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Cuzco Machu Picchu

Cuzco – World Heritage Site


Cuzco - Capital of the Inca Empire...

Snuggled in a fertile valley of the south Peruvian Andes at 3,360 meters above sea level is Cuzco (also "Cusco", or "Qosqo" in Quechua), the former capital of the Incas, and now the most ancient inhabited city in all the Americas.

Its earliest builders conceived it as an important urban center that would become the capital of the Tawantinsuyu Empire. It was, as well, the hub of the ancestral Andean world and a magnet for pilgrims and cultists of the pre-Hispanic periods. Today the region of Cuzco, including Machu Picchu, 120 kilometers away, is the archaeological capital of the Americas. In no other region is there such a abundance ruins both so well preserved and so easily accessible.

This valley was the ancient settlement of numerous pre-Inca tribes. Among them was the Huari culture (8th and 9th centuries). Around the year of 1200 AC, Manco Cápac, direct descendant of Wiracocha, the Sun God, resettled local tribes and founded a city at the same site, calling it Qosqo – “navel of the world” in the Quechua language.

Qosqo was built on a hillside and adopted the totem of the puma, symbol of wisdom, while on the high part of the valley, a great defensive fortress, Sacsayhuaman, was built to hold vigil over the north end of the city.

...and Gateway to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu

The city grew rapidly, as Tawantinsuyu, the Inca Empire, developed over a period of three centuries and eleven generations of Inca governors. (See Inca genealogy at the bottom of this section.) The Spaniards, arriving in Cuzco in 1533, were astounded by the monumental buildings and palaces throughout the area.

During colonial rule, many buildings were dismantled in order to construct Spanish style residences. Ironically, many of these Spanish mansions were demolished by the 1650 earthquake while those parts of the palaces with Inca walls and other Inca structures not tampered with by the Spaniards remained intact. With this lesson fresh in their minds, the Spaniards began to rebuild, but this time leaving the Inca construction as a solid base. The result is a very particular architectural style that blends the Spanish with the Inca. Every Cuzco neighborhood is replete with this style, whose durability and aesthetic charm provides ample testimony of the Inca architectural and engineering savvy.

Coming from Bolivia, Cuzco is easily accessible from La Paz and Puno. There are daily flights to and from La Paz, Lima, Arequipa and Puno. The closest major international airport is Lima. Note that due to the time difference between Peru and Bolivia, you save one hour when flying from La Paz.

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Cuzco and its Nearby Ruins

Between the two rivers that form the outer from of the Inca city, the ancient inhabitants created palaces, streets, athletic fields, and public buildings, many of which have withstood the assault of the centuries.

The old city was divided into two sectors: Hanan Qosco (Upper Cuzco) and Hurin Qosco (Lower Cuzco). Superimposed over this macro sectorization was a four-part apportionment, corresponding to the cosmological division of the four directions of the world as they related to the four suyus (corners) of the empire. The streets were straight and long, although narrow. In the middle ran a water canal that served to eliminate wasted from the city.

According to the tradition, Cuzco had the shape of a crouching puma. Its streets were narrow, usually straight and duly paved. The building walls of the central zone of the city were made of carved stones, whereas the suburbs had walls made of adobe (sun-dried brick) or "parka", with striped walls with painted stucco or plaster made of clay. Their roofs were made of straw. Houses did not have many doors or windows so as to maintain the temperature during cold seasons. Through the rivers' beds flowed clean water that was consumed by the population.

Life in the old Cuzco city turned around its great Square. It was known that it was large and it was divided into two sectors by the Saphi ("Root") river. Tawantinsuyo's most important political and religious ceremonies were held in one of these sectors, which was called Haukaypata, word that would mean "Ceremonial Sector".

The other half of the Square encompassed the Kusipata (Joy Sector), because after the great ceremonies people gathered there in order to celebrate their parties, eat and drink. This great Square was paved in different segments with stone labs, and it was covered with sea sand so as to avoid causing troubles during the rainy seasons. In the center of these two sectors there was a special high platform known as "Usnu" from where the Incas and priests or other officials spoke to the people.

The most important buildings were located around the Square, in particular the palaces of some of the Inca Society Governors. Inca Pachakuteq's palace known as Qasana, which nowadays makes a corner with the Plateros street, stood out towards the northeast. To the north, we could find the palace of Inca Roqa called Qoraqora; the palace of Inca Wiraqocha, Kiswar Kancha, was located in the area where the Cathedral is currently situated, in front of that palace there was one Suntur Wasi, a building that had a cylinder shape and was used as the emblems' house: the Hatun Kancha, which belonged to Inka Yupanqui, and was located at the east of the former building. In the Pukamarka, which belonged to Tupaq Inka Yupanqui, we still can see all the wonderful wall at Maruri street.

There is also the Hatun Rumiyoq palace (a modern name since its original name is unknown; this is where the famous "12-angle stone" is situated), which belonged to Inka Roqa but today is the Archbishop's palace; the Qollqanpata palace, located in the San Cristóbal parish church and was supposed to be property of Inca Manko Qhapaq; the Ajlla Wasi or Virgins of the House of the Sun were situated in the northeast side of the current Society of Jesus; the Amaru Kancha was the palace of Wayna Qhapaq and is currently occupied by the Society of Jesus, today surrounded by El Sol Avenue, Afligidos street and Loreto. In front of this palace there was also another Suntur Wasi.

Each palace occupied a wide territory, almost always an entire block, and they must have housed the Inca's Panaka, that is, his whole family (ancestors, descendants and other relatives). Around the Kusipata there weren't other palaces, but the areas were already prepared and fortified for future buildings. Likewise, every 5 days, people carried out the qhatu (market) there. This activity was based on a products exchange and, according to Martín de Murua, it was executed with the assistance of one hundred thousand persons approximately.

The Spanish conquest gave Cuzco a different appearance, but no less important in a political sense. The Spaniards chose this city as a base to colonize this whole part of the New World, and deposited here their best works of art. Cuzco’s churches, mansions, and monuments of colonial art are among the most beautiful in the Americas. The Indian and mestizo builders forged a new “American” conception of European art, and were able to create the leading art school of the New World: the Cuzco school of art and painting.

click here to openWeather in Cuzco – When to Go

Situated at less than 3,400 meters (11,150 ft) above sea level, Cuzco currently has 250,000 inhabitants, and enjoys a relatively temperate climate with sunny days and cool nights. It can get cold in the winter.

Just like in Bolivia, there are two main seasons in Peru — the rainy season (austral summer) and the the dry season (austral winter). The rainy season runs between November and March, with the dry season usually running between May and September.

Dress with clothing in layers (t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, sweater, jacket) so you can "peel" them off as the day gets warm and put them back on when it gets colder. Bring a small backpack to carry your clothing and tourist apparel. Casual clothing is all what you need when visiting and going to restaurants.

The dry season is the best time to travel to Cuzco and Machu Picchu — but unfortunately and not surprisingly, coincides with the high season. To avoid the crowds, consider traveling in April-June, or September-October, just after or before the rainy season and the tourist crowds. Crowds are the heaviest during July and August.

The good thing during the rainy season is the warm weather at day time and not feeling cold at night. Even if it rains it will normally be a heavy shower and then the sun will come out again. In addition, the mountains will be lush green with potatoes and corn plantations. Full of flowers and many colors.

Weather in Cuzco

According to the Peruvian Senamhi, which is the National Institute providing the right information, the weather chart mentioned here is for Cusco City, not Machu Picchu which is 4100 feet lower in altitude and as such, has much warmer temperatures.

Temperatures in Machu Picchu during the dry season run from around 12°C (50°F) at night to the mid 30s C (upper 80s F) during the day. Given its exposed location, it can get quite warm in Cuzco and hot in the Sacred Valley and in Machu Picchu, and at these elevations, the sun is strong — do not forget your sunscreen!



Weather in Cuzco

click here to openMain Attractions

Cuzco is packed with historical mansions, impressive monuments, beautiful churches, and surprising corners.

The Inca and Spanish-baroque aesthetics permeate the whole city, and though in some buildings one predominates over the other, they often converge in an unique Mestizo architecture where both superimposed layers and a subtle syncretism can be found.

The Main Square

Known in Inca times as Huacaypata, or “the warriors’ square”, this was the scene for many key events in Cuzco’s history: it was here that the conquistador Francisco Pizarro declared Cuzco under Spanish occupation; it was also here that Túpac Amaru I, leader of the indigenous resistance movement, was killed. The Main Square also hosted to the spectacular Inti Raymi, or festival of the Sun. With the arrival of the Spanish the plaza was fringed by beautiful stone arches which remain in place to this day. Across from the Main Square are the Cathedral and La Compañía church.

The Cathedral

Built between 1560 and 1664 out of large slabs of red granite taken from the Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman, the Cathedral is one of the most imposing structures in the city. Its façade, built in Renaissance style, contrasts with the Baroque and silver of its lavish interior. It also houses important collections of gold and silver work of the colonial period, elaborately engraved wooden altars and a beautiful collection of oil on canvas paintings from the Escuela Cuzqueña.

On either side of the slabs of red granite are two small auxiliary chapels. One of these, the Del Triunfo church, in fact Cuzco’s first Cathedral, was built in 1539 on top of the palace of Inca Wiracocha.

La Compañía Church

Considered one of the finest examples of colonial Baroque architecture in the Americas, the construction of this church was begun by the Jesuits in 1576 on what was the Amarucancha, or palace of Inca Huayna Cápac. The spectacular façade made of carved stone and its great altar, elaborately covered in cedar and gold leaf and built on top of an underground chapel, are among its most notable features. The church also houses a large collection of sculptures and paintings by the most renowned artists from the Escuela Cuzqueña. The church is flanked by the Lourdes chapel and the ancient oratory of San Ignacio de Loyola.

La Merced Convent and Church

Built in the sixteenth century and rebuilt on numerous occasions as a result of earthquakes which have leveled the city, the convent possesses one of the most beautiful Baroque-Renaissance cloisters in all Peru, decorated with beautiful choir stalls built in the plateresque style, and numerous engravings. It also houses colonial paintings and a very distinctive piece: a tabernacle made of gold and precious stones measuring 1.3 m long and weighing 22 kg, studded with a giant mermaid-shaped pearl (the second-largest pearl in the world).

Koricancha and the Convent of Santo Domingo

The convent was built on the spectacular Koricancha (“site of gold”), the most important temple dedicated to the worship of the Sun and whose walls were plated with sheets of gold. The convent was built on a foundation of smoothened stone structures -the most finely crafted in Cuzco- taken from the Inca sanctuary.

The façade of the convent is an excellent example of Renaissance art and its distinctive spire, built in Baroque style, stands out over the thatched roofs of the Cuzco skyline. Like the two churches mentioned above, it houses an impressive collection of canvas paintings from the Escuela Cuzqueña.

San Blas Quarter

Also known as “the craftsmen’s district”, San Blas is one of the most picturesque parts of the city, with its long, inclined narrow streets that zigzag across old estates, which were built with Inca stones, and its tranquil squares. The church of San Blas, built in 1563, is the oldest parish church in Cuzco and has an impressive pulpit, considered to be the colonial period’s most outstanding example of engraved wood. Furthermore this district, with one of the finest views of the city, is home to the workshops and stores of the most renowned craftsmen in Cuzco, including Hilario Mendívil, Edilberto Mérida, Santiago Rojas and Maximiliana Palomino.

Hatun Rumiyoc Street

This is perhaps the best-known street in the city. One of its cut-stone walls, (which at present forms part of the Palace of the Archbishop) features the famous 12-cornered stone, which was once part of the ancient palace of Inca Roca, one of the rulers of Tahuantinsuyo or Incan Empire. This lively street is a gateway to the picturesque San Blas quarter.

Nearby Ruins

The following sites are located within an 8km radius of the ancient city and can be visited during your city tour of Cuzco.


An imposing example of Inca military architecture, the fortress of Sacsayhuaman was built using large slabs of granite to safeguard the city from attack by Antis, or invading forces from the East.

Sacsayhuaman (“satisfied falcon” in Quechua) is made up of three large terraces which overlap in a zigzag formation surrounded by enormous stone ramparts of up to 300 meters in length. Its elevation and proximity to Cuzco, as well as the dimensions of the stones -up to 5 meters high and weighing up to 350 tons- made Sacsayhuaman a quarry for certain structures in colonial Cuzco.


Qenqo (or Qenko, Kenko, K'enko) is a shrine or ritual site built on a sole outcrop of limestone, with a stone altar, underground galleries and a semicircular amphitheatre.

Puca Pucara

Puca Pucara (or Pukapukara; in Quechua, “red fortress”) was a military installation made up of stairways, terraces and large walls which once formed part of the capital’s defence system. This smaller fortress guards the Inca road.


Also known as the “Baños del Inca” or the Inca baths, Tambomachay (or Tampumachay) was apparently a site dedicated to the worship of water and a resting place for the Inca monarch. Among its most notable features are its system of aqueducts, canals and cascades carved in stone, designed to channel water flowing from a nearby spring. According to experts, “Tampumachay” was also a kind of royal garden, abounding in ornamental vegetation and fed by an intricate network of canals.

These structures are part of the archaeological circuit near the city of Cuzco.

See next collapsible panel for more information on distances from Cuzco.



The gateway to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, Cuzco is surrounded by the wonders of nature and impressive architectural ruins. Due to its position as the capital of the Inca dynasty, Cuzco is a showcase of several different cultures - pre-Inca, Inca, Colonial and Republican.

Cuzco was an administrative, military and holy city and is now the oldest inhabited city of the Americas. As a result, many splendid styles of architecture are found here, with the monasteries and cathedrals in Cuzco reflecting the diversity of cultural influences on the city.


click here to openCuzco – Touring the City

Cuzco's Main Square is an ideal meeting place as it is the hub of the restaurants and bars in Cuzco. Beautiful arcades with many shops and craft boutiques offer varied souvenirs, designed by local craftsmen. The vibrant street markets in Cuzco should also not be missed.

Cradle of legendary feats, the Main Square of Cuzco was called "Huacaypata" or "Square of the Warrior" during the time of the Incas. It reminds us of times when it was a significant ceremonial place where, every year, they carried out the spectacular celebration of Inti Raymi or "Sun Festivity". It was the place where Francisco Pizarro, together with his Spanish entourage, proclaimed the conquest of Cuzco, or the setting in where the Indigenous caudillo Tupac Amaru was executed.

The square was transformed with the Spaniards arrival. The stone arches, as well as the constructions that even today surround the square, were built during that period. It is surrounded by a beautiful arcade that was constructed during the conquest.

The Cathedral and La Compañia, two of Cuzco's colonial churches, frame the plaza. Another colonial church worthy of a visit is the church in San Blas, the artists' quarter, with its famous pulpit.

The 'Temple of the Sun', the Inca's most famous sacred building in Cuzco, can today be found inside the Church of Santo Domingo as the Spaniards built the church around it.

Located just outside Cuzco, Sacsayhuaman is a walled complex deserving a visit. Some believe this fascinating example of Inca stonework was a form of fortification, whilst others believe the stonework formed the head of the Puma (the shape that Cuzco forms when seen from the air).

Our half-day overview visit to the city and the surrounding ruins covers 25 kilometers of the most important examples of archaeological sites and colonial art that the city has to offer. During three and a half hours we take in the monuments of the Sacsayhuaman archaeological park, the Qenqo funeral temple, the Tambomachay water sanctuary, and the old marketplace of Puca Pucara. This profile of Cuzco continues with the Inca temple of Koricancha, dedicated to the sun, followed by a stunning tour through the quirky city streets culminating with a visit to the impressive colonial cathedral.

During daytime or night time, Cuzco is a city full of charms and attractions.

The mornings are ideal to walk by the streets, to know the churches, to pass by the legendary artisan neighborhood San Blas or to visit the towns and the archaeological remains in the surroundings. At night, when the city is covered with lights, the discotheques, pubs and restaurants are the greatest attractions. Nightlife in Cuzco offers a great variety of fun choices satisfying the most demanding tastes.



click here to openDistance Chart

Distances to Nearby Sites around the city of Cuzco and beyond — the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu

Sacsayhuaman Archaeological Complex
2 km / 1 mile northeast of Cuzco (10 minutes by car). Visiting hours: Mon. – Sun. and holidays 7:00 A.M. – 6:00 P.M.

Qenqo Archaeological Complex
3 km / 2 miles northwest of Cuzco (15 minutes by car). Visiting hours: Mon. – Sun. and holidays 7:00 A.M. – 6:00 P.M.

Puca Pucara Archaeological Complex
7 km / 4 miles northeast of Cuzco (30 minutes by car or 2 hours on foot)

Tambomachay Archaeological complex
8 km / 4 miles northwest of Cuzco (35 minutes by car)

Village of Urubamba (2,871m / 9,419 feet)
78 km / 48 miles northwest of Cuzco on the route to Pisac, in the Sacred Valley (1 hour and 30 minutes by car). Another route is the one via Chinchero (57 km / 35 miles or 45 minutes by car)

Village of Chinchero (3,772m / 12,375 feet)
28 km / 17 miles northwest of Cuzco (45 minutes by car)

Village of Maras
48 km / 30 miles northwest of Cuzco (1 hour by car). Maras Salt Mines are 10 km / 6 miles from Maras (30 minutes by car or 2 hours on foot)

Village of Yucay
68 km / 42 miles north of Cuzco (1 hour and 30 minutes by car)

Moray Archaeological Complex
9 km / 6 miles northwest of Maras (25 minutes by car)

Ollantaytambo Archaeological Complex
97 km / 60 miles northwest of Cuzco (2 hours and 30 minutes by car)

Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary
112 km / 68 miles northwest of Cuzco (4 hours by train) to the village of Machu Picchu and then another 8 km / 5 miles to the citadel (20 minutes by bus)



From Cuzco to Machu Picchu

Continue reading

  • [Part 1] The City of Cuzco

click here to openThe Inca Dynasty

(Approximate dates of assuming the throne)

  1. Manco Cápac: 1200 AC, Founder of Cuzco and of the Hurin Cuzco dynasty (natives of the lower part of Cuzco).

  2. Sinchi Roca, son of Manco Cápac: 1230.

  3. Lloque Yupanki, first son of Sinchi Roca: 1260.

  4. Mayta Kapac: 1300.

  5. Kapac Yupanki. 1320, the last monarch of the Hurin Cuzco dynasty.

  6. Inca Roca: 1350. With Inca Roca the Hanan Cuzco dynasty begins (natives of the upper part of the city). He is the first monarch to use the title Inca.

  7. Yawar Huaca: 1380.

  8. Wiracocha Inca: 1410. Born as Hatun Topa Inca, but an apparition of the God Wiracocha moves him to take this name. He initiates the expansionist period of the empire, arriving as far as Tucuman in what is today Argentina.

  9. Pachakuti: 1438. His rule presided over the construction of Sacsayhuaman in Cuzco.

  10. Tupac Yupanki: 1471. He advances as far as Quito and builds the temples on the Islands of the Sun and Moon on Lake Titicaca.

  11. Huayna Kapac: 1493. He completes the conquest of what is today Ecuador. During his reign, the Spaniards arrive at the coasts of the empire.



Cuzco is located to the north west of Lake Titicaca.

Cuzco is located to the north west of Lake Titicaca

Through our intimate, small-group tours and private expeditions in this area you will be able to visit sites most tourists, even seasoned travelers, never find.

Join us on a discovery of a lifetime in Cuzco.

click here to openInti Raymi, the Quechua New Year in Cuzco

We're not all on the same schedule! — with June 21 marking the Summer Solstice for the northern hemisphere, it's the start of winter for Bolivia and Peru.

Inti Raymi in Cuzco or how the Quechua people celebrate June Solstice

For the Aymara, Quechua and other peoples of South America Winter Solstice marks the New Year.

Inti Raymi, or the “Festival of the Sun,” falls on June 21, the date of the southern hemisphere’s winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. The name Inti Raymi comes from the Quechua language: inti means “sun” and raymi means “festival.” Incan in origin, Inti Raymi honored the sun as the source of light, heat, and life, and celebrated the start of a new planting season.

Inti Raymi Festival in Cuzco

The largest festival takes place in Cuzco, Peru, the ancient capital of the Incan civilization and empire. Here, professional actors and actresses along with thousands of extras interpret the roles of the Incan emperor and other characters. In Cuzco, Inti Raymi has grown into a major tourist attraction. Thousands of people visit the city to enjoy the performances by folkloric groups and to watch the theatrical presentation of the Incan ceremony, the focal point of the celebration.

Winter Solstice in Bolivia

Just like in Peru, June Solstice is a holiday celebrated throughout Bolivia and particularly at Tiahuanaco Ceremonial Center (Tiwanaku), the place of origin of the Aymara people. See Machaq Mara June Solstice Festival in Tiahuanaco in this website.

Contact us to help you arrange your trip to the Andes this solstice.



Check our selected excursions in this area:


Cuzco, the Sacred Valley & Machu Picchu
{ short bolivia excursion - fully customizable }

The following package also include this area
among other destinations.


La Paz / Tiwanaku / Lake Titicaca / Puno / Cuzco / Machu Picchu
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Or you may want to customize the following packages,
and add a pre- or post-tour to Cuzco & Machu Picchu.


La Paz / Tiwanaku / Lake Titicaca / La Paz
{ sample bolivia trip - fully customizable }


Santa Cruz / Sucre / Potosí / La Paz
{ sample bolivia trip - fully customizable }


Santa Cruz / Sucre / Potosí / Uyuni / La Paz
{ special itinerary - small group travel }

Feel free to customize any travel package according to your own personal interests and the specific activities you expect...

Join us on one of our Natural History Tours or a Cultural Exploration into the heart of South America. Our programs are offered throughout the year, on a (very) small group basis and mostly in private.

You may also want to make an enquiry or design your own program of activities in this area.

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You may also check other Special Interest Travel and unusual tours or expeditions around Bolivia, including:

• La Paz, Tiwanaku, Lake Titicaca
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• Colonial Cities of Sucre and Potosí
• Central, Inter-Andean Valleys of Cochabamba
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