Six of the best Cuzco attractions

PLAZA DE ARMAS

Cuzco's historical heart is a great place to spend an afternoon people-watching while you acclimatise to the city's 3300-metre altitude. Overlooking the plaza are many restaurants, bars and cafes, each offering ideal vantage points to survey the action. A manicured garden occupies the centre of the plaza, lorded over by a monument to the Incan ruler, Pachacuti. The twin bell towers of the Cuzco Cathedral and the Company of Jesus Church, both built by the Spanish conquistadors, tower over the square. Tours inside both churches are not to be missed, with the highlight inside the cathedral being a painting of the Last Supper illustrating a guinea pig on a serving plate. See worldexpeditions.com/Peru

CRISTO BLANCO

The Incas built Cuzco in the shape of a puma, with Sacsayhuamen​ representing the head, the Plaza de Armas the heart, Qoricancha as the hips, and the convergence of the Saphi and Tullumayo Rivers said to be the tail. The best overview of the city is from the Cristo Blanco, the giant statue of Christ, on Pukamoqo Hill, close to Sacsayhuamen​. The hike to the statue, a miniaturised version of Rio's Christ the Redeemer, is a 30-minute walk through rarefied Andean air from the Plaza de Armas and is particularly rewarding around sunset, when Cuzco begins to light up while the surrounding mountains are still visible. See peru.travel/en-au/

SAN PEDRO MARKET

Everything you could imagine – and plenty more besides – is for sale in Cuzco's liveliest produce market, several blocks west of the Plaza de Armas. Rows of fresh fruit and vegetable stalls, and open-air meat stands selling frogs that enhance libidos and pig's heads, are on show. No refrigeration means the freshest items tend to be sold early. Empanada and tamale lunch stalls are dirt cheap. Pick up clothing and souvenir items, or buy coca leaves to combat the altitude. Be careful of your belongings though. Unwitting shoppers are known targets for pickpockets. 

ROOFTOP COOKING CLASS

Get to know a country through its flavours while savouring magnificent views over Cuzco from a modern 11th-storey rooftop kitchen. Start with a guided culinary tour of San Pedro Market, where ingredients are chosen for the class. Back at the kitchen, sip on a pisco sour cocktail that you've mixed yourself. Then prepare a delicious main course of lomo saltado or quinotto de quinoa, accompanied by a glass of fine wine. Finish off with a tasty dessert which, of course, you're expected to eat. Who knows? After this, you might want to roast a guinea pig.

SAN BLAS DISTRICT

Follow the cobblestoned Inca road Hatunrumiyoc past churches, bars, restaurants and the famous 12-angled stone to the artisanal quarter of San Blas. Though popular, the Plaza San Blas is much quieter than the Plaza de Armas. A 16th-century church that features a carved wooden pulpit dominates a square surrounded by boutique hotels, galleries, museums and cafes where you can idle away hours sipping hot chocolate while reading a book. Side streets filled with fashion boutiques, musical instrument makers, craft outlets and souvenir stores make great places to browse through without ever feeling hurried.

CUZCO PLANETARIUM

The foundations of many Inca sites were intentionally laid where they were to provide optimum viewing of the night skies. Astronomy played a huge role in the lives of the Incas, influencing religious ceremonies, determining when crops were sown and harvested, and helping to predict weather patterns (the picture is of a painting of the Milky Way, as it was understood by the Incas). Architectural designs reflected the solstices and city streets were deliberately aligned with constellations. All are explored at the Cuzco Planetarium, where English and Spanish presentations precede star gazing sessions through high-powered telescopes. See planetariumCuzco.com/en/

Mark Daffey travelled courtesy of LATAM and World Expeditions

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