With dazzling temples, ancient cities and access to famed Inca ruins, Cusco’s imperial city enchants its visitors. First and foremost, you’ll want to plan your route to Machu Picchu. For a scenic (and strenuous) hike, make arrangements to trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Less daring travelers should nab a seat on one of PeruRail’s daily trains to the lost city. If you have time before or after your expedition, head straight to the Plaza de Armas, where the glorious cathedral and nearby Qoricancha await exploration. Then, elevate your experience to a whole new level by visiting the Sacsayhuamán ruins, which boast gorgeous views of Cusco city.

Plaza de Armas
The history of the Plaza de Armas stretches back all the way to the Inca Empire when it was called Huacaypata or Aucaypata. The massive square (originally twice its current size) was built as a venue for festivals and ceremonies in ancient times.

According to legend, this plaza once marked the exact center of the Inca Empire, earning Cusco the nickname “the navel of the world.” After Spanish conquistadors conquered the city in the early 1500s, they erected two churches on the either sides of the square – La Compañia and La Catedral – where the former Incan palace once stood.

Today, the plaza contains landmarks significant to both the Andean and Spanish history, and still functions as the historic heart of the city. Recent visitors to the square say you’ll find Peruvian dancing, music and plenty of people watching. Buzzing with activity all day and night, most of the centrally located hotels, restaurants and shops are just off the square at Places To Visit in Cusco

Machu Picchu
It’s hard to believe this iconic “lost city of the Incas” was untouched during the Spanish conquest. The Incas cleverly obscured these 12 acres of temples, aqueducts and gardens from the Spaniards, keeping their sacred city untouched for hundreds of years.

It’s difficult to know where to start. First things first: Pick up a booklet and a map as signage at the site is minimal. Then, start your journey at the House of the Terrace Caretaker and Funeral Rock, a 20-minute walk from Machu Picchu’s entrance.

From there, head to the Temple of the Sun to admire the exquisite Incan masonry and a granite stone that may have served as the Inca’s calendar. Continue on to the Temple of Three Windows, where you’ll marvel at the views from the building’s trapezoidal lookouts. Finally, visit the Temple of the Condor, which, as its name suggests, forms the shape of a condor – the symbol of heaven in the Inca cosmos.

You’ll need to buy your ticket in advance, many recommend doing so months ahead of time, as there is a limit of 2,500 people per day allowed at the site. You can obtain a ticket from the Instituto Nacional de Cultura website or the office in Cusco (this is where student and tickets for minors are available). If you’re going with a group, check if your tour operator includes the price of admission in your fee.

La Catedral
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Amid the many splendors found in the Plaza de Armas, the sky-high La Catedral is one of Cusco’s finest architectural displays. Constructed in the 1550s with stones stolen from Sacsayhuamán, the baroque cathedral features opulent ceilings and gold and silver altars. It is also home to an impressive collection of colonial art that mixes Catholic traditions with indigenous legends.

La Catedral houses a world-renowned painting believed to depict the earthquake that shook Cusco in 1650. And across the building, you’ll find a famous crucifix called Señor de los Temblores (Lord of the Earthquakes) who is said to have stopped the 17th-century earthquake from destroying the city.

Many of the works of art give insight into how the Andean people shifted to embrace Spanish culture and religion. For example, paintings of The Last Supper by Quechua artist Marcos Zapata depict Jesus and his disciples eating common ceremonial foods found in the region like cuy (roasted guinea pig) and chicha (a drink made from corn). Guests can also see images of the Virgin Mary depicting Pachamama (Mother Earth).

Recent visitors suggested exploring the church with a guide in order to hear the fascinating stories behind the structure and its artwork.

Visitors can stroll through the cathedral every day between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. for 25 soles (about $7). Save some money by purchasing the Boleto Turístico ticket, which costs 130 soles (roughly $40) and includes admission to 16 of Cusco’s attractions, including the La Catedral.

Sacsayhuamán
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Sacsayhuamán is often overshadowed by Machu Picchu, but this towering ancient Incan fortress – filled with exquisite stone masonry and dramatic vistas – is worth a visit. Much of the massive structure was used as building materials for the Spaniards, but what remains gives a glimpse at how large the fortress once was.

There’s much to see in these ruins, from the giant zigzagging stone walls (legend has it they formed the teeth of the puma-shaped Incan empire that is now Cusco) to the carved stone benches that form the suspected Incan throne.

During your visit, you’ll also notice three foundations where colossal towers once stood. Also, take a few moments to walk around the Explanada, a parade platform where revelers still gather for the Raymi Festival of the Sun. Another interesting feature is Tambomachay, a nearby spring that served as a bathing site for the Incan elite.

You can explore Sacsayhuamán every day between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. and must have theBoleto Turístico for admission. This “tourist ticket” costs 130 soles (about $40) and provides admittance to 15 other Cusco attractions.

Qorikanch

For a glimpse of the Inca’s former grandeur, look no further than Qoricancha (Temple of the Sun), also known as “Court of Gold.” In its heyday, Inca’s elite watched as light bounced from 700 gold-plated walls and danced across the temple’s altars and statues. And its splendor stretched from its glimmering exterior walls into its regal confines, where approximately 4,000 of the most prestigious priests and their attendants resided.

With gold gleaming from nearly every surface of the compound, it’s easy to see why the Spanish were enamored with Qorikancha’s riches. After the conquistadors invaded Cusco in 1533 – and looted all its gold – only the Inca’s elaborate masonry remained. Utilizing the Inca’s masterful work as their foundation, the Spaniards began building their own churches and monuments on top of and around the structure, creating a rich blend of Andean and Spanish architecture.

Visitors say that although the site isn’t as impressive as other Incan ruins, it perfectly represents how the Spanish transformed impressive Incan temples into their own. Plus, its location at Plazoleta Santo Domingo, just south of Plaza de Armas, makes it much more accessible than other ruins, namely Machu Picchu.

You’ll find Qorikancha located at Plazoleta Santo Domingo, which sits just south of Plaza de Armas. As part of the grounds, a small museum walks guests through the history of the temple. Admission costs 10 soles (about $3). Visitors are welcome to visit the temple from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays at Places To Visit in Cusco

Planetarium Cusco
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Located next to Sacsayhuamán, the Cusco Planetarium offers travelers a unique experience in the hills surrounding the city. While it may not be much to look at (the small planetarium is housed in a plain adobe building) recent visitors give almost unanimous praise for the informative guides and idyllic setting.

The facility not only allows visitors to gaze at the stars in a small observatory, it seeks to be a cultural interpretation center for Incan astronomy and offers a personalized experience that you can rarely find at other planetariums around the world. Since the operation has limited size, you must request a spot in advance for the 2-mile shuttle ride from Plaza de Armas.