Cusco

The capital of the mighty Inca empire and stronghold of the Spanish conquerors, Cusco is full of history and sights and is the gateway to the Sacred Valley.

We loved Cusco. It's a great place to explore and we found excellent restaurants recommended by the guide.

  • Looking down on Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru © Serjio.Shutterstock

    Looking down on Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru

  • Plaza de Armas with church and cathedral, Cusco, Peru © DGrandi,Shutterstock

    Plaza de Armas with church and cathedral, Cusco, Peru

  • Inca walls in Cusco, Peru © Oomka,Shutterstock

    Inca walls in Cusco, Peru

  • Streets of San Blas, Cusco, Peru © CVinces,Shutterstock

    Streets of San Blas, Cusco, Peru

  • Girl with llama in Cusco, Peru © Berzina,Shutterstock

    Girl with llama in Cusco, Peru

  • Drinking coca tea in Cusco, Peru © FLamanna,Shutterstock

    Drinking coca tea in Cusco, Peru

  • Inca temple of Korikancha during Intii Raymi, Cusco, Peru © SLPhotography,Shutterstock

    Inca temple of Korikancha during Intii Raymi, Cusco, Peru

  • Santo Domingo convent in Korikancha, Cusco, Peru © Wollertz,Shutterstock

    Santo Domingo convent in Korikancha, Cusco, Peru

  • Street arches in Cusco, Peru © GQMarks

    Street arches in Cusco, Peru

  • At Cusco market, Peru © JS

    At Cusco market, Peru

  • Sacsayhuaman, Cusco, Peru © GQMarks

    Sacsayhuaman, Cusco, Peru

  • Sacsayhuaman, Cusco, Peru © PCook

    Sacsayhuaman, Cusco, Peru

  • The Inca water temple of Tambomachay near Cusco, Peru © HCosmicos,Shutterstock

    The Inca water temple of Tambomachay near Cusco, Peru

  • The strange Inca site of Qenko near Cusco, Peru © Obscur,Shutterstock

    The strange Inca site of Qenko near Cusco, Peru

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Cusco is a great deal more than a jumping-off point for the Sacred Valley. Its strategic importance was recognised by the Incas who developed the city into their capital and endowed it with masterpieces of architecture, as did the Spanish in their turn. It’s a modern city with plenty of interesting shops, restaurants, bars and places to stay. Several Inca sites are within easy reach and museums offer insights into the city’s and region’s rich past.

  • Cusco’s Inca heritage:  Cusco has been inhabited for 3,000 years and was the Inca capital between the 13th and 16th centuries. The present city owes its layout to King Pachacuti who redesigned it in the shape of a puma, sacred in Inca culture. The hillside fortress ruins of Sacsayhuaman mark the head, Koricancha, the temple of the sun, is at its centre and the convergence of the Huatanay and Tullumayo rivers is the tail. You can use this guide to navigate Cusco’s main Inca sites. Several museums including that at Koricancha provide insights into pre-colonial Cusco.
  • Colonial city of Cusco:  The Spanish arrived in 1533. They destroyed many of the buildings and built churches and grand mansions on their ruins but left the layout largely intact. Plaza de Armas, the heart of the puma, became the main square with elegant arcades, the imposing cathedral and several churches including La Compania withs its oversize gold-leaf altar. Some of the many colonial townhouses are now hotels and others house museums.
  • Recreation & retail:  When not sightseeing you can enjoy time out as you linger over a coffee or snack watching the comings and goings and soaking up the atmosphere of the city. Bohemian San Blas has many galleries and shops where you can browse for gifts, while San Pedro food market near the train station is a much livelier affair, a good place to mingle with locals and view the huge selection of produce on display.
Cusco map pin

Cusco

Streets of San Blas, Cusco, Peru

The capital of the mighty Inca empire and stronghold of the Spanish conquerors, Cusco is full of history and sights and is the gateway to the Sacred Valley.

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