The flight from Lima to Cusco is around 1 hour and 15 minutes, where Cusco is just over 1,000 km southeast of Lima. As I mentioned earlier, Cusco is about 3,400 metres above sea level, therefore be careful of altitude sickness.
The ancient city Cusco is the capital of Cusco region and has a population of less than half a million people in an area about 385 km2, situated near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes mountain. The city was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983 because of its rich history- it was the historic capital of Inca Empire from 13th until 16th century. Today, it is one of the most fascinating tourist destination in the world, attracting almost 2 million visitors per year.
Based on the legend of Inca, Cusco was rebuilt by Sapa Inca Pachacuti who transformed it from a quiet city-state into a powerful and bustling kingdom, where two rivers were channelled around the city. In 1533, the city was invaded by the Spanish explorers through the Battle of Cusco. It then became the centre for Spanish colonization and the spread of Christianity in Andean society. Following Peru’s independence in 1821, Cusco remained an important administrative city of the country’s southeast Andean region.
Coricancha (or Quri Kancha)
This was the most important and most revered temple in Cusco dedicated to the Sun God, Inti. After the Spanish took over, they demolished the temple and used it as foundation to build the Santo Domingo church, convent, monastery and courtyard. It took about one century to build. The Spanish incorporated Inca stonework into the structure of the building, which survived major earthquakes due to their sophisticated stone masonry.
Today, this is a museum that houses precious Inca stone walls and artwork.
Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption
This cathedral is also known as Cusco Cathedral and is the matriarch church of Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cusco. Construction of this cathedral took one century and completed in 1654. The church symbolises era of Spanish colonialization of South America where the architecture is of Gothic-Renaissaince style, with touches of Baroque influence. The Incas also incorporated their religion and beliefs into the design of the church; for example: a jaguar’s carved head, which is an important symbol in ancient Inca Peru, is blended into the cathedral’s main doors.
Tambomachay is an archaeological site from the Inca Empire, consisting of canals, aqueducts and waterfalls that used to run through the terraced rocks. It is believed that the former function of this site varies from a military outpost guarding enemies from entering Cusco to a spa resort for the Inca royal family. It gives you a fascinating glimpse of how quite advanced these civilisations were back then.
Saksaywaman is a citadel that was first built around 1100, but has been occupied beforehand around 900. When the Inca ruled the area, they added more features into the complex by building dry stone walls of huge stones. This site is located on a steep hill, at an altitude of 3,701 metres and overlooks the city of Cusco.
Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is a hiking trail that traces the footsteps of ancient civilisation- a journey that starts from the north of Cusco through the verdant Sacred Valley and the ruins of Ollantaytambo, onto the lost or forgotten city of Machu Picchu. Located in the Andes mountain range, it normally takes four to five days to complete the classic Inca Trail where you go through settlements, tunnels, and endless Inca ruins. These trips need to be booked in advanced- it is mandatory! The government is trying to limit the number of hikers per day due to erosion and there is an imposed quota system. Again, be careful of altitude sickness!
For those who are “less” adventurous like myself, the normal route from Cusco to Aguas Calientes is the four-hour train ride. Then you take a 20-minute bus ride to Machu Picchu. The view is simply majestic. If you decide to stay in Cusco, you need one full day allocated for Machu Picchu and you need to leave Cusco very early in the morning (just after sunrise), spend two to three hours walking around Machu Picchu, then head back to Cusco by train latest by late afternoon. Again, please organise and book all the transportation and site tickets well in advance. Entrance tickets to Machu Picchu is strictly controlled by the government.