Cusco, Peru is an incredible city filled with gorgeous architecture, busy plazas, and interesting history. When we decided to visit Machu Picchu, we had no idea that the city of Cusco itself would be so captivating! We spent three days in Cusco, but I could have stayed there for a week exploring and not grown tired of it.
One of the coolest parts about Cusco, especially for history nerds like me, is that there are Inca archaeological sites everywhere. In the city itself and a short bus ride away throughout the Sacred Valley, there are tons of unique sites to explore. Andrew and I usually don’t choose to do bus tours, but if you want to get the most bang for your buck and see as many sites as possible in only a couple days I would recommend it. (We used a company called Expediciones WaynaPicchu because it was cheap and kind of fell into our lap, but there are lots of tours you can research and choose from.) You can also purchase the Cusco “Boleto Turistico” which is a ticket that will get you into almost all of the archaeological sites and even a few museums. It’s much easier and more cost effective than paying to enter each site separately. Some cool sites that we visited were…
The gigantic stone blocks that make up this site were hauled 7 km by the Inca workers who built this imposing temple fortress. Not only is that amazing, but so is the view!
This Dominican monastery was built over top of the most important temple of the Inca Empire in Cusco. The combination of the Inca and Spanish colonial architecture in the building was so neat! The building itself is a great representation of Cusco’s history and unique blend of cultures. Unfortunately, this one isn’t included on the tourist ticket, but it is definitely worth the extra few bucks to visit.
This village and its terraces in the Sacred Valley was tons of fun to explore, and the view of the valley is breathtaking.
The winding stone streets of this town open up onto a grassy plaza with a gorgeous Spanish church filled with Cusqueña art, including bright paintings all over the walls and ceiling.
If you want to catch a train to Machu Picchu, this is the place; but I would recommend wandering around for awhile before you go. Climb to the top of the temple ruins there, visit the street market, or just get a bit lost. It was such a unique and interesting place!
Other nearby archaeological sites like the temple of Q’enqo with it’s labyrinth, Tambomachay with it’s still-functioning fountains, and the military fortress of Puka-Pukara were also included on the Boleto Turistico.
In the city limits of Cusco be sure to spend some time in the Plaza de Armas, or better yet, just wander around for a day or two. If you don’t mind an uphill walk, check out the San Cristobal church and it’s bell tower for a great panoramic view. During the summer, the Plaza is often filled with traditional dancers practicing and performing. Grab a Peruvian coffee or a meal at one of the nearby restaurants and enjoy the music!
If you like seafood and want to try a Peruvian favorite, we loved the place on the plaza’s corner called Barrio Ceviche. For a fancier meal, the MAP Cafe, located inside the courtyard of the Museo de Arte Precolombino, was absolutely amazing.
While most people head to Peru with the exclusive purpose of visiting Machu Picchu, don’t miss out on the incredible sights, delicious foods, and lively atmosphere of Cusco. It is definitely a city that will leave you feeling enchanted!