This southeastern city in Peru nestled in the Urubamba Valley of the Andes mountain range is spelled both Cusco and Cuzco. So if arguing this point, you are both right. People infamously come here before heading up the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
So sit back and get ready to enjoy a cup of coco leaf tea and get ready for your Cusco adventure.
The elevation of the city of Cusco is around 3,400 meters or 11,200 feet. The Incans are acclimated to the thin air, but if you are not a doctor can prescribe you Diamox to speed up your body’s ability to adapt to the higher altitude. This was a common topic among travelers I met on my solo journey to Cusco, then to Machu Picchu.
I decided to make the journey alone because I needed the confidence to start a new chapter in my life, which would ultimately mean I would be alone. I had a transcendent experience hiking up to Machu Picchu, spending the day learning about the abandoned city, and almost making it back to the tiny transient town Aquas Calientes below it before the vivacious rain storm came out of nowhere. Five minutes later I was walking around the Aquas Calientes in ankle deep stormwater. Luckily my Mom packed a poncho in my backpack.
My last night in Cusco I randomly and magically ran into friends, a beautiful couple I use to live near in Bondi Beach, Australia. We met at Paddy’s Irish Pub, an odd place to meet for a pint while in South America. I have currently made it one of my traditions to go to Irish pubs all over the world. After my friends and I caught up on life, we went to Mama Africa, a popular nightclub and danced until the sun sprang up around 6 am. The city of Cusco will give you whatever you want, history, culture, ruins, and nightlife, and maybe even chance encounters.
Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th to the 16th century, until the Spanish conquest in May 1533. The Spanish invaded, murdered, and plundered the temples of their gold. They brought with them weapons and diseases that the Incans could not withstand. The Spanish colonized Cusco, spreading Christianity and converting the Incans as they constructed many churches, some built on top of the massive stone walls constructed for the Incans religious sites.
The city has a thriving population of 500,000 people that live within the cities cobblestoned streets, complete with all the luxuries that come along with having a tourist attraction that produces 2 million visitors a year.
Cusco’s high elevations allow for cooler temperatures, especially in the early morning and after the sun goes down. Be advised to dress warm no matter what season, and pack for rain. I ended up buying fleece leggings on the street because I was not ‘packed perfectly’ – do not make that mistake.
The Plaza de Armas
The Plaza de Armas contains landmarks significant to both Andean and Spanish history. The stunning architecture of the churches is worth seeing. Women in traditional dress sit out front holding baby goats for you to take a photo with for money. The plaza buzzes with activity during the day and night.
An ancient Incan fortress that is usually overshadowed by Machu Picchu. It is a 25-minute walk from the Plaza de Armas. It’s worth the visit to see the stone masonry and dramatic vistas; giant carved stone blocks that form zigzagged rows of walls. To hear the legend behind the stonework join a guided tour, around $11USD Walk around to see the Tambomachay, a spring that served as a bathing site for the Incan elite. Strolling around the ruins will give you impressive views of the city.
A beautiful small lake surrounded by forest and little known to tourists.
Take an exciting day trip – about a 3 hour drive from Cusco.
Chincero is known for its Sunday market, which is more traditional than the one in Pisaq. It is not yet swarmed with people trying to hound tourist for photo ops.
Pisac Market sells jewelry, minerals, herbs, handicrafts, and local foods. You will see the locals in traditions clothing and see a local way of life. Around town, you will see many shops selling everything made from the prominent Llama, Alpaca, Guanaco, and Vicuna fur.
Cusco is full of bars and club options depending on your mood. Cocktails are around $4 to $6 USD. Magners is popular for its Pisco Sour, the traditional Peruvian drink. Mama Africa is a favorite club among tourist and locals as is Real McCoy, 7 Angelios, Mythology and The Frogs, and Groove.