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Travel Guides Mapped

An adventurer’s guide to the must-visit areas of Cusco

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Kellie Paxian Jan 23, 2019 1:15 pm 66

Cusco is both a region and a city in southwestern Peru, and is home to the most iconic sights in the country. If you are planning to visit Peru, there’s no way you can miss out on Cusco; but what are the main areas you have to check out?

Here are the areas you need to spend some time in while travelling Cusco.

Cusco city: Historial Centre

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Main square in Cusco historical centre. (Kellie Paxian / Daily Hive)

Nestled at the bottom of the beautiful surrounding hills lies the city centre of Cusco City. The former capital of the Incan Empire, Cusco’s historical centre exudes a rich heritage and undeniable charm, but has adapted to cater to the many tourists that come to play.

Orient yourself with the city by starting off at Plaza de Armas, where you will find everything you need for your visit: plenty of places to eat and drink, a cathedral and church, as well as stores to satisfy all your shopping needs from vibrantly coloured alpaca sweaters to souvenirs to trekking gear. When we say the area has adapted to tourists, we mean don’t be surprised when you stumble upon a Starbucks, McDonalds, and Patagonia store (no, you’re not in North America).

The city square is extremely charming with its cobblestone pathways, central fountain, and beautiful gardens. It is surrounded by the hills of Cusco and looks quite dazzling at night when the hills are lit up with the lights from all the buildings. And don’t forget to check out San Pedro market for cheap ingredients, meals, apparel, and other supplies. From here, you can explore the narrow streets of the city climbing up the surrounding hills.

Cusco city: San Blas

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Hilly streets of San Blas, Cusco. (Kellie Paxian / Daily Hive)

Climbing up the hill just north of the historical centre is the neighbourhood of San Blas, which is known for its artisan markets. Follow the ancient Incan road Hathunrumiyoc, a famous street made of stone walls that have stood the test of time — and are now sprinkled with some very charming souvenir shops.

The streets are narrow and you may have to duck into a doorway to allow the cars to get by, but it is oozing of charm and the views are incredible. Stop in for a meal at Limbus Resto Bar for an unbelievable panoramic view of the orange roofs of Cusco.

Ollantaytambo

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Woman in traditional dress on the streets of Ollantaytambo, Cusco. (Shutterstock)

About a two-hour train (and 1.5-hour train/bus journey to Machu Picchu), this charming town attracts tons of visitors out for adventure. Located in the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo is an archeological site with Incan ruins that are considered second to only Machu Picchu.

There are tons of stores to purchase your colourful alpaca gear, from sweaters to hats to blankets to gloves, in case you haven’t been tempted already.

With cobblestone streets lined with rushing rivers, incredible surrounding mountain peaks, and llamas and alpacas galore, we promise you will fall in love with this town!

Aguas Calientes

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Sunrise line up for Machu Picchu bus in Aguas Calientes. (Kellie Paxian / Daily Hive)

This town is all about Machu Picchu. It’s located at the bottom of the hill and the closest place you can situate yourself to the iconic Wonder of the World without staying right outside the park itself. With no roads except for the one leading up to Machu Picchu, you will have to enter Aguas Callientes by nearby towns such as Cusco or Ollantaytambo.

The town has plenty of markets for your Peruvian goods, as well as a few restaurants to fuel up for your adventures. Our Contiki guide took us to Indio Feliz and the food was mouthwateringly delicious. Shout out to that pineapple chicken — mmm.

Set on hills with stunning cliff faces, lush forests, and the rushing Urubamba river, this town is very picturesque. It is buzzing the excitement of Machu Picchu explorers that is absolutely contagious.

Pisac

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Local market tucked amongst the mountains in Pisac, Cusco. (Shutterstock)

You could easily road trip through Cusco and miss all of its charming little pockets, but that’s what this guide is for! Major shout out to our Contiki tour for ensuring we got to hit up every single hotspot.

Pisac is a gem that is not to be missed. Located in the Sacred Valley, this village has tons to offer: the alpaca farm Awana Pancha, Inca ruins at the Pisac Archaeological Park, stunning views, and a huge market in the main square for all of your vibrant Peruvian goodies. We may or may not have boughten six alpaca sweaters from there. Because YOLO.

Lamay

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Cuy on a stick in Lamay, Cusco. (Kellie Paxian)

If you want to experience authentic Peruvian lifestyle, you have to try their traditional cuisine – and yes, this includes guinea pig.

Known as “cuy,” this delicacy can be found on menus throughout Cusco, but if you don’t want to break the bank, you can get your taste test (and Instagram photo) in the tiny village of Lamay just outside of Pisac. Just look for the grinning guinea pig statues off the main road and the locals waving roasted cuy on sticks at you as you drive by.

Bon appetit!

Pitumarca: Rainbow Mountain

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Rainbow Mountain hike. (Kellie Paxian / Daily Hive)

Located in the region of Pitumarca and about a three-hour drive from Cusco city, Rainbow Mountain is a bucket list sight that you have to check out while you’re in the region. While the mountain is very Instagram-worthy with its rainbow stripes, the trek is extremely difficult as you’ll be climbing up to 5,200 metres above sea level. Take it easy and don’t push yourself — but the reward is so worth it!

Do you want to share your own travel knowledge right here on Mapped? Email us at [email protected].

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Kellie Paxian
Mapped Editor at Daily Hive, specializing in expanding and conquering that bucket list. Want to collaborate on Mapped? Email me at [email protected]
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