Things to know about Cusco
Location: South east of the capital, Lima, nestled between Andean valleys.
Time: 6 hours behind us.
Best time to go: UK summer months, so from May through to September.
Attitude: A hefty 3,400 metres above sea level, so trust us when we say, take it steady on arrival.
Main Square: The Plaza de Armas, known as the heart of Cusco, dating back to when the square was called Huacaypata or Aucaypata to the modern day. It is surrounded by impressive buildings while the centre has benches, gardens and a central fountain.
La Cathedral history: It was built as the Inca Palace of Viracocha (ruler of the Kingdom of Cusco) until the colonists arrived. It was constructed using blocks from nearby Inca site of Sacsaywamán and took almost a hundred years to construct (from 1559 to 1654). It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The doors are open to genuine worshippers from 6am – 10am.
Languages: Believe it or not, there are more than four different spoken languages. Quechua is the main language spoken in the city and department of Cusco.
Best restaurant: Museo de Arte Precolombino in Palacio Nazarenas. It is a former convent which now houses pre-Colombian ceramics and art. There is an on-site café or one of Cusco’s best restaurants (N.B. you will need to book for dinner to avoid disappointment).
Best hotel: Monasterio Hotel – if money were no object that is – a converted monastery where you can relive the rarefied atmosphere of the colonial era with modern refinements. It oozes history piping Gregorian chanting through the cloisters and Catholic art decorating the stone walls with the cosiest interiors. Twice a week the hotel put on opera performance to be enjoyed over dinner!
Pick pockets: Due to high volume of tourists you must be on your guard against pick pockets, there are quite a few about. As per most bustling cities you just need to exercise a bit of caution and keep valuables safely hidden.
By night: You must explore the early evening/night in Cusco. The main square gets beautifully lit up and is lined with tasty spots for drinks and dinner. Stick to the centre of town which is a safe and pleasant neighbourhood to wander round.
Souvenirs: Chances are you will be approached by men, women and children selling art work, post cards and wrist bands, although these may not appeal as such, they are cheap and do help the local economy. To avoid complicating things, only show an interest if you know you have a few coins/small denominations of notes to pay with.
Photos: A word of warning, the ladies and children who are dressed in full traditional dress will happily pose for a photo, but they will then demand payment. You don’t have to leave much, spare change will do, but it is good to be in the know!
Try something different: There are lots of good language schools in the area, so you could pick up some basic Spanish or brush up on forgotten knowledge. A little bit of Spanish really goes a long way, and you will get so much more out of your trip.