Cuzco

Plaza de Armas

Cuzco or Cusco (Qosqo in Quechua, Cuzco in Spanish), located in the Southern Sierras, is a fascinating city that was the capital of the Inca Empire. Cuzco is a Unesco World Heritage Site and is one of Peru's most visited cities as it is the largest and most comfortable city from which tourists can begin visits to Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and other Inca sites in the region.

Understand

Cuzco is a beautiful city with well preserved colonial architecture, evidence of a rich and complex history. The city itself represents the center of indigenous Quechua culture in the Andes, and by merely walking the streets one sees the layers of history. Spanish colonial buildings erected directly atop Inca walls line the square, while the modern tourist nightlife flourishes in their midst.

The city is surrounded by a number of ruins, the most impressive being Sacsayhuaman, the site of the 1536 battle in which dozens of Pizarro's men charged uphill to battle the forces of the Inca.

Nowadays, Cuzco is known for its indigenous population—often seen on the streets in traditional clothing—and its substantial tourist-fueled night life.

At 3,400 m above sea level, altitude sickness (soroche) can be a problem. See the Stay healthy section for advice. Altitude sickness tends to sneak up on you and although its symptoms may not be apparent at first, it has the potential to develop into something extremely dangerous.

Machu Picchu is one of the most popular tourist attraction in Latin America, so prices are raising every year.

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 18.8 18.8 19.1 19.7 19.7 19.4 19.2 19.9 20.1 20.9 20.6 20.8
Nightly lows (°C) 6.6 6.6 6.3 5.1 2.7 0.5 0.2 1.7 4.0 5.5 6.0 6.5
Precipitation (mm) 145.3 133.7 107.0 43.2 8.7 1.5 4.0 8.6 21.8 39.4 71.9 122.7

Source:w:Cusco#Climate

Climate

Has two defined seasons. The dry season: from April to October, with abundant sunshine. The wet season lasts from November to March (in February the Inca Trail is closed).

Tourist Office

More information on Cuzco is available from the official Tourist Office:

Get in

By plane

The airport is at the edge of the city (taxi ride). There are daily internal flights to and from Lima, Arequipa and small jungle airstrips in the Amazon basin. Lan Peru has the most flights between Cuzco and Lima, followed by LC Perú and Avianca. It is best to book the earlier flights to avoid weather delays and overbooking.

The closest major international airport is Lima. The cheapest one-way flights to Lima cost around US$70. LC Perú generally has the cheapest flights. Frequently, bad weather conditions can cause flights to be canceled, often up to two days on end. If you are flying straight into Cuzco, beware of altitude sickness for the first couple of days.

With only 5 gates and a few off the main terminal this airport is fairly small but because it sees thousands of tourists a day, it has a good amount of facilities. There are a few restaurants before and after security and some shops too. Massage facilities and communication services are also available. There are a few ATMs in the check-in Area. If you have time, look across the parking lot for last-minute shopping.

When leaving Cuzco airport, there is an airport tax that must be paid. As of April 2010, the domestic airport tax is a little less than US$5. This can be paid in soles or in dollars. As of June 2011, this was included in the price of some tickets.

Note that the market rate for a taxi from the airport to the Plaza de Armas is around 15 soles, not 30 or more as the 'official' airport taxis may try to charge you. As a tourist, it's best to use the unofficial cabs outside and expect to pay around 10-15 soles without much trouble. To find these taxis, exit the airport through the main gate and go to the street that is in front of the airport. Head right on the right-hand-side of the street for around 50m until you hit the taxi stand.

The airport opens at 3am, so if you have to leave early in the morning, do not arrive before 3am, if so, You will have to wait outside the airport (and it is pretty dark)

By bus

The Terminal Terrestre is about a 20-minute walk down the Av. Sol. You can also take a taxi for a few soles. The toilet in the terminal is S/.1 at the first level, in the second level is free.

Buses are plentiful to and from other Peruvian and Bolivian cities like Lima (about 22 hr), Puno (6-8 hr), Arequipa (10 hr), Nasca (14-16 hr), Copacabana (9-12hr, 60 soles) and La Paz (12-15hr, 90 soles) but are quite long and slow, although the views can compensate. The main roads are mostly quite good, but some can be bad, making trips take longer than expected.

It should be understood that buses in Peru are not operated to first world standards, especially the cheaper ones. The drivers work long hours and poor maintenance is common. There are frequent accidents, often with fatalities. If you are of nervous disposition, stick with the more upmarket companies.

Also, make sure your bus has a bathroom or that it stops for bathroom breaks every couple of hours before you buy tickets. There are Puno-Cuzco buses that have/do neither, and that can mean a VERY long 6–8 hours.

By rail

Cuzco is connected to Machu Picchu and Puno by rail. Rail service was recently discontinued to Arequipa. This service is operated by PeruRail.

Get around

The center of Cuzco is small enough to walk around, although you will probably need to catch a bus or taxi to the bus station, Sacsayhuamán or airport. Beware about walking around at night alone and/or drunk, robberies have often been reported.

Taxis are very common in Cuzco. Officially they cost 2-4 soles depending on distance. Call Alo Cusco Taxis Often many drivers are not locals. Beware when using taxis at night; robberies have been reported in collusion with taxi cab drivers, at certain times radio taxis may be the safest option. The driver might also try to extort a hefty sum of money (15 soles) for a short ride if you don't haggle before - which is likely if you're just arriving at night at the bus terminal and want to avoid the hordes of touts. Just pay 5 soles and leave it at that. Do not get in any taxis which already has a passenger. Do not get in a street taxi by night, order one by telephone.

If you are staying in Cuzco for a long time, the Combis are a cheap and reliable form of transportation. These are the Volkswagen vans and small buses with names like Imperial, Batman, or Zorro. It costs about 60 centimos to ride them. If you are unsure if a certain combi will take you where you want to go, just ask. They will call out the stops as they go and if you want to get off, you just yell "Baja!", as in, "I want to get off!" They run until 10PM. But if you are a fan of lots of personal space, this may not be the best option for you, as they tend to be quite full. Carry your backpack in front of you.

For large groups, a tourist bus can be very convenient to get to places like Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Check with one of the many local travel agencies.

See

Boleto turistico

A boleto turistico is required for access to some of the sights in and around Cuzco. It can be bought at the Oficina Ejecutiva del Comité (OFEC), Av Sol 103, ☎ +51 84 227 037.

There are three different kind of tickets:

  • A full ticket (valid for ten days and for all sites), 130 soles;
  • A student ticket (ISIC student card required as proof), 70 soles;
  • A partial ticket, (only valid for one day and a limited number of sites)

The ticket gives access to the following sites in Cuzco: Santa Cataline Monastery, Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporáneo, Museo Historico Regional, Museo del Sitio del Qoricancha, Museo de Arte Popular, Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo Danzas Folklórico, and Monumento Pachacuteq. And around Cuzco: Sacsayhuamán, Qénqo, Pukapukara, Tambomachay, Chinchero and the ruins of Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Tipón and Pikillacta.

Museums and galleries

Historic

Do

In Cuzco City

Walk around the Plaza de Armas; the square has churches, shops, restaurants and bars backing on to it and is a great place to spend an afternoon. The historical center of Cuzco is beautiful, but you will have to deal with all the street vendors and hawkers of cheap paintings and other souvenirs. They are everywhere in and around the Plaza de Armas. They somewhat spoil the experience.

Get a massage. You will invariably be propositioned by young ladies handing out flyers advertising massages. These are legit, only cost 15-20 Soles for 1+ hour, but are not done by trained masseuses. Still, for the price it can't be beat.

Day Trips from Cuzco

Most day trips from Cuzco follow the following format: at between 7-9AM you get picked up from your hotel or you meet with your group in a public plaza very near to Plaza de Armas, or at the front door of the agency with which you booked the tour, which is also very likely to be near Plaza de Armas. Then you drive for ~1–2 hours to your destination(s). The day ends back where it started, at 3-4PM In practice this means that you can do only one day trip per day and that it will most likely occur during the beginning part of the day. An exception to this is the day tour of Cuzco which starts later, ~1PM. For all these trips, ask in your hotel if you want them to call travel agencies.

Archaeological Ruins Trips

Sacsayhuamán, The closest and largest of these ruins is the amazing Inca Sacsayhuamán (sometimes called Saqsaywaman and pronounced "Sock-say-wah-mun") ruins high above Cuzco. It is a steep climb from the Plaza de Armas up Plateros street which changes to Saphi. Look for the long staircase on the right, follow the paved curvy road up to the next cobblestone pedestrian path and follow this climb past the first closed control point to the second control. No need to take a cab if you can handle it. But, be careful, as robberies have been reported in mornings and evenings. There is a charge to explore the ruins at the second control or present your boleto turistico. Those on a budget can get a sense of the ruins without paying by walking up the hill and up to the entrance. You can then walk to the adjacent hill with the big Jesus on it and look down on the city. However, the sheer size of the stones that were moved and the importance of the battle there make it worth entrance fee. Read up on the battle beforehand as the guides don't discuss it. Also, a view of the circular base of the former tower as shown in many of the photos is not possible due to the protective ropes. Go earlier in the morning as later visits are disrupted by whistles from guards telling unobservant tourists to get off the ruins. Or go even more early (before 7AM) and get in for free (2013).
Amazing Inca walls at Sacsayhuamán
Qenko, (or Q'enqo), The Second site up the road from Sacsayhuamán. Take the cumbi shared busses up the hill for 1 sole or take a walk of about 0.5–1 km up a gradual incline to visit the site. Its name means "Zig-Zag" in Quecha, and probably refers to the Zig-Zag channels carved into a rock. Explore the pass through cave and view the altar on which llamas were sacrificed. The large erect stone shown on the boleto turistico is a solar calendar. On each side of the stone is a square wall two stones high. Each stone is representative of a number of days, the total is the total days in the year. Opposite the stone are the familiar windows in which mummies and human remains were discovered. Accessible with the boleto turistico
imported rock
Pukapukara, (red fort). Named after the red hue of the hillsides nearby. The third site along the route, even heartier walkers will find the walk a bit long and a bit steep despite the paved and well traveled road. However, the views along the walk are great and small mud brick bars are intermittent between the sites. Hire a taxi or take a cumbi shared bus up from Qenko for one sole to save time and energy. A larger site than Q'enqo, the guides have more to say about this site. It was likely a checkpoint or military control. Offerings of coca leaves among other things were received here. Accessible with the boleto turistico.
Puka Pukara, ruin of fort overlooking road
Tambomachay, The most distant ruin on the route from Cuzco. It is a small site with an ornamental fountain whose source is unknown as reportedly archaeologists lack the tools necessary to determine the source without damaging the site. Likely it is an underground spring. In several Incan sites such as Ollentaytambo water sources were covered or underground to protect the water supply from poisoning. Accessible with the boleto turistico. Bathrooms are free with the Boleto. Take a cumbi all the way back to Plaza de las Armas in Cuzco for 1 sole.
Tambo Machay
Guides and tours to all four sites in one day, If interested, pay/negotiate for a guide at the second control at Sacsayhuamán to tour you through all four sites. Ask the guard at the ticket control which guides have been through the government training. Expect between 60-80 soles depending upon the season which is about 15-20 soles per site. Allow 4-5 hr for the trip when taking the Cumbis shared buses. Pack a snack although water is available along the way. Bathrooms (clean and well maintained) are only available at the final site Tambomachay. A boleto turisitico is recommended as control points exist at three of the four sites and are carefully monitored.
If you don't want to hire a guide, then you could take a taxi or combi to Tambomachay/Pukapukara and walk back down the hill to the remaining sites. This is much kinder on the legs! If you go to the first two sites in the morning, there is a backpacker's cafe about 250 m down the road on the right that does tasty and inexpensive sandwiches and very good fruit juice. The walk down to Q'enqo and Sacsayhuamán has nice views.
Ollantaytambo is the most impressive ruins (after Machu Picchu, of course), it's a must see. There is lots of touristy stuff to buy, you can barter, but the prices won´t go down much.
Moray (Peru) was the agricultural laboratory of the Incas. Several concentric circles up to 150 m deep caused temperature changes of between 2-4°C. Seeds were developed here and spread throughout the empire. 67.5 km (42 mi) from Cuzco. Accessible with the boleto turistico. On the same trip you should visit the Salineras de Maras, terraced salt ponds and also Chinchero. The Chinchero market is on Sundays and finishes early in the afternoon. Take the Cuzco-Chinchero-Urubamba bus from Av. Grau 525. Get off at Chinchero first to catch the market then head on to Moray and the Salineras afterwards.
It makes sense to see Pikillacta and Tipon on the same day as they're on the same bus route. Pikillacta is a little further from Cuzco than Tipon. Tipon has nice terraces, water channels and long staircases its believed to be a part of the Incan royal estate. Here sits the largest irrigation system built by the incas (much of it still functioning) as well as an Incan cemetery. 22.5 km (14 mi) from Cuzco. Both sites accessible with the boleto turistico. Bus Av. De La Cultura 1320, Cuzco to Urcos (Tipon-Pikillacta-Andahuaylilas).

Day Trips non Archaeological

Work

Buy

The indigenous women at El Centro Bartolome de Las Casas have a store in which they sell homemade handicrafts and weavings. You can often watch them work, though they often don't speak Spanish, and rarely speak a word of English. It's located a few blocks from the plaza on Avenida Tullumayu.

The further away you get from the main square, they cheaper things become. In the San-Pedro market where bread is 0.10 soles and a glass of combination juices is 1.50 soles, and they give you 2-4 refills. Don´t go too far from the main square at night though, it can be dangerous.

Alpaca sweaters are not like they used to be. The only good ones are in upmarket shops.

In Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu, prices can be double what they are in Cuzco.

Eat

Lomo Saltado, a popular dish

The Cuzco area has some extremely good international food with tasty options for all budgets. Best pizza ever at the end of the Av. La Cultura. Be sure to try an alpaca steak (don't forget a llama/alpaca is normally kept and used for its wool - so only old animals will be slaughtered).

The soups are amazing. Try sopa de zapallo, a type of pumpkin soup.

If you are looking for traditional Peruvian food try lomo saltado (beef tips stir-fried with tomatoes, onions, and spices, over a bed of French fries and rice), aji de gallina(chicken in a very good yellow pepper sauce with olives and hard-boiled eggs), or papa rellena (stuffed potato with beef, olives, hard-boiled egg, vegetables, and spices)

When leaving Cuzco, there is a place called Boing Appetit (in front of the Airport, just if you want to have breakfast or a sandiwich before take the plane to Lima) its the only place that counts with free internet connection in front of the airport.

Foods

Restaurants

"Cuy" the regional specialty, roasted guinea pig

Supermarkets

There are several supermarkets close to el centro:

For larger supermarkets, take a combi or taxi a couple of kilometres south on Av. La Cultura.

Drink

There are many clubs and pubs in Cuzco, and there are always people handing out flyers around the Plaza de Armas. These usually include free drinks. The clubs are almost always busy, even during the week, do not usually have cover charges, and most are open until 3AM at the earliest and 5PM at the latest. The hot spots change nightly; ask around and you will quickly find the crowds of travelers.

Sleep

Loads and loads of options in Cuzco to suit all budgets. Most won't need to be booked beforehand. San Blas, many new hospedajes/hostales have opened in this area 4 blocks up the hill from the Plaza de Armas.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Cope

What to wear

Stay safe

Law enforcement related to drugs is very severe in Peru - that is, years in prison and no pleasure. Consider that many "long resident tourists" are part of the scene. It is already a felony that you "consider to maybe accept" an offer to buy.

Although Cuzco is, in general, relatively safe, as in any urban area, muggings and petty thefts do occur. Use common sense and you should be fine. Don't wander alone away from the Plaza de Armas late at night. Don't flaunt your valuables around. Be conscious of what is going on around you. As Peru's main tourist attraction, Cuzco is a mecca for thieves and scammers. Pickpocketing (especially by children) is a major problem. New scams are being thought of all the time. For example, be wary if you are approached by people trying to sell you stuff in the streets and try to strike up a long conversation. It's possible that they are distracting you while someone else is pickpocketing you. By night, it's not wise to venture away from the main well lit areas. The markets, bus station and other crowded areas are the epicentres for these activities. Often targets are distracted by some strange going on (e.g. fight or dispute) whilst another person performs the robbery. Only take taxis that are well marked, and if you are taking a taxi alone at night, write down the number and call a friend (or pretend to call a friend if you don't have a phone) saying, so the driver can hear, that you are coming home in taxi #... Also, try not to set yourself apart as a clueless tourist by wearing expensive or flashy clothing or revealing clothing in a particularly conservative region of Peru (the locals do not wear shorts and tank-tops around).

Watch for the feral dogs that hit the streets at night, rummaging through trash. Peruvians love dogs, and most of the time the animals are friendly. Just use common sense and project confidence and you shouldn't be bothered. If you feel threatened let the dogs see you pick up a rock off the ground, or if there are no rocks simply act like you picked one up. The dogs seem to know what this means and they'll slowly back off.

There are a number of beggars in the streets of Cuzco, most of them children. They will tell you the money is for schooling. Giving to beggars is a moral decision each individual can make. If you don't want them to follow you around, a stern 'no' will suffice. Please see the article on Begging.

Stay healthy

For most travelers, at 11,150 feet Cuzco is the highest point on their trip (or any trip for that matter) and altitude sickness is a big problem - you may become winded after even minor exertion (other symptoms include headache and nausea). If you've had trouble at high elevation in the past, arrive a day early to acclimate. Remember on the first day to take it slow and stay away from the bars the first night. Most hotels offer coca tea (coca leaves are the traditional native remedy for altitude sickness) and finding products made out of coca like coca candy is easy to find in Cuzco, but their effect is doubtful. If you expect to get drug tested upon your return home, however, avoid all products with coca, drink plenty of water and look into Diamox Sequels in USA or Glaucozol in Peru(drug: Acetazolamide) (available at a pharmacy) to help deal with the adjustment period. Acetazolamide is a diurectic (so, you will be peeing every 2 hours, quite annoying). Another option (probably the best) is the famous Sorojchi Pills (drugs: Acetylsalicylic Acid, Salofeno and Cafeine).

To avoid upset stomach doctors recommend that you drink only bottled water and avoid uncooked vegetables and fruits that you haven't peeled, even in hotels.

Go next

Ccaccaccollo weavers
  • There are several buses that travel to Lake Titicaca, which are compareably priced, and takes less time than the train. They also stop at 5 or 6 interesting spots along the trip, including the "Sistine Chapel of South America" Prices have increased recently, and the cheap backpacker train no longer runs this route, having been sent to the Poroy (Cuzco) - Macchu Pichu line. The trip from Cuzco to Puno runs about US$220 each way now.
Machu Picchu
  • Troubles reaching Machu Picchu, The railroad service between Ollantaytambo and Km. 82 may be disrupted or at times suspended due to landslides, mudslides and subsidence following sustained periods of very heavy rain. This means that everybody must be transported to Km. 82 to get on a second train. An overland trip is a very good yet adventurous alternative way to get there. When the rail service is operating between Poroy and Machu Picchu it is a slow but beautiful and comfortable 4 hr trip.

There are several smaller bus terminals in Cuzco that travel to other destinations around the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, February 01, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.