From the coastal deserts of southern Peru to the frigid peaks of the Andes, every part of the vast Inca Empire traced back to Cusco. Tucked within the Andean mountains, the scenic capital city was the beating heart of one of the greatest civilizations in history. Today, you can feel this powerful history most palpably in its central square, Plaza de Armas.
Besieged during the Spanish Conquest, many of the buildings around the plaza, named Huacaypata by the Inca, were expeditiously razed to the ground. The colonial structures erected in their place often stand on the foundations the Inca so expertly and cunningly crafted, making this historic center a totally unique place in the world. Elevated on a stepped flank, the Cusco cathedral serves as the grandiose focal point of the Plaza de Armas. At its base, vendors haggle and hawk their wares, and fountains provide a calming influence to the frenetic activity.
Travelers have many options to explore Cusco’s Plaza de Armas and its many attractions, including private or group day (or nighttime) trips or multi-day tours that may combine visits to Lake Humantay, Machu Picchu, and key attractions in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Cyclists may opt to explore Cusco city as part of a multi-day mountain bike trek.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Many attractions clustered around the plaza have small entrance fees, which are included if you’re visiting as part of a larger tour.
- Though the area is safe, it’s wise to be careful with your possessions and avoid wearing eye-catching jewelry and accessories.
- Remember sun protection.
- Because of the high altitude, be sure to stay hydrated and take it slow. Chewing on coca leaves or drinking coca tea helps alleviate symptoms of altitude sickness.
How to Get There
The Plaza de Armas, also known as Plaza Mayor, is located in Cusco’s historic center along Avenida del Sol and is walkable from most hotels. If you’re staying farther away, you're best off booking a tour that includes round-trip transportation, as public transit is scant.
When to Get There
The square is one of the city’s most popular attractions in the historic center. It’s a great snapshot of the buzz of the city any time of day; at night, illuminated with a golden glow, it’s even more enchanting.
Nooks and Crannies
Radiating from the Plaza de Armas is a labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets and hidden pedestrian alleyways. Filled with small cafes, boutiques, and local artisans, these pathways are abuzz with beauty and energy. Stroll along Loreto Alley to a wall made of enormous stones, all masterfully cut and set in place by the Inca.