Situated in the Peruvian Andes, Cusco is a stunning city that travellers should visit at least once in their lifetime. A historic city surrounded by rugged mountains, and the former home of the Inca Empire, Cusco offers a wide range of things to see, do, and experience should you find yourself in the area.
Fortunately, we have created this very guide to help you navigate the city if you do end up travelling here. So, without further ado, here is the ultimate travel guide to Cusco, Peru.
Plaza de Armas
Once you’re in the heart of Cusco, you simply cannot ignore the Plaza de Armas. This large plaza was built on the ruins of one of the Inca’s gathering spots, and you can expect a vibrant and bustling atmosphere still surrounding the plaza to this day. While the Inca Empire might have fallen, its spirit remains very much alive in the Plaza de Armas.
A wide variety of restaurants and shops line the area, so you’ll be able to find something to see or do on every corner. Plus, the plaza is an excellent starting point for travelling to other popular tourist attractions within and outside of the city.
San Pedro Market
Shop like a local at San Pedro Market where an abundance of small businesses selling fruits, vegetables, souvenirs, and more, await your custom! A short walking distance from the Plaza de Armas, San Pedro Market is a place that you don’t want to miss when you’re in the city. You can easily spend an entire morning or afternoon perusing the array of stalls in the market, and we definitely recommend eating lunch or dinner here.
After all, there are many food choices available – from traditional Peruvian cuisine to local delicacies, don’t be afraid to try as many foods as you want (that you can handle!). With friendly locals and a lively atmosphere, you’ll surely be smiling from ear to ear as you find something new to (potentially) buy at San Pedro Market.
Of course, you can’t forget about the Sacred Valley if you’re in Peru. It’s recommended that you plan a whole day (or more) here since there’s so much to see and explore in this fabled valley. You might even want to consider buying the Boleto Turistico, a ticket that grants you access to multiple sites around Cusco and the Sacred Valley – this ticket is best for those who plan on visiting a number of different tourist attractions.
Nonetheless, the Sacred Valley offers many ancient ruins and archaeological sites for all sorts of travellers to explore. The small town of Pisac in the Sacred Valley is a great place to browse for traditional produce and souvenirs, while the Maras Salt Mines offer an interesting look into how Inca civilisation harvested salt.
If you’re a history lover, you’ll definitely want to visit Sacsayhuaman – an archaeological site of an ancient Inca fortress. Located on the outskirts of Cusco, Sacsayhuaman was the capital of the Inca Empire and is now a popular tourist attraction and space for festivals like Inti Raymi (winter solstice) and Warachikuy (coming-of-age for boys). Along with the city of Cusco itself, Sacsayhuaman was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
Only a 45-minute walk from Cusco, or a trip on public transport, you can easily view this ancient site and marvel at the big stone structures that still stand there to this day – marvellous examples of Incan building skills.
A day trip to one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu, is possible from Cusco – for an extra touch of luxury and comfort, you might also want to consider simply booking a rail voyage on Belmond that can take you to a number of different areas around Peru, including Machu Picchu. Alternatively, you can hike directly to Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail or the Salkantay Trek if you’re up for the challenge.
Nonetheless, Machu Picchu is certainly one of the most popular tourist attractions of the Peruvian Andes, a beautiful collection of Incan architecture that is incredibly well-preserved. You will truly grow to appreciate how the Inca Empire built terraces and structures on mountainous terrain.
Keep in mind that the above list isn’t exhaustive of all the things that you can do and see in Cusco, but should provide a general idea of some of the renowned attractions. Nevertheless, there are still some travel considerations to take into account:
- Get a SIM card
- Learn basic Spanish
- Book tickets in advance or purchase the Boleto Turistico
- Plan your itinerary beforehand
- Research the public transport