The famous ancient capital city of the Incas, Cusco, is the oldest inhabited city in the Americas and one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are large tourist attractions in Cusco, built on the archaeological foundations of the ancient Inca city that became the basis of Spanish architecture that can be seen today, and many of the stone walls that border the streets were built by the Incas.
Most of the visitors that come to Cusco have as objective to know Machu Picchu in tours, or in train or by the Inca trail, in addition to enjoy tour to the sacred valley of the Incas and other nearby Inca centers, but it is worth to cross some time exploring the city to know many other attractions.
Most of the city’s attractions are around the Plaza de Armas and the surrounding streets, where you can also find restaurants, hotels and service shops. Follow the uphill streets from the Plaza de Armas to the cobblestone streets of the beautiful San Blas neighborhood. In this picturesque neighborhood, you can find small craft shops and restaurants of all categories.
The famous Incan walls
Walking through the narrow streets of Cusco is like walking through an open-air museum. These magnificent Inca walls form the foundation of present-day Cusco, and although they are found in every corner of the city, some areas stand out among so many others.
The two best places to see the walls are Loreto and Hatunrumiyoc Streets. The Inca walls are lined up on both sides of Loreto Street, which runs southeast from the Plaza de Armas. The south wall is Amarucancha, where the Palace of Huayna Capac is located, and on the north side is the wall of Acllahuasi, one of the oldest in Cusco.
Hatunrumiyoc is located on the northeast side of the Plaza de Armas, and is very famous for the 12-sided stone (12 angles) along the east wall.
Santo Domingo and Coricancha
The beautiful church of Santo Domingo is built on the foundations of the famous Inca site of Qoricancha, also called as the Temple of the Sun. Coricancha (Q’orikancha in Quechua) means “golden courtyard”. It is said that statues and gold ornaments decorated the interior and a large gold disc reflected the sun inside the hall. All this was extracted by the Spaniards shortly after their arrival in Cusco. Today, one can only appreciate the fine Inca stone of all that was once the glorious Coricancha.
The fortified complex of Sacsayhuaman is the most important archeological center of Cusco, and it is close to the historical center as to be able to walk to it. It is usually covered by a city tour and sometimes visitors stop to see it on their way to the sacred valley of the Incas. Sacsayhuaman has military and religious significance.
The impression caused by this archeological center is by the size of the stones with which it was built, and the complexity of the stone work (stone carving). Some of these stones reach a height of more than eight meters and weigh 360 tons. Despite the size of these stones and their irregular shapes, they fit perfectly together, serving as a testament to the ingenuity and skill of this ancient civilization.
Inka Museum: A Journey Through Time
Named Cusco’s best museum for those who want to learn more about the Incas, the Inka Museum is located in the ornate 16th century Casa del Almirante Español, a place worth visiting on its own.
The house, which belonged to Admiral Francisco Aldrete Maldonado, was built on the magnificent Inca foundations, is one of the most impressive colonial houses in Cusco. The collections focus on the Inca culture, dating from the emergence of their culture to the Conquest.
In the Inka museum are exhibited ceramics, textiles, metallurgy and goldsmithing, jewelry and mummies. The most interesting are the 450 carved and painted wooden vases (keros), the largest collection in the world.
Church of the Society of Jesus
The beautiful church called the Society of Jesus, usually called the Society, is a Jesuit church, was rebuilt and completed in the late 1660s, after the earthquake of 1650.
The impressive and beautifully ornate Baroque facade of The Company continues to rival the cathedral. It is particularly beautiful when lit at night and at festivals in the city of Cusco. The Company is built on the foundations of the palace of Huayna Capac, the last ruler of the Inca Empire, today presents a magnificent golden altarpiece dotted with polychrome statues.
The Plaza de Armas has always been the heart of Cusco since the time of the Incas, when the plaza was called Huacaypata (Plaza de los llantos). The cathedral, on the northeast side of the Plaza de Armas, presents magnificent beauty to the eyes of the world. On one side of the cathedral is the church of Jesus Mary and on the other the Triumph.
The southeast side of the main square is the church of the Company, which is easily confused with the cathedral because of its beautifully decorated façade. However, it is smaller. The center of the square is a place to rest and admire the fountain in the center while observing the daily life of the people of Cusco.
Something very important to keep in mind is the construction of the cathedral of Cusco that began in 1559 and was completed in 1669. It is built on the foundations of the place where once was the palace of the Inca Wiracocha. The three naves of the Renaissance style church are supported by 14 massive pillars. The main altar is made of solid silver, which according to information weighs 400 kilograms, and the choir stalls are carved in cedar.
Many tourist attractions can be found in Cusco, places known as little known, but what is certain, is that a trip to the imperial city is unforgettable.
Cusco is a city that has it all: history, culture, nature, and a unique atmosphere that will captivate you from the very beginning. Whether you’re exploring ancient Inca ruins, strolling through charming colonial streets, or marveling at the natural landscapes of the surrounding area, Cusco will never cease to amaze you. So what are you waiting for? Come and discover the majesty of the Imperial City for yourself!