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12 Reasons Why Cusco Is One Of The Greatest Travel Destinations

Cusco is a fantastic city, and a fantastic travel destination that is on many holiday "wish lists" or travel "bucket lists". The city is widely appreciated by those that have visited it as being a true highlight of travel in South America, and an iconic city with much to offer all types of tourists.

Here's our 12 reasons why this city is so special...

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1| It’s a Great Place in South America for Travel Photography

As the saying goes, when on holiday “leave only footprints, and take only photographs”, and Cusco, without doubt, has to be one of the greatest cities on the planet for photographers. Every inch of the city is covered in winding cobbled streets, impressive architecture, Inca ruins, local Andean people in traditional local dress, and vibrant markets selling brightly coloured traditional arts and crafts. Even the most amateur of photographers can walk away from Cusco with photos to be proud of.

2| Some of the Best Trekking in Peru

The Peruvian city of Huaraz may hold the unofficial title of the “Trekking Capital of the Andes” due to its proximity to the Cordillera Blanca and hikes such as the Alpamayo Trek, and the Santa Cruz Trek, but Cusco can actually be an excellent option for a trek in Peru. For those that are already including a visit to Cusco as part of a wider tour across Peru, the advantage of trekking here is that it avoids the added cost, and travel time, of getting to Huaraz to do a trek there, however in addition to this there are in fact many fantastic trekking options around Cusco. Certainly the official Camino Inca Trail to Machu Picchu rightly gets all the plaudits and is one of the greatest walks on earth, but for those looking for something a little different or to avoid the crowds there are other treks to Machu Picchu including the Lares Trek and Salkantay Trek. It is also possible to trek to the Inca ruin of Choquequirao, which many believe matches Machu Picchu in size and grandeur, and the Ausangate Trek provides an excellent opportunity to get away from the crowds and experience the rural Andes.

Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

3| Machu Picchu is Just Around the Corner

Although Cusco is fabulous in its own right, one of the reasons it draws the number of tourists it does is due to its proximity to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Machu Picchu. Daily trains run from Cusco to the town of Aguas Calientes, also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, situated in the valley foothills below Machu Picchu itself, from where buses escort people up to the ruin.

Machu Picchu, Peru

4| The People of Cusco

Cusco is a historical city, with its people, culture, and architecture steeped in the tradition of the Inca and Andean people. Today the people of Cusco, the vast majority of whom work in the tourism industry either directly or indirectly, maintain these traditions and emanate a warmth, graciousness, and kindness to all.

Cusco People

5| Boutique and Artesan Shopping

Okay, so Cusco may not have the modern shopping malls that can be found in Lima, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and other South American metropolises, but Cusco is in many ways a much better and more wonderful location in which to shop, with everything from high-end boutique stores trading in handmade alpaca clothing, to a countless selection of artesan crafts markets. The San Pedro market is also a must-see shopping destination in Cusco, the highlight being the exotic mix of traditional Andean food stalls selling homemade goods including potatoes, Andean cheese, and meat (not for those with an easily upset stomach!).

Market and Shopping, Cusco

6| The Vibe of the City

Cusco has the feel of a magical city, and walking amongst its labyrinthine cobbled passageways, Inca streets, and colonial-era mansions is like walking back in time. The city has a lovely relaxed vibe about it, and one of the best things to do in the city is to find a coffee shop overlooking the central plaza, sit, relax, and people watch.

Cusco at Night

7| Cusco is Packed Full of Historical Attractions

Cusco holds the unofficial title as the Archaeological Capital of the Americas, and rightly so – the city and the surrounding area are steeped in history and archaeology. Within the city itself the Plaza de Armas, Cusco Cathedral, Church of Jesus Maria, Church of San Blas, El Triunfo, The Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus, the Inca Walls of Hatunrumiyoc Street including the 12-sided stone, Qorikancha Inca site, and Santa Domingo Church are all worth visiting; and surrounding the city are more sites including the Inca ruins of Sacsayhuaman, Tambomachacy, Q’enko and Pukapukara. If this wasn’t enough, the SacredValley is only a short drive away, with Chinchero, Pisac Inca ruin, Pisac market, Maras, Moray, and Ollantaytambo all accessible.

12 Sided Stone, Cusco

8| Cusco Is One of the Best Places in Peru to Attend A Festival

Street parades, processions, festivals and parties of one type or another, whether religious or otherwise, are a regular feature of life in Cusco, and they help provide an additional splash of colour to this vibrant place. Of all the festivals, Inti Raymi is probably the most famous. This was an Inca festival that took place in Cusco to celebrate the winter solstice, and the festival is still celebrated today in certain parts of South America, with Cusco being the best place to experience the festivities. The annual festival is celebrated in the Inca ruin of Sacsayhuaman, with thousands of tourists observing the procession.

Festival in Cusco, Peru

9| The Best Hotel Choices in South America

Due to the sheer number of tourists that visit Cusco each year, competition for hotels in fierce, and this has created a mammoth selection of accommodation to cater for all types and budgets. Cusco has one of the best hotel selections in South America, with many 3-star, 4-star and 5-star options being built within the UNESCO World Heritage city centre, often using original Inca walls and colonial era mansions as the foundations for the luxurious rooms, bars and restaurants they provide. With boutique hotels also available, and very good quality hostels for those on a budget, there is something for everyone.

10| Andean Food and Dining in Cusco

Unlike many other tourist destinations that sell themselves out and turn into lifeless look-a-like copies of one another serving up the same faceless big brand bland cuisine, when it comes to food Cusco has managed to maintain its charm, and its restaurants have clung on to tradition and have forged a cuisine that respects the Andean origins of the ingredients. Sure, cuy (guinea pig) is on the menu for those that fancy it, but Cusquenan cuisine offers so more.

11| The Beauty of Cusco

Last but not least: Cusco is a beautiful city, in a beautiful valley, in a beautiful country. The traditional orange tiled rooftops of the city shine gloriously in the harsh Andean sunlight, and this, contrasted with the multi-coloured clothing of the Cusco locals, the stark grey stone-work of the Inca ruins, and the vibrant green of the plazas dotted around the city, make this one of the most magical destinations to visit in Peru.

Cusco, Peru

12| Visiting the Amazon Jungle is Easy

Although Cusco is 100% a city of the Andes, the strange thing about it is that access to the Amazon Jungle from Cusco is actually very easy, which makes it very possible for tours to Peru to include both the Andes and the Amazon within a short two-week trip. There are two main Amazon regions near to Cusco: Manu is the most biodiverse region on earth, with wonderful wildlife watching and bird-watching opportunities in the Amazon, and is usually reached by a day-long drive from Cusco, through the town of Paucartambo, and up and over the mountain pass and down into the cloud forests of the western edge of the Amazon. Here it is possible to spot the famous Cock of the Rock bird of paradise, the national bird of Peru. Similarly the Amazon region of Tambopata, which also has superb wildlife and bird-watching opportunities in the Amazon, as well as excellent standards of jungle lodge accommocation, can be accessed by a very short flight from Cusco. On a trip to Cusco, it seems a shame to come this far and not include the Amazon, particularly when it is right on the doorstep.

Amazon Jungle

Published: 25th May 2015

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