Cusco’s history is one contested with the ruins of the ancient Inca empire that provide the foundations for the superimposed Spanish structures that have been around since the conquest of the Incas themselves. With a name that translates into the “navel of the world” one would wonder as to what could be found in Cusco, Peru. While it doesn’t resemble the lint that we may find in our own belly buttons it is vastly more interesting. Cusco is the center of a vast cultural historical empire that can be appreciated on a budget.
Where to stay
The budget savvy traveler will know that when it comes to saving money in lodging the best place to visit is a hostel and Cusco has no lack of those, depending on the season you can find lodging that costs less than $10 a night. In order to maximize your experience in Cusco you will want to find hostels in the Centro Storico zone. Here is a list of some hostels in that area:
What to do
From cuisine to sites there are many things worth doing, seeing, and experiencing in Cusco. It is a trip that can require some planning to complete but the city and sites can be enjoyed by travelers on a budget or those looking for amenities.
Getting around Cusco can be a fun and rewarding experience, most of the sites within the city that are most interesting are near or in the Centro Storico and within walking distance of each other. You should have no issue finding lodging at or near the Centro and from your first day there you will be able to explore the nearby area and admire the unique Spanish and historical Inca architecture. For those looking for a more direct transportation most taxi drivers can get you from one site to another relatively quickly and inexpensively.
The Andean food typical to the region (yes, that includes guinea pig, llama, quinoa etc.) is an exciting departure from the average gastronomical experience. Restaurants are easily found in the Centro and there are options for every budget, just remember that it’s important to drink bottled water and nothing from the sink. A stomach bug can easily wreck anyone’s trip.
Within walking distance from the Plaza de Armas in the middle of the centro storico are many attractions. The Templo de Coricancha and the Convento de Santo Domingo that surrounds this ancient Inca temple. A beautiful grass lawn resides next to the temple and reveals the Inca foundation that the convent was built on. This temple was so well built that when earthquakes hit the region in the past Inca structures held up well under the stress while Spanish ones crumbled around it.
The Cathedral of Santo Domingo is located near the Plaza de Armas and easy to find as well. The exterior of the cathedral is reminiscent of the Gothic-Renaissance present in many Spanish churches of the time. The ornate work of art may leave your pupils dilated once inside due to the detail oriented artwork and goldwork on the inside.
If the Templo de Coricancha was not enough to sate your thirst for Incan architecture then the ruins of Saksaywaman(sounds like sexy-woman) would be the next site to visit. What used to be the site of a huge fortress is now a large field with the remains of the many impressive walls that once bordered the entire structure. Guided tours are offered and there is a cost to enter but it is well worth it to walk where once an ancient fort stood.
While the City of Cusco has many titles, one of our favorites is that of “The Gateway to Machu Picchu”. And for good reason. Cusco is the largest city near the ancient site and has a train that will take you the base of the mountain. From there you can take a bus up to the entrance. It is a day long endeavor with an amazing payoff. Once through the gate you can hike around the entire site and view the amazingly sound stone architecture. Visit the sun gate where many of the most popular pictures are taken or scale the mountain Huayna Picchu with its precarious ledges. At the end of your day you will likely have time to visit the popular marketplace at Aguas Calientes and eat lunch before you take the train back to your base of operations in Cusco.
Whatever the distance required of you Cuzco is an amazing destination that is embedded in so much South American history that it merits a vacation unto itself. Its proximity to the Inca ruins and the Spanish conquest give it a sense of embattled wonder. One civilization calls from the dust centuries after its death. People come from all around to see not what the Spanish had done with the land but to see how well the Inca remains withstood the immense pressures over time. The historic capital of Peru is an UNESCO heritage site because of its amazing history. It was the navel of the world to the Inca because it was the center of their existence. What will it be to you?