With dazzling temples, ancient cities and access to famed Inca ruins, Cusco’s imperial city enchants its visitors. Located in the south-east of Peru at 3,400m above sea level, Cusco is previously the capital of the Inca Empire. It is famously known as the gateway to Machu Picchu, one of the most impressive architectural feats of the ancient world. Discovered by American explorer Hiram Bingham in the early 20th century, the fabled ruins are believed to have been a royal estate or sacred religious site for Inca leaders, whose civilization was virtually wiped out by Spanish invaders in the 16th century.
While Machu Picchu is the main attraction in Cusco, the city is filled with rich history and enchanting wonders. Stunning destinations and examples of fine engineering by Inca stonemasons can be seen in other sites such as Tambomachay, consisting of a series of aqueducts, canals and waterfalls, or Qorikancha, the Temple of the Sun. It only takes a day to be charmed by this significant Peruvian city and all of its wonders.
Where To Eat
Evident in its name, Organika serves its customers only the best fresh organic ingredients every day. Come here for you Peruvian fix and try from the ceviche to the grilled alpaca. Now that’s not something you eat every day! For those not looking to adventure out as much, there are plenty of options for you as well, including delicious fettuccine and sweet potato ravioli.
Native Burgers Chakruna
Made with locally sourced ingredients, this small burger place has all kind of burgers to fit your needs, whether it be a classic beef, quinoa, chickpea, or lentil burger. Pair it with some crispy fries and down it all with a nice cold beer. As a perfect cheap eats place, you will not be disappointed with the quality and care of the food and service here.
Morena Peruvian Kitchen
With a hip and modern feel, Morena Peruvian kitchen is welcoming to all as it’s decorated beautifully with bright, Peruvian colors. As an affordable place with a whole variety of foods, you’ll be dying to go back again. Try the lomo saltado, a stir-fry typically full of sirloin, onions, tomatoes, and french fries – you won’t be disappointed.
Gustitos de Loli
Although a bit off the beaten path, the efficient service and excellent meal by an award-winning Peruvian chef make the walk through the narrow streets worth it. The staff happily accommodate you with local, fresh foods, served in a timely manner.
Limbus Resto Bar
Located in a nicer neighborhood of Cusco, Limbus Resto Bar is a lovely place, especially in the evenings, as it has an amazing view over the city. Usually, at the end of walking tours, Limbus is a perfect restaurant to end your night at, especially with a pisco sour cocktail in hand!
Plaza de Armas
The Plaza de Armas is a massive square that was built in the days of the Inca Empire as a venue for festivals and ceremonies in ancient times. According to legend, this plaza once marked the exact center of the Inca Empire, earning Cusco the nickname “the navel of the world.” Today, the square still functions as the historic heart of the city, full of Peruvian dancing, music and plenty of people watching.
There are two ways to reach the great lost city: either by hiking the Inca Trail or snagging a seat on one of the tourist trains. You’ll need to buy your ticket in advance, many recommend doing so months ahead of time, as there is a limit of 2,500 people per day allowed at the site. Although it’s certainly quite a hike, the laborious trek of the Inca Trail pays off with gorgeous scenery, interesting wildlife and for many, a life-changing experience.
Amid the many splendors found in the Plaza de Armas, the sky-high La Catedral is one of Cusco’s finest architectural displays. Constructed in the 1550s with stones stolen from Sacsayhuamán, the baroque cathedral features opulent ceilings and gold and silver altars. It is also home to an impressive collection of colonial art that mixes Catholic traditions with indigenous legends.
Where To Stay
Belmond Hotel Monasterio
This 16th-century former Jesuit seminary – a relic of Spanish colonial architecture with two landscaped courtyards and covered arcades – has been completely transformed. The 126 guest rooms are individually furnished with antique-style furniture and modern technology, many warding off altitude sickness with pumped-in oxygen-enriched air.
Andean Wings Boutique Hotel
Here the romantic Andean Wings Boutique Hotel offers tour/ticket assistance, multilingual staff, and concierge services to accommodate for all visitors. Unwind with a drink at the hotel bar with friends or at their restaurant with family. You don’t have to worry about waking up early to find a breakfast place as complimentary breakfast is offered. Located only a quarter mile from Museo Inka.
The Hotel Arqueólogo is situated just a five-minute walk from the Main Square “Plaza de Armas”, in the traditional San Cristobal neighborhood. It is housed in a colonial-era mansion that was built over Inca terraces. The original Inca walls combine with Spanish-style stone arches and columns, wooden doors, beams and tiled roofs, creating an ambience imbued with the charm of bygone eras.
- If you’re trekking to Machu Picchu, don’t fly in the day before you leave. You need time to acclimatise so spend 2-3 days in town first.
- Make sure to people watch on Plaza de Armas. There’s something deeply relaxing about sitting in the afternoon sun, lazily watching tourists and Peruvians bustling by Catedral del Cuzco.
- If you take a photo of someone in native/indigenous attire, be prepared to pay. If you take a picture and do not pay them, they will often approach you demanding payment for the experience of photographing them or posing with you in a pic.
- If you experience altitude sickness, chew on coca leaves or buy them in tea form. They are very cheap and you can find them anywhere. It will calm your stomach and ease your dizziness.
- Don’t be afraid to haggle. Like in many other tourist towns, prices are hiked up so don’t be scared to ask for a discount.
- Machu Picchu is incredibly overpriced. Try and buy all of your Machu Picchu needs in the inner city of Cusco, which is about 1.5-2 hours away. Once you arrive at the actual attraction, everything will be super inflated.