Cusco is the capital of the Cusco Region and the Cusco Province. After the arrival of the Spanish in 1533, Francisco Pizarro, arriving in 1534, changed the name from Qosqo (Quechua, the old language of the Incas) to Cusco.
As the Capital of the Incan Empire, which was stretched from Colombia to Chile, the city of Cusco has played an important role in Peru throughout history and to the present day. Though the Spaniards came and attempted to cover much of the Inca archaeology, they were wise in leaving many of the foundations as those have withstood not only the test of time but also natural disasters, remaining as a symbol of the once great empire.
Due to the incredible infrastructure the Incas developed, i.e. trade systems, highways, etc., the Spanish, who colonized the area, utilized Cusco as its main base of operations in Peru. Centrally located, it gave the Spanish an opportunity to settle comfortably, create productive trade routes and spread Christianity throughout the Andean communities, creating a political and religious epicenter.
CUSCO GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Cusco, 724 miles (1165km) from Lima and 388 miles (625km) from Arequipa, is located in the Huatanay river valley in the Andes mountain range at 3,399m above sea level (11,151ft). Surrounded by the Vilcabamba mountain range and alongside the Sacred Valley, Cusco was an important agricultural center for the Incas. Still today, the terraced mountainsides are evidence of the role agriculture plays in the area, while the snowcapped mountains of Ausangate and Salkantay lend an air of variety to the generally green surroundings.
The Peruvian Andes has two main seasons: The rain season and the dry season. The rainy season occurs during the summer months of November to March, while the dry season is passing during the winter months of April to October. During the dry season, you can expect blue skies as rain is virtually unheard of at this time; however, when the sun moves behind the clouds or after sunset, it can get bitterly cold. Packing warm clothing and dressing in layers is a must for the area. Even during the rainy season, most days will exhibit some sunshine, so while you?ll want a rain jacket and umbrella; the temperatures are still very comfortable and the days enjoyable.
GETTING TO CUSCO
Cusco is easily reached by plane and bus throughout Peru, e.g. from Lima, Arequipa or Puno. Travelling from Puno, the Andean Explorer train is a very luxurious option.
Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport is a single runway airport that is located in the middle of Cusco?s urban area. It serves the city with flights from and to Lima, Juliaca, Puerto Maldonado and Arequipa. The airport is a short taxi ride from the city center (around 15 soles). Departure taxes are now included in the ticket price, however, it is still good to check with your travel agent to be sure.
From Puno, you may opt to take either a direct bus or a tourist bus, such as provided by Turismo Mer. From Lima or Arequipa, you can either take Cruz Del Sur, Ormeño or Tepsa, which guarantees you a safe and quite comfortable trip.
The approximate travel times are:
GETTING AROUND IN CUSCO
Walking the streets of Cusco is not only easy, but the best way to see the sites, admiring the architecture of its cathedrals, plazas and combination of Spanish colonial design with the flawless Inca stonework. As there are plenty of hills around the periphery of Cusco, these can be easily traversed with a taxi if you?re not up to the challenge of walking everywhere. Rarely should you pay any more than 3-4 soles ($1-1.50) for a taxi anywhere around town. Always be sure to settle on the price before entering the taxi as they do not run with meters. Tipping a taxi driver is not necessary.