Cusco is one of Peru’s most prestigious and most visited travel destinations, and for a good reason: this was the center of the Inca Empire, a place where all the tale and myth of ancient Andean societies found their most noticeable and lasting features. And that myth is widespread; in the town’s imposing ruins and the gigantic stone walls that remain untouched to this day, in the neighboring villages that have been continuously populated for countless years and in the faces of the Quechua-speaking locals – inhabitants who have seen empires come and go. In contrast, their history and beliefs remain as vibrant as ever.
But what you won’t see in most of the travel articles is that all is not certainly well in this most famous of popular tourist hotspots. Cusco is a city overwhelmed by visiting outsiders, crowding to experience the city’s striking architecture and its vicinity to Peru’s other significant wonders, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.
Cusco is fighting under the strain of its own reputation, and visitors must be mindful of their impact on the environment, culture, and city that they are visiting. Try to check your environmental impact.
But also try to read a little about the tradition you’re visiting before you arrive. Recognize that indigenous Andean communities are often more traditional than Westerners and Hispanic Peruvians.
Tips for visiting this beautiful place.
Cusco is a mystical city that is above sea level, over 3,300 meters high. And that means fragile air for us sea-level dwellers, which can take many days getting used to. It’s recommended to work your way up to this altitude and visit some of Peru’s somewhat lower sights first – the Sacred Valley and Arequipa are perfect. If you fly directly to Cusco, anticipate at least a tinge of soroche (altitude sickness), causing headaches, lethargy and vomiting.
Here is our travel guide to Cusco
The Plaza de Armas is Cusco’s old colonial center, governed by the Cathedral. The Church of the Companion of Jesus and the Cathedral is well worth a vacation, particularly the Cathedral’s museum of art from the Cusco School, a mix of European and indigenous spells representing the cultural adaptation that took place here following the conquest.
The wrecks of Saqsaywaman sit on a hill looking down over the city and are built of gigantic stone blocks and imposing fortifications, making everyone think the place was formerly a military fortress. But recent findings have implied the site was at least as powerful as a spiritual center. Despite this, the ragged pattern of the walls is still recognizable as the fearsome jaguar teeth they were first designed to replicate.
The neighborhood of San Blas extends away from the center on a perpendicular hillside and is home to an array of winding cobbled streets, small squares, and unique colonial architecture. San Blas gets even airier in the night when the neighborhood’s clubs come alive. Drinks and live music can be seen in practically any of the bars around the popular KM 0. They’re all tried, tested, and recommended.