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Travel Guide South America Peru Cusco

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Introduction

The Steps of Cuzco

The Steps of Cuzco

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Despite being Peru's main tourist hub, Cusco (also known as Cuzco or Qusqu in local native language) still manages to retain its infamous grandeur and delicate beauty. Set against the backdrop of an all mighty cultural historical past, Cusco now serves as an excellent base for exploring one of the world's oldest empires and is a definite must see on any visit to Peru. As the former capital, Cusco was the absolute centre of the ancient Inca Empire in Peru, staging legendary battles, and housing some of the most important royal descendents. To this day the magnificent history of Inca warriors and Spanish conquistadors can still be seen from the original old Inca walls which line the city in tact. Set against breath taking mountain peaks, over 3,300 metres above sea level, Cusco really is breath taking. Cusco is a large city that has expanded a lot in recent years. It is nestled beautifully between the andean valleys and contains more than four different speaking languages.

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Neighbourhoods

The area around the Plaza de Armas contains the majority of tourist-related facilities such as hotels, restaurants, tour companies and equipment stores. This area also houses the most impressive churches buildings in the city.

Uphill from the Plaza de Armas is the neighborhood of San Blas, the art district of Cusco. There you´ll find many cafes and restaurants, as well as the Plaza San Blas with its Iglesia San Blas.

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Sights and Activities

Boleto Turistico
Note that for a number of sights you need a Boleto turistico (check the website for latest conditions and prices, as they tend to change frequently). It is required for access to some of the sights in and around Cuzco. It can be bought at the Oficina Ejecutiva del Comité (OFEC), Avenida Sol 103. There are three different kind of tickets:

  • A full ticket (valid for ten days and for all sites)
  • A student ticket (ISIC sudentcard required as proof)
  • A partial ticket, (only valid for one day and a limited number of sites)

The ticket gives access to the following sites in Cuzco: Santa Cataline Monastery, Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporáneo, Museo Historico Regional, Museo del Sitio del Qoricancha, Museo de Arte Popular, Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo Danzas Folklórico and Monumento Pachacuteq.
Around Cuzco the following ones are included: Sacsayhuamán, Qénqo, Pukapukara, Tambomachay, Chinchero and the ruins of Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Tipón and Pikillacta.

The Inca Trail

Most of the tour operators for the Inca Trail are based in Cusco, which makes the town a stepping stone on to the popular hike. The Inca Trail actually starts at 82 kilometres outside Cusco, and generally takes a 4-day hike to reach the Machu Picchu ruins.

Plaza de Armas

Sunset at Plaza de Armas in Cuzco

Sunset at Plaza de Armas in Cuzco

© All Rights Reserved tommydavis

The Plaza de Armas houses the main cathedral and the main church in Cusco as well as a large open park with plenty of seats. Surrounding the Plaza are numerous balcony restaurants that allow you to enjoy a drink while watching the manic activity below. Sitting in the main square, you will be approached by many men, women and children selling art work, post cards and wrist bands. These are cheap and buying one or two helps the local economy and if anything at all, allows you to be left alone!

Avenida Sol

The Avenida Sol, leading away from the main Plaza has the tourist information office (i-Peru) as well as a small park in front of the Qoricancha museum, a monastery built on top of a partially demolished Inca sun temple. This is a lovely area just to wonder around or sit and take in the view. Away from the main plaza, it gives you the chance to take a break and breath. The sights up from here are absolutely breath taking and if you can make it to the highest peak, provide you with beautiful sun-set camera shots.

Inca Museum

The Inca museum is located just off the Plaza de Armas, on a steep road leading to Plaza Nazarenas, this houses many significant artefacts but the descriptions can be a bit lacking so it is worth getting a guide at the desk, for the cost of a tip.

Sacsayhuaman

Heading out of town up the hill to Sacsayhuaman is well worth a visit, the sheer enormity of the site is dificult to comprehed without actually seeing it, it also offers spectacular views over Cusco. You can arrange horse rides from Cusco or the hawkers at the gates to Sachsayhuaman which can last from 2 hours to a whole day and will take you around the other sacred Inca sites that litter the plateau above Cusco, no horse riding experience is needed.

Museo de Arte Precolombino

The Museo de Arte Precolombino is well worth a visit, the pieces are well displayed and lit even if the descriptions are rather pretentious and lacking in historical detail.

Cusco Market

Cusco Market

© All Rights Reserved alsalis

Markets

The San Pedro market in Cusco is very large. It sells an array of things from clothes, to fruit, to meat, to pots and pans and more, and is fantastic to wander around to get a better insight into Peruvian life. Here you will get a better price than in the main square with regards to hats and clothes and get the buzz of a proper shopping trip, complete with the pushing and shoving and hussle and bussle! After you've walked up and down the aisles, gawped at the frozen pigs heads and stocked up on enough coco leaves, do go and try one of the many fruit shakes that are on offer. They are absolutely amazing!!! There are two aisles full of them and you can choose anything and everything. Dont be afraid to try something new or a fruit you've never seen, they all taste wonderful and the women are more than happy to help you and give you a very good price.

The market just outside the Machu Picchu train station is worth a visit, but the faint-hearted may wish to avoid the meat section. There is a wide range of locally produced fruit, coffee, chocolate and other foodstuffs on sale.

The handicraft market, a short way down Avenida Sol, is also worth a visit and the amount of competition means reasonable prices on the items.

Pisac

The nearby town of Pisac has a large tourist market on Sunday with a smaller but still respectable tourist market all other days of the week. This is one of the cheaper places to buy souvenirs. You can easily get there by bus, taxi or even cycle it (about 20 kilometres).

Sacred Valley

The Sacred Valley encompasses everything between Ollantaytambo and Pisac. Many tour companies in Cusco offer day trips to the multitude of Inca sights in the valley. A combination ticket that includes many sights in the Sacred Valley and several museums in Cusco is 155 sols (see above under Boleto Turistico).

Jesuit Cathedral

Jesuit Cathedral

© All Rights Reserved alsalis

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Events and Festivals

Inti Raymi

One of the biggest events in Cusco is Inti Raymi. Inti Raymi is a celebration dedicated to the sun and takes place every year on the 24th of June. In the week leading up to Inti Raymi, there are daily parades and participants practicing dances/routines within the Plaza de Armas. Every year one man is nominated to lead the procession to the top of Sacsayhuamán and conduct the ceremony entirely in Quechua, the native language of the Incas. The festival lasts the entire day and is often celebrated with dance and the traditional alcoholic drink, chicha.

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Weather

Tends to be dry/wet depending on the season. The driest time is from May to September when hardly any rain falls. From October onwards rainfall increases and December to February is the wettest time of year with well over 100mm a month. The altitude (3,300 metres above sea level) means that when the sun is not out it can get very cold, very quick.
Temperatures during the dry season are averaging around zero at night, while during the wet season it is more like 7 °C at night. Days are around 20-22 °C yearround. The absolute records high and low are 28 and -9 °C respectively.

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Avg Max18.9 °C18.8 °C19.1 °C19.7 °C19.8 °C19.5 °C19.1 °C19.8 °C19.8 °C20.9 °C20.7 °C19.4 °C
Avg Min6.6 °C6.5 °C6.2 °C4.9 °C2.5 °C0.3 °C0.1 °C1.6 °C3.9 °C5.5 °C6.1 °C6.4 °C
Rainfall145.3 mm133.7 mm107 mm43.2 mm8.7 mm1.5 mm4 mm8.6 mm21.8 mm39.4 mm71.9 mm122.7 mm

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Getting There

By Plane

The Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport (CUZ) is in the suburbs and is a 10-minute taxi ride to the Plaza de Armas. There are daily flights from Lima, Juliaca (Puno) and Arequipa among other places. LAN Peru offers these flights, including less frequent flights to Tacna and Puerto Maldonado (for Manú National Park). Star Peru flies to Lima and Puerto Maldonado as well and TACA Peru to Lima only. Aerosur flies to La Paz in Bolivia. Remember to save some cash (about US$ 5) for the airport tax when you leave Peru via Cusco airport.

The flights itself offers a great view of the valley as it comes into land. The airline offices are located along the Avenida Sol. Taxis from the airport cost approx S/7. Buses are available.

By Train

There are two train lines, one to Machu Picchu and the other (at a separate station) to Arequipa via Juliaca and Puno. Both offer a range of classes right up to the Orient Express luxury class. The local train to Machu Picchu, however, is not available to tourists.

By Car

Main roads lead to Lima, Puno and Arequipa and are mostly tarmac. The Sacred Valley, along the Urubamba river is also tarmacked, but many of the other roads are dirt tracks of varying quality.

By Bus

Buses are probably the easiest way to travel in and out of Cusco and there are services (including overnight ones) to all the major cities in the area. Most of long distance buses leave from their respective companies offices located in the long-distance bus terminal, remember that there is a S/1.2 departure tax. From Lima, there are three possible routes:

  • Via Nazca and Abancay - This is the quickest route, and takes about 18 hours. The scenery is breath-taking, but the road is extremely curvy, so not recommendable to those prone to car sickness.
  • Via Arequipa and Puno - This route takes only slightly longer than the one via Nazca, but is a much quieter ride. The bus ride to Arequipa is roughly 12 hours while the bus ride to Puno is 6 hours. Buses for Puno leave in the morning or around 10:00pm.
  • Via Huancayo and Ayacucho - Timewise, this is a massive detour, as the route takes you about 30 hours to complete. On the other hand, the route is a very nice non-touristy alternative to both the coastal routes, and takes you through a region of Peru that is little visited.

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Getting Around

Cusco in the morning

Cusco in the morning

© All Rights Reserved alsalis

By Car

The roads in and around Cusco are largely of good quality. Traffic in the city itself is very heavy but once out into the countryside it quickly thins out.

By Public Transport

There are small minibuses running all over the city and to nearby towns. These usually cost S/0.50. Taxis are to be found everywhere, but be sure to hail one with a current permit (large circular sticker on windscreen) and which has the number plate written on the side of the car at the rear. Any trip in the main part of the city will cost S/4-5.

By Foot

The tourist area around the Plaza de Armas, Avenida Sol and Sachsayhuaman is easily accessible by foot.

By Bike

Bicycles are available for hire and one day can allow you a visit to Pisac and along the Sacred Valley or just cycling around the plateau above Cusco visiting Sachsayhuaman. Be wary of vehicles however, they show little regard for cyclists.

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Eat

At a number of the more expensive restaurants surround the Plaza de Armas, main courses range from S/20-60. Just off of the Plaza are cheaper restaurants of varying quality, some offering meals for as little as S/2.50. Many of the western theme restaurants down the alleyways will offer deals, such as free garlic bread or wine, in order to get more customers.

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Drink

The majority of nightclubs are around the Plaza de Armas, including well known spots like Mama Afrika and Kamikazi. Don't panic if you can't find one, there are so many touts around the plaza at night you stand a good chance of being pushed into a nightclub without even asking!

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Sleep

As with most Peruvian cities the area around the Plaza de Armas contains a large portion of the city's accommodation. The San Blas area, between the Plaza de Armas and Sachsayhuaman, houses a large amount of budget accommodation and hostels.

Budget

  • Loki Hostel, popular with backpackers.

Mid-Range

Upscale

View our map of accommodation in Cusco or use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)

Booking.com

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Work

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Learn

Taking a Spanish Class

Cusco is an excellent place to stop and learn Spanish if you are travelling for a while, or simply need an excuse to stay. It has an array of Spanish schools spread out across the city, all offering classes and courses from one day, to 6 months and really are worth it. It is a great way to meet people, and excellent way to stop and stay somewhere a while. This allows you to get better acclimatised and also gives a totally different experience than just sight seeing. You get to know the area much more in depth, as well as the people.

  • University of Cusco can arrange both Spanish and Quechua lessons.
  • Proyecto Peru Spanish School for Spanish lessons and free volunteer work in Cusco.
  • Wiracocha Spanish School can arrange Spanish lessons. Slightly away from the centre, up the steep hill Calle de San Blas extending towards the old city walls. It is set in a beautifully old building around a court yard and garden

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Keep Connected

Internet

More and more hotels, resorts, airports, cafes, and retailers are going Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity), becoming "hotspots" that offer free high-speed Wi-Fi access or charge a small fee for usage. In Peru, by far the easiest way to check your e-mail and surf the Web is to drop in at the Internet cabinas (booths) that can be found in virtually every city and even small towns. Connections are usually fast, and the service is as little as S/2 per hour.
Aside from formal cybercafes, most youth hostels and many hotels nowadays have at least one computer with Internet access.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

Peru's country code is +51. Emergency numbers include 105 (Police), 117 (Ambulance) and 116 (Fire).

In all towns and villages that are not too small, it is no problem to find public telephones for national and international calls. Many public phones can be expensive, and an attractive alternative is a Locutorio, or "call-center". Typical rates include .2 Nuevo Sol/minute for calls in the country, and .5 Nuevo Sol/minute for most international calls. Phone cards are cheap and easily available from shops or vendors who hang around pay phones. You'll often see people with a bundle of mobile phones who act as pay phones, they'll be shouting 'llamadas'. Telephone booths are primarily used for making local calls. Calling to other countries from Peru is expensive.

If you have an unlocked cell phone you can buy local SIM cards. Movistar and Claro are two of the phone companies in Peru. You can buy your sim card from these companies and buy a phone card also.

Your best, cheapest bet for making international calls from Peru is to head to any Internet cafe with an international calling option. These cafes have connections to Skype, Net2Phone, or some other VoIP service. International calls made this way can range anywhere from 5¢ to $1 per minute -- much cheaper than making direct international calls or using a phone card. If you have your own Skype or similar account, you just need to find an Internet cafe that provides a computer with a headset.

Post

Check the Serpost website, the national postal service (a private company), for more information about prices and options regarding the sending of postcards, letters and parcels. The post service is relatively efficient and post offices can be found in most cities and (larger) towns. Post offices generally are open from 8:00am to 8:00pm Monday to Saturday and some are open on Sundays from 9:00am to 1:00pm. Postcards are available from street vendors and shops at any touristy area, and stamps are generally available as well, though sometimes only at the post office itself. It takes at least 10 days to send a postcard to North America and prices start at S/5.5. To Europe it is S/7.8 and it takes even a bit longer, around 2 weeks. For little extra money, you can choose 'expresso' services. For large parcels and quantities, you can use both Serpost or companies like DHL, UPS, TNT or FedEx, which are faster and offers the same prices, though it is still relatively expensive.

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Quick Facts

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Coordinates
  • Latitude: -6.967446
  • Longitude: -76.427422

Accommodation in Cusco

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