The city of Cusco, nestled high in the Peruvian Andes, was once the capital of the Inca Empire, and is known for its archaeological remains and Spanish colonial architecture. If you plan on visiting any sites in the area, like Machu Picchu, the Inca Trail or Rainbow Mountain, you will need to give yourself several days in Cusco to acclimate.
This gives you ample time to explore the beautiful historic district and its many attractions at a nice relaxed pace. Explore the area with enough time to prepare for your upcoming trekking options.
Walking map to Cusco
Top Attractions in Cusco
Plaza San Francisco
Plaza San Francisco is located a few blocks from the main city plaza. This smaller square is used by both locals and tourists. In this square there are several cheaper restaurants geared towards locals who work in the area.
Arco de Santa Clara
When walking to the next stop you must pass through the Arco de Santa Clara, which makes for a nice photo, if you are willing to wait for a break in the traffic.
Mercado San Pedro
The Mercado San Pedro is a local market where you can get some fresh fruit and vegetables, along with some of the best priced souvenirs. There is also a large meat section, which has quite a strong scent.
Walking west, the next stop is the Centro Artesanal, a more touristy version of the local market. This means the prices will be a little higher, but it is still cool and colorful to explore.
Parque Orellana Pumaqchupan
In front of the Centro Artesanal is the Parque Orellana Pumaqchupan, which has a large fountain in the center. The cool thing is you can walk into the fountain, behind the waterfall.
Walking up Avenida El Sol the next stop is Qorikancha or Temple of the Sun. The Spanish built Church of Santo Domingo on the foundation of the Inca temple. Today you can tour both the church and another underground archaeological site at its base.
La Merced Church
Iglesia De La Compañia De Jesus
Plaza De Armas
In front of the church is the main square of historic Cusco, Plaza De Armas. The stone square is surrounded with Spanish colonial buildings and long stone arches. The square is busy night and day with tourists and festivals. This is where you will find many of the tour operators and currency exchange spots.
The main building in the square is the Cusco Cathedral. Flanking the cathedral on either side are two smaller churches, The Sagrada Familia and Triunfo. The entrance cost is a little high at 25 soles, but has a beautifully decorated interior.
San Blas Church
Inside the San Blas Church is a large stage which is one of the most beautiful examples of of baroque-style wood carving of the colonial period in all of the Americas.
San Cristobal Church
Located on the edge of town, San Cristobal church has a great panoramic view of the city and the perfect shot of Plaza De Armas with a telephoto lens. From here you can either walk up the steep hill to Saksaywaman, or take a taxi to the other side of the park for just a few soles.
Just north of the city is the massive Inca citadel of Saqsaywaman. It is impressive to see the large stone construction, the largest stone is over 140 metric tons. The complex was used for both military defense and religious celebrations.
You have two options for tickets. The lower price ticket costs 70 Soles, includes entrance to Qenko, Pucapucara and Tambomachay and is valid for one day. If you want to visit all the sites in Cusco, for 130 Soles you can get a ticket to 16 sites in and around Cusco, valid for 10 days.
Statue of Christ
On the hill next to Saqsaywaman is a large white statue of Christ. If you are not interested in the religious aspect, it also has amazing panoramic views of the entire city of Cusco.
In preparation for several days of hiking or after a long hike it is important to stay in a more comfortable accommodation allowing your body to properly rest and recover. We chose to stay at El Balcón Hotel Cusco, a small oasis just a few blocks from the main square, Plaza de las Armas.
If you are looking for nice budget friendly place to sleep, Casa Real Hoteles has amazing accommodations with all the classic hotel features. It is a ten minute walk outside of the historic district, but is perfect if your flight arrives late at night or leaves early in the morning, as it is closer to the airport and includes a free transfer to or from the airport.