There are lots of amazing places to visit in Cusco–and we have an insider to tell us all about the three ones you absolutely can’t miss while you’re here!
Plaza de Armas
Flanked by the cathedral and the even more imposing church of Compañia de Jesús, the Plaza de Armas is the epicenter of Cusco, Peru, and where your explorations of the city should begin. The site corresponds with the Incas’ ancient central plaza Huacaypata and, in honour, a gold statue of an Inca perches incongruously on top of the fountain in the centre of the plaza.
Here, tourists and locals alike congregate to take in the impressive views from all four sides before trying out one of the restaurants with their colonial balconies overlooking the plaza.
My Top Tip: For the best view in Cusco, don’t miss the secret staircase that goes up behind one of the side chapels in the Compañia de Jesús and emerge into the bell tower. (Church open Mon-Sun 9am-5.50pm; Ticket: S./20).
This large archaeological site that perches above Cusco is astounding. While there is still debate as to whether it was a fortress or a temple, there is no doubt that it is another feat of Inca engineering. Immense rocks exceeding 20 metres high stand like bastions along 360-metre lengths of zig-zagged walls. (Mon-Sun 7am-5.30pm; entrance with Boleto Turistico S/.70).
My Top Tip: Wander off from the tour groups towards the rear of the site to discover ruined amphitheatres, caves, viewpoints, and best of all – rock slides!
The convent of Santo Domingo was built on the remains of this Inca complex with what would have been the remarkable gold-drenched Temple of the Sun. Some Inca walls remain inside the convent’s courtyard and are among the most impressive examples of stonework visible today.
It is hard to imagine how the temple would have looked, with everything covered in gold or silver and encrusted with precious jewels, before its destruction by the conquistadors. (Mon-Sat 8.30am-5.30pm; Sun 2-5pm; Ticket: S/.10).
My Top Tip: Don’t miss a stroll round the gardens outside the convent, where the Museo de Sitio Qorikancha is also situated and well worth visiting for further insights into the excavation of the site as well as the general history of Cusco. (Av Sol; Mon-Sat 9-12, 1-5pm; Sun 8am-2pm; entrance with Boleto Turistico).
My Favourite Cusco Sights off the Beaten Track
Machu Picchu Museum
Only recently opened in the renovated colonial Casa Concha, this museum is yet to become established on the tourist trail. The museum is something of a landmark in history – it is home to Machu Picchu relics returned from the USA to Peru.
These pieces were taken from Machu Picchu to Yale University in the States by Hiram Bingham after his discovery of the site in 1911. The museum paints a great portrait of Machu Picchu and its rediscovery. (Santa Catalina Ancha 320; T: 084 255535; M-F 9am-5pm, S 9am-1pm; Ticket: S/.20).
My Top Tip: Visit the museum before you go to Machu Picchu itself, as it will help illuminate your visit to the site even further.
Cristo Blanco (White Christ)
The luminous white figure of Christ is omnipresent on the hill above Cusco, and offers great views from its feet, particularly of the city’s lights twinkling at night. You can walk or get the bus to Cristo Blanco, or hop across the hillside after you’ve visited Sacsayhuaman. There are plenty of open spaces up here if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, too. (No admission fee.)
My Top Tip: Join the locals who relax at this pleasant spot on Sundays with picnics and kite-flying.
Templo de la Luna (Temple of the Moon)
Further above the city than Sacsayhuaman and Cristo Blanco is this impressive site located in the middle of open fields and backed by mountain forests, a beautiful place to explore the nooks and crannies of the carved rocks. Or simply hang out on a sunny afternoon as the locals do. (No admission fee; 40-min walk from San Blas).
My Top Tip: You can get a Pisac-bound bus from town and get off on the road by Pukapukara and then walk across the fields to reach the Temple of the Moon or you can walk directly up from the San Blas neighbourhood – just keep heading up! Locals are happy to point you in the right direction.
Rachel Ricks packed up her life in the UK and headed to Peru where she was inspired by the stunning sights of Cusco and the Sacred Valley, and where she lived for a total of six months either side of travels through Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. She has been writing and editing for travel websites for more than 10 years and currently keeps a blog about her adventures in South America. She penned this article on behalf of South American Vacations, providers of once-in-a-lifetime experiences to Cusco and all over Peru.