Cusco was the imperial city of the Inca empire and the center of all trade. Today it’s a Unesco world heritage site and a jumping off point for tourists visiting Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. Exploring this historic city makes you want to go back in time to the glory days of the Incas. All the magnificent Inca temples now stand as ruins, many torn down and converted into churches by the Spanish who invaded the city in 1536. The Spanish architecture against the Inca ruins provide a striking contrast to the picture perfect backdrop of the Andes. We recommend spending a minimum of 2 days in this charming city.
FUN FACT: Cusco was built in shape of a Puma, an animal considered sacred by the Incas. All important government buildings and temples lie within the body of the Puma and fortress of Sacsayhauman (which we all called sexy-human of course) defined its head. The Incas were sheer genius and it’s thrilling discovering all their secrets. It feels like being in an Indiana Jones movie!
Here’s our TOP 5 things to do in Cusco.
1. Explore Plaza de Armas
Plaza the Armas is the heartbeat of Cusco. It’s the hustling and bustling tourist center with local shops, restaurants, hotels and street vendors. The Cathedral is the biggest attraction and stands in the midst of all the chaos as a colonial monument of the Spanish victory. The Spanish built this grand cathedral to lure in the indigenous population and convert their faith to Christianity. This is an unusual and unique church with an eclectic mix of baroque, rococo and Inca influences. Gold, intricate wood carvings and mirrors adorn the alters and walls to match the exuberance of the Inca temples. TIP: Stay away from people offering tours outside the cathedral, an audio guide is included in the price of the entry ticket and is available as soon as you enter the church.
2. Shop at the local markets
Local markets are a great way to explore the culture, indulge in local food and souvenir shopping. There is a huge market called Mercado Central de San Pedro not too far from the plaza. The best way to get there is by foot so you can explore the streets on the way to the market. You will find food stalls, spices, vegetables, fruits, pottery, woolen knits, handbags, art and all sorts of fun stuff under one roof. This is a shoppers paradise! Peru is famous for colorful textiles, traditional crafts and clothing made from alpaca wool and best part is – it’s all very reasonable, except the 100% alpaca wool stuff, that’s pricey.
TIP: Bargain bargain bargain!!
3. Go back in time at the Heritage sites
Qorikancha or the “Temple of the Sun” is a popular site to visit. Walls of this temple were once coated in gold, all that stands today are bare stone walls. Use your imagination to picture the grandeur of this temple and what it must have been like when the Incas were around. If you have more time consider visiting the fortress of Sacsayhauman.
4. Walk to San Blas – The artist’s quarter
Cobbled stone streets, white washed buildings with pops of blue windows transport you to the white villages of Spain or Greece. Walk up the hill to the neighborhood of San Blas and explore local art and craft markets along the way. A great way to spend the afternoon.
5. Indulge in local cuisine – Cuy aka guinea pig
Cuy or guinea pig is a delicacy in Cusco, locals prepare this dish for special occasions and celebrations. A whole guinea pig is traditionally served roasted or fried. It definitely looks weird on the plate and tastes a lot like fried chicken, but it’s one of those experiences you can check off your list. I totally understand if guinea pig is not your thing, there are plenty of delicious Peruvian dishes to try. Many restaurants around the plaza offer three course Peruvian dinners on their menus. The restaurants at the plaza can be a little pricey. Our favorite meals were on the streets away from the plaza at local restaurants and small bakeries.
That’s it for now folks, hope you enjoyed reading our top 5 things to do in Cusco. Happy travels!
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