Cusco – Gateway to Machu Picchu

30 March, 2021 | Reccy Guide

Cusco is located at an elevation of 11,150ft (3,330m) in a fertile river fed valley in the central Peruvian Andes. This alluvial valley has been at the centre of various indigenous Quechua civilisations for close to 3000 years. In the 15th century, the Inca ruler of the time redesigned and rebuilt the city, and it then became the capital of the Tawantinsuyu Inca Empire, which ruled a large part of the South American Andes in the 15th and 16th centuries AD. After conquering the city in the 16th century, the Spanish conquerors built churches and palaces over the ruins of the Inca city, however, they preserved some of the structures of the Inca city. Today,Cusco has a population of ~500,000 and it is designated as the Historical Capital of Peru by the country’s constitution.

View of Machu PicchuView of Machu Picchu

Modern day Cusco is one of the most popular tourist destinations in South America with ~2 million visitors per annum. It is a beautiful city with well preserved colonial buildings and sense of layered history. Cusco is the hub for most trekking adventures to Machu Pichhu and the surrounding mountains as well as a tourist centre with day long as well as multi-day trips on offer to Lake Titicaca, Nazca Lines and many ruins including the impressive Sacsayhuaman ruins, the site of a famous 16th century battle between Pizarro the Spanish conquistador and the Inca.

View of Cusco CityView of Cusco City

Cusco weather can be extreme with a wide variation in day and night temperature. Typically highs are 24 – 29C and lows are between 2 – 6C depending on the time of the year. Winters (Apr – Sep) are dry and sunny, whereas summer (Oct – Mar) is cloudy and wet. Due to the daily variation in temperature it is advisable to dress in layers and carry gloves, hat and a warm sweater in the day pack. 

Cusco is the base of many agencies, outfitters and gear rental companies who plan, organize and supply equipment for the various treks and adventure sports activities on offer in the surrounding areas.

Rainbow Mountains around CuscoRainbow Mountains around Cusco

Because of its high elevation, Cusco is an ideal base to acclimatize for at least 2 days and monitor any altitude related issues before heading out to any of the treks or tours on offer.

How to reach

If you are traveling to Cusco from anywhere outside of Peru, you will have to transit through Lima. Lima has direct connections with major cities in the USA and Canada through Delta, United, American, LATAM, Air Canada and with Europe through KLM, Air France, British Airways, Iberia and LATAM. From other Latin American countries, LATAM and Avianca offer good connections. Cusco is very well connected with Lima by air with ~40 daily flights operated by LATAM and Sky Airlines Peru. The flight takes ~90 minutes and is typically priced at USD ~60.  

An Airport Express bus  (typical fare USD ~8 one way) connects Lima city centre with Jorge Chávez Airport in regular intervals, from 06:00 to 22:00 hours. Taxis cost USD ~15 one way. From Cusco airport to city centre, taxis are the best option (typical fare USD 3.5 – 5). We recommend established cab companies only. Lima to Cusco by bus is not a good option as it’s a long (~1100km), mountainous route and takes ~24 hours.

From Arequippa you can take a bus to Cusco which typically takes 10.5 hours to cover ~512km and the fare is in the range of USD 15-30.

Accomodation

Depending on your requirement and budget, you may choose your accommodation in Cusco from a range of hotels, guest houses and hostels.
Click here to find Hotels
Click here to find Hostels

Activities

  • Trek to Machu Pichhu – The Salcantay Route (5 to 8 days, moderate to difficult) 
  • Trek to Machu Pichhu – The Lares Route (3 to 5 days, Moderate)
  • The one-day Inca Trail (1 to 2 days, Moderate)
  • Trek to Machu Pichhu – Vilcabamba Traverse Route (7 to 13 days, Difficult)
  • Trek to Machu Pichhu – The Lodge Trek (7 to 11 days, Moderate)
  • Trek to Machu Pichhu – The Chaski (or Cachicata) Trail (3 to 5 days, Moderate)
  • Trek to Machu Pichhu – The Choquequirao Trail (4 to 8 days) [Max alt – 15.9k ft]
  • Trek to Machu Pichhu – The Inca Quarry Trail (3 to 4 days, Easy to Moderate)
  • Trek to Machu Pichhu – The Huchuy Qosqo Trail (3 days, Easy)
  • Trek to Machu Pichhu – The Inca Jungle Trail (4 days, Easy to Moderate)
  • Trek to Machu Pichhu – Anacascocha Trail (4 to 7 days, Moderate)

Other treks and activities

  • Ausangate Trek (5 to 6 days)
    Rio Urubamba/Vilcanota white water rafting (1 day)
  • Rio Urubamba inflatable canoeing (1 day)
  • Rio Apurimac rafting (3 to 4 days)
  • Sacred Valley on a bike (1 day)
  • Sacred Valley paragliding (1 day)

Day trips

  • Rainbow Mountain day trip (1 day)
  • Pisac day trip (1 day)
  • Lake Humantay day trip (1 day)
  • Ollantaytambo day trip (1 day)
  • Moray and Maras day trip (1 day)
  • Huchuy Cosqo day trip (1 day)
  • Machu Pichhu day trip (1 or 2 days)
  • Cusco city tour (1 to 3 day)
  • Cusco walking tour (1 day)
  • Sacred Valley day trip (1 day)
  • South Valley and Andahuaylillas Chapel tour (1 day)

Multi-day tours from Cusco

  • Lake Titicaca (highest navigable lake in the world) tour (3 to 5 days)
  • Manu National Park tour (3 to 8 days)
  • Tambopata tour (3 to 5 days)
  • Arequipa and Colca Canyon tour (2 to 4 days)
  • Nazca Lines and Ballestas Islands tour (2 to 3 days)
  • Trujillo and Chiclayo tour (3 days)

Restaurants

Cusco has quite a few good restaurants and cafes serving a wide variety of cuisines including seafood, innovative fusion dishes, Peruvian as well as international specialities. Click here to check out the culinary scene in Cusco.

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