Things to see in Cusco

Tourist information

Direccíon Regional de Industria y Turismo (DRIT)
Portal de Mantas 117-A
Tel: (84) 222 032.

Alternatively, iPeru (www.peru.info) have information offices in the main hall at Aeropuerto Velasco Astete.

Passes

It’s worth buying the highly cost-effective Boleto Turistico (www.cosituc.gob.pe), which provides access to the Museum of Contemporary Art and some Cusco ruins such as Saqsayhuaman and Pisac in the Sacred Valley. It’s sold in both the DRIT and iPeru tourist offices, and at the attractions themselves.

Cathedral of Cusco

Built between 1556 and 1669 on the site of the Inca Viracocha's palace, the monolithic cathedral dominates one side of Plaza de Armas. Full of treasures, it is one of the city's best repositories of colonial art and includes detailed carved altars and a sacristy full of portraits of priests from the past. It also holds the blackened crucifix that was paraded around Cusco in 1650 to stop a giant earthquake. There's also a very famous painting of the Last Supper by Marcos Zapata, at which Christ and his disciples are pictured feasting on Andean fruits and, instead of the usual Paschal lamb, there’s a vizcacha (a kind of wild chinchilla), commonly mistaken for a cuy (guinea pig).

Opening Times: Mon-Sun 1000-1745.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru
Coricancha and Santo Domingo

The Inca Sun Temple, Coricancha, was the centre of the Inca religion. The building was once lavishly decorated with gold plates and precious stones, but the Spanish conquistadors pillaged the site and gave the temple to the Dominicans, who built the monastery of Santo Domingo on top of it. In 1950 an earthquake destroyed the monastery, but left the Inca stonework, some of the finest masonry in Peru, undamaged.

Opening Times: Mon-Sat 0830-1730, Sun 1400-1700.
Admission Fees: Yes.
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Plazoleta Santo Domingo, Cusco, Peru
Telephone: (84) 249 176.
La Compañía de Jesús

This Jesuit church is the other massive building on the Plaza de Armas. Built on the ruins of the palace of the Inca Huayna Capac, it is a grand building complete with decorative baroque facade. Work began in 1578 but a giant earthquake in 1650 practically demolished the building and it wasn't finished until 1668. Interesting paintings of local weddings show plenty of period detail, whilst the catacombs beneath the church are worth exploring and the view from the second floor choir area is worth climbing a set of rickety steps to see.

Opening Times: Mon-Sun 0900-1730.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru
Sacsayhuaman and other ruins

Climbing the stone steps from Calle Suecia, leading off of Plaza de Armas, brings intrepid tourists to the large ruins of Sacsayhuaman. Unlike much of the ancient Incan city of Qosqo, the walls here weren’t completely decimated by the conquistadores. The interlocking stones (some measuring more than 3m (10ft) in height) make for mightily imposing walls and demonstrate the Incan talent for engineering. After a decisive battle with Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in 1536, many of the stones were carried down to Cusco below for building work.

Ascend a little way up the hill and you’ll come to the site’s 20th century addition, Cristo Blanco, a huge statue of Christ with outstretched arms à la Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer. While the statue’s facial expression is bewilderingly cartoonish, its lofty vantage point provides a fantastic view of the city.

Wander further still to find the mysterious Temple of the Moon. This strange rock formation, resembling a meteorite, was very important to the Incas. With faces, altars and steps cut into the stone, as well as cave entrances and spooky passages, there’s an ominous feel of how significant this ceremonial site once was.

Other than these, there’s the outlying ruin of Tambo Machay, which translate as ‘the Inca’s Baths’, and the carved limestone monolith of Salapunco.

Opening Times: Daily 0700-1800.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Calle Don Bosco, Cusco, Peru
Templo de San Blas

This simple adobe church contains an intricate carved cedar-wood pulpit, the detail of which includes a cherub, a sun-disc, faces and bunches of grapes. At the top stands St Paul, his foot resting on a skull believed to belong to the craftsman responsible for the carving. The church also has a baroque gold-leafed altar.

Opening Times: Mon-Sat 1000-1730, Sun 1400-1730.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: Yes
Address: Plaza San Blas, Cusco, Peru
Machu Picchu Museum

It may have taken a hundred years, but the artefacts discovered by American explorer Hiram Bingham at Machu Picchu made their way back to Peru in 2011. Many can be seen in this small museum, which is the ideal prelude for visits to fabled Lost City of the Incas. Several hundred objects are on show, but don’t miss the fascinating video explaining Yale University’s research into the ancient city.

Opening Times: Mon-Fri 0900-1700, Sat 0900-1300.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Calle Santa Catalina Ancha 320, Cusco, Peru
Telephone: (84) 255 535.
Museo de Arte Precolombino

Previously an Incan ceremonial court, a Santa Clara convent and the mansion of the Earl of Cabrera, this impressive museum still boasts segments of Inca wall. The rather poetic descriptions of items on display – which include silver, woodwork and ceramics – attempt to rank the pieces alongside fine art. The objects, however, speak for themselves. Displays are divided amongst the various indigenous cultures dating from the 13th century and delight in their imagination, intricacy and variety. The Mochica culture is the most advanced with skilfully sculpted pottery and ornaments adorned with animals including the ubiquitous llama.

Opening Times: Mon-Sun 0900-2200.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Plazoleta Nazarenas 231, Cusco, Peru
Telephone: (84) 237 380.
Museo Inka

Taking visitors from the earliest cultures in Peru through to the reign of the Incas in the 13th century and beyond, this informative museum gives a wholesome understanding of one of the world’s greatest empires. Telling the story through artefacts that range from ceramics and jewellery to weapons and hairbrushes, it’s possible to grasp just how complex and sophisticated the Incas were. The room about textiles – more prized by the Incas than gold – is perhaps the most impressive; the explanations on what different patterns depict and represent are truly illuminating. Upstairs you’ll come face to face with real mummies, their hands grasping around agape mouths as if in horror.

Opening Times: Mon-Fri 0800-1700, Sat 0900-1700.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Cuesta del Almirante 103, Cusco, Peru
Telephone: (84) 224 051.
Coca Museum

For a break from Cusco’s usual historical sights, visit the Coca Museum to learn more about the Inca’s sacred leaf. The museum introduces visitors to the history of the coca plant and explains exactly why it is so important to the Peruvian identity, today and in times past. It also covers the botanical and medicinal properties of the plant and tackles the more recent issues of drug trafficking and cocaine addiction.

Opening Times: Mon-Sun 0900-2000.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: No
Unesco: No
Address: Calle Palacio 122, Cusco, Peru
Telephone: (84) 501 020.
Edited by Daniel Fahey
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