Authentic and Inusual
Considering its status as one of the most captivating cities in South America, Cusco warrants a minimum of two days of exploration on your Peru itinerary. By exploring the top Cusco activities, one can gain a comprehensive understanding of this vibrant Andean city, encompassing its historical significance as well as its current fascination. Whether your sojourn in Cusco, Peru precedes or follows your expedition to Machu Picchu, it is advisable to explore significant landmarks including the Temple of Qorikancha and the Cathedral, in addition to the lesser-known attractions detailed in this Cusco guide.
Upon visiting Peru, one will quickly discern that each major city and small town has its own primary square. Prior to the advent of the Spaniards in Cusco in 1534 (and the subsequent redesign of the main square), indigenous cultures engaged in cultural, political, and economic exchanges at the Plaza de Armas. Presently, the principal plaza of Cusco remains a hub of activity, particularly on holidays and during regional celebrations; it is an excellent spot to pause for an hour or two and observe daily life. The Plaza de Armas is encircled by eateries, boutiques, and cafes; at its center stands a splendid water fountain adorned with a statue of Manco Capac, the preeminent Inca monarch. Exploring the Cusco Cathedral on the eastern side of the square and the ornate Church of the Jesuit to the south will grant visitors a glimpse into the era of the Spanish colonial era.
A short distance from the Plaza de Armas is the Museo Inka, an institution devoted to the cultural and historical aspects of the Inca civilization. Place yourself aside from historic attractions for a while at the Choco Museum, located one block from the Plaza de Armas on the Plaza Regocijo. Through interactive seminars and demonstrations, the museum explores the history of cacao.
San Pedro Market is situated in close proximity to the Plaza de Arma, an elementary school in the city. Having been constructed in 1925, this retail center provides an unparalleled and all-encompassing experience in Cusco. Despite the market's growing popularity as a tourist destination, it has successfully preserved its genuine atmosphere. A considerable number of residents can be observed procuring supplies and dining at food stands on an ordinary morning. San Pedro Market is organized into five primary sections: snack stalls; handicrafts; fresh produce; meat and poultry; and juice bars. There are vendors' stands specializing in products for ceremonies and healers interspersed throughout. Barter with the vendors and put your Spanish skills to the test. A few extra soles may not seem like much to you, but they can amount to a significant amount for local residents and their families when negotiating.
Although San Blas has emerged as the most fashionable district in Cusco (more on that in the following section), there exists a relic in its immediate vicinity that eludes the majority of tourists. It is postulated that the Sapantiana aqueduct was constructed in the sixteenth or seventeenth century. Water continued to flow through the multi-level stone arch prior to 1950; however, the Pújru stream now provides only a minimal discharge of water to traverse this colonial aqueduct. A few blocks separate the Sapantiana Aqueduct and the principal square, which is located at the terminus of Choquechaca street.
San Blas, situated on a hillside adjacent to the Cusco Cathedral, is among the most frequented districts in the Inca capital. In the absence of quick food establishments that can be found in the vicinity of Plaza de Armas, San Blas has simultaneously maintained the allure of traditional Cusco while exuding a bohemian and modern ambiance. Indeed, San Blas is referred to as the "barrio of the artists."
While numerous adobe structures are painted in brilliant white, all storefront entrances are painted in the same shade of bright blue. Furthermore, similar to the majority of Cusco, the streets can become exceedingly narrow; this may not come as a surprise given that this is the oldest community in Cusco. Visit the Church of San Blas once you've finished strolling through the abundance of concept stores and eating at a charming vegetarian restaurant.
Visit the planetarium at night for the most breathtaking vistas of the night sky. Being elevated in the highlands enhances the memorability of the experience. Additionally, what makes a planetarium in Cusco an especially noteworthy attraction? It is said that the layout of the Inca capital was determined by the constellations, given the Incas' great devotion to stargazing. Furthermore, who wouldn't be, given that Cusco is enveloped in breathtakingly pure skies? During your visit to Cusco's planetarium, take the time to appreciate the natural world that envelops you and attempt to connect with the Inca belief that everything is interconnected.
One of the foremost attractions in Cusco is a visit to Sacsayhuaman, which is located just over a mile from the central plaza. The function of this Inca site, which spans more than 3,000 hectares, is unknown; however, scholars speculate that it might have been utilized for military or ceremonial endeavors. Protegid by a zigzag pattern of rock walls, Sacsayhuaman was constructed in the intricate and traditional Inca fashion. Because the Spaniards used stones from nearby sites to construct their churches in the various Cusco plazas, a significant portion of the ruins have been fortified. Today, less than fifty percent of the original fortress is thought to be standing. However, the enduring stone structures and breathtaking views of Cusco's apus (sacred mountains) continue to astonish visitors to this remarkable archaeological site. The labyrinth of tunnels and ceremonial site known as Qenqo is situated in close proximity to Sacsayhuaman.
Although the orthography of Qorikancha varies considerably, its significance to the Incas is generally accepted. Additionally known as the Temple of the Sun, the indigenous Quechua term Qorikancha translates to "Golden Courtyard." Constructed during the mid-15th century, the Qorikancha was an opulent edifice that embodied a fusion of Spanish and Inca elements. The temple, purportedly adorned with gold, was constructed as a tribute to the Sun deity and served as a location for conducting rituals associated with the revered being.
However, upon the Spanish invasion, the sanctuary was virtually demolished and its valuables were promptly pillaged. The conquerors promptly constructed their own cathedral upon the Inca ruins, which is now accessible to visitors for a nominal charge. A courtyard surrounded by Inca chambers (possibly utilized as lunar and star temples), an ingenious curved stone wall, trapezoidal doorways, colonial frescoes, and much more will be on display.
The renowned twelve-angled stone is visible from the Plaza de Armas as one approaches the San Blas neighborhood. Situated on the narrow Hatunrumiyoc Street, the geometric stone serves as a noteworthy illustration of the Inca civilization's resourcefulness and capacity to produce works of extraordinary caliber.Similar to other Inca stonework, every rock within this wall—which is located in the Palace of the Archbishop—fits together in a harmonious manner akin to assembling a conundrum. The stone with twelve angles is notable not only for its form but also for its considerable dimensions. Additionally, you need not be concerned about encountering any difficulties in locating this peculiar rock; simply remain vigilant for travelers capturing photographs at a rock wall or even a street performer adorned in Inca garb.
While travel may not invariably involve visiting the most picturesque locations, it is acceptable to indulge in the human desire for beauty on occasion. While it is true that Cusco's main square and neighboring communities are visually captivating, Siete Borreguitos Street may be the most photogenic of all. It appears that adjacent structures have forced their way into this charming alley. An immediate stroll from the Plaza de Armas will lead you to Siete Borreguitos, which is adorned with vibrantly colored potted flowers. The town's name, which translates to "Seven Little Lambs," was probably derived from the fact that inhabitants would cross the street in the company of these domesticated creatures in order to reach the Sapantiana Aqueduct. It is noteworthy that seven streets in Cusco bear the numeral seven. Attempt to spot as many as possible while exploring the imperial metropolis.
A more physically demanding excursion would be to ascend the Cristo Blanco, a statue that is frequently likened to Christ the Redeemer in Brazil. Perched atop a ridge adjacent to the Sacsayhuaman Archaeological Complex, the Cristo Blanco provides magnificent vistas of the city. It was bequeathed by a collective of Christian Palestinians residing in Cusco in 1945. The statue is also visible from the Plaza de Armas of the city, and when illuminated at night, it is especially lovely.