Cusco is located in the southeastern part of Peru, high up in the Andes mountains (11,200 feet above sea level to be exact). Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire from the 1200s until the arrival of Spanish colonizers in the 1500s. Here, you'll be vacationing in a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Inca Empire was a rich and fascinating one, and you'll find many examples of its culture. The Coricancha is where Inca and Spanish civilization meet. The site was a revered Incan temple to the sun god. When the Spanish built the Convent of Santo Domingo above it, they incorporated the original stonework.
The surrounding Sacred Valley incorporates the renowned ruins of Machu Picchu, neighboring towns, and farmlands in a region that was the center of the Inca Empire. You'll also discover a hot nightlife and dining scene with cosmopolitan flair tucked away in this sky-high destination.
The remains of this walled citadel and imperial residence are located on a mountain ridge nearly 8,000 feet above sea level. As the Spanish took over the area, the Inca kept its location a secret, and in fact it was not rediscovered until 1911. The three buildings were made of stone and include a temple, with terraced grounds along the slope, and an old Inca road that leads you to it.
Before the Inca, the area was home to the Killke culture, and the Killke built the ruins of Saksaywaman, a citadel complex made of large cut stones, in about 1100. The most popular Inca ruins, along with Machu Picchu, are the remains of an imperial residence along the mountainside at Ollantaytambo. To avoid crowds, you can try the Inka Wasi, higher up the mountainside, or the sculpture garden at Nusta Hisp'ana.
The Plaza de Armas and Cathedral of Cusco are prime examples of ornate Spanish colonial architecture, characterized by arches and balconies. A walk down the streets and an afternoon spent in a patio cafe is all you need to enjoy this aspect of life in Cusco.
Many visitors come to Cusco to experience the Andes, including hiking and rock climbing. You'll have to book your guide for the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, as the government limits the number of people allowed each year. It is well worth the effort, however, as you'll pass by several other ruins, and various natural areas including cloud forests and alpine tundra.
The influx of tourists from all over the world gives Cusco cuisine a global perspective and has attracted top chefs. There is an emphasis on local and Peruvian ingredients that comes out in imaginative fare like Italian-Peruvian fusion cuisine and there is a sizable Asian contingent to sample on too.
There are essentially two seasons in Cusco, with a temperate climate and little variation in average temperatures that hover between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The dry season from May to August is the most popular with tourists. Temperatures can fall close to freezing overnight and there is often frost, but no snow. The wet season lasts from December to February.
Cusco is served by Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport (CUZ) with both domestic and international flights. The airport is located only about two miles from the city. A taxi should cost about S/35 or so, and with many companies, you will have to negotiate your price in advance. Many international flights also arrive in Jorge Chávez Airport in Lima, where there are bus connections directly to Cusco.
Trains are a very scenic way to travel to and around the Sacred Valley. Trains connect Cusco to other cities in the region, as well as offering direct service to Machu Picchu from the Cusco and Ollantaytambo train stations to the Puente Ruinas station in Aguas Calientes. The ride will take you right to the foot of Machu Picchu. PeruRail also connects Cusco to other sites of interest such as Lake Titicaca and the Colca Canyon.
Cusco connects to the rest of southern Peru, including Lima, via a network of highways. The Pan-American highway connects to the road that leads from Nazca to Abancay and into Cusco. Remember that landslides are a possibility so high up in the Andes, and driving may involve delays or other unforeseen conditions.
Long distance buses arrive at Terminal Terrestre Cusco in the Santiago neighborhood of town. There are direct connections to Lima and other cities and towns in the region such as La Paz and Puno. Major bus companies include Oltursa, Civa, and Tepsa.
The Belmond Palacio Nazarenas offers palatial style, as the name implies, with whitewashed walls and a central pool. At the Antigua Casona San Blas, you'll find classic Spanish colonial style with a central courtyard made for socializing. KM Apartments offers stylish modern furnishings and all the comforts of home.
Plaza de Armas - this area, centered around the classic Spanish colonial architecture of the central square and fountain, is loaded with shops, restaurants, and nightclubs, and is very popular with tourists. It's also where you'll find tour companies that can take to you other locations in the Sacred Valley.
San Blas - uphill from Plaza de Armas, this is a place where the streets have a bohemian flair and the views are spectacular. It is home to many artists and artisans, and it's where you'll find smaller hotels, restaurants, and a nightlife scene where you can rub shoulders with locals.
Plaza San Francisco - this is where you can shop for local goods and souvenirs at outdoor markets, and take in the beautiful Santa Clara and San Pedro churches that date from the early 17th century. You'll be in awe of the gorgeous ceiling frescoes and collection of art at the Museo y Convento de San Francisco de Asis del Cusco.
There is a network of private bus and minivan routes that covers most of Cusco, with connections beyond. Routes center around the Cusco bus station, and the fare within the city is S/0.70.
Taxis are cheap and relatively plentiful in Cusco. Along with the Municipalidad del Cusco - Taxi Oficial, there are numerous "unofficial" taxis available in Cusco. A ride within the city of about 10 minutes should cost about S/4-6. Taxis are not metered, which means you will have to negotiate your price and stick to it.
Roads in Cusco are narrow and most are uneven cobblestone, which makes driving an unnecessary luxury. A compact rental should cost about S/55. The city is walkable, and you may need permits and the services of guides for some of the area's historic sites. Parking is limited and often difficult to find, with rates that vary.
Cusco is renowned for its textile industry, and you'll find locally produced clothing and textiles at the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco, located in the northern part of town. You'll find many shops offering artisan handicrafts in the San Blas area, and around Plaza de Armas. including silver jewelry and many other wares.
Orion and Mega are the two major grocery chains in Cusco. A quart of milk costs about S/4.00 and a dozen eggs is about S/4.60.
You'll enjoy the diverse dining scene in Cusco, including many Indian, Italian, and Japanese offerings along with local Andean cuisine. Organika is the place to find gourmet Peruvian fusion with mains that start at about S/15. Cicciolina's fine dining menu features both Andean and Italian influences, with main dishes starting at about S/35. Experience an authentic Peruvian steakhouse at Uchu, where you can choose Alpaca tenderloin along with the beef, starting at S/35.