All about the historic center of Cusco
What is the historic center of Cusco?
The historic center of Cusco is the central area of Cusco declared by Unesco as a 'World Heritage Site'. This due to the historical importance for its Inca and Spanish heritage. The churches, Inca walls, main square, markets and more are famous. Currently this area has many hotels, restaurants, craft shops. Therefore, it is a place where many tourists congregate.
Map of the historic center of Cusco
The Main Square –Main square of the city, which was the cultural and administrative center of the Incas who called it 'Huacaypata'. The Spanish reduced its size and remodeled it following a structure similar to the current one. Today it is the congregation point for the largest number of tourists. Important ceremonies such as the Inti Raymi were held there. The indigenous rebel Túpac Amaru II was also dismembered in 1781.
The Cathedral of Cusco – The main and most impressive church in the city of Cusco. It is located in front of the main square. It consists of 3 religious buildings: the Cathedral Basilica of Cusco, the Temple of Triumph and the Temple of the Sagrada Familia. In the time of the Incas the place was occupied by the palace of the Inca Viracocha. Its construction took more than 100 years (between 1560 and 1664). The exterior features Baroque architecture. Its interior consists of gold leaf ornaments, paintings from the Cusco school and many other treasures.
San Blas neighborhood – One of the most famous places in Cusco is this neighborhood made up of streets and squares of peculiar beauty. In the time of the Incas it was called 'T'oqokachi' (Hollow with salt) and it enjoyed great importance because there the temple was built in honor of the lightning (Illapa). In addition, it is presumed that the mummy of the famous Inca Pachacutec was there. During the colony it was an important neighborhood for artisans and artists. Today, it is a place full of handicraft shops of families with a long tradition.
The stone of the 12 angles – This famous carved stone is part of the ancient palace of the Inca ruler Roca. It stands out for presenting twelve perfectly carved angles that fit with great precision within the wall. The Spanish used these walls to build the Archbishop's Palace on Hatun Rumiyoc Street (just a few steps from the main square of Cusco). This stone is 'Cultural Heritage of the Nation of Peru'. Many tourists come there to be photographed. The visit is free.
The San Pedro market – The oldest commercial center in the city of Cusco is the famous San Pedro market, whose construction began in 1925 under the direction of the French architect Gustav Eiffel. It is located next to the San Pedro church. Over the years, the market has grown to reach a total of 1,180 stores with food, crafts, clothing and more. Due to the diversity of products and the congregation of Cusco and foreign people, it is a very popular cultural space in Cusco.
The Coricancha – The Coricancha was the main religious temple of the Inca empire. In Inca times, its main shrines were covered with gold and silver. Its walls are the best carved in the entire Inca empire.. The Spanish sacked the place and, on its walls, they built the church and convent of Santo Domingo. Today, it is one of the most important and visited tourist attractions in the city of Cusco. Every year there, as well as in the Plaza de Armas and Sacsayhuaman, the staging of the famous Inti Raymi festival is celebrated, just as the Incas did.
Museums – Most of Cusco's museums are in its historic center. In most cases, their premises were built on colonial houses. The most famous museums are: The pre-Columbian art museum, the Inca museum, the Coricancha site museum, the Machu Picchu museum of Casa Concha and others. To get to these places, it is enough to walk a little from the Main Square of the city. The income varies from 3 to 5 US dollars per tourist.
Churches – The city of Cusco has up to 23 colonial churches. Most of these are located in the historic center of the city, such as: the church of the Society of Jesus, the church of the convent of La Merced, the church of San Blas, the church and convent of Santo Domingo, the church of Santa Catalina, the church of San Pedro and the Cathedral of Cusco. The latter is the most impressive of all. Admission to all these religious temples is free during mass hours.
The history of the historic center of Cusco has its beginnings in Inca times, when they began the construction of palaces, squares, temples and streets. The chronicles indicate that the period of greatest apogee and important buildings took place under the government of the Inca Pachacutec (1418 - 1471) who ordered the reconstruction of the Coricancha, the Plaza de Armas and the main temples and palaces as well as the network of roads. Qhapac ñan 'that left the city of Cusco towards the rest of the empire reaching more than 30 thousand kilometers of roads.
During the Spanish invasion (16th century), Cusco was remodeled. The Inca palaces were destroyed and, in their place, Catholic religious temples were built. The main square was reduced and rebuilt in the colonial style. Colonial houses, squares and streets were also built whose urban organization is the one that can be seen today. This space in Cusco was the main meeting point, ceremonies and administrative decisions. In 1781, the indigenous rebel José Gabriel Condorcanqui, known as Túpac Amaru II (descendant of the Incas), was executed there.
The climate in the historic center of Cusco is temperate, with sunny days and cold nights. During the day, the heat can reach a maximum temperature of 22ºC. (71.6ºF). At night, however, the cold can drop to 4ºC. (39.2ºF). The rainiest months are January, February and March. From May to October rains are rare. For most people, these months are the best days to get to know Cusco and all its tourist attractions.
It is dangerous?
The historic center of Cusco is a safe place. Due to the presence of tourists, there is a lot of police presence (especially the tourism police). Unlike other citadels in Peru, Cusco is a safer destination.
The historic center of Cusco is the area with the most hotels and lodgings in Peru. There are luxurious 5-star services as well as simple shared services for 'backpacker' tourists. Some of the most luxurious services are: the JW Marriot El Convento, the Belmond Hotel Monasterio, the Arawa Cusco Boutique Hotel, the Melmond Palacio Nazarenas and more. Likewise, among the budget hotels for adventurous tourists, the following stand out: the Milhouse Hostel, the Loki Hostel, the Pariwana Hostel, the Inka Wild and others.
The historic center of Cusco has a great variety of restaurants of varied quality and prices. Some of the most prestigious are: El Mariscal, Chicha, Heidi Farm, Green Point (vegetarian food), Cicciolina, Cusqueñita (food from Cusco) and more. Likewise, visitors can opt for the cheaper options such as the small restaurants in the San Pedro market. In all these places, the tourist can taste Peruvian food, recognized as one of the best cuisines in the world.
The historic center of Cusco is full of craft stores where you can buy: alpaca clothing, ceramics with Inca motifs, Peruvian silver and gold jewelry, Andean musical instruments and all kinds of sourvenirs. There are also itinerant people who offer simple crafts such as polo shirts, ornaments or others.
Nightclubs and bars
At night, the historic center of Cusco is famous for its many bars and clubs that attract Peruvians and foreigners. Some of the most famous places are: Mamá Africa, the Ukukus bar, the Republic of Pisco, the Loki Hostel bar, the Chango club, the Mythology and more. Most bars and clubs stay open until 2 in the morning. One of the most popular drinks is the 'Pisco sour', the emblematic cocktail of Peru.
The streets of the historic center of Cusco are narrow and made of stone whose origin dates back to the Inca and colonial times. Their names have diverse origins that are explained by some historical fact. For example, its '7 streets' are striking: seven culebras street, seven windows street, seven cuartones street, seven diablitos street and others.
To preserve the Inca and colonial architecture of the historic center, the authorities of the city of Cusco prohibited the construction of construction of more than two floors. The facades of the main establishments that surround the Plaza de Armas and its surroundings are painted white.
In the surroundings of the historic center of Cusco it is common to come across some ladies dressed in multicolored costumes characteristic of their towns walking their llamas or alpacas. For a tip, tourists can take photos with these popular animals in Peru.
Tips about the visit
The historic center of Cusco is 3,399 meters above sea level (11,151 feet). At this altitude, it is normal to feel some of the symptoms of altitude sickness, such as nausea and fatigue. To reduce these symptoms you can drink plenty of water (coca tea is a good option) although these symptoms usually disappear naturally after one or two days.
On the outskirts and surroundings of the historic center of Cusco, the visitor can visit some of the most incredible archaeological sites in the city such as: Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo, Pucapucara and Tambomachay. You can visit these and other places with the famous half day 'City Tour Cusco'.
Some of the most important dates to visit the center of Cusco are: the Inti Raymi festival (every June 24), the religious festival of Corpus Christi (early June), carnivals (Sundays in February), Christmas (25 June) and the New Year (January 1).