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Cusco
Travel Guide


Plan for Cusco with Local Expertise

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Cusco at a glance

Cusco is many things: the capital of the Inca empire, Peru’s most important cultural city and the country’s top tourist destination. In the native Andean language of Quechua, Cusco means “Naval of the World,” and legend has it the Incas laid out the city in the shape of a puma, a sacred animal. When Spanish colonizers arrived in the 16th century they tried to claim the city as their own, attempting to quash the native culture by constructing elaborate colonial buildings on top of important Inca sites. This enchanting mix of old and new draws thousands of visitors to this UNESCO World Heritage site each year, and charms many into staying.

Experiences around Cusco

What not to miss

Cusco is the central hub for travelers wishing to visit the surrounding Sacred Valley, an area of expansive fertile plains and craggy, imposing peaks high in the Andes. The Sacred Valley is home to the most famous Inca citadel Machu Picchu, as well as lesser known ruins, crops circles and salt mines that are well worth a visit. Tourists can cross paths with seasoned travelers, digital nomads, adrenaline chasers and the indigenous Q'ero community recognisable by their colourful native dress all on Cusco’s cobbled streets, making it a melting pot of different nationalities and cultures. Because of Cusco’s international appeal, there are a wealth of different cuisines to choose from, and Cusco is also famous for its vibrant nightlife. Whether you’re looking for adventure, culture, history or gastronomy, Cusco offers the best of Peru in one inimitable destination. It’s no wonder that many who visit never want to leave.

2-Day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu Top

8 miles, Inca complexes and a maximum altitude of over 8,690 ft. lie between you and the ancient Inca Citadel of Machu Picchu as you depart on what is one of the most unforgettable travel adventures. If you’re short on time but want to experience hiking in the footsteps of the Incas, this is the perfect experience. Staying overnight in a hotel at the foot of Machu Picchu, you’ll be rewarded the following morning with watching the sun rise over Machu Picchu in one of the quietest hours of the day. You’ll have this profound experience almost entirely to yourself, as you soak in the fruits of your labor. Throughout the express Inca Trail and at Machu Picchu, your guide will provide you with all the facts, figures and legends while making sure you avoid the crowds to get the most from this once in a lifetime experience.

4-Day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu Top

26 miles, three mountain passes and a maximum altitude of 14,000 ft. lie between you and the ancient Inca Citadel of Machu Picchu as you depart on what is one of the most unforgettable travel adventures. Having hiked through stunning cloud forests, slept out under the stars and admired the scenery of the Sacred Valley, you’ll be rewarded with watching the sun rise over Machu Picchu in one of the quietest hours of the day. You’ll have this profound experience almost entirely to yourself, as you soak in the fruits of your labor. Throughout the Inca Trail and at Machu Picchu, your guide will provide you with all the facts, figures and legends while making sure you avoid the crowds to get the most from this once in a lifetime experience.

Cusco City & Ruins Tour Top

The tour starts in the Cathedral which is one of the finest Colonial Cathedrals in the Americas. The design is constituted by a Latin-Cross base and it contains the best manifestations of colonial goldsmith and wood carving, as well as a valuable collection of canvases from the Escuela Cusqueña (Academy of Cusco). Then we proceed on to Koricancha, originally named Inti Qancha (‘ Temple of the Sun’), the most important temple in the Inca Empire, dedicated primarily to Inti, the Sun God. Nearby is an underground archaeological site museum containing a number of interesting pieces including mummies, textiles and sacred idols. We continue to the enormous Fortress of Sacsayhuaman; its construction took over seven decades and required the work of approximately 20,000 men. We proceed to visit Kenko, a sanctuary dedicated to the adoration of animals and consisting of ruins formed by a rocky site with stairs in a zigzag, and a main building similar to a circular amphitheater where 19 window sills are located as a way of seats and on to Puka Pukara (Quechua for red fortress). We finish the tour with a visit of the Inca ruins of Tambomachay. This was an Inca sanctuary dedicated to water and a place reserved for Inca Royalty.

Sacred Valley Markets & Ruins Tour Top

The tour starts with a brief pit stop at the Mirador de Qorao or Awanacancha after heading up to Pisaq. A famed hill town, Pisaq is a great place to purchase top quality Andean knitwear at lower prices than you will find in major cities during your travels to Peru. Woven blankets, tapestries and alpaca garments such as sweaters and mittens, colorful fabric and accessories are found in abundance at the Pisaq market in addition to pottery, jewelry and other handicrafts. You will visit the first important place in the Sacred Valley, the archaeological site of Pisaq. Then we go to the Serves, perhaps the finest buffet lunch in the Sacred Valley, set in extensive gardens with beautiful views across the Valley. If you return to Cusco you will visit Chinchero; this was once one of the most important Inca towns in Peru. There is a lovely Colonial Church and a great plaza where a local market is held.

Cusipata Rainbow Mountain Top

Early in the morning you will be picked up from your hotel in Cusco for a two-hour drive approximately. You will pass through traditional villages and glimpse some amazing views of the Andes, reaching the town of Cusipata and beginning the hike from Chillihuani at over 4,450 meters. During the 1.5 hour uphill hike to reach the famous Rainbow Mountain you will enjoy snowcapped mountains, stunning views of the Andes, colorful mountains and traditional llamas and alpacas grazing along the valley. As you reach the summit of the mountain, you will see the Rainbow Mountain over 5,100 m, surrounded by red mountains. You will also glimpse Ausangate Glacier Peak while taking in magnificent views. After your photo op, you will hike downhill for approximately 1.5 hours to Chillihuani, where you start the return journey back to Cusco by car to be dropped off at your hotel at approximately 3pm.

Chocolate Workshop Top

Learn how to make your own chocolate on a 2-hour workshop at the ChocoMuseo in Cusco. This is a hands-on activity, starting from the cocoa tree and ending with the finished product, passing by every step of the whole chocolate-making process. You will also discover the history of cocoa and the reasons why Peru is known for its fine chocolates.

Walking city tour with San Blas and San Pedro market Top

Walk around the Imperial City of the Incas, starting at the local market of Cusco, where you will experience a bit of Peruvian Culture and daily Cusqeuño life. In the market you can find the best variety of vegetables, breads and fruits in the country. Continuing this pleasant walk you’ll visit the impressive Colonial Cathedral in Cusco that contains over 400 paintings from the Cusqueña School and several beautiful altars. After the Cathedral you’ll visit Qoricancha, which is considered a religious center of Cusco, both geographical and political. The Temple of Koricancha was where the Inca paid homage to the Sun god called Inti. Qori means goldwork and in its Spanish form is cori. Kancha means an enclosed space, bounded by walls. Then you’ll walk uphill to enter the artisan quarter of San Blas, where you’ll be able to appreciate a religious painting and many workshops where, if available, you can watch artisans in action. After this you’ll return to your hotel.

Culinary Class Chocolate, Pisco & Ceviche Top

This workshop actually consists of 2 workshops. First you will visit the Chocomuseo in Cusco for a 2 hour workshop on making your own chocolate. After this workshop we will go the Pisco Museum, where you will have another workshop and learn how to prepare your own pisco and the traditional ceviche. This workshop will take 1 1/2 hours. 2-hour interactive workshop at ChocoMuseo (bean to bar workshop). A drink or a dessert in our café, 1h30-hour interactive workshop at Museo del Pisco with a tasting of 4 different kinds of piscos, Ceviche or tiradito making, Pisco sour making.

Downhill Mountain Biking Excursion Top

This exciting tour offers the opportunity to visit the magical Sacred Valley in a more interactive and immersive way, by riding a bike along ancient Inca lands with the Andean wind in your hair. For this tour, you will be picked up from your hotel and driven to the highlands overlooking the city of Cusco, from which you can enjoy fantastic views of the Incan capital and the surrounding countryside. Before riding down to Cusco, you will receive some safety instructions and given a helmet and some gloves. Depending on your previous experience of mountain biking, you can choose to descend paved roads or dirt paths, although rides can be tailor-made to suit your skills and desires. The thrilling descent ends at the heart of the city of Cusco.

Peruvian Cooking Classes w/ Dinner Top

Our experienced Peruvian chef will take you through the central San Pedro market a few blocks away. He will teach you about typical Peruvian ingredients such as potatoes, corn, Andean herbs, Andean grains (quinua, qañiwa, etc.), fruits and vegetables. After buying the needed ingredients you go back to prepare your meal; don’t worry, our chef will share some of his cooking tricks with you… After preparing the dishes, you will feast together and ask our chef any questions that come to mind. You will have been given a glimpse at the mysteries of Peruvian Cuisine today – cherish it!

Maras, Moray & Salt Mines Tour Top

Today is a great day for this unusual and beautiful excursion to Moray and Maras. At Moray you can see pre-Inca and Inca ruins, mostly consisting of several enormous circular depressions potentially used as agricultural terraces, with a complex system of irrigation. The site with the Quechua name “muyus” is the deepest pit, with a depth of 30m (100ft). These ruins are remnants of the Inca age; they seem to have been some sort of agricultural experimentation center in which the Incas re-created microclimates on every terrace. From Moray, we head towards Maras, where we can find the “Salinas,” a wonder of hydraulic engineering and a must for photographers. The saltpans are set on overhanging cliffs and command spectacular views of the Andean mountains and the Urubamba River below. The mine has been working since the Inca times.

Fast Facts on Cusco

USEFUL TRAVELER INFORMATION

This section is a quick overview to help in planning your trip to Cusco.

When to go

Cusco can be visited all year round, but depending on your travel goals, which our travel experts can help you with, you may want to choose a particular time or season that best suits your needs. Perhaps the best time to visit is between May and October, as you will avoid the rainy season which usually runs from November to April. Rain is not a hiker’s friend, and it is much easier and more pleasant to visit Machu Picchu or hike the Inca Trail in the dry season. It is driest between June and August, but this is peak tourist season, so prices are higher and crowds are bigger. Given that Cusco sits at an elevation of 3,400masl, it benefits from sunny days and cold nights. May is often considered the best month to visit Cusco, because of low levels of tourism and rainfall, as well as the lush, green appearance of the Andes mountains following the wet season.

How to get there

Travelers to Cusco can reach it by plane from Lima, Puno, Arequipa, Puerto Maldonado, and La Paz in Bolivia. People traveling from Bolivia should be advised that there are only two flights a week, but there are over 15 flights from Lima a day, and we can arrange flights for you as part of your itinerary. Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport is located within the city of Cusco, which makes transfers to and from the airport short and hassle free. Passengers flying to Cusco can often experience altitude sickness because of the city’s high elevation, but we will tell you how to prepare for this in advance of your departure.

Infrastructure

Cusco is a seasoned tourist hotspot, and as such a sophisticated tourism infrastructure has developed. Cusco offers travelers everything from boutique hotels and luxury lodgings to eco-resorts and self-service apartments. Some of South America’s most famed hotels are located in Cusco and the Sacred Valley, including the luxurious Monasterio and Machu Picchu’s incredible Sanctuary Lodge. Foodies journeying to the Naval of the World will not be disappointed, as Cusco’s culinary delights may range in price and service, but they are always reliable in terms of taste and quality. Traditional Peruvian cuisine can be sampled alongside world dishes, as Cusco has long been catering to a diverse crowd who are as happy eating street food as they are sitting in a high-end restaurant.

Tour Packages to Cusco

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