Our gay travel guide to Cusco and the Sacred Valley in Peru includes the best gay friendly hotels to stay, inspiration for the best things to do, where to eat, and practical safety tips.
“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, and 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 civilization, 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 traveling 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 travelers to Peru, and more.
Heads up: We just wanted to let you know that this post contains affiliate links. That means if you book something through one of those links, we'll get a small commission, at no extra cost to you. It helps us keep our blog going – so thank you in advance for your support! ♥
Hike the Inca Trail on a gay tour
Lace-up those hiking boots and prepare for your own Andean expedition, because you're invited to join our friends at Out Adventures on their annual all-gay Inca Trail hike. By joining their sweaty scamper you'll be automatically guaranteed an Inca Trail pass, a local LGBTQ-welcoming host, and a veto-ed team of guides and porters. The tour includes time in Lima, Cusco, and the Sacred Valley.
How safe is Cusco for gay travelers?
Cusco is very safe for gay travelers 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).
Therefore, it 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.
Gay hotels in Cusco
At 3,500 meters (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 acclimatize.
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 the Cusco center. In all cases, we were warmly received as a gay couple.
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 acclimatize 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.
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 cozy casitas (small houses). The superior ones have their own entrance 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 a 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 pasta. Both restaurants are famous in the region, attracting non-hotel guests every day.
Our favorite 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, but 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 center
- Full of charm and character: a former sacred Andean temple
- Spoil your lover at the Inti Raymi highly-rated restaurant
- Modern and spacious fitness center
Checking into Palacio del Inka after 4 days of 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 a 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 artifacts, 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, with 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 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, voiding 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 our 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 honor 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 that has an altitude of 3,500 meters (11,480 ft).
In terms of communal areas, the Marriott doesn't have a gym or fitness center, but there is a pool, a steam room, and a 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 6 pm, they lead a free guided tour to tell you more about it, which I definitely recommend doing.
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 4 am start!
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 accommodation in the trendy San Blas neighborhood 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 travelers, 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 neighborhood 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, 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 minimize full-on PDAs.
The 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.
Limbus is the closest you're going to get to a gay friendly bar in Cusco. We felt absolutely fine here with the odd PDA – the staff didn't bat an eyelid at us – it's got a young, hip feel. Other gay travelers we met said it was a handy meeting place for Grindr dates.
Limbus is in actual fact a restobar – and not a bad one at that! But we'll be totally honest, we came here more as a queer friendly space rather than for the food.
Museo del Pisco is open daily from morning until around midnight and it is located at C. Pasñapakana 133.
We loved the Museo del Pisco for the simple reason that they make the best Pisco Sour in all of Cusco! They specialize 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 7:30 pm until around 3 am. It is located at Calle Santa Catalina Ancha 398.
No, you're not dreaming, there actually IS an authentic Irish pub in Cusco! Paddy's is a great spot for some craic, with Guinness, Jameson whiskey, and Irish coffee, as well as traditional Irish food like Shepherd's Pie.
It’s not a gay bar but it was a bar we loved going to in Cusco as it always had a fun convivial atmosphere and was always busy with travelers from all over the world.
Paddy's Irish Pub is open daily from midday until around 1 am. It is located at 124 Triunfo Street, Plaza de Armas.
Gay clubs in Cusco
As we said in the intro, don't come to Cusco expecting epic gay parties. Since Covid, the subsequent cost of living crisis, and political problems that rocked the country in early 2023, the gay clubbing scene of Cusco has taken a massive hit. Iconic gay clubs like Rokas Lounge and Club Paradise Queen have closed their doors for good.
Our advice is to use Grindr to reach out and connect with locals and find out if there are any underground parties happening. Otherwise, head to Plaza del Armas somewhere like Mama Africa.
Ever since I've been coming to Peru as a young gay, Mama Africa, located in the heart of the city in Plaza del Armas, has stood tall and proud. It's not an official gay club, but it's super gay friendly – all the cool gay kids in town (both locals and travelers) all head here to party. I've always made new gay friends every time I've come here. As the most famous club night in Cusco, everyone on your Grindr grid will inevitably end up here at some stage during their stay!
Mama Africa is located in the corner of Plaza del Armas, you can't miss it. It's an institution in the city. It is open daily until around 5 am the following morning.
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 organizer is the Derechos Humanos Sin Fronteras Cusco who also hosts 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 and 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 traveled to Peru in the first place! Machu Picchu (which means old mountain in the Quechua language) is THE famous Inca site located 2,430 meters (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 invaded 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 Cusco
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-colored layered mountain – also known as “Montaña de Siete Colores” – which means the mountain of 7 colors. The colors 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 sulfur. The Rainbow Mountain can be visited as a day trip from Cusco and involves a 2 hours trek at 5,000 meters (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 learned to make Peruvian classics like the Jaucha (an ancient Andean dish appetizer), 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 afterward, 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 and considered sacred by the Incas. We particularly loved this tour with the Saqsayhuaman Ranch because the guides are friendly, and 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 cozy 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 favorites. 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 travelers plan a fun and safe trip to Cusco:
Travel insurance: We always strongly recommend booking travel insurance for any trip so that you're covered in the event of canceled flights, theft, injury, and other factors beyond your control. We've been using Heymondo for years and cannot recommend them highly enough. Their coverage is comprehensive. In addition, making a claim if needed is super easy.
How to get there: Most gay travelers 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 of the city center. It is a 20 minutes taxi ride to the center 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.
Vaccinations: All travelers to Lima should make sure they're up to date with routine vaccinations like measles, mumps, and chickenpox. Most travelers should also be vaccinated for hepatitis A and typhoid. Some travelers 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 a 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 favorite 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 the 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