Cuzco

The Inca's Imperial City

Cuzco Church in the historic center more» «less

Church in the historic center Church in the historic center Legendary capital of the great Inca Empire, plundered and rebuilt by the Spanish, Cuzco (also spelled Cusco) is the archaeological capital of the Americas and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the Western Hemisphere. Popularly known as "the navel of the world" for its place at the very center of Tawantinsuyu, Cuzco has traded its bygone imperial dominance for renewed fame as the "Tourism Capital of Peru". Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983, the city receives almost a million visitors every year drawn by its fascinating history, Inca ruins and Spanish colonial architecture.

Legend has it that Manco Capac, the first Inca ruler, was instructed by his father Inti, the sun god, to build a temple of the sun in the place where he could thrust a golden staff into the earth. So it happened that Manco Capac founded the city of Cuzco in the 11th or 12th century; however, the city's glorious transformation into the grand capital of the Inca Empire would take place later on under the ninth Inca ruler named Pachacuti. Pachacuti expanded the empire by means of ambitious military campaigns and developed Cuzco into a structured urban center with specific religious and administrative functions. He constructed some of the city's finest buildings, including the Coricancha temple and a palace adjacent to the Plaza de Armas, and designed the city in the shape of a puma. The city had four districts, representing the four provinces of Tawantinsuyu, each with a road that led out to its respective realm. Each local leader built a house in the quarter of the city corresponding to their province of residence, as they were required to do, and lived there part of the year.

In 1533 Francisco Pizarro discovered the city, captured it and plundered its wealth of silver and gold. He established a municipal government in 1534, but the following year moved his capital to Lima on the coast, which led to Cuzco's decline in importance. The city was later besieged in 1536 by Manco Inca, the puppet emperor Pizarro had crowned a few years prior, in an attempt to drive the Spanish out with an army of over one hundred thousand Inca soldiers. The Spanish were very nearly wiped out, but managed to force Manco Inca to retreat, recapture Cuzco and settle it once again. A new Spanish city was then built on Cuzco's old Inca foundations and many Inca temples and palaces were torn down to make way for churches and mansions. During the colony Cuzco thrived on agriculture, cattle farming, mining and trade with Spain, and many new buildings were constructed, including a cathedral, numerous churches and convents, a university and an archbishopric. In the years that followed the city became a hub of artistic production and suffered two major earthquakes in 1650 and 1950. But it was the rediscovery of Machu Picchu in 1911 that transformed the city more than any other event since the arrival of the Spanish, leading to its rebirth as Peru's leading tourist destination.

Indigenous children wearing traditional clothing Indigenous children wearing traditional clothing Cuzco boasts a number of architecturally significant structures, the most prominent of these being the Coricancha and Sacsayhuamán. An Inca temple dedicated to the sun and creator deities, Inti and Viracocha, the Coricancha was built on sacred ground in the center of an astronomical observatory. True to its name, which means "golden courtyard" in Quechua, the Coricancha was encrusted with hundreds of gold and silver sheets and the Inca ruler would ceremonially plant golden corn stalk statuettes in its terraced gardens. The temple is said to have been "fabulous beyond belief" but much of its gold was confiscated in order to provide Atahualpa's ransom. The Spanish built the cathedral of Santo Domingo on the foundations of this temple and some of the original Inca stone walls can still be appreciated. The Incas were master stonemasons and their mortarless walls of closely-fitted irregularly cut stones have survived devastating earthquakes unlike many colonial buildings. A famous example of this is the twelve-angled stone in a wall on Hatun Rumiyoc street.

Sacsayhuamán is another prime example of Inca stone work. A gargantuan fortress built on a hill overlooking Cuzco, it is said to form the head and jaws of the city's puma design. Many of the stones in its massive walls and battlements are huge boulders and it remains a mystery as to how the Incas transported them. It contains a network of underground passages and a throne of solid carved stone where the Inca rulers once sat.

Aside from the cathedral, Cuzco has three other fascinating colonial churches for the visitor to explore. El Triunfo church, next to the cathedral, was built on top of the Inca armoury where the Spanish took refuge during Manco Inca's siege and were miraculously saved when the fire in the thatched roof went out. Along the southeastern perimeter of the Plaza de Armas, where the Amaru Cancha once stood, lies La Compañía de Jesús church with its grand baroque façade and bell towers. One block down the street at La Merced church, burial place of Gonzalo Pizarro and the two Almagros, visitors can get a glimpse of a solid gold monstrance adorned with jewels and view a collection of religious paintings.

The famous twelve-sided stone The famous twelve-sided stone Today, Cuzco is the heart of a populous agricultural region where grains and potatoes are grown and sheep, alpacas and llamas are grazed. It lies in a broad Andean valley in southeastern Peru over 11,000 feet above sea level and has a cool, dry climate. While its principal industries include the production of cloth, rugs, tapestries, fine metalwork and beer, city life almost entirely revolves around tourism. It's a vibrant city full of open markets, adobe houses and cobblestone streets where many people still speak Quechua, the language of the Incas. Numerous festivals are celebrated throughout the year, the most important of these being the Inti Raymi, the weeklong Festival of the Sun that is now the second largest festival in South America.

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Avenida Manco Capac 95, San Jeronimo, Cuzco, Peru
Review Score 9.0
The sumptuous Republican-era accommodations of the Casona San Jerónimo are adorned with impressive artwork and adjoined by exuberant...
from USD 139 per night
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Calle Bellavista A4, San Sebastian, Peru
Review Score 10.0
The family-run Hostal Qoñicha Wasi of central Cuzco offers backpackers homey lodging in a comfortable, secure and fun environment....
from USD 14 per night
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Prolongación Avenida La Cultura 1409, San Sebastian, Cuzco, Peru
Review Score 7.0
Marcelino's Hotel is located in the largely untouched colonial-era San Sebastián neighborhood and offers cozy guest rooms that come...
from USD 35 per night
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Avenida Lucrepata D-1, Downtown Cuzco, Peru
Review Score 8.0
The newly-built Hostal Atlantis of central Cuzco offers travelers comfortable accommodations within close reach of the city's principal...
from USD 35 per night
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Calle Márquez 272, Downtown Cuzco, Peru
Review Score 7.5
The Amerinka Boutique Hotel provides attentive service and comfortable rooms in a four-story colonial building just a stone's throw from...
from USD 60 per night
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Av. Ejercito 270, Downtown Cuzco, Peru
Review Score 7.0
A harmonious blend of old and new, the Inkayra Hotel is a modern hotel with distinctive colonial and Inca design elements. On entering...
from USD 31 per night
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Tandapata 300, San Blas, Downtown Cuzco, Peru
Review Score 8.0
Set in a colonial-style property in the charming San Blas neighborhood, Hostal Pakcha Real features a garden with patio and terrace and...
from USD 29 per night
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Avenida Industrial I-21, Santiago, Cuzco, Peru
Review Score 7.0
The Keros Hostal is located in the center of Cuzco, at three blocks from the central square and within close proximity to the city's...
from USD 29 per night
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Avenida Pardo 869, Downtown Cuzco, Peru
Review Score 7.0
Enjoy a pleasant stay in Cuzco in the homey accommodations of La Posada de Pardo. A cozy hotel with tasteful décor which combines...
from USD 45 per night
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Av. Tullumayo 909, Wanchaq, Cuzco, Peru
Housed in a modern building decorated in ornate colonial style, the Warari Hotel offers its guests well-appointed accommodations and...
from USD 69 per night
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Pumacurco 336, Downtown Cuzco, Peru
Review Score 10.0
The resplendent Casa Cartagena Boutique Hotel & Spa offers guests sumptuous modern accommodations within the framework of a historic...
from USD 400 per night
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Atoqsaycuchi 281, San Blas, Downtown Cuzco, Peru
Exuding an warm, inviting ambience throughout, the Thomas' Grill & Garden Hotel is a homey budget option in downtown Cuzco's traditional...
from USD 11 per night
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Choquechaca 133, Downtown Cuzco, Peru
Review Score 10.0
The tiny six-room Wakapunku B&B offers guests all modern accoutrements in the cozy ambience of a converted colonial home. Refurbished in...
from USD 65 per night
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Calle Inticahuarina 620, Downtown Cuzco, Peru
Review Score 8.0
Hotel Taypikala Cusco receives its guests with traditional Cuzqueño hospitality and friendly service, striving to ensure their every...
from USD 64 per night
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Calle Belen 347, Downtown Cuzco, Peru
A recently refurbished budget hotel in one of central Cuzco's nicest neighborhoods, the Hatun Ayllu Panaka Hotel is a clean and...
from USD 29 per night
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Calle Aflijidos 120, Downtown Cuzco, Peru
Review Score 9.5
Managed by a plastic artist and art conservator, the BozArt Hotel offers comfortable and secure accommodations with an artsy touch in...
from USD 35 per night
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Calle Carmen Alto 288, Downtown Cuzco, Peru
Review Score 8.0
The friendly family-run Hostal El Arcano is an inexpensive little place not far from Cuzco's Plaza de Armas in the San Blas...
from USD 19 per night
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Avenida de la Cultura 220, Downtown Cuzco, Peru
Review Score 7.0
In addition to its fine accommodations, the Pacha Hostal Museo offers a unique feature few other hotels can boast: an on-site...
from USD 39 per night
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Calle Santa Catalina Ancha 353, Downtown Cuzco, Peru
Review Score 7.0
The Hostal Casa Grande Lodging is a hotel with character and charm. Its 19th-century wooden balconies and cobbled courtyard of Inca...
from USD 34 per night
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Pasaje Santa Rosa A-8, San Blas, Downtown Cuzco, Peru
The Quinua Villa Boutique Hotel offers serviced apartment accommodations in the historic quarter of San Blas. The apartment hotel is...
from USD 95 per night
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This is a zero-star hotel.
Probably due to the type of accommodation, this hotel or vacation rental has not been evaluated by existing star rating systems. The stars for this property are therefore awarded by Pacarama based on its expertise and knowledge of the hotel market in Peru and Chile.
Prices are per night per room