Cuzco is a very popular city, that is visited by most tourists that are heading to Peru. It is also one of the biggest cities in Peru and it used to be the capital of the Inca empire. So from all of this, I guess you might see that this is a pretty great city to visit. And it is. Even if you should spend only one day in Cuzco, you should still visit it. The city is filled with history and anyone who loves ancient civilizations or colonial architecture will love this city. I did. And Even though I spend here just one day, I feel like I should come back.
One day in Cuzco
Let’s begin! First of all, when I say one day I mean the whole day, if you have just afternoon, just pick one of the following places to visit. And don’t stress your self. You can always come back and there is no shame in that. Cuzco is generally quite a big city and it used to be the capital of Incas. To be honest, I heard about first when I got there. And I feel ashamed of how unprepared I was. Otherwise, I would certainly spend here at least two or three days. But if you have only one day it is completely fine to not go through all of it.
Or as I call it, the thing I thought is just monastery. Qorikancha is ruins of old Inca temple that was once covered in gold. It is one of the main attractions, so definitely go there. Here is the thing about it. Spanish used to colonize South America by tearing their sacred places down and building Christian churches and monasteries on top of them.
This is one of the greatest examples. The colonial monastery that you will enter is huge. There will be a lot of people standing in front of the entrance, offering guiding services, but to be honest, it is not necessary. Just buy a ticket and get the brochure that they are offering, which is more than enough. The entry fee is 15 soles and you will need at least an hour or better two to see all of the building.
There are arrows everywhere to show you where you are supposed to be going, which is a great help. The first couple of rooms are the ones about Spanish colonization and about monastery itself. So you get the information about how did they build it and what kind of saints is this for.
But later on, you will go around this view to the outside garden. I’m not sure if you are allowed to go to the garden, at the time when I was there, it wasn’t open for tourists. But anyway, even from the view you can see that there are the ruins of the Inca temple. From this point, you will get to see an exhibition about Incas and what they did. Also about their temple and how they were predicting things from stars.
I would strongly advise coming here in the morning. I came there at 4 and since the monastery is quite big, I kinda run through it. But two hours should be enough, maybe even the one hour if you are not interested in the history pep talks. The monastery is opened from 8.30 am to 5.30 pm every day.
There is this main square with two or three big churches. If you have a full day in Cuzco, you will probably have enough time to go through them all. I went to the church of the Society of Jesus. Quite a strange name. It is also a sigh that is always open and quite easy to visit. You can come here from 8.30 am to 6.30 pm and there is no entry fee. However, even though the church is opened between those two hours, you will still need to expect that during the messes the doors to the church are closed for tourists. So there might be a couple of times during the day when you will need to wait for half an hour or something like that.
But this church is gorgeous. Very spacious and also very old. It was founded in 1668. It is another site that was built on ruins of Inca temples. But this time you will hear only about the church itself.
Other sights at Plaza de Armas
If you are not interested in this church, on Plaza de Armas, you can also visit the local Cathedral. You will recognize it because it has these big stairs in front of it where most of the people are chilling. The cathedral is also opened every day from 10 am to 6 pm. Except for classical architecture from the 17th century, you can see here a very famous picture of the Last supper of guinea pig. I’m not sure if it is a joke or real but either way it has some wit in it.
Certainly, Plaza de Armas is great for having lunch and other meals since there are a lot of restaurants around. Especially if you are not keen on eating local food, you can find here a lot of restaurants that will suit you. There is also a very nice park right in front of both churches, which is ideal for any relaxation or even just walk around and enjoying the city.
It is also called Saqsaywaman and it has other 8 names that sound very similar. Or as I would call it, the thing that starts with Sa and I’m not sure about the rest and funnily enough every local that I met was talking about it differently. I’m pretty sure they will know better there.
Anyway, for this particular attraction, you will need to get a taxi, because it is a little bit far away from the city center. And when I say far I mean about 2 km from Plaza de Armas. Saqsaywaman is also another ruins. These ruins are still open for archeologists, but you can still go there. There is an exhibition about pottery and more. For visiting this place you would need about 2 hours, so prepare yourself for that. This should be part of your one day in Cuzco especially if you are not planning to visit the Inca valley, where are even more of these archeological findings.
For visiting these ruins, you would need to buy a ticket for archeological sights around Cuzco. If you are planning to spend here just one day it would pay off to have a full day ticket which cost 70 soles. But if you are planning to visit more Inca ruins the next day, you should consider buying the complete ticket that costs 130 soles. You can use that ticket for the whole 10 days and there are 16 places that you can visit on this ticket.
About 8 km from Cuzco, there is Tambomachay, also Inca ruins with additional waterfall and aqueducts. The Spanish used to call it The bath of Inca. Here you can see a lot of ancient canals, waterfalls and aqueduct build just by Incas. All of it is very impressive although archeologists still don’t know what was supposed to be the function of this place. One of the theories says that it might be an Inca spa resort for their elite. I think it is pretty interesting that even then Incas would have a spa resort. But I’m no archeologist, so it might be more common than I would expect.
I would say that it is normal to stay in this location for about an hour. You don’t necessarily need a guide, so you can be fine with asking for a taxi driver who would get you around. For this sight, you will also need a Cuzco archeological ticket. And again, the one for one day is just fine. You can come here every day from 8 am to 6 pm. Although if you want a guided tour, it is usually available from 2 pm to 6 pm.
Close to this place is something called Puka Pukara, which is another Inca ruins. This time you will see ruins or military fortresses. So if you come here you will get to know everything about Inca’s defense system and how did the whole system work. It is said that this place was probably built during the later time of the Inca empire. Considering that it is built by Incas it sort of lacks their architecture. The stones are placed not as carefully as they are at other sights and it feels like the whole building was rushed up. Perhaps that is the main reason why to visit it. Because you won’t be able to see something like that with all the other Inca buildings.
This archeological site is also just 7 km from Cuzco and similarly to Tambomachay, you also don’t need a guide unless you choose to. For visiting this place, you will just show your day Cuzco pass and they should let you in. It is opened every day from 7 am (really early, I know!) to 6 pm. You will need about half an hour for this particular place.
St Pedro market
But if ruins already ruined your day, here is a great place to visit directly in Cuzco. You don’t even need to go outside of the city. The place is just 8 minutes from Plaza de Armas and it is one of the most colorful and vibrant places in the whole Cuzco.
Once you open the market, you will be swimming in a flood of different stands with fruit, vegetables but also raw meat. It is a very local place and you can even have dinner here and try Peruvian street food. Except for snacks, you will also find here a lot of stands with souvenirs. You can find here high-quality sweaters and other things, but be aware that a lot of people might try to take advantage of you. So don’t hesitate to bargain.
Is one day in Cuzco enough?
This is one of my regular mistakes. I keep thinking it will be alright to spend just one day in this city and once I’m there I discover, that there are tons of things to do and I instantly regret my decision. I made this mistake in Arequipa and I did the same for Cuzco. One day in Cuzco isn’t nearly enough, but if you have a full day, there are the necessities that you just have to visit. Some people even spend here for a whole week. That is a bit too long for me but the truth is that there is a lot of interesting things around.
Important things to know about Cuzco
Cuzco is also at very high altitude, similar to Puno and Lake Titicaca. So if you are planning to go to Rainbow mountain, but feeling a little bit sick in Cuzco, wait here for a couple of days. This is not a problem for Machu Pichu though since Machu Pichu has a lower altitude than Cuzco.
The former capital of Inca can be quite expensive. Especially if you are tourist, and that is mainly because there are so many visitors that it doesn’t pay off to keep the prices low.
Cuzco is very far from the sea, so don’t eat here the salat from raw fish. However, guinea pigs are very popular here.
How to get to Cuzco?
There are a couple of ways of how to get to Cuzco. There is an international airport, where you can catch flights to several destinations in South America, the US and perhaps even one or two to Europe. On the other hand, you can also catch here domestic flights to places like Lima or Arequipa.
This solution is the easiest for anyone who is interested just in Cuzco and Machu Picchu. However, if you are planning to visit other places, like Puno, the easiest way might be actually a bus. You can get to from Puno to Cuzco in 7 hours. At the same time, the bus is the cheapest option.
If you want something more comfortable than the bus, you can also choose the train. There are a couple of trains that are connecting several places around. But most of the time Cuzco train station is famous for getting people to Machu Picchu.
So all in all, it pretty much depends on your itinerary. But the options on how to get to Cuzco are pretty wild.
What to pack for Cuzco?
So here is a thing or two to know. Cuzco has quite a high altitude and while the temperature might be pretty mild during the day, once the sun sets, you will need a jacket or weather. And your shorts won’t be able to protect you from the cold either. So take something warm with you.
Altitude sickness medicine will be your best friend. Cuzco has an altitude of 3600 meters above sea level. That might be fine for a lot of people, but not for all. So make sure you will take some medicine with you. If nothing else at least some pills against headache.
Sunglasses are necessary. A lot of people would visit Cuzco in the main season, which is Peruvian winter. It sounds chilly, but during the day, you will have the opportunity to enjoy a lot of sunshine.
Where to next?
Lima – The Capital of Peru is just one flight away. Or a 24-hour bus drive away, you choose. Either way, after a very adventurous Cuzco, it is nice to visit Lima, where you can just relax and enjoy the pacific coast.
Ollantaytambo – A little Peruvian village, that most of the people would visit for the Inca ruins and as an entry point to Machu Picchu. The village is amazing by itself and it is worth spending here the whole day resting before a big trip to Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu – If you are in a hurry, you can actually make a trip to famous Machu Picchu in just one day. It will be very fast with a very early start, but it is an option as well.
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