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.
How to get to Cusco?
Where to stay in Cusco?
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.
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.
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’s Archeological sites
Machu Picchu and the classic Inca Trail
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
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.
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
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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Machu Picchu must be on everyone’s to do list, the Inca Trail is the most exhilarating way to get there.
Tipon & Pikillaqta are two archeological sites that are located in Cusco’s less visited southern valley. Tipon is a large Incan site believed to be from the early fifteenth century, while Pikillaqta was built by the Wari culture that predates the Incans.