A trip to Peru is not complete without visiting the ancient Inca capital, Cusco. Set at more than 3,000 meters above sea level, it is definitely worth spending a few days in the city to get used to the altitude. Luckily, there are plenty of things to do and historical sites to visit in Cusco so you won’t be bored!
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the best and most important historical sites in Cusco. Let’s check them out!
Historical Sites in Cusco
Plaza de Armas
Where else to start in Cusco but the centre of the city, Plaza de Armas. Each day, thousands of people pass through here, some taking time to sit by the fountains, relax on a bench, or have a coffee overlooking some of the city’s most important monuments. Two of the city’s most important buildings are here – the Cusco Cathedral and the Iglesia la Compañia de Jesus.
It’s also where many of the city’s important festivals take place – just you try finding a spot here during New Year’s celebrations or Inti Raymi – the Inca Festival of the Sun! Plaza de Armas is also where you’ll find some of the best restaurants, bars, and nightlife – there really is something for everyone around this awesome square!
The 12-sided stone
When making your way from Plaza de Armas to the San Blas District, along one of the alleys lined with tourist shops you’ll notice lots of people getting their pictures taken, usually with someone in typical Incan costume but in a seemingly random place. But what is so special about it?
Well, this is an example of traditional Inca craftsmanship – the precisely cut stone was placed so that structures could be built without mortar – and the Spanish conquistadors used Inca foundations in their own colonial buildings.
If you don’t get to see the 12-sided stone in the flesh, you can always find a depiction of it on a bottle of Cusqueña beer!
The Inka Museum
With all of the important Inca landmarks in Cusco, it’s good to be able to go to one place that can help you learn about all of them. In one of the most impressive colonial houses in the city, known as the Admiral’s House, you can see traditional Inca artefacts, paintings, even mummies! It’s the best place to learn more about Peruvian history. Not only does it have Inca artefacts, but pre-Incan ceramics too. It’s one of the most important museums in Cusco!
The Museo Inka is just up the hill from Plaza de Armas.
When visiting Cusco, it’s impossible to miss Qorikancha off your itinerary. Before the Spanish arrived in South America, Qorikancha was the most important temple in Cusco and the centre of religion here. Kind of like what the Vatican City is to Roman Catholicism!
The Spanish style church and convent Santo Domingo were built atop the original temple, but you can still see the magnificent Incan stonework in the foundations. There’s another Inca Museum (not to be confused with the one above, which is a lot bigger), and you can use the Cusco Boleto Turístico to visit this site.
Another location included in the price of the Cusco Boleto Turístico is Saqsaywaman. This citadel is a huge archaeological site to the north of the city which is considered as one of the 7 wonders of the new world.
It’s made up of residential buildings, roads, warehouses, temples, and aqueducts and was said to be the greatest architectural work built by the Incas (quite a claim) by Garcilaso de la Vega – who has a museum in the city centre dedicated to him. Also worth a visit!
The site is located around 300 metres above Cusco city – at around 3,700 metres, so it might not be the best idea to visit this on your first day in Peru. Make sure you save it for when you can really appreciate it, as it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
The Sacred Valley
Last but not least on our list of the best places to visit for history buffs in Cusco, we have the Sacred Valley. The Sacred Valley of the Incas (also known as the Urubamba Valley) running from Ollantaytambo to Pisac. It’s here that you’ll find some of the most important and valuable historical sites of Cusco are located. Not only in terms of the Incas, but the entire world.
Moray is well worth the visit to see the concentric circles of the potato terraces. Chinchero is quiet and the ruins start just moments from the town centre and lively market. Ollantaytambo is one of the more popular sites and it’s very busy with crowds, however, you shouldn’t miss out on a stunning site. And the views of the valley from here are something else. Pisac, which we’ve already mentioned, is one of the largest sites and are fascinating to walk around. You can also enjoy the small town when you’ve finished, which is full of vegan cafes and a large indigenous market!
And of course, it’s impossible to mention the Sacred Valley without one of the greatest archaeological treasures in the world – Machu Picchu! Cusco is the base for exploring the ancient city, and you can take several day trips or multi day treks to discover the Lost City of the Incas for yourself!
Many of the places listed in the Sacred Valley can be visited by purchasing the Peru Cusco Boleto Turístico, however, you must visit Machu Picchu separately!
So, now that you know the best and most important historical sites in Cusco…
You’ll probably want to plan the final details before you visit. If you fancy properly immersing yourself into Peruvian culture after checking out this incredible city, check out the Proyecto Peru Centre. They offer volunteer projects, internships, and Spanish classes in and around Cusco and the Sacred Valley!
Guest article written by Trip101.