- Arguably the oldest still inhabited city in the Americas.
- Located at 3,400 m (11,200 ft) above sea level.
- Former Inca Capital and key to the Spanish conquest.
Cusco (also written Cuzco or Qosqo in Quechua) which means “Navel of the World” exactly describes what the city meant to the Incas. This imperial city was the capital of the Inca empire stretching from modern Chile all the way to Colombia and called Tawantinsuyu in Inca times. It was the largest empire ever known in South America and the intellectual and spiritual center of the Inca territory. The city was home to some of the best architects, the highest priests and of course the Inca King himself. Connected by a network of paved Inca Trails, connecting Cusco with the rest of the empire, the city was truly the beating heart of this fascinating culture. The city nowadays is still very much a thriving city with a unique architecture, lively restaurant scene, vibrant culture and untamed nightlife. Cusco is also the gateway to the lost city of the Incas; Machu Picchu as well as the surrounding area such as the Sacred Valley of the Incas with its picturesque towns. Finally Cusco is also the Peruvian heartland when it comes to adventure travel; rafting, ziplining, quadbiking, horseback riding or hiking Cusco has it all. This makes that the city of Cuzco a favorite stop for most visitors to Peru and a highlight of their trip.
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The first proof of civilizations in the Cusco area dates back to about 900AD when the region was part of the pre Inca Killke culture. The Inca history started in Cusco around 13th century. From this moment Cusco became the capital of the Inca empire and the city of Cusco became the most important religious and spiritual center in South America for centuries to come. At its highlight, the Inca city of Cusco ruled an empire from nowadays Colombia all the way to Chile, the largest empire in the history of the continent and connected by a network of paved Inca Trails. Proof of Cusco’s importance can be found in the large amount of historic building and archeological sites still remaining in and around the city. It is suggested that the city of Cusco has originally been designed in the shape of puma (one of the sacred animals for the Incas) with the main square being the heart of the puma and Sacsayhuaman the head. The main square in Inca days is located on the same place as the Plaza de Armas nowadays but was slightly larger in size. The Plaza was surrounded by 12 Inca palaces and several nobility houses, all built of stone. Next to the main square one can find Qoricancha or the Temple of the Sun, probably the most important temple in the entire Inca history. The outer walls were according chroniclers completely covered in gold. In the next urban ring you could find the popular section largely made out of huts and smaller stone structures. Overlooking Cusco from the north stands the proud fortress of Sacsayhuaman; this Inca fortress were supposedly the military quarters and base of Cusco. Located on an altitude of 3,400m (11,200ft.) making life not always easy, it is hard to understand why they choose this location for their capital city. After the Spanish conquest in 1532AD, Cusco came under strict occupation from the Spanish and was made exemplary for the harsh rule of the Spanish conquistadores. Christianity was enforced, the use of the Quechua language limited and most of the Inca descendants oppressed. It is therefore that Cusco was also the birth ground of the most important rebellion against the Spanish occupation with Tupac Amaru as a leader. Tupac Amaru was quartered on Cusco’s main square in 1781 and his body sent to the four corners of the empire. After this the rebellion slowly died till 1821 when Peru declared its independence from Spain under impulse of South America liberators General Jose de San Martin and Simon Bolivar. In 1983 Cusco was declared cultural heritage of the nation as well as a UNESCO world heritage site.
Located in the heart of the Andes in South America, Cusco is located at about 3,400meters above sea level (11,200 ft.). As the city is located in a valley, the higher parts of the city almost reach 4,000m (13,000ft). The valley is orientated to the South with the snowcapped peak of the Ausangate Mountain (6,380m /20,923ft) clearly visible at the end on a sunny day. The Sacred Valley is located to the north west heading over the mountain pass behind the main square. As with most mountain cities there are few flat parts in town and most of the time you will be either ascending or descending when visiting this city. Having grown to a relatively large city (about 500.000hab), the city center is still very much doable on foot and probably the best way to get around even with the altitude. The Cusco region is located on the highlands but next to the Amazon Basin. This means that to the northeast, in the direction of the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu altitudes slowly start going down till reaching the Tambopata National Park in the Amazon lowlands which is located almost on sea level.
- Rainy season from November through April
- Dry season April through October
- Average Min / Max Rainy season 8ºC/46ºF – 22ºC/71ºF
- Average Min / Max Dry season 0ºC/32ºF – 22ºC/71ºF
- Most rain falls in January and February
- Typical rapid changes in climate often seen in mountainous regions
Whether it is archeology, culture, outdoors, shopping, nightlife or food that fascinates you, Cusco can offer it all. The main sights in Cusco are of course the colonial city center with its Spanish style buildings built on top of Inca structures creating a unique architecture only found in this city. One of the prime examples is Qoricancha, the important Temple of the Sun in Inca times and one of the first buildings the Spanish tried tearing down and replaced partially with a monastery. Nevertheless they were not able to destroy the whole Inca structure and therefore incorporated these into the new building creating the typical Cusco style. The colonial archways on the Plaza de Armas as well as the cathedral are built with stones coming from the Inca palaces that used to embellish this square. Cusco is filled with beautiful squares such as the Plaza Recojios and the Plaza Nazarenas but one cannot also not miss out on visiting San Blas. This bohemian barrio with beautiful square as well as cozy colonial whitewashed narrow streets filled with art galleries is a must see in Cusco. As with many cities in Peru, the beating heart of the city is the central market. In Cusco this market is San Pedro Market and a place filled with exotic products and the true hustle and bustle of daily life in Cusco. Finally Cusco is a city that even though being able to look back on a large history is very much alive. This means that there is something to do for all travelers, also for the modern city dweller; amazing restaurants, great shopping, cozy bars and a vibrant nightlife. Finally Cusco is also the starting point for most visits to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. Cusco, Peru is an awesome city that will keep you busy day and night and more than worth a visit.