- 1. What is the Historic Center of Cusco?
- 2. What to do in a day-time in the historic center?
- 3. What to do at night in the historic center?
- 4 How to visit the historic center?
- 5. Where to eat in the historic center?
1. What is the Historic Center of Cusco?
According to 20th century researches, Manco Capac was probably an astronomer who arrived in the 12th at a very advanced Wari city known as Aja Mama in Cusco valley, then he determined that the ancient Wari settlement was the center of a constellation; that is why he renamed it as Qosqo, which means The Center of the Universe.
Starting 1430 AD onward, under the government of the 9th Emperor Pachaqutec, the city of Qosqo entered a phase of remodelling its streets, squares, palaces, temples, aqueducts, etc. in order to give to the city the shape of a Puma, however this figure could only be seen from elevated areas.
The figure of the Puma was outlined by two rivers: Tullumayu (for the Puma spine) and the Saphy (for the front side of the Puma), when these rivers join together they make the Puma’s tail (the joint occurs 1km south from the Plaza de Armas), the current Plaza de Armas was the belly of the Puma and the head was Saqsayhuman archaeological complex.
There were 4 main roads known as the Qhapaq Ñan, starting in the Plaza de Armas of Cusco (known as Auqaypata in the Inca period), these road systems use to connect Qosqo city with the 4 provinces of the Inca Empire: the Chinchaysuyo (north), the Antisuyo (the entire eastern area or the Amazonia), the Kuntisuyo (the south-west) and the Qollasuyo (the South).
In 1534, Francisco Pizarro arrived at Cusco and a new remodelling began under Greco-Roman, Christian and Arab parameters, and the Andean name of this city was changed from Qosqo by Cusco.
The arrival of the Spaniard meant also the genesis of a syncretism between the Andean and European cultures in many fields such as architecture, cuisine, language, clothing, economy, religion, etc.
The Historic Center of Cusco is the product of that fusion of about 500 years, there is no street, house or corner that has no history to tell, it is a living museum, that enchants millions of visitors, that is why in 1983, it was proclaimed as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO.
What are you waiting for to visit Cusco, below we show you all the highlights of the historic center for you to explore on your own or on a free walking tour.
2. What to do in a day-time in the historic center?
2.1 Explore the Cathedral
Visit the Cathedral of Our Lady of Asunción of Cusco, built starting 1560 and finished in 1664, the main architect was Juan Miguel de Veramendi, it is the second largest and oldest Cathedral in the American continent after Mexico city’s cathedral.
The most famous painting in Cusco “The Last Supper of Jesus” by Marco Zapata Sinchi-Roca is located inside the Cathedral; this painting calls the curiosity of many visitors, because of the presence of a guinea pig in the center of the table, where Jesus meets his disciples for the last time; you can also see Judas Iscariot who has a darker skin, thus resembling the natives or indigenous people.
There are also 16 Saints from the colonial period in the cathedral, one of them is the patron saint of Cusco city, he’s called El Cristo Negro or Taytacha—he is black Jesus Christ who has a strong indigenous phenotype.
The price of the cathedral is 25 soles per person, it is open Monday to Sunday starting 9am until 6pm, find the Cathedral in the main square of Cusco.
2.2 Visit the Plaza de Armas of Cusco – Main Square
Explore the famous Plaza de Armas of Cusco or Auqaypata in the Quechua language—Auqaypata means “the most important place“; the existence of this square dates back to pre-hispanic times, during the Inca period the most important festivities would take place here, for example the Inti Raimy—or the Sun festival (June 21, winter solstice); this festival use to start in the Coricancha temple and the main ritual would take place at the Plaza de Armas.
The Auqaypata—or Plaza de Armas was surrounded by palaces, temples, sanctuaries, etc. Upon the arrival of the Spaniards, most of the buildings were destroyed to be replaced by current colonial buildings such as the Cathedral, the Church of the Society of Jesus, the Convent of Santa Catalina, etc.
There is also a beautiful water fountain in the central part of the Plaza de Armas, donated to Cusco by New York City, at the beginning of the 20th century.
2.3 Visit the Coricancha temple
The most famous temple for pre-Inca cultures was Pachacamac, located on the southern coast of the ancient Peru; however for the Inca people, the most sacred place was the Coricancha, located in the city of Cusco; it was a ceremonial center and congregation of deities on its physical forms forged in precious metals such as gold and silver, decorated with precious stones.
The Coricancha temple was destroyed during the colonial period to build the current colonial convent of Santo Domingo.
In 1950, an earthquake happened in Cusco city and destroyed large part of the Santo Domingo church, revealing many Inca walls that had been covered with plaster, so that the walls cannot be seen by indigenous parishioners and thus erase this religious precinct from the indigenous people mind.
This temple is located in front of the Palacio del Inka hotel, it is open from Monday to Saturday starting 9am until 5pm and on Sundays from 2pm to 5pm; the price is 15 soles per person.
2.4 Don’t miss the 12 angled stone
In the western part of Cusco city there is a palace dating back to the pre-Inca period, it belonged to the Wari kingdom, this pre-inca palace survived the arrival of the Inca people at the beginning of the 12th century, in 1250 AD, this building became the palace of an Inca emperor known as Inca Roca.
In this pre-Inca construction, there is a lithic piece that has 12 angles or sides, and calls the curiosity of many visitors because of the angles and the interlocking system.
On the other hand, there are no writings or chronicles from the colonial period, that mentions this stone under any mystical or political connotation; the popularity of the stone is due to events that occurred in the 20th century and other factors, for example, the number 12 is cabalistic, Che Guevara took a photo with this stone in the last century, the Cusqueña beer brewery company used this stone as part of their logo on millions of bottles.
It is not necessarily famous because of the amount of angles since there are other stones with even more angles, for example the 13-angled stone located right on the opposite side of the same Inca palace.
However overall, the stone is beautiful and the pre-hispanic architecture is stunning, what is more, it is not just this stone attracting many visitors, but also the whole palace and Hatun Rumiyoq street.
The 12 angled stone is located on Hatun Rumiyoc street, it is free, taking a photo with it, is a bit difficult because there are many visitors trying to do the same, we advise you to go there, from 8pm onward.
2.5 Visit the San Pedro market
The most famous market in the historic center of Cusco is San Pedro, because it is a typical market and traditional place, there are many things you can inside the market, for example, buy fresh fruits, dried fruits, get some breakfast or lunch, you can also buy gifts for your family (there is a especial section of handicrafts and souvenirs for tourists), the prices are cheap although haggling is always recommended, haggling prices for local people is fine, it is not rude.
The San Pedro market is clean, the women who sell fruit juices or those who offer you cheap lunch wear aprons and cover their heads with a special sanitary material; they also have the permission from the Ministry of Health, so get in there with all confidence.
It is located in Plaza San Pedro, the entrance is free, the opening hours are from 6am to 5pm—every day (it is not open for dinner).
2.6 Explore the Bohemian neighborhood of San Blas
In the Inca period there was a neighbourhood called Toq´o Cachi (today it is called the San Blas neighbourhood), in the main square of this neighbourhood, there was a Huaca— Inca temple, and unfortunately the ancient temple was replaced by the current Church of San Blas
During the Inca period the Toq´o Cachi neighbourhood was for the nobility, the Inca neighbourhood’s s connotation didn’t change much in the colonial times, because the whole area were meant to be, only for the aristocracy.
Today, it is a neighbourhood that keeps almost 70% of the houses and streets dating back to the colonial period, the neighbourhood is super bohemian, the food is the best.
It is located three blocks away from the Plaza de Armas of Cusco, the entrance is free.
3. What to do at night in the historic center?
- You can attend the Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo, the folkloric dancers start the show at 6:30pm— you will need to buy the Cusco Tourist Ticket or pay an individual price, only for this attraction.
- Take a short walk up to the San Cristóbal lookout point, you will have a beautiful panoramic view with a good angle to all Cusco city, the place is safe, the walk starting from the Plaza de Armas is 20 minutes (walking slowly).
- Visit a Pisquero in the Pisco museum, you can take Pisco lessons for affordable prices, keep in mind that Pisco is the national alcoholic drink of Peru. In addition to this, they also prepare different type of Pisco Sours and other local cocktails.
- Take Free Salsa and Bachata lessons in any of the following clubs: Inca Team, Mythology and Mama Africa, the admission is free, classes start at 9:30pm, last 1 hour; you can stay up to dance and meet people the rest of the night. All the clubs mentioned above are in the Plaza de Armas, next to KFC.
- If you just want some drinks, not necessarily dancing; then go to Paddys Irish pub or Cross Keys, in both bars you can find a wide variety of local drinks such as craft beers, wines and cocktails. Both bars are located on Calle Triunfo, close to the Plaza de Armas..
4 How to visit the historic center?
4.1 Book the Classic Cusco city tour
You can visit part of the historic center by booking a classic city tour of Cusco, on this tour you will visit Coricancha and the Cathedral and the 4 ruins located on the outskirts of Cusco.
4.2 Book the FREE walking tour of Cusco
Book the most popular walking tour of Cusco organized by the first free tour company in Cusco, we have groups in Spanish and English—separate groups, join today our 100% authorized tour Guides, book our Free tour here, check out thousands of reviews here; don´t forget to leave your tip to your Guide at the end of the walk; still doubting about the free tours? then take a glance at thousands of photos and followers on our Instagram and Facebook fun pages.
Important: The reservation for the free tour is 100% free, and confirmation is instant; at the end of the tour, you can leave some tip.
Nota para peruanos: Los free tours por el momento son solamente para el turismo receptivo; sin embargo puedes realizar el city tour clásico del Cusco.
5. Where to eat in the historic center?
If you want to treat yourself and money is not a problem for you, we recommend you visiting the following A-1 restaurants:
If you want cheap restaurants for tourists, read below please:
- Go to Plateros or Saphy street, you will find dozens of restaurants, it is a matter of finding out the prices and inclusions by taking a look at the English or Spanish menus, placed right at the front door.
- Our recommendation: There is a very popular restaurant for local people, it is called La Chomba, located on Garcilaso street; it is not a tourist restaurant, but the food is super good, tasty, clean and cheap, for example, for a “set of menu” you pay 12 Soles—4 USD, “a set of menu” includes starter, main course and dessert.