Type: Historical City
Best Date to Visit: May – Sep
Things to Do: Dine, Shop, Hike, Adrenaline Activity, Museums and more
Points of Interest: LA cathedral, Sacsayhuaman, Plaza de Armas, San Pedro Market, Moray, Salt Mines, Hamantay lake and more
The Good: Excellent architecture, culture and history
The Bad: High Altitude causes sickness try acclimatizing in lower neighbouring cities before Cusco, many uphill walking
Cusco was the third location into my Brazil/Peru circuit trip.
Cusco city is the capital of the Cusco region and province. With an average elevation of about 3,400m Cusco is the 8th highest city in the world. The city which is a UNESCO world heritage site used to be the historic capital of the Incan empire from the 13th to the 16th century when the Spanish conquest began. Today Cusco is one of the most popular tourist destination in Peru being the starting point of Machu Picchu and the Inca trail.
Cusco or Cuzco as its sometimes spelt has its goods and its bads, for me it was a good place to unwind but only for a maximum of 2 days. Firstly the city is very high at about 3,339m higher than all the surrounding villages, towns and points of interest including the famous Machu Pichu. Meaning air is much thinner and to acclimatize is much more difficult than if you were at Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes and others a like.
The city Cusco translated in Quenchua (Incan Language) means centre of the earth.
Cusco has many attractions for tourists, there are plenty of churches, museums, markets, cultural places and a handful of ancient historic ruins, most are within the city but some are just outside and needs transport arrangements. Firstly within the city there is ‘Sacsayhuaman’ which is a UNESCO world heritage site since 1983. These ruins is known to be the historic capital of the Incan empire and visiting this you will see the formation of rocks and walls from the ancient citadel. A good place to start off your Incan adventure in the city, be wary that this is one of the highest point in the already high city so it’ll be sensible to acclimatise first.
A Sight to See
‘Plaza de Armas’ is the main square of the city and around it are various restaurants, shops and 2 churches ‘Iglesia Compania de Jesus’ and ‘LA cathedral’. The plaza has a beautiful fountain in the middle with a statue of an Incan Ruler ‘Pachacuti’ above it and surrounding it a well groomed garden. Within the city there is plenty of churches some of which are open to visitors but many are strictly for worship. In general the city centre is fairly small but the altitude definitely affects your ability to walk the distances, you also have to consider the fact that much of the streets are uphill slopes.
Roam the Market
A short walk away from Plaza de Armas is ‘San Pedro Market’ which for me was one of the cleaner markets I’ve ever been to. The market was complete with fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, cheese, products and quiet strangely a line of fruit juice stalls. Although very clean I didn’t see anything different from other markets I have been to in other countries.
Day Excursions out of the city
A bit of an excursion outside the city you will find attractions such as ‘Moray’, ‘Salt Mines’, ‘Humantay lake’ and many more. We visited these as a part of an ATV tour, which was a pleasure to do passing the beautiful sceneries and friendly local farmers waving at us as we pass. The ‘salt mines’ was unbelievable and the story behind it was interesting, it was 10 soles to enter the attraction and there you can taste the salt water and see the enchanting panoramic views. Moray is another Inca ruin which still has its mysteries because of its circular structure. Lastly the Humantay lake which was a good spot to just chill unwind and again enjoy the scenery. The ATV tour was a good side to see the farmlands and their people there were many animals and friendly locals around to great us as we passed.
Other than these attractions the city itself is a pleasure to be in, the restaurants and cafes vary from traditional Peruvian and even western food. Food in the city though has its up and downs, fast food such as Mcdonald’s was the worst I have ever tasted around the world, in most other restaurants we went to the service was very slow. The buildings itself are of Spanish colonial style and there are no high rise buildings which is good so that you can see the surrounding mountains. However a lot of streets are uphill so for those who don’t walk well it would be sensible to stay nearer the square. The people of Cusco are also very friendly to tourists however you can find many persistent people offering tours. Overall Cusco is a great place to visit but the majority who stay here would excurse to Machu Picchu as the main part of their itinerary.