- About Us
- Travel Journal
- Responsible Travel
For first time travelers to Peru, Cusco ticks all the boxes. Enigmatic ruins, gorgeous architecture, endless shopping, and a dramatic history from the beginning of the Inca Empire to the Spanish Conquest and beyond. Not to mention amazing restaurants, fantastic hotels, and a breathtaking location high in the Andes.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, but long regarded as a mere stopover on the way to Machu Picchu, Cusco has now come into its own. Discovery-minded visitors will be greatly rewarded.
Visitors traveling from sea level to Cusco at 11,150 ft (3,400 m) above sea level, should be aware of the possibility of altitude sickness. Most visitors to Cusco experience only minor symptoms (headache, lethargy, nausea) which usually ease within 1-2 days. If you’re planning to hike to higher elevations, plan to spend 2-3 days acclimating in Cusco before beginning a trek. If possible, try to schedule an intermediate stop in Arequipa elevation - 7,638 ft (2,328 m) - before continuing to Cusco or Lake Titicaca.
Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration and take it easy as your body adjusts to the altitude. Drink bottled water only and avoid drinking water from questionable sources. Agua sin gas is mineral water; agua con gas is carbonated water — both are available for sale at kiosks and small markets all over Cusco. Ice is typically made from filtered water and safe to consume.
Cusco is considered one of the safest cities in Peru. Standard travel precautions apply: don’t leave your bags and belongings unattended and take extra care in crowded places. Leave jewelry and excess cash in the safety box at your hotel.
Walking is the best way to get around the historic center of Cusco. You can stroll from one side of the historic center to the other within 15-20 minutes. Around the Plaza de Armas you’ll find Cusco’s top attractions, restaurants, and nightlife options. The area around the main plaza is mostly flat, but the streets become steeply inclined when you walk toward the San Blas, San Cristobal, or Santa Ana neighborhoods.
Be sure to carry local currency (Peruvian Sol, or Soles for short) to pay for taxis, tips for guides and porters, small purchases, and meals at cafes and restaurants. Vendors are always reluctant to make change for large bills. For small purchases, it’s best to have low denomination bills and coins. Larger balances at shops, restaurants, hotels, and some tour agencies can be paid with credit card. As of January 2018, 1 USD = 3.2 Soles.
Money exchange offices and ATMs are located throughout the historic center and on Av. El Sol (ask your bank about international banking fees). For payments in USD or to exchange USD or Euros to Soles, you’ll need crisp bills with no blemishes of any kind. Bills with tiny rips, marks, and other defects will likely be rejected.
Cusco is generally warm during the day and cold at night. Bring sunblock and sunglasses for day tours, and don’t forget your warm clothes for the evenings. A thermal undershirt paired with a fleece, windproof jacket, and long pants is usually sufficient for Cusco cold nights when temperatures drop to 40°F (5°C) or colder.
For the rainy season, packing the right clothes to stay (relatively) dry can make the difference between an enjoyable experience and a wet, miserable one. Pack long pants made of synthetic quick drying fabric (not jeans), a rain poncho to go over your head and your backpack, and an umbrella to use during day tours.
Some portions of your Cusco trip may require you to leave your heavy luggage behind, for example to take the train to Machu Picchu (passengers are limited to 1 bag or backpack weighing 11 lbs/5 kg) or for a multi-day trek. This is generally not a problem as most hotels provide luggage storage for guests at no additional charge.
Traveling to Peru in the peak season (June, July, August) requires lots of planning several months in advance. This includes booking hotels in Cusco and Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu), flights to/from Cusco, train tickets to/from Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu tickets (limited to 400 and sell out weeks in advance) and Inca Trail permits if applicable.
To avoid the crowds and the worst of the rains, plan your trip to Cusco for April, May, September or October.
Traveling during the high season from June to August increases your chance for good weather, but be prepared for crowds.
The rainy season can be a good time to travel for smaller crowds, but be prepared for rainy conditions and weather-related travel delays.