With legendary sanctuaries, ancient cities, and access to the famous Inca ruins, the Imperial City of Cusco will capture your heart and imagination the second you step off the plane. Up first on your list should be scheduling your trip to Machu Picchu; for a beautiful (and strenuous) climb, make plans to trek the Inca Trail to the Lost City of the Incas. More timid explorers have the option to book a seat on one of PeruRail’s daily trains instead of making the four-day hike. Before or after your journey, head to Cusco’s famous Plaza de Armas, where the heavenly Cathedral and adjacent Qoricancha await your arrival. Afterwards, take your experience to a new level by heading to the Sacsayhuamán ruins, which boast amazing vistas of the city of Cusco.
Plaza de Armas
The history of the Plaza de Armas extends back to the days of the Incas. They constructed the gigantic square (initially it was twice its present size) as a venue for celebrations and services. As indicated by legend, the plaza marked the center of the Inca Empire, giving Cusco the moniker “the navel of the world.” Within the square, the sixteenth century Spanish conquistadors built La Compañia and the Cathedral; both places of worship sit on the site of the previous Incan royal residence. Presently, the Plaza de Armas holds historic points important in both Andean and Spanish history. “No trip to Cusco would be complete without at least a brief visit to the Plaza de Armas. The churches are rustic and beautiful,” says one TripAdvisor user.
It’s hard to believe that the famous “lost city of the Incas” was untouched throughout the Spanish conquest of Peru. The Incas cleverly hid the sacred city of sanctuaries, aqueducts, and temples from the Spaniards, keeping it untouched until its discovery in July of 1911 by Hiram Bingham.
To get to Machu Picchu, you’ll have to purchase a ticket from the Instituto Nacional de Cultural office in Cusco or Aguas Calientes. Tickets cost around $42 USD. Guests are welcome daily between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. with the heaviest crowds being seen between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. From Cusco, you’ll have to prepare for the 24-mile trek along the Inca Trail or reserve a seat on one of PeruRail’s trains. Trains leave from Estación Poroy station (15 minutes from downtown Cusco) to Aguas Calientes, a station sitting at the base of the mountain of Machu Picchu. For more information, please consult the concierge or tour agent located in our hotel lobby.
Sacsayhuamán is frequently eclipsed by Machu Picchu in terms of visitors; however this towering Incan stronghold, architected with stone masonry and featuring jaw-dropping vistas—is worth a visit. Giant stone squares form zig-zagged rows of walls, which leaves visitors wondering how the Incas managed to construct such a fortress without modern-day technology. Throughout your visit, you will have the opportunity to visit the Inca throne as well as the foundations of the stronghold’s three towers that have since fallen. Take a few minutes to stroll around the Explanada, a stage where locals and tourists gather for the annual Inti Raymi Festival of the Sun. Another intriguing feature is Tambomachay, a close-by spring that served as a bathing site for the Incan upper class.
Sacsayhuamán can be reached on foot, but it is highly recommended that you take a taxi due to the winding and sometimes dangerous roads leading up to the site. Simply ask the concierge or tour agency located in the lobby to arrange a tour, and an optional guide can also be included to accompany you during your visit.
Qorikancha (Temple of the Sun)
For a glimpse of the Inca’s previous glory, look no further than Qoricancha (Temple of the Sun). Also known as the “Court of Gold,” in its prime, the Incan upper class looked on as sunlight glided over 700 gold-plated dividers and illuminated the sanctuary’s altars and statues. Its splendor extended from its flickering outside walls into its grand interiors, where nearly 4,000 of the most prestigious Incan priests and their attendants lived.
Calle Hatun Rumiyoq
This is the most renowned street in the city, because of the famous twelve angles stone, a symbol of beauty and soundness in Incan architecture. The peculiar stone is one of the very great stones from the walls of the palace of Inca Roca, cyclopean construction. Now, it is part of the Archiepiscopal Palace, built upon the old palace. The street is rich with personality and local craftwork. It is the best route towards the colorful district of San Blas.
Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Winding through Peru’s verdant landscape toward Machu Picchu, this famous four-day hike is not for the faint of heart. That said, recent travelers say the laborious trek pays off with gorgeous scenery. One recent Trip Advisor user raves, “There are not enough positive words that can describe the scenery, the food, the porters, the wildlife, the cultural highlight, the historic feeling and the challenge!”
The Peruvian government requires trekkers to acquire permits (through a licensed tour operator approved by the Unidad de Gestión Santuario Histórico de Machu Picchu) before hiking the trail. If you embark on the trail from Cusco, you’ll need to hire a tour guide who will assist you with mapping out your route. We suggest contacting a licensed agency several months in advance, particularly if you visit during the high season. For advanced assistance with reservations please contact our hotel who can guide you in the right direction.