- The capital of Peru’s Cusco province, with a population of about 360,000 people.
- Was the site of the capital of the Inca Empire (now a UNESCO World Heritage site).
- Nickname: The Imperial City. Officially called Ciudad de Cuzco.
- Currency: Peruvian Nuevo Sol (PEN)
- Spoken languages: Spanish.
- Best time to visit: from June to mid-September for the best weather – this is also peak tourist season, with the highest room rates. To avoid the crowds, consider visiting in spring or fall. Expect heavy rainfall from November to February.
- Arriving via airport: official taxis overcharge for rides to the centro (it should be 10 soles, and a 10 minute ride) so avoid the taxi line and walk past the gate onto the sidewalk to hail a cab at market rate. Buses headed to Avenida del Sol in the city center (70 céntimos) also stop here.
WHERE TO STAY
Most hotels can be found around Plaza de Armas, with the cheapest hostels situated in San Blas.
- Cusco’s historic center is easily and best experienced on foot. Churches, museums and ruins are all located within walking distance of each other and it’s especially suited for wandering.
- The Tranvía is a street car-like vehicle that takes visitors on 90 minute sightseeing tours throughout town for S/15 (S/8 if you have student ID).
- Buses in Cusco can be called colectivos or combis and start around S/1.50, though you won’t need to ride them much unless you’re visiting the Sacred Valley or other destinations outside the city.
- Taxis are absolutely everywhere but don’t have meters, so hone your bargaining skills. They start at S/2.
- Drinking age is 18, and last call is at 1:30 (bars close around 2 AM).
- Many clubs and bars around Plaza de Armas exemplify Cusco’s mystical personality – candlelit enclaves and cave-like clubs. Modern lounges can be found at the best hotels. While this is a very touristy area, it is fun and convenient too – it’s easy to hook up with other solo travellers for a bar crawl or a salsa dancing class.
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- The Pisaq Market is the biggest in Cusco, selling handicrafts, medicinal herbs, jewelry and local foods right on Plaza de Armas.
- There are tons of museums in Peru, but ChocoMuseo isn’t like any of them: it’s completely dedicated to chocolate! Their cafe carries an array of locally-crafted sweets.
- Cusco is surrounded by Inca ruins that form a kind of loop around it. You can hike all of them (the closest is about 40 minutes from Plaza de Armas) or take a bus to the furthest one – Tambomachay – and work your way back to the city on foot.
- If you don’t want to spend most of your time in town looking at ruins on tours, take a trip out to Sacsayhuamán, a monumental Inca fortress that remains an archaeological mystery. If you’re going to see only one, it should be this one!
- Plaza de Armas marks the center of the Old Town and thus the prime sightseeing spot in Cusco. The broad square is an important historical point, the center of the tourist district and a perfect place for a stroll.
- San Pedro Market is like Pisaq but not as touristy – cheap food, spices and grains are sold in crowded hallways, and many transactions are exchanged in the indigenous language of Quechua.
- Get a massage! In any case, you will be offered them everywhere for as little as S15.
- Where to find good cheap eats: the San Pedro Market has the cheapest eats in town. Lots of traditional dishes, and easy to find vegetarian options, too.
- Dangerous areas: Cusco is one of the safest cities in Peru, but if you’re going outside of the tourist areas at night, try going with a group unless you’re already acquainted with the city.
RECOMMENDED CUSCO GUIDE BOOKS
- Frommer’s EasyGuide to Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu
- Inca Trail, Cusco & Machu Picchu: Includes Santa Teresa Trek, Choquequirao Trek, Vilcabamba Trail, Vilcabamba To Choquequirao, Choquequirao To Machu
Recommended trip duration: 1-2 days