A rich historical past, amazing geography and beautiful landscapes makes Cusco a city that every traveler yearns to visit. The city of Cusco, together with nearby Machu Picchu and the Urubamba Sacred Valley, is the most important tourist destination in Peru and one of the most famous in South America. Cusco is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the continent.
Known by the Incas as the “Home of the Gods”, Cusco was the capital of one of the greatest Pre- Hispanic empires: the Tawantinsuyo. Its Quechua name, Qosqo, means “the navel of the world”, because Cusco was the starting point of a vast path network system joining a large portion of South America, from southern Colombia to northern Argentina and Chile.
Cusco is a colonial style city with cultural diversity, splendid temples and residences built on Inka finely carved rock walls and foundations, and surrounded by impressive Inka monumental temples and fortresses.
Cusco also houses one of the most notable painting schools in this part of the continent, the Cusquenian School of Painting. The sacred city was surrounded by terraces used for farming, which went far beyond the two rivers that formed its borders. Carefully tended, the terraces also served to isolate the sacred center. Neighborhoods that housed the common people were spread throughout this isolation belt. There were 12 neighborhoods, according to the chroniclers. Tococachi (salt hole or cave), today known as San Blas, was one of these neighborhoods.
Despite its popularity, Cuzco remains relatively unspoiled and its beautiful setting in the Andean mountains, at an altitude of 11,000ft (3,400m), is guaranteed to leave visitors breathless.
Detailed Tour Itineraries in and around Cusco
Cusco City Tour and surrounding Inka Ruins
(Half day, any day tour. Approx. 3 hours).
We pick you up in the morning or afternoon for your half day city tour of Cusco. Visit the Koricancha Sun Temple ruins below the Santo Domingo monastery, the spectacular Cathedral in the main Plaza, and the Inka ruins out of the city. Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo, Puca Pucara and Tambomachay. Return to your hotel.
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The Sacred Valley Tour
(All day tour)
The Sacred Valley of the Incas and the Urubamba Valley are names used inter-changeably to describe the valley that runs from east of Pisac to Ollantaytambo at its western end. It is a narrow, winding valley with spectacular snow capped peaks constantly in view.
The Sacred Valley of the Incas was undoubtedly a key area of settlement to the Incas. Its agreeable climate and fertile plains make a rare and fruitful combination for the high Andes. It was also the route to the jungle and therefore an area with access to the fruits and plants of the tropical lowlands. The Sacred Valley served as a buffer zone, protecting Cusco from incursions of the Antis, the fierce jungle tribes who from time to time raided the highlands.
Today the Sacred Valley remains a lush agricultural region supplying the city of Cusco with much of its produce such as maize, fruit and vegetables.
The tour includes normally visits to the Pisac Market and to the Ollantaytambo temple and fortress, but can be designed otherwise using private services. We can include a tasteful buffet lunch on request.
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Located 120 km northwest of Cusco, the Inca city of Machu Picchu lay hidden from the world in dense jungle covered mountains until 1911. This ‘Lost City’ is one of the world’s archaeological jewels and is one of South America’s major travel destinations. The well preserved ruins of Machu Picchu seem to almost cling to the steep hillside, surrounded by towering green mountains overlooking the Urubamba River Valley.
When you read about its discovery and the unsolved mystery of its purpose and how it came to become a ‘lost to the world’ you will realize why so many people make the pilgrimage to visit this fascinating and spiritual site.
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Machu Picchu Tour
(All day or two days tour, every day)
The Machu Picchu tour starts with a transfer to the Train station (can be in Cusco or in Ollantaytambo in case of lodging in the Sacred Valley). Arrival in Aguas Calientes, transfer by bus to the ruins, guided tour. Free time and return to the Aguas Calientes village to take back the train to Cusco. There are 3 different train options: backpacker, Vistadome and Hiram Bingham). Transfer to the hotel. We can include a tasteful buffet lunch in Machu Picchu or in Aguas Calientes on request.
If desired, an overnight in the available hotels is a good idea, as it allows a second visit to the ruins, or other optional visits before returning to Cusco.
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Another Interesting Day Tour:
Early morning drive for about an hour to Urcos, a colorful Andean market, where traditionnal trading of goods takes place. On the return drive, we will visit the colonial church of Andahuaylillas with its renowned frescoes and the pre-Inca Wari site at Pikillacta, the rest of the morning we will explore these ruins. After lunch visit the Inca ruins at Tipon below Mt. Pachatusan with its water – fountains on the terraced hillside, which characterize this important site. On request, lunch can be provided en route. Late afternoon return to Cusco.
Emerald lakes, perfect snow-capped peaks, villages that seem to have sprung from a fairy tale, and fantasy landscapes, all this is part of the Cusco that is swamped with tourists, but which few really get to know.
Dare to go beyond the limits of the traditional tours and discover some of the most spectacular circuits of the other side of Cusco, one which is just as impressive but only a few have visited. We suggest here two possible, highly interesting off the beaten path options, very close to Cusco:
- The Four Lakes Tour (beautiful, seldom visited Indian villages and lakes)
- Paccariqtambo and the Inca Origins (One of the most important ceremonial Inca shrines)
– The Four Lakes Tour (beautiful, seldom visited Indian villages and lakes): This is a circuit as rarely-visited as it is spectacular, featuring breath-taking scenery and picturesque villages which have inherited an age-old cultural and historic tradition. The circuit runs for around 58 km (36 mi.), and it takes three to four hours to cover, along partly-paved roads.
– The lost valleys of Paccariqtampu and the Inca origins: This is an incredibly rarely-traveled off the beaten path circuit, even by the locals, but one which is extraordinary beauty and of exceptional cultural interest, related to the myths of the origins of the first Incas. The tour sets out from the city of Cusco itself and takes about 8 hours. The route starts with a gentle climb to the villages of Orqopata and Pomate, livestock-herding communities. From here, the road descends to the town of Yaurisque, the site of a set of popular hot springs. From Yaurisque is also the starting point to Huaynacancha, a tiny colonial settlement with Inca remains, the starting point of an hour and a half hike on a trail with breathtaking landscapes to visit Puma Orqo, a huge carved boulder or ceremonial shrine. Some authors claim that this place was the original location of Tamputocco in Paccariqtampu, the mythical birthplace of the four Ayar brothers and therefore of the Inca Empire. After visiting the upper and lower sectors of the shrine, another trail takes you in less than one hour to the important and well-preserved ruins of Maukallaqta. In fact Maukallaqta was built to properly worship Pumaorqo, which is just across the valley, and was considered as one of the most sacred places in the Tawantinsuyo. To demonstrate the religious importance of the place, Inca doorways, windows, and wall niches in Inca buildings use to be trapezoidal. Some are simple, but elegant, trapezoidal openings. The finest doorways to enter sacred places or palaces, called “double jamb doorways”, have a recessed lip several inches wide inside the outer trapezoid. Maukallaqta features not only one triple jamb doorway but also eight large triple jamb niches, something unique in the Inca temples architecture. (The importance of this site to understand the Inca ruling mentality deserves more information, please click below). One hour hike back to the road. Return to Cusco in the late afternoon.
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