The historical capital of Peru and the Incan Empire, Cuzco is the country’s most historically and culturally rich city, which has cemented its status as one of the country’s premier tourist destinations. With both Incan and Spanish Colonial relics adorning the city, Cuzco is a must-see destination for those travelling to Peru.
While not exactly located within the city itself, Machu Picchu is often the main reason tourists travel to Cuzco and it isn’t difficult to see why. Machu Picchu is considered, by some distance, to be the most significant physical relic of the Incan Empire. Initially constructed as a home for Pachacuti, the Incan Emperor in the mid-15th Century, Machu Picchu was effectively abandoned following the conquest by the Spanish in the 16th Century. Amazingly, the city was overlooked by the Spaniards and laid in obscurity until the early 20th Century. Now considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the restored Machu Picchu is truly a sight to behold atop an awe-inspiring mountainous backdrop.
Plaza de Armas
The main square of Cuzco is very much the heart of the bustling city. Very much inspired by the Spanish colonial legacy, the Plaza de Armas epitomises Cuzco’s vibrant atmosphere, a place of constant activity. The square often hosts a number of festivals and events, most notably the Inca Festival of the Sun. It is also the hub of the city’s famous nightlife. The square caters to the interests of many different kinds of travellers and is a must-see location.
Another of the city’s breathtaking Incan ruins, Incahuasi is located atop a mountain just outside the city. It bears the distinction for being the highest Incan ruins in the country, towering at above 13,000 feet. While often overlooked in favour of the more illustrious Machu Picchu, Incahuasi is one of the more under appreciated sites in Peru, offering breathtaking mountainous views.
A short drive from the city, Ollantaytambo is an important site along the famous Inca Trail. A former estate of Inca Emperor Pachacuti, the town is one of the best-preserved and most-visited Incan ruins remaining. Historically rich, the city was conquered by Pachacuti in the 15th Century and thereafter functioned as his main estate. Following Spanish conquest, the city served as a hub for the native resistance movement. As Spanish hegemony set in, the site, like many others fell into decline, only to regain significance with the advent of archaeology in the early 20th Century. It remains one of the country’s most popular tourist sites due to the extensive ruins still intact.
One of the lesser-known Incan ruins, Nusta Hispana is less overwhelming than the colossal Machu Picchu and Ollantaytambo, but offers a more tranquil and understated experience. Nuts Hispana is best known for its sculpture garden and its most identifiable feature, the Yurac Rumi or White Rock. For those looking to experience the Incan ruins but avoid the crowds, this is not a bad place to look
The centre piece of the Plaza de Armas, Cuzco’s most iconic cathedral dates back to the mid-17th Century-the city’s first Christian church. The incredibly impressive cathedral remains an important place of worship for the city’s Christian population in the present day but has a number of other functions as well. The church houses a number of important artefacts and art works. Most notable of these is the Señor de los Temblores-a statue of Jesus’ crucifixion, which has since become a national symbol of Peru.
Museo de Arte Precolombino
Cuzco’s main museum specialises in pre-Columbian artefacts and artworks, which is fitting given the city’s immense Incan physical legacy. These artefacts span thousands of years of native history, with the museum containing over 400 items on permanent display. There are few better destinations in the city to gain a better insight into the cultural history of the region.
San Pedro Market
A short walk away from the bustling Plaza de Armas, San Pedro Market is no less manic, but offers a refreshing reprieve from the normal tourist traps. The market offers an extensive range of items, including souvenirs but most notably food. There are few better places in Cuzco to sample authentic Peruvian cuisine. The market is one of the city’s lesser-known attractions and can get lost in the hectic mayhem of Cuzco but is worth a visit for those seeking an authentically Peruvian experience.
San Blas District
One of the city’s most singular neighbourhoods, the San Blas District has a notably colonial identity as evidenced through its architecture. The neighbourhood is very different from other parts of Cuzco and worth visiting for those seeking a reprieve from the tourist-friendly intensity of the city. The laid-back neighbourhood has a number of bars, cafes and art galleries that offer a more relaxed glimpse into Cuzco life.
Paddy’s Irish Pub
One of the city’s strangest and most unique sites is the highest Irish pub in the world. Highly popular amongst both expatriates and locals, Paddy’s is a surreal yet very fun experience, which offers much more than European home comforts like Guinness. A highly incongruous location, it is worth seeking out for those looking for a good time and a break from the more historical side of Cuzco.