The city and the department of Cusco are one of the most popular tourist attractions in Peru. The city is also the ancient home of the Inca civilization and has several spectacular architectures with obvious Inca and Spanish influences. The buildings and streets of Cusco are a product of fine engineering that exceeds the abilities of many of the construction professionals of the time.
From the spectacular main square to the Government House, the Twelve Angle Stone, The Inca wall, Santa Clara Arch, and the nearby famous Machu Picchu, there’s a lot to see in Cusco.
This article focuses on the landscape of Cusco to give you an idea of what to expect when you visit Cusco. There’s nothing that can completely prepare you for the beautiful sights in Cusco. It’s one thing to see pictures or read about them online and another thing entirely to see the sights in person.
Where Is Cusco Located?
Cusco (also spelled Cuzco) is the capital city of the department of the same name (Department of Cusco). The city of Cusco is located in the heart of the department deep in the center of the Peruvian mountain range. Referred to as the “navel of the world” by the Incas, Cusco city was the capital of the ancient Incan Empire.
The Department of Cusco is located in Southern Peru and borders the Departments of Arequipa and Pino to the South while Departments Junín and Ucayali border Cusco to the North. Madre de Dios borders Cusco to the east while the departments of Apurímac and Ayacucho limit it to the West.
What Is The Landscape Like Around Cusco?
The landscape of Cusco is diverse, consisting of lagoons, mountains, and rivers. Overall, the landscape is rough as Andean valleys combine with imposing mountains. The average elevation of the city is around 11,159 feet (3,400 m). The major rivers that provide water are the Huancaro, Chunchullmayo, Huantanay, and the tributaries of Vilcanota.
Main Mountain Ranges In Cusco
The Cusco region has a number of mountains with the most popular ones being the Salkantay and Ausangate mountains.
Salkantay Mountain, which towers at 6,271 meters above sea level, means “Wild Mountain” in Quechua and the snowy top of the mountain seems to be closer to the heavens than to Earth. You can hike at the foot of the mountain and the hike is a good alternative to the famous Inca trail to Machu Picchu. Expect to see incredible scenery as the Salkantay trail has beautiful flora, glacial lagoons, plateaus, and streams. The most exciting fauna here is the Andean Condor, the world’s largest flying bird. The Condor is currently endangered and Peru is one of the few places where you can see these majestic birds.
Ausangate Mountain is another beautiful mountain in the Cusco area. The hike is more suitable for moderate to experienced hikers and the experience is superb. You’ll see several large lagoons with bright or green colors as well as the eternal beauty of snow at the summit. Camelids such as llamas, vicunas, and alpacas can be found also be found on the trails.
Other mountain ranges in Cusco include:
- Pumasillo – 6 070 meters above sea level – 19 915 feet.
- Lasunáyoc – 6 000 meters above sea level – 19 685 feet.
- Sacsaráyoc – 5 900 meters above sea level – 19 357 feet.
- Panta – 5 667 meters above sea level – 18 592 feet.
The Sacred Valley of The Incas
The Sacred Valley, also referred to as the Urubamba Valley, is a lush green valley in the Cusco region that was incredibly valuable during the Incan Empire for its fertility.
Several Inca ruins can be found around the valley as well as small villages and towns in the valley. Explore the ruins and local communities while immersing yourself in the culture of the people. If you are the adventurous type, you’ll have tons of fun whitewater rating or mountain biking in the valley. There are several operators that provide white river rafting and mountain biking tours in the area.
If you are feeling even more adventurous, you can go paragliding and experience incredible scenes of the entire sacred valley. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have any paragliding experience, operators organize tandem paragliding trips for tourists.
What Is The Landscape of Machu Picchu?
Machu Picchu is the unrivaled top tourist destination in Peru. The 15th-century citadel has a cloud forest environment and a diverse landscape that consists of a jungle brow and a deep canyon. Flora and fauna found here consist of tropical plants, camelids like llamas, the spectacled bear, Andean deer, and several species of birds and butterflies.
What Is The Rainbow Mountain?
Rainbow Mountain is located just three hours away from Cusco City in the Peruvian Andes. The mountain is becoming increasingly popular for its multiple colors that are reminiscent of a rainbow. The beautiful multiple colors we see on the mountain are due to the sediment of minerals and Rainbow Mountain was only recently discovered after the snow that used to cover the surface of the mountain melted away.
Seasons In Cusco
Cusco has two seasons and these are the dry season May to October and the rainy season which is between November and April. Rainfall tends to be sporadic during the rainy season due to the location of the city in the Andes mountains. Some days may see an hour of rainfall while others may have heavy downpours. It tends to rain more heavily between late November and April, so you should avoid visiting during this period if possible.
The best time to visit Cusco is between May and August as the weather is dry and great for exploring the outdoors. However, this is also the peak season and prices of accommodation will shoot up. You may even have to book in advance to get fair deals.
If you are hoping to beat the crowd, the best time to visit is just before the peak season in May or after the peak season in September or November before the rains begin. The weather at these times is good and you’ll get good deals on hotels as the city, and Peru in general, will be less crowded.