City of Cuzco

By Megan

What is the City of Cuzco?

The City of Cuzco in Peru was the heart of the Inca Empire. In fact, the ancient Imperial City of the Incas is said to have been built in the shape of the sacred Puma. This incredible city sits nestled in the Andes Mountains at a staggering elevation of 3,400 meters (11,155 feet).

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Text: City of Cuzco, Peru.
Images: Top, traditional dancers in bright red and green clothing. Bottom, view across a field where walls of a ruin show a zigzag pattern. On the horizon, mountains.

Why is the City of Cuzco a UNESCO World Heritage site?

According to the UNESCO website, “The Imperial city of the Incas was developed as a complex urban centre with distinct religious and administrative functions which were perfectly defined, distributed and organized….The city represents the sum of 3,000 years of indigenous and autonomous cultural development in the Peruvian southern Andes.”

After the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, the city layout was mostly preserved and rebuilt into a bustling colonial city focusing around the Catholic faith, “a representative and exceptional example of the confluence of two distinct cultures; Inca and Hispanic…”

view across a field where walls of a ruin show a zigzag pattern. On the horizon, mountains.

What can you expect on a visit to Cuzco?

The City of Cuzco is filled with fascinating history and boasts a wide range of unique things to do. The historic city center has cobblestone streets, inviting plazas, and bustling authentic markets. There are sprawling Inca ruins in the form of archaeological parks that are found just above the hillside of the city. On top of these alluring sites, there are diverse and hidden Inca ruins that are free to visit like Inkilltambo and the Temple of the Fly.

The city of Cuzco has a delicious food scene unique to the region, a hip coffeeshop scene, and the markets have endless menu del dia, a two-course meal that includes a drink for 5 soles (less than $1.50).

A colonial-era stone building, either a church or a palace.

The City of Cuzco is the gateway to one of the seven Wonders of the Modern World, Machu Picchu. Adventure hikers can take the Classic Inca Trail to the lost city, or try an alternative trek through the Lares Valley or to the “other lost city” of Choquequirao.

Of course, there are worthwhile day trips to the nearby Sacred Valley. This fertile and lush valley has a plethora of charming villages, epic hiking trails, and more Inca sites included on the city’s popular Cusco Tourist Ticket. Trekking enthusiasts should explore the South Valley with the high-altitude excursion of the Ausangate trek or visit Waqrapukara, the “horned fortress.” The South Valley also offers the colorful Rainbow Mountain and other little visited Inca sites.

A beautiful view of jagged mountains with clouds surrounding their tips.

Is Cuzco worth visiting?

The City of Cuzco is definitely worth visiting and oftentimes a highlight for travelers visiting Peru and South America. The Imperial City of Cuzco is filled with the mysterious stories of the Incas and fused with the Spanish culture. Besides the rich history, Cuzco is surrounded by stunning nature, breathtaking day trips, and towering mountains.

What travelers would like Cuzco?

The City of Cuzco packs in so much history, adventure, and culture that any type of traveler will enjoy a visit to Cusco. Adventure travelers will love the never-ending old Inca trails that provide diverse and intrepid hiking. History buffs will appreciate the many city museums. Those who adore food will love eating their way through this foodie city. Cultural travelers will cherish visiting the weaving artisan villages.

Traditional dancers, all facing to the left. The women have wide red skirts and white blouses and wear short boots and hats with wide brims. The men wear black pants tucked into high boots. They wear a long shawl down their backs, tied in front and a hat with tall feathers sticking out.

Tips for visiting Cuzco

The city of Cuzco sits at over 3,400 meters. To help alleviate altitude sickness, or in Peru known as soroche, chew on coca leaves or drink coca tea.

The city center is completely walkable and the public transportation is easy to use. Buses and collectivos, or small vans, connect all the most popular destinations in the Cuzco region.

The neighborhood of San Blas is hip and becoming a popular place to stay when visiting Cuzco. Find your Cuzco accommodations here.

Peru is a huge country filled with massive mountain chains. Long travel by buses is cheap, but can take hours. For example, it’s over 10 hours from Cusco to Arequipa and over 24 hours from Lima to Cusco by bus. Keep these distances and times in mind when planning a trip to Peru.

Where is Cuzco?

Cuzco is located in the south of Peru in the Andes, and is the country’s seventh largest city. It is well connected to the rest of Peru and popular destinations in South America with its own airport and a large bus terminal.

For more information about Cuzco, visit the official tourism website here.

Have you been to Cuzco? If so, do you have any additional information or advice about this UNESCO World Heritage site? Please add your comments below!

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