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Top 10 must-see sites in Cusco

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Cusco, Peru is a city bursting with history, culture, and breathtaking landscapes. As the former capital of the Incan Empire, this ancient city is a mecca for travelers looking to dive deep into South America’s rich heritage. From ancient ruins to Spanish colonial architecture, Cusco offers a unique blend of past and present that is sure to captivate visitors. If you’re planning a trip to this enchanting city, here are the top 10 must-see sites in Cusco that you won’t want to miss.

1. Machu Picchu
No visit to Cusco would be complete without a trip to the iconic Machu Picchu. This ancient Incan citadel is perched high in the Andes Mountains, offering stunning views of the surrounding valleys and peaks. The site is shrouded in mystery and intrigue, with many theories about its purpose and construction. Whether you choose to hike the famous Inca trail or take the train from Cusco, Machu Picchu is a must-see destination for any traveler to Peru.

2. Sacsayhuaman
Another impressive Incan ruin in Cusco is Sacsayhuaman, a massive fortress located just outside the city. The site is known for its massive stone walls, some of which weigh over 300 tons. Sacsayhuaman offers panoramic views of Cusco and the surrounding countryside, making it a popular spot for tourists and locals alike. The site is also home to various ceremonies and festivals throughout the year, giving visitors a chance to experience the rich cultural traditions of the Andean people.

3. Plaza de Armas
At the heart of Cusco lies the Plaza de Armas, a bustling square surrounded by historic buildings and churches. This central square is the perfect place to soak in the city’s vibrant atmosphere and admire the stunning architecture. The Cathedral of Cusco and the Church of the Society of Jesus are two of the most notable landmarks in the plaza, both showcasing exquisite colonial art and design. Be sure to visit the plaza at night when it comes alive with street performers and vendors selling traditional handicrafts.

4. San Pedro Market
For a taste of local life in Cusco, head to the San Pedro Market. This bustling market is a sensory overload, with stalls selling everything from fresh produce and meats to handmade textiles and souvenirs. Sample traditional Peruvian dishes at the many food stands, or pick up some alpaca wool sweaters and hats to take home as a memento of your trip. The market is a great place to interact with locals and learn more about the culture and cuisine of Peru.

5. Qorikancha
Once the most important temple in the Incan Empire, Qorikancha is now home to the Santo Domingo Church. The site is a fascinating blend of Incan and Spanish architecture, with remnants of the original temple still visible within the walls of the church. Qorikancha also houses a museum with artifacts from the Incan era, giving visitors a glimpse into the spiritual and cultural practices of the ancient civilization. Don’t miss the stunning golden courtyard, which is said to have been covered in gold leaf during the Incan period.

6. Rainbow Mountain
Located a few hours outside of Cusco, Rainbow Mountain is a natural wonder that has become a popular tourist attraction in recent years. The mountain is known for its vibrant colors, which are caused by the presence of various minerals in the soil. A hike to the top of Rainbow Mountain offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape and is a great way to experience the beauty of the Andes. Be sure to acclimate to the high altitude before attempting the hike, as the mountain sits at over 17,000 feet above sea level.

7. Moray
Moray is a unique archaeological site in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, about an hour’s drive from Cusco. The site consists of several circular terraces that were used by the Incas for agricultural experiments. Each terrace has a different microclimate, allowing the Incas to test the viability of different crops at various altitudes. The terraces are an impressive feat of engineering and provide a fascinating glimpse into the advanced agricultural practices of the Incas. Be sure to explore the site thoroughly and marvel at the ingenuity of this ancient civilization.

8. Pisac
Pisac is a charming town located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, about an hour’s drive from Cusco. The town is known for its bustling market, where vendors sell a wide variety of handmade goods, including textiles, jewelry, and ceramics. Pisac is also home to an impressive Incan ruin that sits atop a hill overlooking the town. The site is well-preserved and offers panoramic views of the surrounding valley, making it a popular spot for tourists and hikers. Don’t miss the Sunday market, which is one of the largest and most vibrant in the region.

9. Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo is a well-preserved Incan town located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, about an hour and a half from Cusco. The town is home to a massive Incan ruin that served as a ceremonial center and military stronghold. The site features impressive stone walls, terraces, and temples, all set against a backdrop of towering mountains. Ollantaytambo is also an important transportation hub for travelers heading to Machu Picchu, as the town is the starting point for the famous Inca trail. Spend a day exploring the ruins and wandering the cobblestone streets of this charming town.

10. Chinchero
Chinchero is a quaint Andean village located about an hour’s drive from Cusco. The town is known for its traditional weaving techniques, which have been passed down through generations. Visit the Chinchero market to see local artisans at work and purchase handmade textiles and souvenirs. The town is also home to an impressive Incan ruin that offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. Chinchero is a great place to experience the authentic culture of the Andean people and learn more about their traditional way of life.

In conclusion, Cusco is a city steeped in history and culture, with an abundance of must-see sites for visitors to explore. From ancient ruins to vibrant markets, there is something for everyone in this enchanting city. Whether you’re interested in history, architecture, or outdoor adventure, Cusco has it all. Be sure to add these top 10 must-see sites to your itinerary and make the most of your trip to this magical destination.

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