For travelers from all over the world, Cusco is one of the undisputed highlights of their South American journey, a fascinating blend of pre-Columbian and colonial history and contemporary mixed race culture. The former political and religious capital of the Incas was known by them as Qosqo (or the “navel of the Earth”), and it was once the center of the greatest empire ever seen in the Americas. Today, colonial churches, monasteries and the remains of Inca temples and palaces are complemented by hostels, hotels, bars and restaurants, offering the world’s travelers their goods and services. Almost every street in the historic center contains the remains of Inca walls and doorways.
And beyond the city there are countless ruins to explore, as well as infinite trekking possibilities along ancient Andean trails, of which the most famous is the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Other great trekking routes include Mount Salkantay, the Inca city of Choquequirao and the remote Vilcabamba region, where the last Incas held out against the Spanish for decades.
And, of course, there is the most important archaeological site in South America: the ruins of Machu Picchu are set in a vast protected natural area filled with typical flora and fauna.
Cusco has something to offer everyone.
MAIN ATTRACTIONS IN THE CITY:
This magnificent open space is flanked by the Cathedral, the Jesuit church of La Compañía and El Triunfo church. In the arcades that line the square, you will find fine stores and boutiques, as well as excellent restaurants to suit all tastes.
Completed during the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the Cathedral has been fully restored in recent years and is a masterpiece of colonial architecture. The interior is home to great artworks of the colonial period, including renaissance, baroque and neoclassical style altars, and paintings on religious themes by artists from the renowned Cusco School of Painting.
QORICANCHA (The suntempel / Santo Domingo Church and Convent)
According to the Spanish chroniclers, this was one of the most impressive buildings in the Inca imperial capital of Cusco. The interior walls were covered with sheets of laminated gold, and gardens of gold plants were decorated with life-sized golden statues of Andean fauna. Some of the finest surviving Inca stonework can be seen today in this Inca temple complex housed within the walls of the imposing colonial-era Santo Domingo church.
Located in the hills above Cusco’s main square, just 2 kilometers from the city, the Sacsayhuaman Archaeological Park is composed of 33 archaeological sites. The most imposing of these is Sacsayhuaman itself: a great fortified temple complex built by the Incas to honor their sun god, Inti, and other deities from their pantheon. Since the mid-20th century, that ancient history has come alive again every year on June 24th, when a reenactment is held of the Inca sun festival of Inti Raymi, on the esplanade opposite the great walls of the main temple.
RECOMMENDED TOURS FROM CUSCO:
MACHUPICCHU (1-2 Days)
Machu Picchu has been selected as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and most travelers agree that it is one of the world’s most dramatic archaeological sites and travel destinations. The Inca ruins of Machu Picchu can be visited in 1 or 2 days from Cusco by train.
CITY TOUR (1/2 Day)
This beautiful and fascinating half day tour takes visitors to Cusco’s Qorikancha, the Inca Temple of the Sun, followed by the Sacsayhuaman Archaeological Park in the picturesque hills above Cusco, from where there are also fine views of the city. These Inca ruins include Sacsayhuaman itself, an enormous Inca sun temple with monolithic walls built from blocks which in some cases weigh hundreds of tons. This excursion also includes the subterranean altar of Qenko, the fortress of Pukapukara and the water shrine of Tambomachay.
SACRED VALLEY OF THE INCAS (1 Day)
This full-day tour of the Urubamba river valley includes visits to the archaeological sites of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, as well as the traditional handcraft and produce market of Pisac village.
INCA TRAIL TO MACHUPICHU (4-5 Days)
Known as one of the world’s ten best hikes, the Inca Trail is unparalleled for its ecological diversity and wealth of archaeological treasures. The Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary covers 32,952 hectares and is home to a network of Inca highways and scores of archaeological sites. There are ten distinct life zones in the Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary, ranging from glacial peaks to high tropical mountain forests. The Sanctuary surrounding the legendary city of Machu Picchu is home to more than four hundred species of birds and two hundred species of orchids, as well as large fauna such as the spectacled bear.
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