The Inca Capital
Nowadays Cusco grew to the touristic capital of Perú with the most archeological sites of the country and became world famous as an access point to Machu Picchu. That means it is on one hand merciless over run by tourists and overpriced but on the other hand clean and safe with lots of possibilities to spent your leisure time.
The city center and especially the two biggest squares, Plaza de Armas and Plaza San Francisco are quiet lovely with paved streets and old colonial architecture. The most important places are easy assessable and a single bus ride is just 0,70PEN (0,20€) with 4PEN (1,10€) you can reach almost every place around the center by taxi but it's also walkable. The city is basically 24 hours alive and offers several nightclubs, bars, restaurants and cafes for every budget and preferences. The central market „San Pedro“ is just a five minutes walk from Plaza de Armas, where you can find a huge variety of different agricultural products, exotic fruits, snacks and souvenirs. If you search a bit deeper you will also find Ayahuasca in plastic bottles and other interesting things like powder from psychedelic cactuses for instance. Really tasty are the fresh pressed juices in the first part of the market, you choose up to three different fruits, pay less than 2€ and receive almost a breakfast. Additionally there is, like on almost every market in Perú, an area to eat, for 5 - 10PEN (1,50 - 3€) you can get a breakfast, lunch or dinner. Directly behind the San Pedro market is a second market, less touristic, with the same variety but way cheaper. Around this market there are plenty of venders for street food and other things you can try there is the famous Chicha Morada, a juice from the purple corn of the region, super sweet but refreshing. Usually you find the venders everywhere on the streets, they sell it in different versions and colors. More rare but worth a try is also Chicha de Jora - a beer like drink from fermented corn.
In the center there are also several museums, which are mainly related to the archeology of the Cusco region and the Inca culture. The problem is, that it is not really possible to buy an entrance ticket for only a single museum, they are only sold in combination with other museums and archeological sites. The cheapest ticket is 70PEN (20€) and if you have only a few days to visit the city this is quiet a lot of money.
So Cusco itself is already worth a visit, but the more interesting things are the several activities and archeological sites in the surroundings. For a quick overview on the most important places and ruins see the following list:
- Machu Picchu - the world famous Inca ruins are located ca. 75km north western of Cusco, for more information click here.
- Rainbow Mountain also known under the name Vinicunca - is a colorful peak of 5.020m height. The different minerals of the mountain are creating the rainbow effect from red over greenish shades to deep blue. The tour is available from 80PEN (22€) and includes breakfast and lunch and takes the whole day. The hike itself takes 6 hours (14km) and starts from 4.326m height up to the top and back. Some parts of the way are very steep and even for experienced hikers quiet hard, but totally worth the effort, on the way you will see beautiful landscapes, villages, llamas, alpacas and vikuñas. If your physical condition is no that good, you can rent a horse together with a guide for additional 60PEN (17€) to master the ascent.
- Chinchero - a small village near Cusco with several Inca terraces. The area around is also a great place for hiking or mountain biking with awesome views. Every Sunday there is a famous market, in the center of Chinchero place, with agricultural products like all kinds of potatoes, other vegetables, fruits and plenty of handcrafted products and souvenirs.
- Pisac, a well preserved Inca town with a fortress, cemetery and a underground path.
- Moray - also known as the agricultural laboratory of the Incas, a complex of enormous terraced circular depressions, which where used for agricultural experiments and the production of food.
- Ollantaytambo - an Inka city with well preserved buildings for administration, agriculture, military and religion.
- The Sacred Valley - also called Urubamba valley, is the surrounding of Cusco and includes basically everything between Calca, Lamay, Pisac and Ollantaytambo. A beautiful fertile piece of land including high peaks, valleys and jungles. Great for hiking, mountain biking and other activities like rafting or zip lining.
All these sights and further attractions are easily accessible from Cusco. Around Plaza the Armas are plenty of tour operators, which are organizing a day or a multi-day trips to the several sights as well as other activities.
During our 3 weeks stay in Cusco, we were working together with Inka jungle tours, which we can really recommend for several day tours. Maybe not that cheap but they offer a great service with private tour guides and accommodation as well as personal consulting and assembling of your own tour.
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