It is estimated that around 1.5 million tourists visit Cusco every year, Machu Picchu and the city of Cusco have become the main tourist attractions in Peru and one of the most visited in South America. In 1983 UNESCO declared Cusco as a World Heritage Site. The highest concentration of tourists is during the dry month of June when the celebration of the Inti Raymi takes place. Cusco, Cuzco or Qosco is the historic capital of the Inca Empire founded by Inca Manco Capac in approximately 1200AD. To the Incas, Cusco, the city of the Puma, was the center of the world, a religious center that attracted many pilgrims. The arrival of the Spanish meant the end of the Inca Empire and of Cusco as its capital. On March 23, 1534, the Spanish conquistadors under Francisco Pizarro re founded the city as the Spanish city of Cusco. In Cusco you can observe that two distinctive cultures that first encountered each other five hundred years ago have progressively assimilated forming a multicultural society.
With the conquest of the Inca capital, temples were looted in the search for valuable gold and silver. Some of its temples and buildings still stand but others were used as foundations for newer Spanish buildings such as the Convent of Santo Domingo built on the structure of the Coricancha or Temple of the Sun and other churches and plazas that mixed with the older Inca architecture enriching the old capital of the empire.
The Inca city of Cusco offers fantastic attractions for those interested in the Inca Civilization and its legacy. If you are planning to visit the main attractions a tourist ticket is available for a fee and valid for 10 days. You can inquire at your Cusco hotel or your tour operator. The Cusco tourist ticket offers a good value if you are planning on visiting two or more sites. The tourist ticket allows you to visit 16 sites in and around Cusco and includes: Sacsayhuaman, Qenko, Puca Pucara, Tambo Machay, the Cathedral,, San Blas,the museum of religious art, the museum of Santa Catalina, the museum of the municipal palace, the museum of regional history, the site museum at Qorikancha, Chincheros, Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Tipón, and Pikillaqta.
The Cathedral was built on the Suntu Wasi or Wiracocha Inca Palace by command of Fray Vicente de Valverde, the first Bishop of Peru. The building was finished in 1560 and integrates three naves that interconnect with the Basilica, El Triunfo and Sagrada Familia. This cathedral was built in the Renaissance style and features carved wooden altars in the interior.
Plaza de Armas
Also known by the locals as Plaza Aucaypata which means Square of the Warrior in Quechua. It was one of the most important places for the Incas to perform celebrations such as the Inti Raymi. Originally the plaza was much larger than it is today. The Plaza is surrounded by the Cathedral on the northeast side, the Church of the Compañia on the southeast side and the other sides are aligned by two-storey colonial arcades.
Coricancha is one of the most astonishing buildings left by the Incas. Its original name was Inti Kancha or Inti Wasi and was the most important temple dedicated to Inti or Sun. Built by Inca Pachacutec, its walls were covered in sheets of gold and altars filled with gold statues. In 1534 the Spaniard conquerors demolished Coricancha and used its foundations to built Santo Domingo Convent which collapsed in the earthquake of 1650 and was subsequently rebuilt in 1681.
The archaeological complex of Sacsayhuaman was constructed with enormous stone blocks that are joined together with astounding precision without the use of mortar or any material that hold the blocks together. Sacsayhuaman was a fortress that overlooks the city of Cusco and was critical in maintaining its security. Sacsayhuaman was built by the Killke culture which the Incas absorbed, the Incas expanded the fortress converting it into the head of the puma, the animal that symbolized Cusco.
Pisac is located 33 kilometers from the City of Cusco. The archaeological site is composed of different areas: Qanturaquay, Amaru, Punku, Intihuatana and Tanqamanka. Tanqamanka is the largest pre-Columbian cemetery in South America. Pisac once controlled the main road that connected the Inca empire with Paucartambo, a city in the eastern jungle. The group of rectangular buildings in the the archaeological site are considered the most perfect in the Tawantinsuyo.
In Quechua Choquequirao means Gold cradle. Choquequirao is located in the Vilcabamba region and was discovered in the late 20th centuries, it stood hidden from the Spaniard conquerors due to its remoteness. It is considered a sister city of Machu Picchu. Historians believe that this is the city where the last Inca, Manco Inca, retreated after the Spaniards conquered Cusco.
Ollantaytambo was an important administrative center with military functions. It is located 97 km northeast from the City of Cusco. It was built by Inca Pachacutec and became a fortified town that served as a resistance stronghold for Manco Inca when the Spanish invaded Cusco. Its walls and fortified towers show its military functions. Ollantaytambo is the starting point of the four day hiking trip or Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
God of Earthquakes
The procession of the God of Earthquakes takes place between the second week of March to the first week of April on Monday within the Easter weekend. This is a very interesting celebration as it allows the appreciation of the fusion between the Andean and the Catholic religions. The image of the God of Earthquakes rests in Cusco’s Cathedral and is carried along the city streets just like it happened with ancient chiefs’ mummies, priests and Incas. In fact, the cathedral was built in the Inca temple Suntu Wasi or Wiracocha.
Easter or Holy Week
This is one of the most important events in the Catholic world when the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are remembered. It takes place on the previous week to Easter and begins on Lent and Palm Sunday.
This holiday takes place in May or June. A procession of sixteen patron saints and virgins start in the cathedral and accompanied by marching bands and folk groups go around the Plaza de Armas. The saints return to the cathedral fro the greeting. The traditional food in this festivity is “chiri uchu” or roasted guinea pig with smoked meat, corn, rocoto, potatoes, hen, and other local tubers and vegetables.
Nuestra Señora del Carmen
This festival takes place in the town of Paucartambo on June 16. It is celebrated with a procession in honor of Virgen del Carmen and very colorful dances.
Known as the Celebration of the Sun, it takes place during the last day of the winter solstice on June 24. The celebration starts in Coricancha and ends in Sacsayhuaman where the original ceremony is staged recreating the sacrifice of two llamas to predict the future. The ceremony is presided over by the Inca in the Plaza de Armas of Cusco and atsunset he command the end of the Inti Raymi.
This ancient worship of Apus (mountain spirits, mountains where considered sacred by the Incas) takes place at the end of May and continues for a few days into June. The celebration is a mix of catholic and Andean traditions. After the Spanish colonization this festival became an amalgamation of the Indian worship of mountain spirits, and the celebration of the apparition of Christ on the mountainside. Many people wear traditional customs from different regions and participate until they reach the SInakara Sanctuary. Pilgrims carry stones and offer them to Apus placing them into the apacheta or stone mound.
When to visit Cusco – Cusco weather
You can visit Cusco all year round. In Cusco there are two well defined seasons: the rain season and the dry season. The rain season is from November to March, these are the summer months when high daytime temperatures average 21C/70F and low temperatures during the night average 6.5C/43.7F. Rain is sporadic, usually short heavy showers. The dry season or winter is from April to October. Daytime temperature averages 19C/66F and night temperate about 0C/32F. Regardless of the season, mornings are cold and the temperature rises usually up to 20C during the day and drops at night. Click here for more detailed Cusco travel weather.
More information about Cusco
Cusco offers a wide range of accommodation, from luxurious hotels, cozy B&B to backpackers favorite budget hostels. This is a list of recommended hotels by Discover Peru.
Cusco, Cuzco or Qosco is the historic capital of the Inca Empire founded by Inca Manco Capac in approximately 1200AD. It was built in the shape of a Puma, a mythological God in Inca religion.
Low oxygen pressure at high altitudes affects the amount of oxygen we breath making us feel sick.
Cusco and is located in the valley of the Huatanay River in the south east Andean mountain range at an altitude of 3,350 meters or 11,200 feet above sea level.
Weather in the Andes is characterized for having many climates, or micro climates, that vary according to its altitude. Cusco enjoys a very stable climate that can be observed throughout the year.
It is puzzling to comprehend how the Incas conquered and controlled such an extensive territory that comprised what today are Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador.
Indeed, there must have been a good reason to justify the laborious construction of this magic city in such a challenging land. The real purpose for the building of Machu Picchu is not clear, it remains a mystery and is open to speculation.
Celebrated in the month of June the celebration of the Sun is full of tradition and history.