Peru • South America

From: Peru Travel Guide

See also: Inca TrailMachu PicchuSacred Valley

Cuzco, Peru, South America
The city of Cuzco which was once the capital of the great Inca Empire is a bustling, vibrant and ever more popular destination which is known for its excellent handmade goods especially Alpaca garments which can be found at many of the stalls and shops which are scattered all over the city. Cuzco is also the gateway to Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail and countless other important Inca ruins.

The city is based largely around the central Plaza De Armas which is surrounded by several restaurants, shops and hotels as well as the magnificent Cathedral which dominates one side of the square. Cuzco is well known for its religious Festival of the Sun ceremony called Inti Raymi which takes place in June and marks the Winter Solstice and worships the god Inti, the Inti Raymi can best be viewed at the Sacsayhuaman Fortress just outside Cuzco.

There are several excellent shops to be found near to the central Plaza de Armas selling items such as blankets, lovely reproduction Inca jewelry, carved wood work items such as frames, ceramics with Inca motifs and clothing products such as Alpaca garments, ponchos, scarfs, hats and sweaters at reasonable prices. The Mercado Central market which is near to the San Pedro Train Station will give you a real sense of a traditional market and contains several items of homewards, clothing and food. A short trip to Pisac market is also a must while in Cuzco and you'll be able to pick up some beautiful Alpaca clothing, jewelry and ceramics.

There are plenty of restaurants to choose from, especially around the central Plaza De Armas and many of which offer excellent traditional food and dishes such as Ceviche, Causa, Chaufa, Roasted Cuy and Lomo Saltado as well as plenty of opportunities to try Peru's national drink Pisco Sour in one of many bars to be found in Cuzco.

The City of Cuzco is situated not far from the Sacred Valley of The Incas, high up in the Andes Mountain range in the southeast of Peru.

Tour Companies
There are several tour companies based around the Plaza De Armas and at the nearby Plaza Regocijo where you can book day tours around Cuzco and also to nearby destinations such as Sacsayhuaman, Tambomachay, Pucapucara, Ollantaytambo and Pisac as well as Jungle tours to areas such as Manu and Tambopata. There are also tour companies available who organise trekking, Inca Trail tours, rafting and biking adventures as well.

Travel Guide
Cuzco's airport is Teniente Alejandro Velasco Astete which has direct links with Lima and other major cities and tourist destinations such as Arequipa and Puerto Maldonado. Due to its high altitude of 3360 meters above sea level, Cuzco is the stating point for acclimatization before beginning on your Inca Trail or Machu Picchu adventure.

To the south west of the Plaza de Armas is the San Pedro Train Station and it is from here you catch the train to Machu Picchu or to begin your Inca Trail. To the south east of the Plaza de Armas is Wanchac Train Station where you can board a train for Puno to visit Lake Titicana and close to the station are also busses to Pisac which is known for its popular outdoor market.

Attractions Within Cuzco

Temple of the Sun
The immense Temple of the Sun is called Koricancha was the most important and the most lavishly built Inca temple which was beautifully decorated with gold objects such as the Gold Sun Disk and gold sculptures of Llamas, corn and the Sun. The Temple also served as an astronomical observatory and was home to several thousand priests. Unfortunately when the Spanish conquered Cuzco they ransacked the temple of most of its gold and silver objects and pulled town a large proportion of the Temple, parts of which were then used to rebuild the Church of Santo Domingo. There are still the remains of some of the smaller temples which show the excellent Inca stonework that was used to build the original Temple of the Sun.

The Cathedral
The Cathedral of Santo Domingo stands dominating the central Plaza De Armas which also has the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus church and the Iglesia del Triunfo close by. The Cathedral is Baroque in style and features the Maria Angola Bell which is positioned in the bell tower and is rung on special occasions, and interior features include the beautifully decorated Sacristy and a very unique silver alter as well as several important pieces of artwork such as the Pintura Senor de los Temblores which is thought to be oldest painting still surviving in the city and other paintings include the Vicente de Valverde which is a portrait of a bishop of Cuzco.

The Museo Inka
The Inca Museum is housed in a colonial mansion of what used to be Admiral Francisco Aldrete Maldonado palace and features Inca artefacts such as skulls, mummies, ceramics, woodwork and textile products.

The Pre Columbian Art Museum
The Pre Columbian Art Museum or Museo de Arte Precolombino is a small yet attractive museum that has a good selection of artefacts from civilizations such as the Inca, Mochica, Chimu and Nazca and includes items such as such beautifully decorated pottery, jewelry, textiles in excellent condition considering their age, stone and wood carvings.

There are also plenty of church's such as the La Merced Church, the San Francisco Church, Santa Clara Church, San Pedro Church, Belen Church and the Compania de Jesus Church.

On arriving at Cuzco you will need to spend a few days acclimatizing to being around 3400 meters above sea level, this is especially important if you wish to visit Machu Picchu or go on an Inca Trail tour as it will help to reduce the risk of altitude sickness. Cuzco like many busy cities is known for its pickpockets who target tourists visiting the markets, crowded areas and tourist sites.

Tourist Ticket
Many of the attractions within Cuzco are included on a Boleto Touristico del Cuzco ticket which does work out cheaper in the long run and once purchased is valid for 10 days and covers many of the most popular sites. Some of the sights included on the ticket are the Cathedral, Municipal Palace Museum, Sacsayhuaman, Tambomachay, Pucapucara, Ollantaytambo, Pikllacta and the Temple of the Sun (Koricancha). The ticket can be bought at one of Cuzco's Tourist Office's or at one of the sights that are included on the ticket.