Cuzco, the Imperial City
Declared Archaeological Capital of America by the Congress of the Americas in 1933, a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1983, registered in 1993 in the Peruvian constitution as the Historical Capital of Peru, elected the Historical Capital of Latin America in 2001 by the Latin American Congress of Aldermen and Councillors and Capital of American Culture in 2007 by the Organization of American Culture, the Capital of the Inca Empire certainly deserves all these recognitions.
Although remains there of few inca constructions, Cuzco is today an amazing amalgam of the Inca capital and the colonial city and the combination of the two styles gives it a unique character to the historic center. So logically Cusco is considered as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is located at 3,400 (11,150 ft) a.s.l.
On November 15, 1533, after have deftly captured and executed the Inca Atahualpa in Cajamarca, Francisco Pizarro enters Cusco without opposition with the help of Manco Inca Yupanqui. On March 23, 1534, Pizarro officially declares the Spanish founding of the city renaming it the "Very Noble and great city of Cusco". He starts to divide the lands, buildings and even the native American as slaves to the Spaniards, favoring his own friends, causing discord, envy and resentment, leading to his assassination some years later.
In 1543, the Spaniards registered about 300,000 inhabitants in Cusco, at this time the population of Paris was 225,000 and Madrid less than 100,000. Currently, Cusco has a over 400,000, the eighth city in Peru.
To visit the main archaeological sites of the Cusco region and the Sacred Valley:
Boleto Turistico Integral or Boleto Turistico Parcial
Buy directly from the official COSITUC website.
Plaza de Armas
In Inca times, the main square was twice its present size, divided in two parts separated by the Saphy river now underground:
Huacaypata, the "place of tears", it is the current square.
Cusipata, the "place of rejoicing", is the square where is now located the municipality (Plaza regocijo).
Admission: S/. 25 - US$6 - 5,50€.
The building has three constructions: the church El Triunfo built in 1560 on the left side in place of the Sunturwasi (House of God), the cathedral which corresponds to the main building built in place of the Inca Palace of Viracocha and the church of Jesus on the right side. The facade is in Renaissance style with Baroque influence. Inside you can see one of the most outstanding examples of colonial goldsmith, over 300 paintings from the famous Cusco School, 11 lateral chapels, each with its own silver-covered altar.
Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús
Admission: S/. 10 - US$2.50 - 2.20€.
The church of the Society of Jesus is the other religious building in the main square. Its Baroque façade is one of the most beautiful of the city. Initiated in 1571, destroyed in 1650 by an earthquake, the current church was built in 1668.
Hatun Rumiyoc street
Pedestrian street behind the cathedral up the Triunfo street, it is probably the most beautiful street of Cusco. The stunning wall made of large stone blocks of irregular shapes that fit perfectly with each other looking like a puzzle, typical of the Inca masonry, was part of the Palace of Inca Roca. All tourists stop to take pictures of the famous stone of twelve angles, the most representative figure of perfection achieved in Inca architecture. The Spaniards built up a colonial building wich is now the Museum of Religious Art.
Barrio de San Blas
Following Hatun Rumiyoc street, the cuesta San Blas is a steep and narrow street. As in previous streets, here are numerous shops and reach to an attractive square and the oldest parish church in the city built in 1544, whitch has a magnificent carved wooden pulpit.
Admission: S/. 15 - US$3.75 - 3.25€.
This neighborhood housing artisans is very quiet and pleasant for walking, one of the most picturesque sites in the city.
Qoricancha - The Temple of the Sun
Admission: S/. 10 - US$2.50 - 2.20€.
Qoricancha means "Golden Courtyard" in quechua, but it was originally called Inticancha (inti=sun), the Temple of the Sun.
The Spaniards built here the convent of Santo Domingo, but hopefully have preserved large part of the Inca temple, because the buildings achieved perfection here. However, nameless pieces of gold that covered the walls and symbolizing the sun disappeared completely.
The large handicarft market is located at the lower part of Avenida El Sol, 20 mn walk from the main square. In addition, many shops are installed throughout downtown.
The central market San Pedro is located on the side of the railway station of the same name. From Avenida El Sol, up the Mantas street. It is not a dangerous place, but be careful with pickpockets.
Open 7 days from 6:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
The 4 ruins near Cuzco
Admission with "Boleto Turístico" - (can be purchased at entrance to ruins).
Located on a step hill that overlooks the city at an altitude of 3,580 m (11,742 ft) and only 3 km (2 mi) from the main square, Saqsayhuamán (Satisfied Falcon in Quechua), is a fortress and a ceremonial center, is also the most impressive building of the Inca Empire. It was built in Inca Pachacutec's time during the heyday of the empire and its construction is definitely inexplicable. Some of the stones are huge, up to 6 m (20 ft) tall weighing over 100 tons and make you wonder how they were dragged to the site. Besides the stones were fitted with an unimaginable precision, with such skill that a piece of paper will not fit between of the stones.
Despite the dismantling of much of the site by the Spaniards, but also by the Cuzco's inhabitants themselves to build their houses, now are only 30% of the original construction, the remains are still very impressive and we can try to imagine Saqsayhuamán on arrival of the Spaniards.
4 km (2.5 mi) from Cusco at 3,604 m (11,821 ft) a.s.l., Qenqo was a place of Inca ritual formed of a huge rock and a ceremonial amphitheater. Its name, labyrinth in Quechua, comes from a zigzag shaped channel engraved directly on top of the rock and a natural passage worked by the Incas through the rock and where we can see a sacrificial altar.
8 km (5 mi) from Cusco at 3,770 m (12,366 ft) a.s.l., the Red Fortress was a military base that controlled the route to the sacred valley and protected the neighboring site of Tambo Machay.
500 m (0.3 mi) of Puka Pukara and at 3,815 meters (12,513 ft) a.s.l., the Inca Baths was dedicated to the worship of water.
Tambo Machay has beautiful waterfalls, canals and aqueducts and was also the the spa resort for the Inca.
South of Cuzco
Admission with "Boleto Turístico"
25 km (16 mi) from Cusco (30 mn), this impressive complex of terraces has probably been used as a laboratory for the development of agricultural products by the Incas.
Its ingenious system of irrigation and hydraulic technology with canals sometimes underground earned him the title of Civil Engineering Marvel by the American Society of Civil Engineers of the United States.
Admission with "Boleto Turístico Integral"
30 km / 17 mi from Cusco (45 mn), this complex was a pre Inca construction in the Wari period (1000 AD). It was an urban and ceremonial center and its name means "town of fleas" or "small town" for its small buildings, not exceeding 4 m2 (43 sq ft) and appeared to be part of a military post.
The 7 color Mountain
This impressive attraction, also known as Vinicunca or Rainbow Mountain, was known only to hikers who were hiking towards the Ausagante mountain.
Thanks to social networks, he recently became famous and has been visited since 2016.
The colors of this mountain are due to the layers formed by a mixture of clay, stones and different minerals.
It is visited in 1 day from Cusco.
How to get there: from the bus station, take a bus towards Sicuani and stop in Checacupe (2 hours). From there, take another transport (bus or taxi) to Pitumarca (15 minutes) and then another transport to Pampachiri where the walk begins (3/4 hours round trip).
Admission: S / .25 - US $ 6.50 - 5.50 €
Note: going on your own can be a bit tedious to find / wait for the different transports and it is not necessarily cheaper than hiring an agency.
Altitude: 5,040 m / 16.535 ft - take precautions against cold and altitude sickness, see the recommendations on this website.
Possibility of renting a horse (between S / .60 and S /. 100 - US $ 15 and US $ 25 - € 13 and € 22).
The best time to visit is the dry season (April to November), at other times there are risks of rain and snow.
Admission to the historic village with "Boleto Turístico Integral"
27 km (17 mi) from Cusco (45 minutes) and 30 km (19 mi) from Urubamba (40 mn), this village at 3,760 m (12.333 ft) a.s.l. mantains its Inca's urban composition, Spaniards only limited to adapt their buildings. The site is divided in two parts: near the road is the "modern" town with its sunday market where farmers still practice barter, completed now with a handicraft part. At the top is the historic town where Inca walls are mixed with colonial buildings. The beautiful church was built in place of the palace of Inca Tupac Yupanqui (son of Pachacutec).