Things to Do in Cusco

Cusco, often referred to as the “Historical Capital” of Peru, is a city rich in history, culture, and natural beauty. Here’s a detailed and expanded guide on things to do in Cusco:

1. Explore the Historic District:

  • Plaza de Armas: Start your exploration in the heart of Cusco at Plaza de Armas. This central square is surrounded by colonial architecture, including the Cathedral of Santo Domingo and the Church of La CompaƱƭa de JesĆŗs.
  • Historic Streets: Wander through the narrow, cobblestone streets of the historic district. Discover charming alleys, vibrant markets, and hidden gems showcasing the city’s Inca and colonial heritage.

2. Visit the Cathedral of Santo Domingo:

  • Architectural Marvel: The Cathedral, built on the foundations of an Inca palace, is a stunning example of colonial architecture. Explore its chapels, altars, and religious artworks, including the famous painting of the Last Supper with a cuy (guinea pig) as the main dish.
  • Religious Artifacts: Admire the collection of religious artifacts and sculptures, showcasing the fusion of Inca and Spanish artistic styles.

3. Explore the Qorikancha (Coricancha):

  • Sun Temple: Visit Qorikancha, once the most important Inca temple dedicated to the Sun God. The site showcases exquisite Inca stonework and was later incorporated into the Santo Domingo Convent.
  • Golden Courtyard: Marvel at the intricately carved golden courtyard, which was said to have been adorned with sheets of gold during the Inca era.

4. Sacsayhuaman Archaeological Site:

  • Inca Fortress: Explore the massive ruins of Sacsayhuaman, an Inca fortress overlooking Cusco. The site features colossal stone walls, some weighing over 300 tons, arranged with remarkable precision.
  • Inti Raymi Festival: Sacsayhuaman is the main stage for the annual Inti Raymi festival, a celebration of the Inca Sun God. If visiting during June, you may witness this colorful and traditional event.

5. Tambomachay and Qenqo:

  • Tambomachay: Visit Tambomachay, known as the Inca Baths. This archaeological site features intricate water channels and ceremonial fountains.
  • Qenqo: Explore Qenqo, an ancient ritual site with carved stone channels and a large rock with mysterious carvings. Qenqo was likely used for religious ceremonies and astronomical observations.

6. Puka Pukara and Puca Pucara:

  • Puka Pukara: Visit Puka Pukara, a site with military and administrative structures. The name translates to “Red Fortress” due to the reddish hue of its stones.
  • Puca Pucara: Explore Puca Pucara, a small complex with terraces, plazas, and defensive walls. It’s believed to have served as a military outpost.

7. San Pedro Market:

  • Local Market Experience: Immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of San Pedro Market. This bustling market offers a variety of fresh produce, local crafts, textiles, and traditional Peruvian street food.
  • Coca Leaf Experience: Engage with locals and try coca tea or buy coca leaves, known for their traditional use to alleviate altitude sickness.

8. Climb to Cristo Blanco:

  • Panoramic Views: Hike or take a short drive to Cristo Blanco, a white statue of Christ overlooking Cusco. Enjoy panoramic views of the city and surrounding mountains, including the iconic Ausangate peak.
  • Sunset Spot: It’s a popular spot for sunset, offering a serene and picturesque setting to capture the beauty of Cusco.

9. Artisan Workshops and Galleries:

  • San Blas District: Explore the San Blas neighborhood, known for its narrow streets, artisan workshops, and galleries. Discover local artists’ works, including paintings, sculptures, and traditional crafts.
  • Artisan Markets: Visit artisan markets in San Blas, where you can purchase handmade textiles, pottery, jewelry, and other unique souvenirs directly from local artists.

10. Take a Cooking Class:

  • Culinary Experience: Participate in a cooking class to learn about Peruvian cuisine. Visit a local market to source fresh ingredients and then engage in hands-on preparation of traditional dishes.
  • Pachamanca: Some classes offer the opportunity to prepare Pachamanca, a traditional Andean cooking method involving the use of hot stones to cook meat, potatoes, and vegetables.

11. Attend a Traditional Folk Show:

  • Cultural Performance: Experience the vibrant culture of Cusco by attending a traditional folk show. Enjoy colorful dances, music, and performances that showcase the region’s rich heritage.
  • Dinner Shows: Some venues offer dinner shows, allowing you to savor local cuisine while enjoying live entertainment.

12. Day Trips from Cusco:

  • Machu Picchu: Take a day trip to Machu Picchu, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Explore the ancient Inca citadel and marvel at its architectural wonders, including the Intihuatana stone and the Temple of the Sun.
  • Sacred Valley: Explore the Sacred Valley, visiting sites like Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Chinchero. Discover ancient Inca ruins, vibrant markets, and picturesque landscapes.

13. Adventure Activities:

  • Rafting and Zip-lining: For adventure enthusiasts, engage in activities like white-water rafting on the Urubamba River or zip-lining in the Sacred Valley for an adrenaline-filled experience.
  • Hiking and Trekking: Choose from various trekking options, including the Inca Trail, Salkantay Trek, or the Lares Trek, each offering unique landscapes and perspectives.

14. Festivals and Events:

  • Inti Raymi: If visiting in June, witness the Inti Raymi festival, the grandest celebration in Cusco. It recreates the ancient Inca festival dedicated to the Sun God, featuring colorful processions and ceremonies.
  • Corpus Christi: Another significant festival in Cusco, celebrated in June, involves elaborate processions, traditional dances, and religious ceremonies.

15. Hot Springs in the Sacred Valley:

  • Relaxation: After a day of exploring, unwind in the hot springs of the Sacred Valley, such as those in Lares or Aguas Calientes. The natural thermal baths offer relaxation and stunning views.
  • Medicinal Properties: Locals believe in the therapeutic properties of these hot springs, making it a rejuvenating experience.

Practical Tips:

  • Altitude Considerations: Cusco is situated at a high altitude (approximately 3,400 meters or 11,150 feet). Take it easy upon arrival to acclimatize and stay hydrated.
  • Sun Protection: Due to the high-altitude sun, wear sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses to protect yourself from UV rays.
  • Comfortable Footwear: Wear comfortable and sturdy footwear, especially if you plan to explore archaeological sites with uneven terrain.
  • Local Cuisine: Try local specialties like cuy (guinea pig), alpaca, and quinoa dishes. Don’t miss out on traditional beverages such as chicha morada and pisco sour.

In conclusion, Cusco offers a diverse range of activities, blending historical exploration, cultural experiences, and outdoor adventures. Whether you’re fascinated by ancient ruins, captivated by vibrant markets, or seeking adrenaline-pumping activities, Cusco provides a captivating and enriching journey for every type of traveler.

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