Dating back to the 12th century, Cusco represents the most important modern vestige of the ancient Inca Empire. In other words, if you’re looking to add a little culture to your Peruvian experience, this is your place. For starters, it’s the jumping off point for excursions to Machu Picchu, one of the most treasured cultural landmarks on planet Earth; but you needn’t ascend the Andes to find impressive historical monuments or rich traditional living here. Between its friendly Quechua natives, colonial architecture, historical ruins and high mountain setting, there’s plenty of that to go around within the picturesque city itself.
Start with the impressive walled ruins of Sacsayhuaman, located in the northern fringes of Cusco. It was here that the Incas battled with Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in 1536. A little closer to the city center, the Santo Domingo Church stands atop the curved ruins of the Koricancha Temple, which was once covered in gold to reflect the sun’s brilliant luminescence. You may also want to check out the historic Hatunrumiyoc wall, with its famous 12 sided stone that highlights the Inca’s incredible architectural abilities. Fancy exhibits? There are a host of museums around the city showcasing everything from Contemporary Art and Traditional Quechua Textiles to Peru’s native cacao bean (the ChocoMuseo). Granted the selection isn’t profoundly impressive but, as many are free or available with the 130 Sole Boleto Turistico (Tourist Pass), they’re absolutely worth a look.
If you’re interested in getting a feel for history mixed with contemporary Cusco culture, head on down to the artist friendly San Blas Quarter, where narrow stone alleyways, cool shops and chill cafes equal a great place to experience the old town in the 21st century. There’s also the Plaza de Armas, in which beautiful structures like La Catedral de Cusco dovetail with trendy clubs and restaurants to create a dynamic center of activity and social living within the city. Festivals are another great way to immerse yourself in the spirit of contemporary Cusco, a city where numerous colorful celebrations are held monthly to honor its Catholic, Inca and Quechua traditions. With so much to experience culturally both in and out of town (we haven’t even touched upon the Sacred Valley), you may want to think about extending your stay in this one of a kind Andean metropolis.