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Discover Cusco | The ancient capital of the Incas

If you shut your eyes and imagine what Peru looks like you are probably conjuring up in your mind something that looks very similar to Cusco.  It made me quite emotional the first time we walked into Plaza de Armas, it was like, wow, we’ve found it and its just as we imagined.  This had not happened yet for us in Peru although Huaraz did come close but not the city itself.  Huaraz was all about the mountains.

Trying to write a blog that does this place justice is going to be very difficult. There is so much to discover  and it’s impossible to see it all in the time we have here.  What we will try to do, as always, is give your our honest view of the things we managed to see and do in our usual easy to follow format.

We are lucky there is anything to see at all Cusco has in the recent past been devastated by earthquakes firstly in 1941 when many of the buildings we see today were damaged.  Then again in 1950.  This earthquake damaged fifty percent of the city but in the process it uncovered the foundations of Inca temples that many of todays building sit on.  In 1983 after extensive restoration the city was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Cusco Cathedral

How to get to Cusco?

Cusco is situated in the Peruvian Andes about 683 miles from Lima at an altitude of just under 4000m.  From Lima you can reach Cusco via a flight of about three and a half hours or a bus ride which takes about twenty one hours although this is usually split into smaller journeys with options to visit other interesting places along the way such as Paracas, Nazcar, Ica and Arequipa.

Where to stay in Cusco?

The accommodation choices in Cusco are vast and varied with a range of hotels and hostels to suit all travelling styles.  Most people we met during our stay in the area were here on one, two or three week holidays with the sole purpose of visiting Machu Picchu.  Others, like ourselves, were on a longer journey and as such had a more limited budget.  We stayed in three different accommodations in the city, our first choice was a budget hostal called, Colours From Peru Guesthouse.  After we returned from our Machu Picchu trek we stayed at Hawka Inka Hostal, both these accommodations get good reviews. Our favourite though was our third choice Kori Gems Inn, a beautiful little hotel in an old colonial building. If you fancy something a little more luxurious you could book a few days at one of the many five star resorts dotted around the town such as Casa Cartagena Hotel & Spa, a favourite with honeymooners, we had a quick peep in, it looks beautiful but unfortunately a little out of our price range for this trip.

Why visit Cusco?

The city is know as the citadel of the Incas and is built on the site of the original Incan Capital.  It is the stopping off point to visit the scared valley and the famous archeological sites in the area including Machu Picchu.  As mentioned above it is one of the most beautiful and well preserved Colonial cities in Peru if not South America.  With a vast number of churches, museums and archeological sites to visit without even leaving the city.

On top of this it has a wonderful selection of restaurants to visit serving local delicacies such as Guinea Pig and Alpaca to most of the favourite international cuisines.  If you like to shop your spoiled for choice from tacky souvenirs, colourful local goods and upmarket Alpaca wool clothing.  If you’re here to hike there are a good number of well stocked hiking stores with all the famous brands represented.  So if you have forgotten something you’ll be fine.

Cusco's streets

The Cusco tourist ticket

Before we get into writing about the places we visited In and around Cusco we need to mention the Cusco tourist ticket as you will need a form of this to enter most of the more famous archeological sites and attractions. The ticket can be bought as a one off that covers all the attractions or it can be split into three separate tickets that cover three different regions of the area.  You can discover more about the ticket in our blog post, The Cusco tourist ticket | All you need to know before you go.

Discovering Cusco the ancient capital of the Incas

Now we have got that covered we can move on to the fun stuff and start exploring the city and the surrounding sites.  As well as the sixteen above accessible with the tourist ticket, there are many other attractions to discover. Some are free if you’re on a tight budget and others at a huge cost as with the world famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu which is the most likely reason you’re here in the first place.

Sapantiana Aqueduct
Sapantiana Aqueduct

Things to see and do for free

If you’re on a budget you can fill out your days with a bunch of free stuff in and around the city.  From visiting view points  overlooking the city to markets to stroll round taking in the sights and smells of the wonderful array of food stuffs and colourful clothing.  Check out our guide, Cusco | Eight amazing things to do for free in and around the city and you’ll be surprised how many interesting things there are to do for free. 

Churches and other religious buildings

Cusco has a huge selection of wonderful religious buildings to visit within the city, some of which are built on the foundations of the original Incan Citadel.  They contain a vast array of treasures relating to the the conversion of the empire to Christianity and the Catholic Church.  You can read more about these fascinating places here in our guide, Cusco Churches | Our guide to exploring the best

Cusco’s Archeological sites

On the outskirts of Cusco are four important archeological sites all of which are included on the Cusco Tourist ticket.  You can discover how to visit these four sites in our post, Sacsayhuaman & more | A guide to Cusco’s archeological circuit. These four sites are not to be missed as they give an amazing inside into the culture and building techniques of the Incan people. They can be visited in a morning by public transport or by a tour.


Dotted around the city are some wonderfully interesting museums and monuments.  Just the buildings they are housed in are worth the visit.  Some are included on the Cusco Tourist Ticket and some are charged separately. We found them all, in the main, well worth the cost.  Check out our post, Cusco’s Museums | A guide to the best in the city and you won’t go far wrong.

Machu Picchu and the classic Inca Trail

Like most people that visit Cusco we we’re here to do one of the classic multi day treks.  Our choice was the four day three nights classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and it turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip and the best trekking we had done to date. You can read all about our experiences on the trail here in our blog post, Hike the Inca Trail | The classic Machu Picchu trekking Experience. If it’s on your to do list you won’t want to miss this post.
Machu Picchu Inca site
Machu Picchu Inca site

Archeological Sites of the Southern Valley

Less famous than the Sacred valley, Cusco’s southern valley is much less visited.  The two most important archeological sites in the area are also included on the Cusco Tourist Ticket.  Tipon twenty five kilometres from cusco is an Incan site said to have been a royal garden. Pikillacta is a pre Incan site with a complex of adobe built buildings of the Wari culture. Discover more in our post, Tipon & Pikillaqta | A guide to Cusco’s southern valley.

The Sacred Valley of the Incas

The sacred valley is a flat plane of fertile farmland in the Andean Highlands close to Cusco. It’s well worth a little of your time to visit the area as it has some amazing places to see.  You can do it as a day tour from Cusco but we decided to do it independently and stay for a few days in two of the most beautiful villages, Ollantaytambo and Pisac. You can find out all about our experiences in our post, The scared Valley of the Incas | How to visit independently. We loved the time we spent here and it’s a great way to get out of the city for a few days.

Where to eat & drink in Cusco

We don’t often include recommendations for places to eat in our posts, Cusco though has a some really interesting restaurants and we visited quite a few of them during our stay some of them more than once.  From fine dining to market stalls we enjoyed them so much we really want to share or favourites. 

If Italian is your favourite then there are two Italian restaurants we would recommend.  Carpe Diem and Il Olivio, both are just off the Plaza de Armas.  For the best Pisco Sour in Cusco then you cant go wrong with The Republic of Pisco which has a vast Pisco menu and the drinks are the best in the city.  Oh and they also have a great menu too.  Try the mini Alpaca burgers, they’re wonderful.  There is a good Indian restaurant in the centre offering typical Indian fare called Taste of India and if its traditional Peruvian dining you fancy then Morena Peruvian Kitchen is the place to head for but this place is so popular you’ll most likely need to make a reservation for evening dining.  For more authentic local Peruvian food then head to the markets, either San Blas or San Pedro have local markets which offer good and cheap lunches.   £1.50 approx for soup, a main dish and a juice which is a bargain if you’re on a budget.  

Our View

We loved Cusco and the surrounding area, so much we stayed for nearly a month and could have easily stayed a lot longer.  In our opinion it’s the most beautiful and vibrant city in Peru and so far our favourite of our entire South American Journey.  This may change as we venture further into the continent but it will be very hard to find a better place to visit than this.

If you’re on a long term adventure including Peru like us, or if you’ve only got a few weeks in the country I would dedicate as much time here in Cusco as you can.  To do the city justice and take in all the fantastic things if has to offer you will need at the least two weeks and longer if you have the time.  Of course you can always come back and I’m pretty sure we will.

Booking resources for your stay in Cusco


You can compare cheap flights on the Expedia platform or here on the Aviasales website.  Both will give you a good idea of how much its going to cost you to get to your chosen destination.


We have always tended to use having said that if your on a tight budget another good site to try as a comparison is Hostelworld, If your looking to compare different sites you can do that on Hotellook, we tend to look on here first to make sure we are getting the best deal.

Tours & Tickets

You can book your visits as you go at the entrance to your chosen attraction or site.  Or you could use the following links to book in advance or just to find out what your choices are in the area. GetYourGuide and Tiqets are our go to choices you could try Viator to see how they compare.

For a full list check out our resources page. Don’t forget always shop around to find the best deal for you. What works for us should be good for you but it’s always reassuring to check.

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