The city of Cusco is located in the heart of the Andes in Southern Peru. Cusco is Peru’s most popular tourist district and home to numerous Inca and pre-Columbian temples and archeological sites. In the early 1980s, Cusco and the surrounding attractions, including Machu Picchu, where designated as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. Cusco is the capital of the Cusco Provence and has a population of 350,000. Most travelers arrive in Peru at the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima. Connecting flights from Lima to Cusco Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport are available from domestic airlines. After arriving in Cusco, travelers are met by a hoard of taxi drivers. For the best rate, bargain with the drivers before getting into the vehicle. A typical fare will be five Peruvian soles, but it’s not uncommon for divers to charge three times that amount to unsuspecting travelers.
Before the Spanish conquest, Cusco was the center of the Inca Empire. The Incas were a subgroup of the Killke tribes, who built the original buildings underneath the modern city over 1,000 years ago. The ledged is the leader of the Incas, Manco Capac, had a vision to build a temple to the sun gods in the place where the sun set. The tribe finally found the place in the city of Cusco where they constructed the Coricancha. In the times of the Incas, the Coricancha was filled with gold objects, even the walls of the temple were lined with gold. During the Spanish Conquest, all of the gold, many, many pounds, was pried off the temple walls. The Coricancha still stands today and is one of the premier tourist sites in the city. The Coricancha is easy to recognize by the smoothly polished foundation with a Spanish-designed cathedral, the Church of Santo Domingo, built over it.
Located just 50 miles away, Machu Picchu is a must-see for visitors to the Cusco area. Travelers usually take a one-hour train ride Aquas Calientes and then onto Machu Picchu, by PeruRail. For more adventurous types, there is a pre-Columbian cliff side trail that goes from Cusco to Machu Picchu. The hike usually takes four days to go one way.
The Sacsayhuaman, is a massive monolithic fortress built into the hills surrounding the city center. The Sacsayhuaman is a walled complex, with underground passages linked to other important ruins in the city. Originally thought to be a temple, archeologists have discovered it was also used for political and military purposes. The Sacsayhuaman is famous for its precisely carved rock walls, which are stacked so tightly a dollar can’t fit between the cracks. The Inca architecture and inward slanting walls of the Sacsayhuaman have withstood the worst earthquakes to hit the area.
The weather in Cusco is fairly constant with highs in the 60s and lows in the 30s and 40s. Although is hasn’t snowed in Cusco in almost one hundred years, cold rains and hail can be expected. There are two seasons: wet season and dry season. The coldest and driest months, from May to September, are also the busiest.