The City of Cusco was once the heartland of the Incan Empire, and today located within, and close to the city there are still many well preserved sites which draw travelers from all over the world. . There are many attractions in Cusco which are accessible in one day, and can be covered by foot, taxi or as part of a guided tour. Popular attractions include Cusco Cathedral which holds abundant Andean history, Sacsayhuaman the large fortress-like Incan site overlooking Cusco, Korikancha – The Inca Temple of the Sun, and the two spiritual Inca sites of Q’enco and Tambomachay. This section of our Peru guide covers the highlights in Cusco and those close within 30 minutes of the city. Other popular attractions such as Pisac, Urubamba, Ollantaytambo, Moras and Moray are covered in the Sacred Valley section.
Officially named ‘Cathedral de Santo Domingo‘ is located on Cusco’s main square – Plaza de Armas. Over the years many architects were evolved in the design of the cathedral, and completion was finalized in 1654, almost 100 years after construction began. The Cathedral, as well as its official status as a place of worship, has become a major repository of Cusco’s colonial art, and also many artefacts and relics. The cathedral has UNESCO World Heritage status under the City of Cusco listing in 1983, and also hold the ashes of the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega.
Inca Temple of the Sun – Koricancha
The Temple of the Sun at Korikancha was once a very important place for the Incas, thought by many historians to be the home of around 4000 priests and their keepers. The highly polished shaped Inca stone work at one end of the complex was also considered to be a place of astronomical observatory or worship for the Incas. Some ancient chronicals stated that Koricancha was highly decorated with life sized gold figures, gold altars and a huge sun disc, although as the Inca’s didn’t value gold like their Spanish invaders, the truth may have been that gold was used to a much lesser extent. The Temple of the Sun Koricancha was destroyed at the time of the Spanish invasion, and later the Spanish used the solid foundations to construct the Convent of Santo Domingo which still remains today.
Pronounced ‘Sac-say-ooh-man’ this fortress like Incan site is located high above the City of Cusco, and in many ways is still a mystery to historians. It was originally considered to have been built by the indigenous Killke Culture, then later re-constructed or expanded by the Incas around 1200 AD. The purpose of Sacsayhuman is still unknown, but many theory’s have been put forward of which all could be correct. Some say that the largest Inca stones found were constructed as part of a fortress, others say that this site was built to complete the head of the Puma, or simply that Sacsayhuman was a site of worship to the extraordinary natural rocks that are found at the site. As one of the best preserved and dramatic Inca sites in the region, Sacsayhuman is something that every traveler must take some time to visit. Most visits are made as part of a guided tour (Cusco City tour), but it is also possible make a short hike from Cusco. From Plaza de Armas you need to leave by Calle Suecia (the only street with arches over the entrance). Hiking time is 30 minutes, alternatively a taxi will cost you between 7-10 soles each way.
Pronounced with an accented ‘Q’, this small Inca site is located just outside of Cusco on the road to Sacsayhuman. At first glimpse not as impressive as other Inca sites in the area, but with expert guidance and attention to detail Q’enqo is again another interesting mystery with many theories. Q’enqo was only recently discovered and recovered by archeologists, as it was thought that the Spanish invaders covered the complex to try and hide it or destroy it. The site consists of a large 55 meter semicircular amphitheater, an astronomical observatory and an underground chamber carved from one large rock, which holds an alter carved from the same rock.
Located 20 minutes by car from Cusco, Tambomachay is a small Inca site that consists of a series of aqueducts, canals and waterfalls that run through terraced rocks. The function of the site is uncertain: it may have served as a military outpost guarding the approaches to Cusco, as a spa resort for the Incan political elite, or possibly both. For the more adventurous, Tambomachay is the perfect place to start a half day hike back to Cusco. En-route you can visit Q’enqo, The Temple of the Moon and Sacsayhuman. Remember to take plenty of water, as there are no shops until you get to Cusco.
Insiders Top Tip
For entrance into most archaeological sites in Cusco & The Sacred Valley you need to purchase a ‘Boleto Turistico del Cusco’ (Cusco tourist ticket). Your ticket is valid for 10 days, but you need your passport to purchase it. You can buy it from any one of the ticket booths at each site. For more information see our Cusco tourist ticket section.
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