Legend has it that Cuzco was designed in the shape of a puma, a sacred animal to the Incas. Today, this beautiful city remains a fascinating gateway to the past, packed full of architectural gems. Here we take a look at some of the ways you could spend 24 hours in this wonderful city making your own discoveries.
Perhaps you’ll begin your day in the ancestral heart of the Inca Empire with a freshly squeezed juice from the stalls at the central market, where you can also browse a huge range of meats, fruit and Andean cheeses. Refreshed, you could then head to the Plaza de Armas, where Cuzco Cathedral beckons you in, with its ornate 16th century architecture and a fine collection of local art and relics inside. Head to the western side of the square for lunch at one of Cuzco’s bustling restaurants, with everything from pizza to local dishes such as lomo saltado – a spicy steak stir-fry – on offer.
Alternatively, if you’ve not visited already, or if you wish to return, you might choose to spend the whole day visiting Machu Picchu, taking the narrow-gauge railway to this famous ‘lost city’. Wander the terraces and temples, marvel at the views of the Sacred Valley below and admire the amazing construction of the polished dry-stone walls that characterise this special place. Voted one of the new Seven Wonders of the World in a worldwide internet poll, it’s here that you’ll get to see the Intihuatana stone, arranged to worship the sun god by pointing directly at the sun during the winter solstice. You’ll also see the ruins of the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows, all dedicated to the sun god, Inti.
Cuzco’s rich heritage is never more evident than in the ruins of the Sacsayhuaman fortress, towering above the city. Whether you choose to visit or simply to admire its imposing structure from the Plaza de Armas, you can’t fail to be impressed by this incredible structure, dating back to the Killke culture in 1100 CE. Later expanded and occupied by the Incas in the 13th century, archaeologists have also discovered the ruins of an ancient temple, road and aqueduct at this unique site. Cuzco is also famed for its crafts, so make some time to explore the streets around the centre of the city where artisans set up their stalls, or visit the Inka’s Expression workshop to watch them at work. Leather products, alpaca wool garments and jewellery are local specialities.
For dinner, choose from one of Cuzco’s array of eateries – whatever your tastes, you’ll find something to suit, from rustic Peruvian dishes to refined cuisine with a Mediterranean influence. Check out the area between Plaza de Armas and San Blas for some of the best restaurants and bars the city has to offer. Not tired yet? That’s good, because Cuzco timekeeping is typically South American, with bars staying open until late. Prepare for anything from pan pipe music and Andean folk tunes to modern music and jazz – and be sure to sample a Pisco sour, the national cocktail of Peru, before you turn in after your 24 hours of culture, history, sightseeing and fun in the stunning home of the Incas.