City of Cusco in Peru, landmarks and attractions

Cusco - Best Tours & Trips 2019

Historic Cusco is a classic jumping off place for treks or train rides to Machu Picchu. Spending a few days here to help acclimatize to the altitude is essential and recommended by most tours. This also gives you the time to absorb the incredibly diverse history here and learn some contextual background before heading to famous Incan City of Machu Picchu.

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Top Cusco Experiences and Attractions


Top Cusco Experiences

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Cusco Trip Reviews


1,055
Cusco Tour Reviews - Summary
99% Recommend

4.8 out of 5
Excellent 843 Great 183 Average 22 Disappointing 6 Terrible 1
Value
4.8 Guide
4.8 Activities
4.8 Lodging
4.8 Transportation
4.8 Meals
4.8

WP

Recommends

What an AMAZING 6 week trip of 6 countries! January 2019

5.0

South America in Depth

  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 4.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 4.0
My first ever trip in smaller numbers - loved it, yes, loved it so much as we could do things that larger groups can not do. Ecuador, Peru including the Amazon region, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil were awash with fantastic experiences with the stunning and majestic sights, the people and their culture, the food, animal and bird life and of course, what I accomplished by surprising myself at the Incan ruins. Our guides, Alejandro in Ecuador, Sally in Peru and Sabina in Chile, Argentina and Brazil were just the best Ambassadors for Peregrine as they showed such passion for their country and genuine care for each of our small number to return home with amazing memories to abide in our hearts forever. Muchas Gracias to each of you as you have touched my life with a very special imprint. I highly recommend this full trip for the entire 6 weeks just in case you have not noticed. Read more

Operator Peregrine Adventures

J

Recommends

Caminos del inka hasta machupichu October 2018

5.0

Inca Trail To Machu Picchu

  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0
Realize el trekk de caminos del inka hasta machupichu de 4 dias y 3 noche con mi padre. La.agencia inka rainbow organizo todo. Gracias a su excelente organizacion todo salio como planeado. Recomiendo la agencia al 100%. Read more

Operator Inka Rainbow

BF

Recommends

Fabulous time with a wonderful guide, Jorge. October 2018

5.0

Peru Highlights

  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 4.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 4.0
This trip was fabulous and it was made even better with the knowledge and expertise of our Spanish-speaking guide, Jorge Riofru. Jorge smoothed over all our difficulties and showed us the real Peru that is his homeland. He was able to ensure that my coeliac diet was catered for even when we were trekking to Machu Picchu! this trip was enhanced by the deep knowledge and love that Jorge has for his country. this has been one of the best trips ever. Read more

Operator Peregrine Adventures

A

Recommends

Great trip October 2018

5.0

Inca Trail & the Amazon Rainforest

  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0
A really full on trip to Peru... jungles, Machu Pichu, Cusco and Lake
Titicaca...what more could you ask for! Thoroughly recommend.
Visiting the jungle.


Brilliant. Knowledgeable and easy to get on with.Thank you!


Thank you!


Read more

Operator Exodus Travels

A

Recommends

Well worth the long journey and as the guide says it won't feel like 10 hours. Guide was excellent and lunch stop was great. The Incan site in the afternoon was really stunning and a great way to end the adventure. October 2018

5.0

The Inca Trail in Comfort

  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0
Would really recommend this extra trip. Only negative was the hotel which was
not the one in the trip notes and was far from the standard of the other
hotels.
Seeing the views from the Incan burial site and the feeling of isolation and
how far removed from every day life this place was. A rainbow appeared which
made it super special.


Easy to understand and good knowledge of area.


It's a long way home , 3 flights so be prepared. Also make sure you allow for
all the tipping!! It's a big addition to the cost of the holiday.


Read more

Operator Exodus Travels

Cusco Tours and Travel Guide


Cusco Attractions & Landmarks Guide

Historic Cusco is a classic jumping off place for treks or train rides to Machu Picchu. Spending a few days here to help acclimatize to the altitude is essential and recommended by most tours. This also gives you the time to absorb the incredibly diverse history here and learn some contextual background before heading to the famous Lost City of the Incas.

The City of Cusco

High in the Andes, surrounded by green mountainous terrain, and consisting of countless windows to the distant past, is the city of Cusco. Somewhat heavily commercialized and touristy (it is after all the passage through which 99% of tours and travelers go to reach Machu Picchu), Cusco is a spectacularly vibrant and cultural city in its own right. Representing many stages of native Peruvian history, ancient Inca history, and Spanish colonial history side by side.

This is a classic case of modern local life imbued in every miniscule facet with ancient traditions and customs. As a small city that sees near constant tourist traffic, part of this phenomenon is purely economical, and could potentially  as the main and all about appeasing travelers. However there is a genuine sense throughout the city. Tourists are not sequestered among the classic sites and museums. The sites are a seamless part of the heartbeat of the city.

One of the positive outcomes to being so heavily trafficked by outside visitors, is that Cusco’s many old and fragile sites are well looked after and maintained. Additionally, there are several accommodation and food options available. You’re constantly surrounded by intricate details.

Some of the highlights you’ll experience in Cusco include:

Plaza de armas - The main square and heartbeat of the city. This large open space with a beautiful fountain at the center is a meeting place for locals and tourists alike. Surrounded by restaurants, shops, and beautiful architecture.

Inca Museum - This oddly modest museum, housed in a 17th century colonial house is a great way to introduce yourself to the story of the Inca’s. Explore their collections which include traditional Inca crafts called “Keros” (carved wooden ceremonial vessels), and textiles. The museum also includes mummies and Inca idols of gold and solid silver, and ancient Inca artifacts.

Cusco Cathedral - Incredible 16th century Spanish cathedral. See works of art from the Escuela Cuzquena, which was famous during the colonial era. Spanish colonists set up the school to teach the Inca - giving them examples of European art, scenes, and technique.

16th Century Jesuit Church - Beautiful and enormous, situated right on the Plaza de armas, this church was built in the late 1500s, on the site of an Inca palace.

The Sacred Valley - The Sacred Valley is an important part of Cusco, and was an important area to the Inca. A fertile valley, at lower elevation to Cusco, it was where crops were planted, and community was fostered. Stop to explore Ollantaytambo, Pisac, and of course Machu Picchu.

Cusco’s Ancient Ruins and Archaeological Wonders

As many tours to Peru will highlight, Cusco is an archaeological gold mine. This original capital of the Inca Empire contained much activity and its many ruins reveal much about how the Inca, Spanish, and other native groups lived during the region’s long history.

One of the most significant is the Saksaywaman ruins, high on a hill overlooking Cusco. Originally constructed by the ancient Killke people in the year 1100, it pre-dates Inca presence in the area by 100 years. It is most commonly referred to as a fortress, though the structures original intention is unknown.

Once Incan rulers settled in Cusco, they expanded upon the fortress - utilizing a great example of their famous rock wall technique. Each stone is placed so flush against the ones around it, that if you were to attempt to slide a piece of paper between them, it wouldn’t fit.  

Spanish conquest began in the 16th century, just 100 years after the construction of Machu Picchu. At this time the Inca Empire’s capital was still in Cusco, where it had been for 2 centuries.

Rather than plunder and burn, the Spanish simply built on top of adapted or expanded out the many existing structures for their use.

Another impressive ancient site you should see in Cusco is the ruins of Qorikancha. Qorikancha, meaning “Golden Courtyard” in the Quechua language was a central temple, with the walls completely covered floor to ceiling with gold sheets, and an example of the Inca’s obsession with gods and status.  

The ruins of Ollantaytambo, which was a city constructed by the Incas in the 1400s, is located in the Sacred Valley, and another key stop for travelers keen to explore ancient Inca history. This city was in fact never finished. The arrival of the Spanish halted their progress, and unfinished portions are clearly visible when you explore the ruins today.

Most tours of Cusco include deep dives into the many archaeological wonders of the Inca Empire and the details to be seen that highlight the subsequent conquest by Spanish colonists. These tours involve a lot of walking over uneven surfaces, and by nature of the impressive amount to be seen, will involve a lot of standing and listening to the stories of the Inca Empire, native tribes of Peru, and Spanish influence.

Cusco has a long rainy season, so the chances of you standing and walking in the rain are fairly high, as many of the sights you’ll see during your tour are outside and uncovered. Whenever you are visiting ruins, be very cognisant of where you walk and pay attention to signage. Many may have loose ground and unsafe areas that are not suitable for walking, or have areas that are currently under excavation.

If you’re less interested in ancient history, Peru’s major cities and sites may hold limited fascination for you. While most tours to Cusco and beyond will also highlight on local food and customs of Peru, the central focus will definitely be on the ruins.

Touring the Sacred Valley

The Sacred Valley is part of the wider Cusco region, and a historically significant area to the Inca Empire. This fertile valley encompasses multiple Inca ruins, including the Machu Picchu citadel, and was an extremely important stronghold to the Inca’s survival - helping them to thrive as long as they did.

The valley, surrounded by mountains, is several degrees warmer than the higher elevation Cusco and Machu Picchu. This allowed crops to be grown and provided a climate where settlement and growth made more sense. Unlike the grandeur of Machu Picchu, which most archaeologists believe was built as an estate for the Inca ruler Pachacuti, the Sacred Valley was the center of everyday life for Inca families.

Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley is a lovely small village, with ruins nearby which are a classic stop for most tours to Machu Picchu from Cusco. The train journey from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, at the base of Machu Picchu, is about 3 hours.

From Cusco to Machu Picchu: Prepare for the Journey

Cusco is a classic stop for travelers heading to Machu Picchu. In fact almost all tours stop here for a day or two before embarking on the Inca trail or taking the train to Aguas Calientes. This is useful for a couple reasons.

Cusco is at 11k feet above sea level, while Machu Picchu is at a mere 8K. A few days in Cusco is crucial for adjusting to the altitude. The last thing you want is to suffer from altitude sickness during your journey to Machu Picchu! Take it easy, drink lots of water, and let your body get used to the thin Andean air.

Staying in Cusco is also helpful for providing an initial context to your journey and the characters involved. It’s the perfect introduction to Peru, and the many forces that contributed to the culture and diversity here. Including in food, language, architecture, and art - Cusco is the gateway to another time. The present day locals live concurrent with their ancestors, in keeping their traditions and customs alive. Cusco is the gateway from which you prepare to enter a different world.

During your free time in Cusco, be sure to pick up any last minute essentials for your journey. Depending on the time of year, it could be quite chilly, and even more so once you reach the ruins. The sun is often shrouded in mist and fog before 10am at Machu Picchu, and though you’ll be scrambling up and down ancient stairways as you explore, it will still be damp. Luckily Cusco is full of shops where you can purchase the famous alpaca wool hats, gloves, or ponchos. (Though don’t go overboard! Last thing you want is more luggage to deal with on your hike, or to keep track of during your stay in Aguas Calientes).

There are many ways to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco. If you’re taking the train (of which there are three choices, of different budget levels) if leaves right from Poroy Station, about 20 minutes from downtown Cusco. This service is regular between May and December, but may be irregular during off season months when mudslides or heavy rain cause safety concerns.

If you are planning to reach Machu Picchu on one of the three main treks, you’ll take a bus or shuttle from Cusco to your starting point. On your way, you’ll pass through the Sacred Valley, location of Ollantaytambo, where you might stop for a night depending on your tour itinerary.

Weather in Cusco

The weather in Cusco is mild and temperate, with temperatures rarely dips below 30 degrees F, and rarely above 75 degrees F. The area does experience moderate to heavy rainfall through much of the year, between December and April. Heavy cloud cover can be expected in January, February, and March.

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