CUSCO, AND MACHU PICCHU, PERU
The top tourism destination in South America is Machu Picchu, which is 75 km northwest of the city of Cusco. Many travel solely to this part of the world to visit Machu Picchu, but there many interesting things to do in Cusco, which is known as the historic capital of the Incan Empire.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Only Peru Guide breaks down transport options pretty well.
Travel to Cusco Fly to Cusco airport, Alejandro Velasco Astete Airport (airport code CUZ). Most flights will go via Lima, Jorge Chavez International Airport (airport code LIM). If you have time to spare and would like to see some of the country side, one can fly to Lima, and then take a bus from Lima to Cusco. There is a public bus going from Lima to Cusco but it's not suggested as there can be delays and the route is treacherous. The Peru Hop tour bus is popular for the bus ride, and takes a minimum of 3 days from Lima to Cusco. It is a hop on hop off bus, so you can decide to stay a while at the stops and hop back on the bus to Cusco when you're ready.
Travel from Cusco to Machu Picchu There are two suggested ways to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco, which are by train, and by hiking the famous Inca Trail. Peru Rail runs a train from Cusco to Machu Picchu, see their website here to buy your ticket, most tourists take the Vistadome train which offers great views through panoramic windows. Hiking the Inca Trail is very popular among tourists and is the other way to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu. Hiking from Cusco to Machu Picchu will allow you to see other Inca sites in the Urubamba Valley. There are various routes which allow you to do the hike and can take anywhere from one to seven days. This Inca Trail Peru website gives great information about the Inca Trail, the routes and how to book with a guided company.
Travel around Cusco The Wherever Writer has a great article, Transportation in Cusco, Peru, which is full of Cusco transport information. Most popular way to get around seems to be hailing a taxi. Before getting on the taxi, ensure that you discuss where you're going and agree on how much it'll cost. Buses and vans (combis) are cheaper options but people can be packed like sardines in them. Walking, if your destination is within walking distance, I'd say there's no better way to see a place but to set out on foot. I've looked up the possibility of car hire from the airport, but it's not recommended, the roads aren't easy to navigate, it's cheaper and most convenient to use taxis in Cusco.
WHAT TO DO
Plaza De Armas
This is the main square in Cusco city, you'll find many people gathering here. It is surrounded by beautiful architecture. The Cusco Cathedral , Church of the Society of Jesus can be seen in this square. Other features of the square include a fountain, well-kept gardens, many vendors for souvenir shopping, restaurants, and a happening nightlife with many bars, pubs and lounges. Just outside of Plaza De Armas, you'll find the Religious Art Museum, and Hatunrumiyoc street with "The Stone of 12 Angles”, part of an Incan palace and a national heritage object.
San Blas neighborhood
The San Blas neighborhood is four blocks away from Plaza De Armas. Take a walk into the San Blas neighborhood up a well-preserved ancient Incan road, Hatunrumiyoc street. Once in San Blas, visit the Temple of San Blas to see it's baroque pulpit. For views of the city, keep going up to Cathedral Cristobal.
Larco Museum of pre-Columbian Art
This museum is housed in a building which was historically an Incan mansion. It now exhibits 400 pre-Columbian pieces part of Lima's Larco Museum collection. See admission fees, hours and their location on their website.
The Inca Museum of Cusco
Ruins of Sacsayhuamán
The Ruins of Sacsayhuamán is a UNESCO World Heritage site, 2 km outside of the city of Cusco. It is a citadel built by the Inca, with stone walls built with huge stones believed to weigh up to 128 tons. Apus Peru Travel Specialists offer a tour to the Ruins of Sacsayhuamán and other sites, and Viator has a highly rated tour here.
If you're planning a trip to this area, you're probably visiting for Machu Picchu, 75 km northwest of Cusco. Either do the Inca Trail or take a train from Cusco to Machu Picchu, transport details are in the How to get there section above. Buy Machu Picchu entrance tickets here. Viator has some highly rated tours to Machu Picchu here. Book your entrance, transport or tour tickets before your departure for Peru, they sell out fast, especially during the busy months, June through August.
WHERE TO STAY
To be within waking distance of most of the attractions, stay near Plaza De Armas, the main square or in the nearby San Blas neighborhood. A list of highly rated places to stay in these areas are below, ranging from budget friendly to high-end accommodation.
Airbnb, HOMESTAY CASA RIVERO 1, room in house at Plasa De Armes.
Airbnb, Comfortable independent Studio close to Main Square.
Airbnb, Charming Mini Apartment in the City Center.
Casa Matara Cusco, near the main square.
Casa Biru Hotel Boutique in the City Center.
Boutique Amaru Wasi, near the main square.
X.O Art House, in the City Center.
Sonesta Hotel Cusco, in the City Center.
The Marriot, two blocks from the main square
Belmond Palacio Nazarenas at the main square.
WHERE TO EAT
Authentic foods to try in Cusco are Cuy (guinea pig), Alpaca, and Chicharrón (fried pork). Here are some authentic restaurants to dine at and sample some of these foods, and other highly rated restaurants.
San Pedro Market, a market for local and authentic street food.
Hanz Craft Beer Restaurant, a Peruvian cafe and bar, highly recommended by locals.
MAP Cafe, Peruvian cuisine, in the courtyard of the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art.
The Inti Raymi Restaurant at the Marriott, highly rated for Peruvian cuisine.
Yaku, Tripadvisor's #1 restaurant in Cusco, for healthy Peruvian meals.
Cuyeria Sabor Moqueguano, authentic restaurant and local favorite for Guinea pig.
Per.UK, for grilled guinea pig.
El Rey, authentic restaurant for Chicharrón (fried pork).
Los Toldos Chicken, a local spot for Peruvian-style roast chicken.
Morena Peruvian Kitchen, contemporary Peruvian cuisine.
Jack's Cafe, American and Peruvian restaurant and bar.
OTHER TRAVEL TIPS
The rainy season is from November to March with the heaviest rain in February. If you're an orchid fan, they love the rain and they bloom during the rainy season. Otherwise the best time to visit is from April to October. It'll be busier over the months of June to August when more tourists travel.
It's suggested to spend 2-3 days in Cusco to acclimatize to the higher altitude before heading to Machu Picchu.
Book your Machu Picchu entrance tickets, transport or tour ahead of time. Tickets can sell out, especially during busier months from June to September.