restaurant and stumbled on it on Tripadvisor. It's one of the most highly rated in the entire city! They do simple inexpensive local dishes, which are bloody good! The ceviche and alpaca steak were our favourites. Also, the carrot cake here is famous. Famous because we say so! A day in Cusco was never complete for my greedy Seby without his slice of Organika carrot cake…
El Tabuco Pizzeria
This is THE best pizza in all of Cusco according to to…us! Honestly, after all that time trekking in the altitude, we were CRAVING carbs/pizza. We spent quite a long time tracking down the best pizzerias in Cusco and found this one to be the best. If like us, you love your flatbread pizzas, you need to check out El Tabuco. It's a cute unassuming place with a warm friendly atmosphere inside, dominated by the large pizza oven. Everything is freshly made in front of you from scratch which is quite enjoyable to watch…although even more enjoyable to devour afterwards!
Plan your trip to Cusco
We've put together our best tips and advice to help fellow LGBTQ travellers plan a fun and safe trip to Cusco:
How to get there: Most gay travellers will enter Peru by flying to Lima followed by a domestic flight to Cusco. The main airport is called “Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport” and is around 5.5 km (3.4 miles) East from the city centre. It is a 20 minutes taxi ride to the centre of Cusco. We recommend booking your private transfer with an English speaking driver to avoid queues at the airport and start your Inca adventure stress-free.
Visa requirements: Travellers from EU countries, the USA, Canada and Australia don't need a tourist visa to stay in Peru and will receive a free visa on arrival for up to 90 days. You will, however, need to show that you have a return/onward travel ticket if you arrive by plane, and will need your passport to have at least 6 months validity from the day you arrive. For more, check out visa requirements for travel to Peru.
Travel insurance: We always strongly recommend booking travel insurance for any trip so that you're covered in the event of cancelled flights, theft, injury and other factors beyond your control. We've been using World Nomads for years and cannot recommend them highly enough. Their coverage is comprehensive. In addition, making a claim if needed is super easy.
Safety and Security: No matter where you are, you are always at risk of encountering danger when travelling. We like to use the CloseCircle “virtual bodyguard” app as they can provide support or security alerts wherever you are. Their service covers everything from advice to evacuation in the case of weather emergencies or terrorist attacks. Read more about why we love CloseCircle in our article how travellers can stay safe.
Vaccinations: All travellers to Lima should make sure they're up to date with routine vaccinations like measles, mumps and chickenpox. Most travellers should also be vaccinated for hepatitis A and typhoid. Some travellers may also need vaccinations for hepatitis B, yellow fever, malaria and rabies, depending on what and where you'll be doing. Check the CDC website for the most up to date info for Peru and also speak to your local doctor or travel nurse.
Currency: The currency used in Peru is the Sol. $1 is around 3.4 Sols, €1 is around 3.66 Sols and £1 is around 4.19 Sol.
Tipping culture: In general tipping is not expected in Peru, although in places like hotels you may receive slightly better service if you leave a few pesos out for the staff. In restaurants, around 10% is the norm for good service and will most likely be automatically added as service charge to your bill. In a local restaurant, the custom is to tip around 1 or 2 Sols if service has not been included in the bill.
Accommodation: There are many excellent hotels in Cusco. We love using Booking.com because they have an extensive selection and the best prices. They also provide excellent 24/7 customer support if needed and free cancellation for most listings.
Sightseeing and adventure: We've put just a handful of our favourite things to do in Cusco above, but we recommend checking out GetYourGuide.com for a detailed list of tours available. The booking process is very user friendly and their 24-hour customer support is excellent!
When to visit: The best time to visit is June to September, which is the dry season. From September to May it's wet season. We went into late December and it was absolutely fine. However, for Machu Picchu, we advise against visiting during the rainy months, especially January and March (it's closed in February) as it really limits visibility. Main tip: bring waterproofs!
Gay map of Cusco
Although Cusco is a small city, it has a handful of gay hangouts spread out around the city. Here is our gay map to Cusco to help you plan your trip.
For more inspiration:
- Check out our gay city travel guide to Lima
- As well as our gay city guide to Arequipa
- Learn more about Peru with our 10 interesting facts about Peru you didn't know
- Discover delicious Peruvian food and try our recipes for Peruvian ceviche and Pisco Sour
- Use our Peru gay friendly travel itinerary to plan your travels
- Decide where to stay with our guide to 5 unique gay friendly hotels in Peru
- We give you the lowdown about whether Lake Titicaca is worth visiting
- Read our interview with Aaron from Lima about what gay life in Peru is like
- These were the highlights of our time travelling in South America
- As well as the top gay destinations in South America