Cuzco, The Imperial City of the Incas, lies in the heart of the Sacred Valley at an altitude of 3,399 meters (11,000 feet) in Southeastern Peru. It was built by the Incas and served as the capital (13th century-1532) of the vast Inca Empire that reached from Quito, Ecuador to Northern Chile.
The Incas considered it to be 'the navel of the world' and all the principal idols and temples were located there.
The majestic walls erected throughout the city emit the power and strength that is still present in today's descendants of the Incas. Cuzco, is one of the most important cities of South America and is a favorite among tourists who travel to Peru.
Arma`s Square - Cusco, Perú
The city of Cuzco, is said to be built in the shape of the puma, a sacred animal for the Incas. The head is represented by the fortress Sacsaywaman, the heart by the plaza of Huacaypata and the converging Huatanay and Tullumayo rivers represent the tail.
The Plaza Huacaypata was the heart of the puma and of Cuzco,. It was there that all ceremonial festivities were held. The main square of Cusco has remained in the same location since the earliest days of the Incas.
Before the arrival of the Spanish it was twice the size, covered with a fine gravel and had four main roads extending out to the four quarters, or 'suyos', of the Inca Empire reaching from Quito, Ecuador to Santiago, Chile.
Many of the Inca walls were thought to have been lost until a 1950 earthquake devastated the city. The granite walls of the Sun Temple (Korikancha) were exposed, as well as many walls throughout the city.
Many wanted to restore the buildings to their colonial splendor, but a contingent of Cusco citizens wanted to retain the exposed walls. Eventually they won out and now tourists from around the world enjoy looking at these ruins within the living city.
Traditional Food of Cuzco
Even though many places offer menus in English words often seem strange and have meanings they don’t to native speakers.
One of these is the word “typical”. It appears in restaurant names and in the descriptions of their offerings. It is so common. And yet it does not have exactly the meaning it does for most English speakers.
To the people of Cuzco the word “typical” suggests food that symbolizes Cuzco. The mere mention of typical dishes brings to mind the city and its region, as well as its calendar of feasts, since many of these dishes are obligatory for certain days of the calendar, much as turkey and cranberry sauce are for an American Thanksgiving.
In what follows we list and describe some of these typical dishes that you can find in Cuzco. They are delicious and stem from Cuzco’s geographic diversity and its traditions. After a brief description of the dishes you will see the titles of articles in Cuzco Eats about these traditional delights. The titles are links to the articles should you wish to know more.
A Steaming Dish of Adobo
A pork stew made with chicha (corn beer). It is particularly consumed for New Years Day in hopes for good luck in the coming year since the pig symbolizes abundance.
Puchero or Timpu, a Special Dish During Cuzco’s Carnival
This stew traditionally called “TIMPU”, is eaten in February as part of the celebration of Carnival. It is made from lamb and vegetables.
THE TWELVE DISHES OF HOLY WEEK
Special Desserts on Holy Week.
As its name indicates, these are twelve dishes that are served on this important time. The dishes stand for the Twelve Apostles and they are prepared on the basis of various fruits, vegetables, and fish. However, they may not contain meat in honor of Christ’s passion.
A Huatia Dish, Prepared into the Earth, Baked Potatoes and Sweet Potato.
Traditional, typical dish consumed in June. It is prepared in rustic ovens made in the countryside in the moment from clods of dirt (kurpas). Its main ingredients are potatoes, sweet potatoes, oca (a native tuber) and uchukuta (a famous Andean hot sauce.
Sharing A Chiriuchu Dish in Cusco
In Quechua, chiriuchu means “cold food”. It consists of small pieces of roasted cuy (guinea pig), boiled chicken, jerky or chalona (a salted, dried meat), sausages, fish eggs, cheese, corn fritters, parched corn, and qochayuyo (dried seaweed), and the rocoto pepper. It is prepared for the feast of Corpus Christi in either May or June.
LECHÓN AND TAMALES
Lechon for a Roofing
This traditional dish is prepared for the feast of All Saints Day, the first days of the month of November. It consists of young pig roasted in the oven and condimented with yellow hot pepper (ají), garlic, cumin, and onons. It is served with tamales that are made from white corn flour.
While the above are associated with particular dates in the calendar, Cusco has other typical foods that are eaten year round, such as the following.
ROASTED CUY (GUINEA PIG)
Guinea Pigs Roasting on the Fire
This is the most symbolically important dish of the Cusco region. It is prepared for important events. Condimented withwacatay (black mint), garlic, cumin, and salt, the cuy is oven roasted.
CHOCLO CON QUESO
Cheese and Corn Ready to Be Eaten
This dish consists of ears of fresh corn, boiled, and served with pieces of fresh, local cheese.
Chicharrones, Cuzco’s Favorite Dish
Pieces of pork deep fried in lard, served with fried potatoes in large strips, hominy corn (mote), and a salad of onions with mint.
Cuzco’s Great Soup “Chairo”
This is a local soup prepared with pieces of lamb or beef, tripe, bacon, potatoes, squash, white freeze-dried potatoes (moraya), wheat, carrots, and cabbage.
An Andean cream soup made from fresh, ground corn, potatoes, cheese, and eggs. It is seasoned with turmeric.
K’APCHI DE ZETAS
Yum Yum a Delicious Kapchi de Habas
This is a stew whose ingredients are mushrooms, green broad beans, potatoes, and milk. It is served with rice.
ESCABECHE DE GALLINA O PESCADO
Chicken and Vinegared Vegetables (Escabeche)
Pieces of either cooked fish or chicken are pickled in vinager along with boiled onions, cauliflower, carrots, peas, and are served with a dusting of chopped parsley.
SOLTERITO DE CUCHICARA
Soltero a Traditional Dish with Vegetables and Cheesse
A stew of vegetables such as carrots, broad beans, onion, seaweed, and strips of bacon skin.
PICANTE DE TARWI
Ceviche de Tarwi Serrano
This is an energy rich dish made with tarwi (edible lupine seeds). It also has potatoes, cheese, and is seasoned with garlic, hot pepper, onions, mint, and wacatay (black mint). It is served with a toasted and boiled rice.
Best of Cuzco
Cuzco, is a wonderful city to explore. The streets go up and down and every corner comes with a surprise. The amazing mix of both colonial and modern entices the visitor to discover the juxtaposition of Inca architecture.
The city is very colorful with colonial red roofs, whitewashed walls and blue doors and windows. Don't miss the fabled wall with the Stones of 12 Angles (see picture above). Take your time and explore the city at your pace as there are many churches to see and museums to explore.
Plaza de Armas
The heart from the city. From the Plaza de Armas, a walking tour takes you to the Cathedral, San Blas church, the Art School and Q'oricancha, the site of the Sun Temple.
The famous sun temple of Qosqo. When it is illuminated at night, we can get an idea of what it must have looked like when it was covered in gold.
San Blas church
La Companía Church
Cusco's masterpiece on what was once Inca Huayna Capac's palace
Built over the ruins of the palace of the Inca Viracocha.
A fortress-temple (meaning 'satisfied falcon'), it lies immediately above Cuzco and was primarily protected by three massive terraced walls, rising over sixty feet and built in a zig-zag fashion in order to break up attacking forces.
This labyrinth with a temple dedicated to Mother Earth is a unique center of worship and for ceremonies. It is also Q'enqo.
The Fortress Watchtower on a strategic point along the road to the Antisuyo, or Amazonian region of the empire. It also served as a checkpoint on the Inca road and was a military and administrative center.
The Inca Baths believed to be an important center for the worship of water. The architecture and design display the Inca’s building talents and knowledge of hydraulics.
Laqo, Lanlakuyoq and Kusilluchayoq
Thought to be observatories or ceremonial sites, these sites have felines, serpents and birds carved into the rock.
The Lost City of the Incas is the absolute highlight of a journey to South America. You can reach this ancient ruin either by train to Aguas Calientes or hike the amazing Inca Trail
Additional sights and excursions:
The City of Fleas, an important city of the Wari or Huari civilization.
The Sunday market day is set in the middle of a town where Incan design and architecture are still maintained.
The Urubamba River Valley flowing through a narrow, winding valley from east of Pisac to Ollantaytambo at the western end of the valley.
These salt flats on the side of a mountain were a commercial enterprise even before the Incas
On the Vilcamayu river from Huambutyio or Pachar
Cusco Airport Information
Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport, with international airport code CUZ, is Cusco´s only airport and is located just 10 minutes by taxi from the historic centre. Avianca, Star Peru, Peruvian and LAN Airlines are the main carriers operating from the airport, with the small local operator of Amaszonas Airlines operating s handful of flights per week to Bolivia.
Cusco´s airport is located in the districts of Wanchaq and San Sebastian just 3.7 km´s (2.3 miles) or a 10 minutes from Cusco´s historic centre. In 2011 after several years of delayed construction a new road opened linking the airport to the centre of Cusco. Although the area surrounding the airport is not aesthetically pleasing, it is not considered unsafe during daylight hours.
Transport to Cusco
Llama Taxis are the only official taxi company operating from Cusco Airport, the rest are un-official. Llama Taxis have a booth in the baggage collection are where you can reserve your taxi. Vehicles are typically Toyota Salon cars, and are modern and safe. The price from Cusco Airport to Plaza de Armas or any of Cusco´s tourist hotels (within the city) is 35 Soles (US$ 12).
On arrival at Cusco airport you will find an abundance of taxi drivers offering their services. Taxi drivers congregate around the area outside of the airport right after luggage collection (you can´t miss them). In typical Peruvian taxi driver style, they can be a little overbearing and very persistent, but don´t let this put you off. Taxis are not metered so you need to agree a price first before getting in. The price should be around 10 – 15 soles (US$ 3.50 – 5.00) for the 10 minute journey. Be aware that taxi drivers will start by offering a price of 25 – 30 Soles, so don´t jump straight in, make sure you barter and get the right price. Taxi drivers are required to pay a 2 Soles parking fee when leaving the airport, and often and (very cheekily) request this in addition to the pre-agreed tariff. The quality of taxis can vary greatly from clean modern vehicles to rusty old buckets that barely run. Make sure you are happy with the taxi before you get in it. If you are feeling particularly tight, walkoutside the airport and grab a cab in the street, you may get a ride as cheap as 5 Soles (US$ 1.7).
Taking a Bus
There are no bus services departing directly from Cusco Airport, but local buses known as combis depart from just outside the airport near the Pecsa petrol station. Imperial buses run to Cusco´s centre and charge just 0.60 Soles (US$ 0.25). Be warned, pick-pocketing is rife on a combis!
Public Side of the Airport
Restaurant – On the second floor there is a fairly large restaurant come snack area called “Cafeteria Aeropuerto,” that offers everything from coffee to cakes to burgers to full blown meals like lomo saltado. Prices are fair, and the food is actually quite good.
Snack Bars – Several small snack bars can be found on the first and second floors of the airport. A coffee and a small snack will set you back around 15 Soles (US$ 5.20).
Money Exchange – On the ground floor is a small money exchange booth. Here you can exchange Euros, Sterling and US Dollars. Exchange rates are not as good as you might find in the centre of Cusco, but this is an airport after all. Note that ripped or even slightly damaged foreign currency will not be accepted.
Club Lounge – On the first floor (public side) there is a club lounge. The lounge offers comfortable seating, free wifi connection, complimentary drinks and snacks (selected) and free local phone calls. The lounge is free for Diners Club International members and Lounge Club members, or there is an entrance charge of US$ 28.32 per person. The lounge is open from 6am – 7pm.
ATM´s / Cash Machines – All of Peru´s major banks have ATM machines at the airport (first floor) and accept Visa, MasterCard, Amex and all other major credit/debit cards.
Tourist Information – On the lower level tucked away to the rear of the airport there is a small tourist information booth. Operated by PromPeru the official Peruvian Tourist Board, the staff can offer tourist information about not only Cusco but all other destinations in Peru. Here you can also log complaints about hotels, airlines, tour companies and guides. Open from 6am – 5pm.
Internet Café – On the second floor (public side of the airport) you will find a small internet café. They offer internet access, skype, printing and scanning facilities and international and local calls. The internet is 5 Soles (US$ 1.75) per hour and the café is open 7 days a week from 7 am – 4 or 5 pm (depending on how the staff feel).
Book Store – On the second floor just before passing through security is a book store. Here you´ll find international books in several different languages, including Spanish, English, French, Italian and German.
Departure Side of the Airport
Snack bar – A small snack bar offers everything from empanadas to cakes to fresh sandwiches and the usual selection of drinks, like coffee, herbal teas, water and fizzy drinks. There are no big plates of food on sale here. Prices are higher here than in the public area of the airport but they are still reasonable compared to other airports around the world.
Shopping – The small departure lounge has various high-end shops for the purchase of last minute gifts. The Peruvian jeweller Ilaria, the alpaca garment manufacturer Kuna and the tapestry experts Galaria Latina are to name a few.
Airlines and Routes
LAN Airlines dominate Cusco Airport and have the largest number of daily flights. They have approximately 16 daily departures direct to Lima, and 1 or 2 direct flights to other cities including Arequipa, Puerto Maldonado and Juliaca (Lake Titicaca area). For the route Cusco – Lima, Flights start around 5.30am and depart about every half hour until 7pm.
Cusco (CUZ) – Lima (LIM), 16 flights per day
Cusco (CUZ) – Puerto Maldonado (PEM), 1 flight per day
Cusco (CUZ) – Arequipa (AQP), 1 flight per day
Cusco (CUZ) – Juliaca (JUL), 1 flight per day
Avianca (was TACA)
The large Colombian airline Avianca (was TACA) also operates into Cusco Airport. Although not quite as dominating as LAN, they do have several flights a day that connect Cusco with Lima and Puerto Maldonado in Peru´s Southern Amazon Jungle.
Cusco (CUZ) – Lima (LIM), 5 flights per day
Cusco (CUZ) – Puerto Maldonado (PEM), 1 flight per day
Operating commercial passenger flights since 2004, Star Peru is a small local airline operating 2 routes: Lima to Cusco and Puerto Maldonado to Cusco.
Cusco (CUZ) – Lima (LIM), 5 flights per day
Cusco (CUZ) – Puerto Maldonado (PEM), 1 flight per day
The newest of all airlines operating to Cusco Airport, Peruvian Airlines is a small local airline backed by Irish maintenance and leasing company Aergo. The company operate just one route: Lima – Cusco – Lima and have 3 daily flights.
Cusco (CUZ) – Lima (LIM), 3 flights per day
Based out of La Paz in Bolivia, Amaszonas Airlines offers short haul flights mainly in Bolivia and to some destinations in Peru. From Cusco Airport there is 1 direct flight per day to La Paz, where you can connect to other destinations in Bolivia.
Cusco (CUZ) – La Paz, Bolivia (LBP), 1 flights per day
From the city of Cusco you may reach by train destinations such as Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes, Quillabamba, Puno and Arequipa. When arriving in Ollantaytambo, the traveler may access all the cities in the Sacred Valley (Calca, Urubamba o Písac). From Aguas Calientes, you may go to the mythical Citadel of Machu Picchu.
You can buy your tickets for these destinations in the train station or in some travel agency. The price ranges according to the class and must be acquired some days in advance.
CUSCO - MACHUPICCHU - CUSCO
Impressive and majestic, these are the adjectives that describe the travel by train from Cusco to Machu Picchu. An incredible travel, that goes through the Andean Mountains and which scenario is really spectacular, above all, if you watch it from the panoramic vehicles that have been recently renewed.
A travel that lasts three hours and a half going through amazing mountainous landscapes. First, you must face a rugged climb in "zig zag" up to the mountains surrounding the city. Then, you will stop at the beautiful town of Poroy, to subsequently go down to the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
An exuberant vegetation of green and colorful fields at the foot of the Andes will welcome you, followed by beautiful mountains buried deep in the dramatic canyon and the majestic Urubamba River, which crosses the whole Sacred Valley of the Incas.
An enjoyable trip option is to visit the Imperial city of Cusco by train. There are two stations:
- San Pedro Station, in Cusco
- And the terminal of Wanchac, situated in Pachacutec avenue, where the trains from Puno and Arequipa arrive.
The prices of the train tickets are varied.
ROUTE SACRED VALLEY- MACHU PICCHU
For those people who desire to stay longer in the Heart of the Sacred Valley, there is an option to take the train and enjoy the same wonders but in a shorter trip, leaving from Ollantaytambo or from Urubamba.
CUSCO - LAGO TITICACA
Another trip of astonishing visual adventure starting in Cusco and going by the South towards the historical city of Puno, at the bank of the Titicaca Lake.
Along the way you will admire the magnificent Andean geography that is surrounding the deep valleys where the Huatanay River passes. Arriving at the high Plateau, we can admire the vicuñas, alpacas and other South American Camelids. Thus, thanks to technology we can also admire them from our seats while travelling on the new observatories coaches unique in South America. These observatory coaches offer you excellent food including entrance, main course, dessert and a cup of good café.
To continue explaining about the landscape we have mentioned, we find the La Raya Station where we stop to have a wider panoramic vision. The Raya Station is the highest point (4 319 masl) where the train passes. Here we find a little exhibition of handicrafts and other typical local objects.