The former capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco (also spelled Cuzco) is a fascinating city. The entire city has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site and attracts tourists from all over the world. Just be careful to get used to the altitude before starting to explore the city!
Cusco (alternative spelling: Cuzco) is located in southeastern Peru, near the Urubamba Valley (Sacred Valley).
How to get to Cusco
The local airport receives daily domestic flights from Lima, Arequipa and small locations in the Amazon jungle. The closest international airport is in Lima.
If you decide to fly directly into Cusco be aware of the altitude sickness. Drink coca tea (mate de coca) and make sure to limit your activities during the first day.
The temperatures don’t vary much from season to season, averaging between 64 F / 17 C and 68 F / 20 C during the day and 35 F / 1 C and 46 F / 7 C during the night.
>>read more about Weather in Peru
Things to do
A boleto turistico is required to visit some of the sites in and around Cusco. A full ticket costs 70 soles (about US$25) and is valid for 10 days and all sites. A partial ticket costs 40 soles (about US$14.4) but is valid only for a day and several sites.
The original Inca city, found in 11th century was sacked by Pizarro in 1535, but there are still remains of the palace of the Inca, the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Virgins of the Sun. Other Inca foundations and buildings still exist, one of them being the cathedral of Santo Domingo.
You can start your day by walking around Plaza de Armas (see photo left). It’s filled with shops, restaurants and churches.
The Incan wall (see photo right) which used to surround the city can still be seen near the Plaza de Armas.
Monumento Pachacuteq is the statue of the Inca warrior King Pachacuteq. The statue is located on a cylindrical base which can be climbed but it doesn’t offer good views since it’s located at a lower part of the town. You need the “boleto turistico” to visit the monument.
Qoricancha is a 16th century convent built on top of an old Inca palace. Plan to spend several hours exploring the site. It contains both Inca and Catholic heritage and the views of the surrounding areas are just awesome.
La Merced Monastery is one of the most beautiful monasteries in the city. There is also an on-site museum.
There are several museums and galleries to check out as well. To visit some of them you’ll need the “boleto turistico” while to visit others you can pay the entrance fee directly at the museum.
The major near-by Inca site is Machu Picchu, which can be easily reached on foot by Inca trail. The “fortress” at Ollantaytambo and the “fortress” of Sacsayhuaman are also located near-by and easily accessible.
Cusco is one of the best cities to try the spicy cuisine and enjoy the organically grown produce. The area is famous for the numerous Peruvian original species which grow here, including hundreds of native potato varieties. For a taste of “bizarre foods” try cuy, the regional specialty (be aware though if you had a guinea pig for pet; you probably won’t be able to see “fluffy” in the pan deep-fried). For some more “normal” Peruvian dishes, try lomo saltado (made with beef), aji de gallina (made with chicken) and Papa Rellena (also made with beef).
Have you ever wanted to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu? Check out these 5 trips we offer.