Three trips through Peru: Cusco and the Andes

Three trips through Peru: Cusco and the Andes

On this stop on a triple itinerary, a train ride and colonial neighborhoods are an alternative way to explore Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley

Rafael Bahia Getty Images

Published October 2019

Peru is home to diverse landscapes that result in impressive cities, traditional cultures, and a world-famous cuisine. Here, we present Cusco and the Andes, before heading to Lima and the Pacific coast; and Iquitos and the Amazon Rainforest.

Machu Picchu and the Inca Rail

Cusco is on the outskirts of the Sacred Valley, a region dotted with colonial villages and historical ruins. The biggest highlight is Machu Picchu, vestiges of an advanced civilization that’s present to this day (the map of the oldest portion of the city, for example, has the shape of a puma). The trip there is more pleasant aboard a train car that runs in the mountains on the Inca Rail. The trains depart from San Pedro Station, in the historic city center. You can also get there by van, departing from Ollantaytambo and, from there, take a train to the village of Aguas Calientes, where Machu Picchu is located. For the more adventurous, hiking the Inca Trail can take four days.

Three trips through Peru: Cusco and the Andes

Cusco’s historic architecture

But there’s plenty to see in Cusco, in the combination of Inca culture and Spanish heritage. The Cathedral, for example, is an icon of Baroque architecture in Plaza de Armas. To have an idea of what life was like before the colonists, visit the impressive Coricancha temple; or check out the pre-Columbian artifacts on display at Museo Inka, both located in the historic city center.

Catedral del Cusco: Plaza de Armas

Coricancha: Santo Domingo 

Museo Inka: Ataud, 154

Three trips through Peru: Cusco and the Andes

Have some chicha, a beverage made from fermented corn

It’s no coincidence that the most awarded restaurant in Cusco is called Chicha – this beverage, which is made from fermented corn and featured on the menu created by famous chef Gastón Acurio, has been consumed in the city since it was the center of the Inca Empire. The menu also offers other local treats, like alpaca meat (a mammal that looks like a llama).

Chicha: Plaza Regocijo, 261

Three trips through Peru: Cusco and the Andes

The magic of Peruvian handicrafts

You’ll find excitement in the north, in the neighborhood of San Blas, which is also famous for its handicraft shops. There are superstition-filled statuettes and cute wool shawls that look like clouds. Perhaps it’s the altitude, but everything seems a little magical.

Three trips through Peru: Cusco and the Andes

Now that you’ve discovered Cusco, check out what to do in Lima and Iquitos.

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Adventure in the Andes: a tour of Cusco and Machu Picchu