The Ancient Magic of Machu Picchu and Cusco

The ruins lacing the Inca Trail do not lie only within the confines of Machu Picchu but rather they voyage through the Sacred Valley and mountainous terrain until they rest in wonderfully majestic Cusco. The city of Cusco, or the Imperial City, although lacking in the existence of ancient villages placed on tall peaks, still carries the magic of neighboring Machu Picchu. Cusco is known for its unique charm. Filled with top Peruvian (and international) cuisine, coffee shops, a bustling nightlife, and a town plaza, the city still cherishes a slower pace. Whether you opt to stay as close to Machu Picchu as possible, or choose to dabble in the offerings of Cusco’s city center, enchanting details throughout the region should not be missed. Traveling from the city to enjoy the surrounding beauty is fairly easy, whether you plan to trek the Sacred Valley and explore various portions the spectacular Inca Trail, or just take in the grandeur of Machu Picchu.

If you are looking to dive into the terrain surrounding Cusco, Inka Trail Expedition Peru is a popular, award-winning excursion company that offers an array of choices in nearby areas, including several locations of the Inca Trail. What’s more is that the expeditions also practice a sustainable approach, with a “Leave No Trace” enforcement.

The MVP of the “things to do” in the western region of Peru earned a unanimous vote. Unlike most tourist attractions, Machu Picchu lives up to the hype — all 2,139 feet of it. Although it is worthy of every penny spent be prepared to dish out some heavy cash, experience a substantial crowd and tackle the often tricky logistics of reaching your destination. PeruRail is the easiest bet for travelers journeying to Machu Picchu from Cusco as it offers a 3.5-hour train ride that welcomes views of majestic landscapes and scattered ruins. Departures from Cusco through PeruRail are known to sell out quickly so book in advance. However, another popular option among visitors is to catch a taxi or local bus to take you to the historic town of Ollantaytambo. From Ollantaytambo, you can enjoy a 90-minute train ride. Aguas Calientes, also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, rests at the base of Machu Picchu and is a great pit stop before you head up to the mountain. You can catch the bus at the Machu Picchu Pueblo Train Station in the town center. If you want to start your trek before reaching the grounds, opt to walk the paved road up to Machu Picchu. For the more adventurous types, hike the Inca Trail all the way up to the ruins for four to five days complete with camping and strenuous hills throughout the 80-mile trek.

Sacred Valley is only 15 kilometers north of Cusco with narrow roads leading to colonial towns and villages with Peruvian markets. It’s no wonder it has become its own destination among those traveling to the country. Take a day trip or spend a few exploring the archaeological sites dotting the area.

Plaza de Armas is the beating heart of the town center of Cusco. The pulse of the plaza extends to neighboring restaurants, shops and bars and even features daily music and Peruvian dancing among those feeling the rhythm of each beat. Historically, the plaza marks the exact center of the Inca Empire. Put it on your list and spend a good chunk of your time meandering throughout the plaza.

Cicciolina can be found on a side street off the main plaza in the second story of an ancient colonial house. Visitors often drop by for drinks and tapas at the bar or gear up for the ‘Bread and Breakfast’ first thing in the morning. This establishment prides itself on their vibes: frequent and dissimilar to any social scene in Cusco.

MAP Café is one of the top spots to dine in Cusco earning its reputation from the burst of flavors in its fare along with the setup of the restaurant. The venue is a glass box, resting on a square inside a museum. Chef Coque Ossio builds cuisine comparable to Peruvian delights yet distinctively adds his individuality to each dish.  

Indio Feliz is one of Aguas Caliente’s most frequented establishments. The flamboyant restaurant, bar and crêperie has an unorganized yet entertaining atmosphere with various pictures and handwritten notes on the walls, large wood tables with eclectic chairs and floral centerpieces. The food is exceptional from starters to dessert with Chaski Salad, sirloin and apple cake. Try them all and in that order.   

Hostal Wara Wara boasts views of Cusco from its top floor. The charming bed and breakfast transforms its comfortable and inviting living room into a lounge come nightfall. The blend of stellar pisco sours, light and flowing musical tunes and a panoramic view of the city make this spot a must-see.

Lobby Bar, located in Belmond Hotel Monasterio is a low-key drinking ground for both locals and first-timers. Beginning just hours after the clock strikes noon, the classy ambiance is met with live jazz. The roaring fire when the sun is high in the sky only adds to the romance of the Lobby Bar.

Capitán Bar is an extension of Indio Feliz Restaurant in Aguas Caliente. The bar offers a similar essence with a maritime-themed flare. This is a perfect tavern to cap off an enchanting day on the Inca Trail while sipping on local wines or a fine brandy.

Casa Andina Private Collection is one of the least expensive options in the area, but you wouldn’t know it upon strolling through the converted mansion. The 93 rooms offer a cultural experience unlike anywhere else with its undeniable history. The hotel is located only four blocks from Plaza de Armas so you can enjoy the central happenings of the city with just a short tread. Alma Restaurant and Bar inspires a cool vibe due to the mix of stone covered walls. The sophistication is also seen and felt in the fare served.

The historic Belmond Hotel Monasterio is an authentic Peruvian jewel snagging a spot in Cusco’s prime location adjacent to the central square, the hotel’s most talked-about feature is the serene courtyard. The 122 rooms and suites feature Andean Bath Butler services in each space and even have their own art gallery of local collections. The genuinely helpful staff are happy to sort out the details of your local outdoor excursions. A national monument since 1592 and a former monastery is layered with history yet has developed modern and sophisticated traits to add to their allure. Illary Restaurant is a sweet and charming eatery with a view of the courtyard, serving breakfast, lunch and an early supper with a Mediterranean theme. Only open for dinner, El Tupay Restaurant comes in handy if you are looking to dabble in international treats and sip craft cocktails or choose from their array of vino in an intimate setting.

The energy of Machu Picchu does not escape the Casa Del Sol Machu Picchu. The boutique hotel is situated at the base of the mountain in the charming and convenient Aguas Caliente and provides guests with distinctive cultural gems, out-of-this-world natural environs and (perhaps most important) a complimentary drink upon arrival. The rooms offer an extension of the natural wonders outside the window as the shades of color and woodwork are comparable to the vast landscape surrounding the hotel. Views from the rooms of the Vilcanota River are evidence of the sacred flow of remarkable energy that sweeps away everything in its path. Mystical and spiritual tours can be arranged through the hotel, which includes authentic Peruvian ceremonies. K’Intu Spa is a serene sanctuary dedicated to providing a multisensory experience with ancient Inca products (such as coca leaves and quinoa). In an attempt to experience Inca tradition in its wholeness, opt for a Coca Leaves Exfoliate or a Machu Picchu Purification treatment. To relieve those cuisine cravings, check out Manka Hotel Restaurant and Bar where you will relish local delights and handcrafted pisco sours.