Anyone travelling to Peru will undoubtedly spend a few days in Cusco. So the Peru vacations experts at The Only Peru Guide have written a comprehensive article to help you get to know a little more about this ancient city of the Incas.
If you are planning to travel to Peru you have probably heard about Machu Picchu and the incredible history of the Incas, but have you heard about the city of Cusco? Surprisingly most people known very little about this remote Andean city. During Inca times Cusco was the most important city in the whole of South America, and was where all the important hierarchy and royalty of the empire lived. It was also the wealthiest city, constructed by expert masons and full of grand buildings, temples and vast palaces.
Today the landscape of Cusco still holds vivid reminders of the past, and in certain parts of the city where large stones and walls still remain you can only imagine what once was. In the 16 century the Spanish defeated the Empire, and started to ravage the city, destroying anything of importance and taking anything of value (namely gold). In the ensuing 500 years the Spanish slowly re-built the city, using the sturdy foundations of the original Inca buildings as a platform for their traditional Spanish style buildings. Nowadays these buildings are referred to as colonial buildings. When the Spanish created a rival vice regency in Rio de la Plata, most of the region we know as Peru fell into decline, including the city of Cusco. The city remained lost to the outside world until in 1911 when Hiram Bingham the Yale University lecturer and explorer stumbled upon Machu Picchu. Since then interest in Machu Picchu and people wanting Peru vacation packages have grown year on year, and Cusco has transformed to become the most visited city in all of Peru.
Although there are some small villages in the Sacred Valley which are closer to Machu Picchu, Cusco is the nearest major city of any importance. The colonial centre is actually quite small, and is built around Plaza de Armas (Cusco’s main square) and a few other smaller plazas. Most local residents of Cusco live further down the valley in the districts of Wanchaq, San Jeronimo and San Sebastian, in a maze of largely un-completed concrete buildings.
The heart of Cusco, where you will spend most of your time on your Peru Vacations is a vibrant and busy mix of Peruvians going about their everyday life and tourists meandering the cobbled streets, visiting attractions, dining and searching for gifts to take home. Although Cusco is considered a city, it could be thought of as a large town, which has grown rapidly over the last 20 years to cater for the growing number of residents. The colonial centre probably only covers an area of 2 square miles, and you could walk from one side to the other in around 40 minutes.
The two main attractions in Cusco are the Cathedral on Plaza de Armas, and the Inca Temple of the Sun at Korikancha located half way down Avenida el Sol, a 5 minute walk from the plaza. There are some other attractions which are included on the standard Cusco City Tour (see our selection of Peru vacations) which are located just outside of the city. Starting about 30 minutes (by car) from the city is the Inca site of Tambomachay which is dedicated to the worship of water. Working back towards the city you will arrive at Q’enko a sacred and ceremonial Inca site that features an underground alter. Finally, finishing on the brow of the mountain overlooking Cusco is the site of Saqsayhuman, the largest Inca site near the city of Cusco. Saqsayhuman is probably the most aw-inspiring of the three sites, and features some of the biggest carved stones in the Empire, some towering to a mighty 18 feet in height, and weighing several tonnes.
ENTERTAINMENT TIP: If looking for fun at night, or to watch sports during the day, or even a taste of home, visit the Wild Rover Hostel Cusco for great food, sports and beer! Entrance to their bar is free even for non-guests
Hotels are dotted all around the colonial centre, some actually on the main Plaza, and others 2 – 3 blocks away at the most. You can find accommodations from backpacker style hostels (Loki Hostel – www.lokihostel.com) through to high-end luxury properties steeped in history, like the Monasterio Hotel located on Plaza Nazarenas (www.monasteriohotel.com). Generally hotel tariffs are a little overpriced for what you get, and a regular good quality 3 star hotel will cost upwards of US$120 per night (Casa Andina Classic Hotels www.casa-andina.com). For luxury Peru Vacations featuring superior hotels, prices can rise quickly to in-excess of US$ 550 per night.
Just like the hotels there is also a wide variety of eateries and restaurants to choose from. A short walk around the plaza and around the streets leading away from the square you will soon become familiar with what there is on offer. Peruvian cuisine features heavily in most restaurants, but you will also find all sorts of international food, pizzas, Chinese, Italian and now (in the last 2 years) McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken fast-food joints. If you are looking for a bargain then you may want to check-out some menu-of-the-day places that offer a soup, main meal, dessert and a drink from about US$ 5 per person (Casa de Sabor – Calle Espinar, or El Molino – Calle Plateros). Jacks Cafe (on Choquechaca) offer hearty plates of well-cooked international food from US$ 6 – 8 per plate. Cicciolina (Calle Triunfo, up the side of the Cathedral) is an up-market Italian eatery the offers excellent food in a relaxing and charming setting, with plates starting from US$ 13.
Cusco has a lot going on, and spending a few nights in this fantastic city will surely be one of the highlights of any Peru Vacations. Often the best way to visit a city that has such an incredible history is to take an afternoon to meander the city on foot. There are many routes to take and many things to see, but heading off without a plan is probably the most exciting way to discover Cusco.
If you want to keep planning your adventure in Cusco, then check out our blog on Koricancha, the Inca temple of the sun!
This Peru travel information is written in conjunction with Totally Latin America experts in Peru vacations and travel. Contact us today for help in planning your next trip to Peru, and visit an amazing country.
Did you know - The Lima Walking Tour leaves from the Tourist Information Center at 799 Avenida Jose Larco in Miraflores every day at 10:15 am. Visit our Blog for more information!