Due to the draw of Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world, Cusco has become a very touristy city. It’s impossible to walk anywhere near the main square without being bombarded by vendors trying selling massages, hats, paintings (many not authentic), post cards, finger puppets, and more. Despite these annoyances, Cusco is a beautiful city with a lot of history.
Incan Beginnings in Cusco
Capital of the Incan Empire over five hundred years ago, Cusco also served as capital of Peru for a period of time under Spanish rule. The Spanish influence can be seen all over the city, especially in the architecture of the Plaza de Armas.
A closer look will reveal the Incan structures that remain in the foundations of many buildings and the Incan walls that line the streets. Incan architecture is unique and fascinating, created by giant stones made to fit perfectly together (like 3-D puzzle pieces) with no cement or mortar. It is hard to imagine how long it took to build these incredible structures, but they have certainly withstood the test of time.
When arriving in Cusco, it is important to take a few days to adjust to the altitude, especially if arriving by flight from Lima. It is advisable to go easy on sight-seeing the first day, and get plenty of rest. Coca tea and coca candy can be helpful for shortness of breath or headache, and proper rest is very important. Those with more serious symptoms of altitude sickness should consult a physician to discuss options such as Diamox.
Cusco Sights – Tourist Ticket
There are a variety of things to see in and around Cusco. However, many of the sights can only be entered with a tourist ticket, which can be purchased at the tourist information center on Av. El Sol. A 1-day ticket is possible, but the alternative 10-day ticket is recommended. The ticket, which costs $10, allows entry into many of Cusco’s sights, including museums, monuments, the various archaeological sites just outside the city and in the Sacred Valley.
Shopping in Cusco
Cusco is filled with markets and shops selling traditional instruments, carved gourds, hats, scarves, woven goods, jewelry, and much more. It is a good idea to shop around a bit to bargain for the best price. The hilly area of San Blas is a popular shopping area where it is possible to see people creating textiles in their shops.
There are many other opportunities to shop when taking tours outside of the city, such as the Sacred Valley tour. Pisac and Chinchero both have fantastic handicraft markets.