Cusco or Cuzco (both names are correct) is a city in southern Peru, located on the slope of the Andes. Before the Spanish colonization, it was the capital of the Inca Empire, the strongest pre-Columbian empire in South America, which covered the areas of today’s Peru, Ecuador, and parts of Colombia, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. At the time of the Incas, Cusco was the capital of the state. The name Cusco in kechua means the navel of the world. As the name suggests, Cusco was the centre of the world for the Incas. In the following centuries, it was also one of the most important centres of the Spanish colonial era. Besides, the city is an ideal starting point to visit the most famous attractions of Peru, such as Machu Picchu or Rainbow Mountain. That is why in Cusco it was very easy to feel that I want to stay here longer. You can go on trips outside the city or stay in the centre and always discover something new and uncommon.
Today, recognized as a World Heritage, still retains the remains of Inca temples and buildings interspersed with colonial architecture. This mix of cultures and history can be observed not only by walking on the cobbled streets of Cusco but also by trying Peruvian cuisine.
In this article I would like to share with you what I visited during my stay in Cusco and I hope to help you plan your visit to Peru.
I wrote about trips outside the city and places worth visiting around Cusco in this post. Well, let’s start our walk around Cusco:
PLAZA DE ARMAS
It is the heart of the historical center, the main square of the city and one of the most important places to visit in Cusco. This is where the Cathedral (Catedral de Cusco) and the Church (Templo de la Compania de Jesus) are located. Formerly this square was a marsh dried up by the Incas and became the center of administration for the entire Empire, but with the arrival of the Spaniards around the square, in the temples and palaces of the Incas, numerous buildings and churches were built.
Today the square is full of restaurants, tourist agencies and souvenir shops. Of course, it’s also worth just sitting on one of the benches and watching the everyday life of passers-by and tourists.
PIEDRA DE LOS 12 ANGULOS
Walking from Plaza de Armas to the right of the Cathedral towards the San Blas district, not far from Loretto street, after a few meters is Hatun Rumiyoc street. It is here that the contrast between Inca and colonial architecture is best seen. The Inca walls are located at the bottom of Spanish buildings and are a real work of art in which huge stone blocks fit together perfectly like in a puzzle. The most famous stone, which is not difficult to see because it is where all tourists stop. The stone of 12 angles fits perfectly into the rest.
PLAZA Y BARRIO DE SAN BLAS
Mirador de San Blas is a lookout point from which there is a view of the square and the church of the same name and the rest of the city. It was here that I met little Milagros from the photo below. Together with her mother, she was selling bracelets and other handicrafts.
Behind the square begins the San Blas district, also known as the craftsmen’s district. It is very artistic, full of small shops and galleries with art and handicrafts. San Blas, located in the historic center, is the most charming district in Cusco. It is worth walking through the narrow and steep cobbled streets, watching old colonial houses or looking for original souvenirs in one of the shops and craft workshops. It is also the favorite district of travelers who come to Cusco. In addition, there are also some of the coolest cafes and the most picturesque restaurants in the city. A good place to go for a drink here in the evening or for a long walk during the day.
San Blas is located in the higher parts of Cusco, so you can enjoy the picturesque panorama of the city. However, climbing uphill, we have a lot of stairs to overcome, so it’s also a good workout. I stayed in this district and climbing the hill every day, inadvertently secured very good preparation for the next days when I was going to Machu Picchu or the higher parts of the mountains. It is also here that the San Blas market is located, which I became a regular customer as this is a good place to find local products.
MIRADOR DE PLAZA SAN CRISTOBAL
Mirador de San Cristóbal is considered one of the best point in the city. There is the church of San Cristóbal and a beautiful square of the same name. Definitely a place worth visiting.
How to get there? It is easy to reach on foot from Plaza de Armas leading towards the Salesian school (Collegio Salesianos) and further along the road that leads to the ruins of Saqsayhuaman. It is quite a calm place with a very picturesque panorama of the whole city.
QORIKANCHA AND THE CHURCH OF SAINT DOMINIC
Another place to visit and learn about the history of Cusco and thus once again a place confirming the collision of two civilizations in this place is Coricancha and the church of Santo Domingo. Coricancha was one of the most important temples in the Inca Empire and was dedicated to Inti, the god of the sun Coricancha developed and embellished over time, until it became the most important place of worship in the Inca Empire. One of the most outstanding elements preserved from the temple are large blocks of solid rock that have been joined without mortar to form large walls. Walls covered with gold foil marked several temples in Coricancha , such as the Sun, Moon and Stars. With the arrival of the Spaniards, the monastery of Santo Domingo was built on the top of Coricancha , destroying the upper part of the Inca temple.
MERCADO DE SAN PEDRO
The next point to visit in Cuzco is Mercado de San Pedro, the oldest and most famous market in the city. Also called the central market, it was built by the famous Gustaf Eiffel, the architect of the Eiffel Tower. Inside you will see stalls with typical Peruvian products. It is also a good place to buy handicrafts and try typical local dishes on one of the stalls. It’s also cheaper to buy souvenirs here than in the stores at Plaza de Armas.
It is a very vibrant and busy place, both inside and outside. In the narrow streets, you will find everything your heart desires. In addition, numerous stalls and simple food and snacks sold on the streets. We can find there fresh and fragrant fruit and vegetables. It was there that one time I met a small alpaca Panchita and its nice owner. At the San Pedro market, it is also worth stopping at stalls with natural products such as Peruvian maca or quinoa, known in Peru as the gold of the Incas.
About 40 minutes walk north of the historic city center are the ruins of the fortress of Sacsayhuamán, another of the most important places to visit in Cusco. This complex began to be built in the 15th century on the order of Pachacutca, one of the most important Incas that the Empire had. And although only part of the old Sacsayhuamán has survived, still amazing walls of large stone blocks forming 3 overlapping platforms can be seen.
If you have time, it is worth choosing the route the same day, which starts with visiting the Inca ruins in Tambomachay (temple of water worship), Puca pucara (fortress), Qenqo (sanctuary) and ending with Sacsayhuamán. Tambomachay and Puca Pacara are further away, just over an hour walk from the center. Admission to most of them is paid, so immediately after arriving in Cusco it is worth buying a collective ticket that gives you the opportunity to enter most of the monuments and tourist attractions in Cusco. Purchase of tickets one by one is more expensive. I wrote about it in this post.
Right next to the Quenqo fortress there is an 8-meter statue of Christ and a viewpoint with another beautiful view of the city.
If you want to know the history of places you visit, it’s a good idea to go to museums. Some of the most interesting museums to visit in Cusco include the Inca Museum, Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, Museum of Natural History, Coca Museum, Machu Picchu Museum, Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art and the Chocolate Museum. Due to the fact that I like learning about new natural products, I particularly liked the Museum of Natural Medicine. If we have a tourist collective pass purchased, museum entries are also included in this pass.
It is hard to describe Cusco in one word or even a sentence – mysterious, mystical, unique … But if I were to explain briefly what Cusco is like, I would say that it is a city in which the most visible past precolonial past connects and coexists with the present not only in architecture or monuments but is strongly rooted in the everyday life of the inhabitants.
Have you already visited Cusco? or is it on your travel list?