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Touching down in Cusco, Peru is one of the most breathtaking yet terrifying experiences you’ll have.
First off, this ancient capital of the Incas is situated in the middle of picturesque mountains at a whopping 3,400 meters (or just above 11,000 feet) of elevation.
And with a massive 14,300-foot mountain at the west end of the airport’s runway, planes can only take off from the east. This high elevation and record-breaking mountain range have landed Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport on the “World’s Most Dangerous Airports List.”
Regardless, thousands of tourists fly in and out of Cusco every single day to visit the historical Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. The city itself is one of Peru’s most charming cities. For many, it’s the starting point for the Sacred Valley and journey to these incredible Incan ruins and vast landscapes.
Cusco has so much to offer that one could easily spend a week there and never grow bored. But for many who are short on time, like me, there are some must-see things to do in Cusco that should not be missed. If you are also short on time, here is just a one-day Cusco itinerary.
Start your day by taking an early morning flight from Lima so you can make the most out of your day. This also decreases your chances of getting delayed by either bad weather or flights stacking up as the day progresses.
Remember, Cusco Peru is sitting at a very high altitude, higher than most people are accustomed to. It’s vital to take it slow and listen to your body. Once the altitude sickness sets in, it’ll be hard to enjoy the day with a blinding headache or feeling dizzy and short of breath.
Take your time to acclimate to your surroundings before trying any uphill walks. When checking into your hotel or putting your bags in bag storage, make sure to try the coco leaves tea (a sacred natural herb of the Incas).
After you’ve landed, the perfect way of acclimating to your new environment is to spend the morning just exploring the beautiful city of Cusco. Wander through the main plaza and get lost amongst the market stalls and cobbled streets.
This area of Cusco is called Plaza de Armas and is located right in the main square or heart of the city. It is known as the most beautiful plaza in all of South America.
It was built on the remains of an Incan gathering place, and while some of it still remains, most of what you’ll see today is of the Spanish colonists.
Here, you’ll see the city’s beautiful Cathedral Basilica and the Church La Compania de Jesus. Stop for a bite to eat at the Café Plaza located in the Hotel Plaza de Armas in the square. If you can, try and do balcony seating so you’ll get a perfect view of the cathedral.
The Cathedral Basilica is most famously known for depicting The Last Supper with Jesus and his disciples dining on Peruvian food, including a guinea pig.
Also, check out the local textile weaving center and see how the ancient Incas made various articles of clothing. This is part of a non-profit organization started by the indigenous people of Peru to try and recover traditional designs and ancient techniques.
These women then sell their textiles to visitors to support themselves and preserve their traditions.
Take a walk along Avenida El Sol to Qorikancha Temple, famously known as the temple of the sun. It is considered one of the most important temples of the Incan Empire because it was dedicated to various Inca gods but particularly to the sun god.
The Temple of the Sun was, in Incan times, the most sacred building and was once covered in pure gold. Even its courtyard, now covered in grass, was once clad in pure gold.
Sadly, when the Spaniards conquered the city, they took the gold, melted it down, and sent most of it back to Spain. The Spaniards eventually built the Santo Domingo Church on top of the Incan walls in its place.
You’re able to tour Qoricancha Temple inside and out and even learn some interesting facts about the structure and how it was built. This is a must-see while spending one day in Cusco.
As your day starts to wind down, be sure to try some of the local food for dinner. Peruvian food is fantastic, and anything you order will be plenty flavorful and fresh!
If you’re a vegan or plant-based eater, be sure to try the Museum Natural Factory Plants and Products of Peru.
If you eat seafood, you can’t go wrong with ordering Peru’s famous ceviche.
Later in the evening, head back over to the plaza and see how much Peruvians like to party and enjoy the lively club scene. You can take salsa dancing lessons at Inka Team and enjoy some fun cocktails! This disco club is about a two-minute walk from the Plaza de Armas.
If you want to continue the night, be sure to also check out Chango Club! Here, my friends and I danced the night away with the friendly locals.
Have more time to spend in Cusco? Here are some of the top day trips from Cusco and should not be missed!
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