Cusco Travel Guide

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Cusco Travel Guide

Cusco Local History

Cusco (also spelled Cuzco), the famous capital of the Inca Empire and gateway to the imperial city of Machu Picchu, is one of the undisputed highlights of a visit to South America. With its stone streets and building foundations laid by the Incas more than 5 centuries ago, the town is also surprisingly dynamic. Enlivened by throngs of travellers have transformed the historic centre around the Plaza de Armas into a centre for South American adventurers.

Cusco is one of those rare places that seems to be able to preserve a unique character and appeal despite its prominence on the international tourism scene. Cusco was the Inca empire's holy city, and it was also the focal point of the legendary network of roads connecting all points in the empire. The Spanish conquistadors knew that to take control of the region, it was essential to topple the capital city. This feat was accomplished after an epic battle at Sacsayhuamán.

Although the Spaniards tore down most Inca buildings and monuments, the found in many cases, that the structures were so well engineered that they built upon the very foundations of Inca Cusco. Many perfectly constructed Inca stone walls, examples of unrivalled stonemasonry, still stand. After a devastating earthquake in 1650, Cusco became a largely baroque city. The city showcases many layers of history.

Cusco Attractions

Top Attractions

Qoricancha,Templo del Sol and Santo Domingo - Plazoleta Santo Domingo, Tel (084) 222-071. Qoricancha and Santo Domingo together form perhaps the most vivid illustration in Cusco of Andean culture's collision with Western Europe. Like the Great Mosque in Córdoba, Spain -- where Christians dared to build a massive church within the perfect Muslim shrine - the temple of one culture sits atop and encloses the other. The extraordinarily crafted Temple of the Sun was the most sumptuous temple in the Inca Empire and the apogee of the Incas' naturalistic belief system. Hours Mon to Sat 8:30am - 5:30pm; Sun 2 - 5pm. Prices not included in boleto turístico; Admission $1.70 adults, 85¢ students.

La Catedral - Plaza de Armas (north side), No phone. Built on the site of the palace of the Inca Viracocha, Cusco's cathedral is a beautiful religious and artistic monument, and it recently completed a massive restoration ahead of schedule. Completed in 1669 in the Renaissance style, the cathedral possesses some 400 canvasses of the distinguished Escuela Cusqueña that were painted from the 16th to 18th centuries. There are also amazing woodcarvings, including the spectacular cedar choir stalls. Hours Mon-Sat 10 - 11:30am and 2 - 5:30pm; Sun 2-5pm. Admission is included in the boleto turístico (tourist ticket) which you can purchase from the Oficina de Información Turística in town.

Museo de Arte Precolombino - Casa Cabrera, Plaza de las Nazarenas s/n, Tel (084) 233 210. A new and sumptuously designed addition to the Cusco cultural landscape, this archaeological museum features part of the vast collection of pre-Columbian works belonging to the Rafael Larco Herrera Museum in Lima. Housed in an erstwhile Inca ceremonial court, Santa Clara convent, and later colonial mansion (Casa Cabrera) of the Conquistador Alonso Díaz are 450 pieces -- about 1% of the pieces in storage at the museum in Lima -- dating from 1250 B.C. to A.D. 1532. Halls exhibit gold and silver handicrafts, jewellery, ceramics, and other artefacts depicting the rich traditions from the Nasca, Moche, Huari, Chimú, Chancay, and Inca cultures.

Although the number of pieces isn't overwhelming, they are all beautifully lighted and displayed. Scattered about are comments about "primitive" art by major Western artists such as Paul Klee, and deviating from the museum's main thrust is a room of Cusqueña School religious painting. The museum is especially worthwhile for anyone unable to visit the major museums in Lima. Allow 1 or 2 hours for your visit. Within the courtyard, housed in a minimalist glass box, is MAP Café, one of Cusco's finest restaurants. Hours Daily 9am-10pm. Prices Admission S/16 ($4) adults, S/8 ($2.30) students.

Exploring the Ruins - Just outside Cuzco. The best way to see the following set of Inca ruins just outside Cusco is as part of a half-day tour. The hardy might want to approach it as an athletic archaeological expedition: If you've got 15km (9 1/4 miles) of walking and climbing at high altitude in you, it's a beautiful trek. Otherwise, you can walk to Sacsayhuamán and nearby Q'enko (the climb from the Plaza de Armas is strenuous and takes 30-45 min.), and take a colectivo or taxi to the other sites.

Alternatively, you can take a Pisac/Urubamba minibus (leaving from the bus station at Calle Intiqhawarina, off Av. Tullumayo, or Huáscar 128) and tell the driver you want to get off at Tambomachay, the ruins farthest from Cusco, and work your way back on foot. Admission is to these ruins are included in boleto turístico (tourist ticket) which you can purchase from the Tourist Offices in town.

Pepe Zeta Bistro Lounge Take a bit of pub atmosphere, mix it with a touch of lounge and add a dash of bistro style and you might get an idea of Pepe Zeta! Cosy sofa areas, a beautiful fireplace to keep you warm, a huge screen by the bar area to watch sports or movies, and soft chill out, house or bossa nova music makes it a relaxing option. Our menu is varied and unpretentious… Many appetizers, nice sandwiches, salads, pastas and tasty house specialties. Our drink list includes a wide selection of cocktails.
submitted by Fernando Joo, 14/02/06

Cusco Shopping

Central Market - Near the San Pedro rail station. Cusco's famous, Mercado Central has an array of products for sale, mostly produce, food, and household items. Even if you don't come to shop, this rich tapestry of modern and yet highly traditional Cusco shouldn't be missed. If you're an adventurous type who doesn't mind eating at street stalls (which are generally pretty clean), you can get a ridiculously cheap lunch for about $1. Don't take valuables and be on guard because the market is frequented by pickpockets targeting tourists. The market is open daily from 8am to 4pm.

Jewellery - Ilaria, one of the finest jewellery stores in Peru, deals in fine silver and unique Andean-style pieces, and has several branches in Cusco: Portal Carrizos 258 Plaza de Armas, Tel (084) 246-253; at Calle Palacio 140 (Hotel Monasterio); at Plazuela de Santo Domingo 259 (Hotel Libertador) and another in Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. Many items, although not inexpensive, are a good value for handmade silver. The contemporary jewellery designer Carlos Chaquiras an excellent craftsman; many of his pieces feature pre-Columbian designs. Another nice shop with silver items is Platería El Tupo, Portal de Harinas 181, Plaza de Armas, Tel (084) 229-809. Chimú Art & Gifts, Carmen Alto 187-B, San Blas, Tel (084) 801-968, is a funky shop featuring cool contemporary designs in silver, many based on interpretations of Chimú culture art.

Cusco Restaurants and Bars

Cusco Restaurants

Inka Grill - Portal de Panes 115, Tel (084) 262-992. This large and attractive modern two-level place right on the Plaza de Armas is popular with both young and old. They serve what might be called nuevo andino fare and is one of Cusco's finest dining experiences. It is recommended that you start with a bowl of camote (sweet potato) chips and green salsa. The best dishes for a main course are Peruvian standards like sautéed alpaca tenderloin served over quinua (a grain) and ají de gallina (shredded chicken with nuts, cheese, and chile peppers). For dessert try the coca-leaf crème brûlée. The extensive menu also includes a wide range of international dishes such as pizza, pasta, and risotto. Hours Monday to Saturday 11am to midnight. Main courses cost between $5 - $14.

Restaurante Illary - Plaza Nazarenas, Tel (084) 243-820. This is Cusco's most uncommonly refined restaurant and also the most expensive in town. But it is well worth the money. A glassed-in corridor overlooks the handsome colonial patio of the former monastery, while the main dining room is a series of intimate rooms decorated with Cusqueña School artwork, stone arches, and wood-beamed ceilings. Some of the Peruvian specialties include alpaca tenderloin with corn, sweet pepper chile, and mint sauce; and duck-and-rice stew with coriander.

Nicely prepared international fish and meat dishes dominate the menu, including poached kingfish rolls with shrimp mousse, and rack of lamb with black-pepper crust and tomato marmalade. Their service is impeccable, and desserts and the wine list are beyond tempting. If you can afford it for one special evening, dinner either here is highly recommended. Hours Daily 11am to 4pm and 7pm to 11pm. Main courses $13-$21.

Greens - Tandapata 700, San Blas, Tel (084) 243-820. Situated in the heart of San Blas, Greens is one of Cusco's most stylish and romantic restaurants. The intimate and often crowded space has deep-green walls with modern art, an open kitchen, and a handful of candlelit tables mixed with hipster sofas near the fireplace for more informal dining. On the menu, you'll find steak, chicken, and curries which are all excellent. Try the beef tenderloin in red-wine-and-onion sauce, served with raisin rice, or the tropical chicken curry with bananas, peaches, and strawberries. On Sunday, the restaurant features a roast, chicken, potatoes, veggies, and homemade apple pie. You have to make a reservation for this. Every evening from 6:30 to 7:30pm is happy hour. Open daily noon to 3pm and 6pm to midnight. Main courses $6 -$8.

Cusco Bars & Clubs

Eko Club - Plateros 334, second floor (no phone). This is one of Cusco's hottest dance clubs. The large dance floor throbs until dawn with a variety of rock, trance, and Euro-techno; for those who need a break, there's a laid-back lounge out back, good for a chair, a smoke, and a drink.

Spoon - Plateros 334. The most chic addition to the party scene is a great-looking bar and disco with a hip downtown industrial lounge aesthetic softened by candlelight. Open very late, it spins good tunes and also serves food.

Ukuku's - Plateros 316, second floor, Tel (084) 227-867. By far the best place in Cusco for nightly live music. The range of acts extends from bar rock to Afro-Peruvian, and the crowd comes to get a groove on, jamming the dance floor. Often the mix is half gringo, half Peruvian. If you're looking to pick up a Peruvian chico or chica, or at least practice your Spanish, it's one of the best spots in town. Ukuku's is open till the wee hours, and there's a room with computer terminals, 24-hour Internet access , and a pizza bar, as well as daily movies in the afternoon. Get your hands on a pass for free entrance so you don't get stuck paying a cover (although often it's not even necessary to have a pass; gringos often sail right in).

Los Perros - Tecsecocha 436, Tel (084) 226-625. This is one of the coolest bars in Cusco, a funky lounge bar owned by an Australian-Peruvian couple. "The Dogs" has comfy sofas, good food and drinks (including hot wine), and a hip soundtrack, including live jazz on Sunday and Monday nights. The bar attracts a very international crowd that takes advantage of the book exchange and magazines.

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