The Best Things To Do In Cusco
This holiday destination is a timeless tapestry of soaring stone ruins, European style architecture and a fusion of Quechua and Spanish cultures. And with such a dazzling array of monuments to its illustrious past, it is hardly any surprise that Cusco is one of Peru’s top holiday destinations. The city which enjoys mild weather all year round is situated in southeastern Peru to the north of Juliaca and Arequipa while the city of Ayacucho lies to its west.
Vacationing in this city which belongs both to the past and the present comes with the excellent opportunity of exploring ruins such as the mighty citadel, Sacsayhuaman and the ancient city of aqueducts, Tambomachay. During your vacation, you will also be able to sample Peruvian delicacies such as chicharrones and chairo, and purchase carvings and woven cloth made using methods which are centuries old. With so much to explore and enjoy, there can be no doubt that you too will be touched by the magic this very special holiday destination has to offer.
Any city capable of upstaging the capital is worth checking out, especially one which is renowned for its beauty and culture, just like Cusco. If you happen to be enjoying all the fun Lima has to offer and intend to visit this center of traditional Peruvian culture, you will be delighted to find that it is less than two hours away by air with flights arriving at the Velasco Astete International Airport. Arequipa, with its charming white sillar buildings is slightly closer with flight trips averaging an hour in duration. Once you arrive in Cusco, you will find radio taxis to be a very convenient mode of transport. It is even possible to hire one for an entire day, to ensure you are able to enjoy exploring on your own terms.
Cusco was once the capital city of the Inca Empire and the ruins which dot the landscape tell the tale of the city’s illustrious past. But it is Sacsayhuaman which is undeniably the star attraction among them all. During your visit, you will be able to hire a guide or participate in a tour to view this vast citadel created from massive stone blocks and admire this extensive architectural marvel. Tambomachay is another ruin worth visiting. Featuring the same skillfully worked stone which is the trademark of the region’s ruins, this complex also contains aqueducts and canals which only add to its beauty. One of the numerous perks of visiting Cusco in addition to its magnificent ruins and lovely weather is the opportunity to sample traditional Peruvian fare.
Divina Rosa, a firm tourist favorite is a great place to start off your gastronomic tour of the city while another amazing option is Nuna Raymi which also comes with the added benefit of cooking classes.
HERE ARE OUR PICKS FOR THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN CUSCO…
Machu Picchu is arguably the most amazing historic wonder of the world. An old Incan ruin set atop the Andes Mountains of Peru; this ancient mystery is a magical journey of self-discovery and pure serenity. You simply have to experience it to truly understand the enormity of this marvellous treasure.
Rainbow Mountain (Vinicunca)
Trekking to see the magnificent kaleidoscope of colours that explode from Rainbow Mountain is not an easy task; with a three hour, each-way hike to the vantage point, it is best to be physically fit! The trek itself provides wide open vistas of the many mountains and valleys in the area, but the Rainbow Mountain really tops it all! Be ready to gasp in awe at the vibrant colours that result from the fascinating geology of this amazing natural beauty!
Standing over the city of Cusco, Sacsayhuaman is nothing short of a must-see. This ancient military complex was built around 1100, using stones weighing up to 300 tonnes each; it is truly an engineering marvel for the ages! Explore this Inca stronghold that served the empire well until the Spanish conquest in 1536, and take in the magnificent views as you stand in the plaza. Take yourself back to a time when thousands would participate in ceremonial rituals – this is one ruin you won’t regret seeing!
As you approach Qorikancha, you will begin to appreciate that this temple was once one of the most revered Incan places of worship. While the stone walls are still imposing, just imagine them clad in pure gold, as they were before the conquest of the Spanish. Then wander through the terrace and the plaza, where crowds gathered for rituals honouring the sun! And if that is not enough, the temple also has a second life, as it formed the foundation for the church of Santo Domingo!
Explore the steep cobblestone laneways of San Blas, an area of Cusco that is renowned for its arts and crafts, and which is becoming an increasingly trendy place to be seen. As you meander along the stepped streets, take in the white washed houses, and the boutique shops, then head to the Inglesia San Blas, a tiny church built in the 1530’s. As the day ends, the surrounding restaurants and bars are great places to visit for a meal and a drink.
Cusco La Catedral
Built over a period of almost 100 years, the Cusco La Catedral was constructed on the site of an old Inca palace, using stones taken from Sacsayhuaman after it was conquered by the Spanish. As you visit the cathedral, its links to the Incas is fascinating, and its splendour is highlighted by the Gothic-Renaissance style of the architecture. As you enter, admire the altar made of silver and the many surrounding artworks, including the unique depiction of the Last Supper.
This famous Inca Trail covers 82 picturesque kilometres that you will never forget! As you join a guided trek – usually over four days – you will experience magnificent views of the Andes, brilliant sunrises, and explore several Inca ruins as you head towards Machu Picchu. The number of visitors allowed on the trail is strictly regulated, so you will need to book well in advance!
Cusco Historic Center
As you explore the Historic Centre of Cusco, you are in the central hub of the city’s history. You will discover fascinating examples of the temples and amazing monuments of the ancient Inca Empire, which provided the foundations of the colonial Spanish architecture that came after the conquest. There are historical trails to follow – along the beautiful cobbled streets – that will guide you to the major landmarks, and bring the intertwined history of these two civilisations to life.
Sacred Valley of the Incas
Take a break from Cusco and explore the nearby Sacred Valley of the Incas. Originally the food bowl that sustained the capital, the network of Quechua villages that surround the city is nothing short of fascinating. Explore the ruins and immerse yourself in the day-to-day life of the region by visiting the many markets and villages. Or, take a relaxing hike or horseback ride, and venture off the beaten track to absorb the beauty of the surrounding lands.
Take a day trip from Cusco and visit the Ollantaytambo Fortress; a massive stepped fortress set on Temple Hill outside the village of the same name. Built in the 1400’s, explore the temples and the Princess Baths Fountain, and take the 200 steps up the terraces for an absolutely magnificent view of the surrounding Sacred Valley. Once at the top, take time to study the detail of the crafted stonework, such as the Enclosure of the Ten Niches – it really is an amazing experience!
Pisac Indian Market
Just 32 kilometres from Cusco, join the locals at the Pisac Indian Market in the Main Square of the village. The markets are at their biggest on a Sunday, but also operate on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There are a host of arts and crafts to choose from, from clothing to jewellery, and you’re likely to find a special bargain or memento if you look carefully!
Discover the ancient past of Peru and visit a traditional Quecha village in the Sacred Valley. The Quecha are the indigenous people of the Andes, and they have passed on their skills in special handicrafts – unique and beautiful – from generation to generation. Visit the villages, such as Pisac, Pisco, and Chincheros – on market day – and enjoy the hustle and bustle of the crowds, the haggling of the vendors, and maybe find that lasting memento to remember your journey by.
Mercado Central de San Pedro
Head to the centre of Cusco and join the locals doing their regular shopping in the open air market, Mercado Central de San Pedro. Explore the many lively stalls and find foods that are both fascinating and confronting. You will find that the nearby eateries have cheap meals, and the stalls selling souvenirs are typically cheaper than the alternatives throughout the city. This is a great place to absorb the culture and watch people go about their busy day, so get involved and experience the real Cusco, the way the locals experience it.
Maras Salt Pools
Come to the small town of Maras and explore the amazing Maras Salt Pools, where salt has been collected since the ancient time of the Incas. From the 1400’s, locals have managed this patchwork of evaporation pools, watching and waiting as it reached the stage where salt could be collected. You will see and experience the traditional collection methods and you can even buy the salt at the markets!
When you tour the Sacred Valley, Moray needs to be on your list; it’s a unique display of ancient Inca history and magnificent engineering that you will not see anywhere else! Instead of towering towards the sky, these ruins reach a depth of up to 30 metres below the surface, with concentric circles linked by stairs, stepping down into the earth. It is believed that this unique site was for agriculture research, which underlies the prowess of the Inca people, shown time and time again throughout history.
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