Cusco is located in the south-eastern part of Peru. The exact location of the city is pretty close to the popular Urubamba valley. The Urubamba Valley is a part of the popular Andes mountains. Cusco is a major tourist destination and its primary trade being tourism. The city plays host to about 2 million tourists every year.
History has it that the region was first dominated by the Killke people, before the Inca’s arrived around the 13th century. Studies showed that the role of Killke built the wall fortress outside the city. Subsequently, the wall got expanded by the Incas. At some point, Cusco became the Capital region for the Inca Empire.
The city got its name from Francisco Pizzaro, who invaded it and conquered the Incas. He and other Spanish conquerors, demolished several palaces, buildings and temples, and ended erecting their own buildings. Up to this date, most buildings that were built after the invasion utilize a combination of Spanish influence and the indigenous architecture of the Incas.
Things to do in Cusco ad a Tourist
As a visitor to Cusco, you can visit Rainbow Mountain, also known as Vinicunca. This is a must see feature. It is the only mountain with all colours of the rainbow on it. It is a unique geological rock formation that has tourists from every part of the world coming to the site to see the inspirational wonder of the mountain.
Otherwise known as Vinicunca Mountain, it can be used for hiking or you can simply just hike along with a guide to lead you through the breath-taking landscapes around the natural rainbow colour ridges of the mountain. When I went, I brought my drone with me and the shots are out of this world, the view from above is something else.
It is referred to as the Rainbow Mountain due to the fact that it’s slopes are beautifully striped with distinguished hues of purple, red, green and yellow. This beautiful coloration, was brought about by an intense mineral saturation. Literally, the rainbow stripes on the mountain are pretty much something that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Typically, visitors can go hiking at a height of approximately 4,326 metres above the level of the sea. If you choose go off track, you would come across tiny settlements and villages as well as fields scattered with herds of llama and alpaca, which herbivores. The gorgeous, snow-topped image of the Ausangate Mountain always stays in your view when you climb up the Rainbow Mountain, offering a beautiful backdrop of the historical landmark at every point of your journey. From where the bus leaves you expect to walk quite a bit, from what I can remember it is under two hours, the slopes themselves are not too hard. You can ride a horse to the foot of the mountain or hike it, I would recommend hiking as it is all about the experience. When you get to the foot of the mountain which is about 500m from where you really want to be is when your heart starts throbbing as the slope is quite intense, and can also be quite muddy if it has rained the previous day but do not let that stop you, go, enjoy, take a good camera and a walking stick with you. Also check out the red valley, which you can see form the top of Rainbow mountain, some people walk over there. I decided to fly the drone as I really did not have enough time to do both as I was on a tour.
Take a trip to the Mountainous region of Machu Picchu
You can go on a day’s trip to Machu Picchu from Cusco to Machu Picchu. It is basically Cusco – Ollantaytambo (by bus) from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (by train) then a 25min bus during up to Machu Picchu. It can be done in 1 day. However, if you do so, expect to be picked up by the travel agency at about 3.30am in the freezing cold and when you eventually get to Machu Picchu before 8am, you will be sweating. The joys of travelling. Below are some extra details about the trip.
A trip by train takes you down into the mountainous region to catch a glimpse of one of the miracles of the South American landscape of this journey to Machu Picchu. While here, you can find the traditional citadel belonging to the Incas.
Typically, the train (Inca rail) drops you off at the Aguas Calientes train station, where you can board a bus for the drive along the winding road towards Machu Picchu, all while taking in panoramic views of Urubamba River along with its canyon. The lost city impresses with its ceremonial shrines, wide-mountain steps, terraces as well as urban areas. I would suggest that when you go into Machu Picchu and when you are in the complex itself after the main viewing platform, go up and go left for about 2km, 25min walk to the Sun Temple. The panoramic views from here are out of this world and the photos are priceless from this vantage point. In other words, you would have to ditch your group and tour guide, which in my opinion is a better option and you are basically shipped from one place within Machu Picchu to another like a conveyer belt. Be rebellious and take advantage of the place to get the photos you desire.
The Sacred Valley
Visitors can take a tour into this Sacred valley to find out about their heritage and current-day agricultural settings. You can meet with local families who reside in this tranquil, verdant settlement. As a visitor you can learn traditional techniques for weaving, or you can pay a visit to the local Pisac market in search of handmade goods prior to continuing your journey. Before you embark on these tours you need to buy a tourist ticket, which costs about $40USD and just under, it gives you access to 16 different locations and one being the Sacred Valley amongst others.
The ruins at Ollantaytambo
Consequently, visitors can also explore the old mystical round at Ollantaytambo. The Ollantaytambo, is a historical Inca complex made up of stone based terraces, stone houses at the hilltop, a solidly walled fortress and the Sun Temple that never got completed. From the top of the terraces if you look across to the opposite side where you can see some “house” type ruins, you can also see a half face, which looks like an angry image of an Inca, you can also walk over there too, but check with your guide for times as it is typically quite limited. Another thing you could do is stay in Ollantaytambo, the night before going to Aguas Calientes as this is the place where you get on the train, leave a little later and not have to wake up at 3.3am in Cusco, plus then you could really explore Ollantaytambo with your friends, take stunning pics and not have to be part of a group and also visit the house type ruins… It is just a suggestion, plus you could organise this with the travel agency and they can programme your trip to Machu Picchu or transport back to Cusco, up to you really.
Visiting the fascinating Humantay Lakes
A trip to the Humantay Lakes is typically a fascinating journey that comes with panoramic views of the beautiful mountains, gorgeous valleys, as well as a paradoxical lake of turquoise coloured waters up to the ridges of the snowy peak. The turquoise coloured waters of the Lake Humantay lies calmly around the glaciers which have a similar name, and it also lies pretty close to a very popular mountain in the Andes, the Salkantay which remains snowy during most parts of the year. In order for you to enjoy the entire splendour of the often snow-capped mountain of Salkantay, visitors can take a transport down to Saraypampa, which is about 3,900m above sea level. Once there, you can trek up to the blue coloured Humantay Lagoon which is located at about 4,200m. While you are at this point, you can explore the entire circumference of the snow-covered Humantay. The turquoise coloured waters of the lake Humantay will reveal the reason that the area is among the most fascinating places to visit around the Cusco region.
While the journey offers views of the Andean majestic landscape along with incredible fauna and flora, visitors are also opportuned to interact fully well with the local residents as well as get familiar with their customs.
Maras y Moray
Maras and Moray (pic above) are two neighbouring towns, which are both attractive tourist locations in their own right and are both located very close to the Sacred Valley. Visitors to the Sacred Valley can also pay a visit to these towns as they have just as much fascinating facts as any other tourist site in the region. While at Moray, you can visit the round terraces that are located within. You can also get a feel of the archaeological marvel and experience first-hand the fastidious construction method of the Incan civilization. Before you could enter the ruin by climbing down the rock type stairs, however, due to an increase in tourists visiting, they were doing more damage than good, so it was decided to only allow tourists to walk around the ruins and not in it, which I totally agree with as I went twice before and the first time about 8 years ago, where I was able to enter the terraces and a few months ago where I could only walk around. Drones are prohibited in this area as well.
Visitors who have made it to the archaeological site, you can explore the awesome terraces, which comprised of 3 distinct structures that were carved deep into the abysm of the earth. Though the reason for their existence is unknown, experts tend to think that it might have been built strictly for use as agricultural laboratories. They would have completed their construction, however, the Spanish arrived as killed off the Incas for refusing to accept Catholicism.
Consequently, you can easily visit the neighbouring town of Maras which has a collection of mesmerising ponds (salt farms). The salt farms go through a process known as salt evaporation. It is such a marvellous place to visit. Visitors to the site always tend to bring back memorable photo of the attractive site. Maras is pretty much famous as the centre for the production of salt. Its history goes back to before the Inca’s arrival in this area. There are more than 3,000 collections of salt evaporation ponds. These pools are carved right into the rock’s side and they are daily filled by small bodies of mountain streams. You can also buy the salt from the stands. I have to admit the salt is really good and also comes in a pink colour. Again you can enter this area with your tourist ticket. Make sure you purchase one in Cusco to fully enjoy access to the lot! The photo below is the salt farms of Maras.
The Saksaywaman Fortress
There are several archaeological sites dotted around the city of Cusco. One of these sites being that of the prominent Sacsayhuamán. The site is vast and contains several construction marvels of the Inca period.
The Sacsayhuamán is a fortress which was built by the Incas for ceremonial activities. The area is located about two kilometres towards the north of Cusco. It is the finest architectural piece of work by the Incas at the time of their dominance. You can walk from Cusco if you wish, there is a special trail, which takes about 25mins on average to get to.
You can’t help imagining such a magnanimous construction, it is located at the top of one of the hills in Cusco city. When you finally get to the summit of the hills, there the Fortress of the Incas stands mysteriously and held firm by the strong foundations of its amazing construction. Saksaywaman have stones that weigh up to a 130 tons. The views of Cusco from here are next to no other place in Cusco! Make sure you have a good camera.
In this particular site, the famous construction skill of the Inca period, involved tightly inserting stones to create an outstanding series of stone walls. With a unique method of construction, the Incas were able to construct this amazing feature which bears a resemblance to the Great Wall of China. This is what the tour guide said, but I visited China and there is no resemblance when it comes to stones and how they were carved to perfection to fit. Which has not been replicated today.
The archaeological site at Saksaywaman is a must see for anyone who visits Cusco. Additionally, there are other nearby tourist attractions that are proximate to the archaeological site of Saksaywaman. These regions are Puca Pucana plus Tambomachay, Qenqo and the Temple of the Sun (also called Korikoncha in the native Quechua language). You might as well round up your trip at the Main Square (Plaza de Armas) and take a visit to the massive Cathedral in the region to get an experience of ancient Peruvian construction methodology and procedure. Again the tourist ticket covers the entrance fees to all mentioned above.