So, you’ve finally bit the bullet and decided to fulfill your lifelong dream of conquering the Peruvian giant known to many as Machu Picchu. It is likely that you will find yourself in the charming town of Cusco at some point during your adventures, as it’s an incredibly convenient spot for getting around in this region. However, if you are thinking that Cusco will be one of those uninspiring stopovers where you won’t do much else other than eating, sleeping and maybe acclimatizing yourself to the brutal altitude of the Andean region – you are sorely mistaken! The former Incan capital is a buzzing, colorful attraction in its own right, where a plethora of cultural and historic attractions await you at every step of its charming, cobblestone streets. Here are some of the most popular spots you can explore during your visit.
Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas has been the heart of Cusco ever since the times of the Incan Empire. At its center lies a gorgeous 19th-century fountain with a golden statue of an Incan man on its top; surrounding it are two buildings with notably ornate façades: the Cathedral and Iglesia de la Compañia. Wherever you turn, you will notice quaint wooden balconies perched above rows of arched portals – this is where you will find charming bars, cafés and restaurant, which truly come alive once the sun sets.
If your feet are itching to see all those ancient ruins (this is what you came for in the first place, right?), then Sacsayhuaman might be a good starting point for acquainting yourself with the glorious legacy of the Inca civilization, as it can be easily reached from center of Cusco on foot. It is believed that the layout of Cusco was intended to be in shape of a puma, and this complex was supposed to serve as its head. The massive fortification is said to have held both military and religious functions.
At the other end of this imaginary puma – its tail – lies the Coricancha or the “golden enclosure”, a site that was once a religious complex dedicated to the highest Incan deities. The original temple was destroyed during the Spanish Conquests; the colonizers built a cathedral in its place, preserving only the stone foundations. Oddly enough, the Spanish cathedral would later be destroyed in an earthquake, whereas the Inca walls persisted. Today, the convent of Santo Domingo lies on the remains of this once-glorious Incan temple.
If you are feeling beat after a day sightseeing or trekking Machu Picchu, you can find shelter in the hidden alleys tucked away behind Plaza de Armas towards north. Here, walking along the tiny cobbled streets, you will stumble upon some of Cusco’s best kept secrets: independent coffee shops, quaint restaurants and artisanal shops. Take you time and let the winding walkways take you to your own adventure. If you look hard enough, you might find stairs that will lead you above the San Blas Plaza, where you can get spectacular views of the town and the awe-inspiring nature surrounding it.
For more breathtaking views, you can head over to the Pukamuqu mountain, where you will find the statue of the White Christ overlooking the town. This immense creation, depicting Jesus Christ with his arms wide open, was built in 1945 as a symbol of gratitude by Palestinian Christians who had sought shelter in Cusco. It can be easily reached from the Sacsayhuaman ruins; if you are setting off from Plaza de Armas, it shouldn’t take you longer than an hour.