This is the newest museum in Cusco, opening its doors for the first time in 2012. The museum is a joint creation between Cusco’s San Antonio Abad University and experts at Yale University in the US. The museum is dedicated to the history of Machu Picchu and the people that lived there. It is also home to some 4,000 ancient artefacts that were taken from the site of Machu Picchu during the excavation by Hiram Bingham and his team of archaeologists in 1912. Currently there are 11 exhibition rooms, each of which has been carefully created to offer an interesting insight into aspects of Machu Picchu life and history. For me, I can honestly say that I was actually quite impressed with the museum. I found it to be well presented, organised and quite informative. This is possibly one of the best museums in Cusco, and certainly worth a few hours of your time.
The security guard at the door told me that this was the biggest and best of all museums in Cusco, so I was intrigued to find out what was inside. Museo Inka is a state owned museum run and managed by Cusco’s San Antonio Abad University. Located on the small road that links Plaza de Armas to Plazoleta Nazarenas, the museum is ideally set in a huge colonial mansion. Although the staff were friendly, I wasn’t provided with any information about the museum, or any direction on where to start the tour. After going up a large circular stairway, I eventually I found my way to the start of the exhibition rooms. All in all there were 24 exhibition rooms to view, each dedicated to different periods of the Inca and Spanish history of Peru. Overall, I was hugely disappointed with the layout of the museum. There seemed to be only a very limited amount of information (even in Spanish) about the items exhibited, or even what they were.
This well-kept museum located on the quiet and upmarket Plazoleta Nazarenas is a must visit. Privately funded by the Larco Museum and Peru’s BBVA Bank, Museo de Arte Pre-Colombino or MAP Museum (known locally) is dedicated to artefacts found in Peru prior to the arrival of the Europeans in the mid-15th century. I found the MAP museum to be a delight to visit. Covering 2 floors of a panish colonial-era Casona, the 11 exhibition rooms were well kept and minimalistic; a bit like a fancy art gallery where the focus is on the exhibits. Each exhibit was well presented with a really well written description in both English and Spanish, offering an insight into the item, without over indulging. I particularly enjoyed the wooden sculptures (totem pole like figures) and the ceremonial staffs from the Chimu culture (1300 – 1532 A.D.).
Although this is technically not a full blown museum, I was that impressed when I entered that I thought it deserved a mention in this article. Located just past the gardens of the Temple of Korikancha on Avenida el Sol, the Centro de Textiles Traditionales del Cusco is a small shop and exhibition dedicated to the art of weaving from the Cusco region. Operated as a cooperative by 9 local village communities, the shop is principally an outlet for hand-crafted and woven textiles from the various communities. Within the shop there is also a well-presented exhibition of how the items are manufactured, from the yarn through the dying process to the different weaving techniques and tools. The exhibition also displays various items of traditional garments including: baby clothes, cloths for teenagers, wedding robes and festival outfits.
Entrance to the Museo Histórico Regional de Cusco is included within the ‘Boleta General Turistica’ meaning that if you already have the ticket in your possession, entrance is free. This is probably one of the most important museums in Peru for its own history. This Museum was once the home of Garcilaso de la Vega, until he moved to Spain in his early 20’s. Garcilaso de la Vega was the son of an Inca princess and a Spanish conquistador, who later in his life went on to write several important chronicles depicting Inca life. For sure, the Museo Histórico Regional de Cusco is one of the better museums in Cusco, and a great deal of effort has gone into creating interesting exhibits dedicated to the entire history of the Cusco region. Included are exhibits on gastronomy, religious art, evangelization of Cusco, Inca Tupac Amaru and colonial furniture. From a personal stand-point I would have to say that this museum is for the dedicated museum enthusiast.
More an art-and-craft exhibition than a museum, Museo Irq’i Yachay is the fascinating byproduct of an NGO that seeks to give opportunities for cognitive development to kids in remote communities. Since the most isolated and neglected communities are also guardians of traditional culture, the result is an engrossing glimpse of Andean culture.The kids paint what they know – animals, mountains, rivers, people – and incorporate the symbols of the weavings that surround them from birth: north is hope and future, red is love and revenge. Along with the art itself, there’s an impressive display of textiles. Accompanying interpretive information in Spanish and English explains this symbology in detail and makes this museum a must for textile fans.
Two blocks north of the emblematic Plaza de Armas (Main Square) of Cuzco we find the oldest and most traditional market of Cuzco. Generally this market is called the Big Market or the Central Market. That is how our grandparents new it. It was one of the earliest markets to open in Cuzco at the beginning of the XVIII century. As Cuzco’s population has grown other markets have opened in Cuzco’s neighborhoods to meet the population’s needs. But this market, now called the San Pedro Market, still stands out. Not only is it a place where locals shop, it is a tourist destination; there tourists can enjoy many of our traditional day to day activities. No trip to Cusco is complete without a visit to the San Pedro market juice stands. Over thirty tiny stands packed with fruit and veg of all shapes, sizes and colours from all over Peru as well as juicers, blenders, glasses and other necessary juice making paraphernalia perch on each teeny, tiny stall.
If you visit only one site in Cuzco, make it these Inca ruins, which form the base of the colonial church and convent of Santo Domingo. Qorikancha was once the richest temple in the Inca empire; all that remains today is the masterful stonework.In Inca times, Qorikancha (Quechua for ‘Golden Courtyard’) was literally covered with gold. The temple walls were lined with some 700 solid-gold sheets, each weighing about 2kg. There were life-sized gold and silver replicas of corn, which were ceremonially ‘planted’ in agricultural rituals. Also reported were solid-gold treasures such as altars, llamas and babies, as well as a replica of the sun, which was lost. But within months of the arrival of the first conquistadors, this incredible wealth had all been looted and melted down.
The church and monastery of Santo Domingo was built over the foundations of Qorikancha, one of the Inca's most important and religious sites. It was several temples worshipping different natural gods, and the Temple of the Sun was the most impressive with - like an El Dorado legend - gold sheets covering the walls, gold altars, golden statues, and the holiest religious symbol of the Empire: "The golden disc of the sun". The golden disc was never found by the conquistadors (and is still missing), but they emptied the temple of its other gold, and the remains of Qorikancha were left to the Dominican.They constructed the church and monastery in the 17th century, but the 1950 earthquake uncovered many of the old Inca walls, and later the Temple of the Moon, the Temple of the Lighting, and a couple of other chambers have been revealed. The Temple of the Sun has entirely disappeared, but this is still a must see in Cusco!
Cusco Planetarium is a nifty way to learn more about the Inca worldview. It was the only culture in the world to define constellations of darkness as well as light, and studied astronomy seriously: some of Cuzco’s main streets are designed to align with the stars at certain times of year. Recommended before you go on a trek – you’ll feel clever pointing out the Black Llama to your fellow hikers. Reservations essential; price varies with group size, and includes pickup and dropoff.
A line often snakes out the door at this Western-style, Australian-run eatery. With fresh juices blended with mint or ginger, strong coffee and eggs heaped with smoked salmon or roasted tomatoes, it’s easy to get out of bed. Also has nice cafe food, soups and good service.
With all-organic food and a bright farmhouse feel, Green’s Organic oozes health. Inventive salads with options like roasted fennel, goat cheese, beets and spring greens are a welcome change of pace and the heartier fare includes pastas and alpaca dishes. Come early (or late) as it fills up fast and service is notably slow.
A local favorite for abundant cheap eats, this rotisserie restaurant features a worthwhile salad bar (try the black olive sauce). Most people can’t go past the Peruvian classic cuarto de pollo (quarter of a chicken), done here to perfection.
Al Grano has a non-spicy menu of varied Asian food, including great vegetarian options, plus big breakfasts and some of Cuzco’s best coffee. You’re welcome to hang out and enjoy it with cards, games, free wi-fi and a book exchange.
On the 2nd floor of a lofty colonial courtyard mansion, Cicciolina has long held its position as Cuzco’s best restaurant. The eclectic, sophisticated food is divine, starting with house-marinated olives, continuing with crisp polenta squares with cured rabbit, huge green salads, charred octopus and satisfying mains like squid-ink pasta and tender lamb.The service is impeccable, and the warmly-lit seating will make any laid-back globetrotter feel at home. Highly recommended.
This ultrafunky lounge redefines kitsch with glitter balls, fake fur and even bathtub-cum-aquarium tables complete with live goldfish. It isn’t cheap, but the decor really is worth seeing and the occasional theme parties held here are legendary.
The most consistently popular nightspot in town, Ukuku’s plays a winning combination of crowd pleasers – Latin and Western rock, reggae and reggaetón (a blend of Puerto Rican bomba, dancehall and hip-hop), salsa, hip-hop etc – and often hosts live bands. Usually full to bursting after midnight with as many Peruvians as foreign tourists, it’s good, sweaty, dance-athon fun. Happy hour is 8pm to 10:30pm.
Kamikase is an old, intimate bar that doesn’t offer free drinks, but does have a disarmingly large variety of music that can switch from seductive salsa to live música folklórica (folkloric music) in an instant. Happy hour runs from 8pm to 10pm, and there’s often a live show beginning at 10:45pm.
Indigo is the perfect bar to warm up for a big night out, with fresh Thai and Peruvian food (mains from S15), good coffee, games, hookah pipes and famous mojitos. Genuinely friendly staff, comfy couches, an open fire and a seriously cool circus vibe (there are swings!) make it hard to move on. Highly recommended.
Gloriously glamorous and run by high-profile hipsters, the Frogs offers a bit of everything. There’s
cafe service from breakfast until 11pm, nightly live music (ranging from acoustic to reggae and funk), billiards, beanbags, fairy lights and hookah pipes. Open early till late.
This convivial bar just off Plaza San Blas has a bit of everything. It serves good Thai food in the evening, and there’s live music late every night – local musicians come here to jam after their regular gigs. Happy hour is 9pm to midnight.
Run by a motorcycle enthusiast, this unassuming expat-style bar overlooks the Plaza de Armas. It’s a boon for people watching, if you can get a balcony seat. Though known for delicious 200g burgers, it’s also got TVs, darts and billiards to help you work up a thirst. Avoid the burritos. Happy hour is 7pm to 9pm.
A squatter on the site of Viracocha Inca’s palace, the cathedral was built using blocks pilfered from the nearby Inca site of Sacsaywamán. Its construction started in 1559 and took almost a century. It is joined by Iglesia del Triunfo (1536) to its right and Iglesia de Jesús María (1733) to the left.El Triunfo, Cuzco’s oldest church, houses a vault containing the remains of the famous Inca chronicler Garcilaso de la Vega, who was born in Cuzco in 1539 and died in Córdoba, Spain, in 1616. His remains were returned in 1978 by King Juan Carlos of Spain.
Cuzco’s third most important colonial church, La Merced was destroyed in the 1650 earthquake, but was quickly rebuilt. To the left of the church, at the back of a small courtyard, is the entrance to the monastery and museum. Paintings based on the life of San Pedro Nolasco, who founded the order of La Merced in Barcelona in 1218, hang on the walls of the beautiful colonial cloister.
More austere than many of Cuzco’s other churches, Iglesia San Francisco dates from the 16th and 17th centuries and is one of the few that didn’t need to be completely reconstructed after the 1650 earthquake. It has a large collection of colonial religious paintings and a beautifully-carved cedar choir.The attached museum (admission S8; 9am-noon & 3-5pm Mon-Fri, 9am-noon Sat) houses supposedly the largest painting in South America, which measures 9m by 12m and shows the family tree of St Francis of Assisi, the founder of the order. Also of macabre interest are the two crypts, which are not totally underground. Inside are human bones, some of which have been carefully arranged in designs meant to remind visitors of the transitory nature of life.
This simple adobe church is comparatively small, but you can’t help but be awed by the baroque, gold-leaf principal altar. The exquisitely carved pulpit, made from a single tree trunk, has been called the finest example of colonial wood carving in the Americas.Legend claims that its creator was an indigenous man who miraculously recovered from a deadly disease and subsequently dedicated his life to carving this pulpit for the church. Supposedly, his skull is nestled in the topmost part of the carving. In reality, no one is certain of the identity of either the skull or the woodcarver.
This 16th-century church, part of a strict convent, is difficult to visit but it's worth making the effort to go for morning services, because this is one of the more bizarre churches in Cuzco. Mirrors cover almost the entire interior; apparently, the colonial clergy used them to entice curious indigenous peoples into the church for worship.The nuns provide the choir during Mass, sitting at the very back of the church and separated from both the priest and the rest of the congregation by an ominous grille of heavy metal bars stretching from floor to ceiling.