Known mostly as being the gateway to Machu Picchu, and the perfect place for acclimatising to treks in the region, Cusco is a popular spot for travellers to spend time. Charmingly nestled at the bottom of a valley, Cusco is both captivating and intriguing by equal measures.

Think; ancient cobbled alleyways where footpaths were laid with mismatched stones by the ancient Incans. Think; colourful markets where Peruvian locally made blankets hang outside store fronts. Think; eateries with second floor verandas, where visitors can watch activity below. And think; historic chapels that could architecturally be placed anywhere in Britain. Cusco is a place that promises to win the heart of every visitor.

People crossing the street in front of a chapel in Cusco

It takes only 90 minutes to fly from Lima international airport (the closest major city) to Cusco, but the two destinations couldn’t be more distant in terms of style and offering. Contrary to Lima’s cosmopolitan skyscrapers and coastal cliffs with surf thrashing below, Cusco is the quaint, unassuming representation of Peru’s unique culture.

Where Lima has office towers for commercial visitors and mall precincts, Cusco has local houses that serve as store by day and a historic courtyard of which the city is based around. What travellers will notice in Cusco, is a local, village feel.

Cusco sits 3,400 metres above sea level. For many travellers, the effects are immediately noticeable with shortness of breathe and being quick to tire. As a result, Cusco’s village vibe is slow and calm. This is the place to simply wander slowly, observing the architecture, historic attractions, and being aware of the incredible landscape of which the engulfs the village from around. Being on a valley floor, the surrounding mountains and hills add to the charm.

The historic centre is the place to begin cruising Cusco from, and a perfect landmark from which to have accommodation close to. Plaza De Armas is a major gathering place for local festivities and events, and where many points of interest generate.

Some of those attractions are the colonial buildings with manicured gardens, Cusco cathedral and the Church La Compania de Jesus. The plaza square is lined with local restaurants and places to taste a Pisco Sour (the local tipple).

Local Cusco ladies sitting on doorstep knitting a blanket

Cusco is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and plays a pivotal role in Peru’s history. From around 1400-1500 this was the religious capital of the Incan empire. As such, Cusco housed palaces and buildings of high wealth such as a sacred gold and emerald temple. It was no coincidence that Cusco held such great importance as an epicentre, but the layout served as a productive base for growing crops, pasture for animals, and rivers to serve as a cities main waterways. Being in the basin of a valley had many advantages.

Nowadays Cusco deserves a few days to explore at leisure. Too often historic cities become modern centres but in the case of Cusco, heritage and history have managed to remain preserved. A place to visit where Peruvian culture is prevalent, landscape fascinating, and a slow energy that is perfect for beginning Peru adventures.