Because of its altitude and complexity, Cusco is best experienced after having visited the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. Most of the city can be seen in two days, though many travelers stay here for a week or two, using Cusco as a base for trekking, adventure sports, and jungle trips. Cusco’s boleto turístico gets you into many of the major sites in and around Cusco and the Sacred Valley for US$45.Avoid the last week in July when Peru’s hotels are often booked solid for Peru’s Fiestas Patrias celebration around July 28.
Most city attractions are clustered close to the Plaza de Armas and nearby squares Plaza Regocijo and Plaza San Francisco. There are plenty of tourist services along Avenida del Sol, which heads down toward the bus terminal and airport. For a quieter experience, head uphill on the narrow cobbled streets to San Blas, a neighborhood blissfully removed from the noise and traffic of the center. Even though cars still try to squeeze along San Blas’s narrow streets, it’s comparatively quiet in this area. Getting around town on your own two feet is easy enough for the majority of the city sights, but outlying sights such as Sacsayhuamán and other ruins outside the city require a taxi, bus, or guided tour, though hiking back downhill into Cusco is an enjoyable way to return.
The most popular time to visit Cusco is during the driest and sunniest season May-August, and the best weather is in June and July. Avoid the last week in July when Peru’s hotels are often booked solid for Peru’s Fiestas Patrias celebration around July 28. An increasing number of visitors are enjoying the solitude of Cusco during the rainy season November-March, but it can get very wet, particularly at lower altitude sights such as Machu Picchu, and the Inca Trail closes completely during February. The “shoulder months” of April, May, September, and October are in between the dry and rainy seasons. You’ll find generally good weather during these months and few crowds.
Cusco is not a particularly dangerous city, but you should still keep your wits about you. Be careful in the area around San Pedro market and, in particular, around the bus terminal. Avoid wandering into any of the poor neighborhoods on the hills. Assaults have occasionally been reported in San Blas at night, so avoid walking alone in deserted side streets. Taxi hijackings, where taxi drivers kidnap and rob their unsuspecting clients, also happen from time to time in Cusco. Never take an unmarked cab; it’s preferable to ask your hotel or restaurant to call a taxi rather than hailing one on the street.
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Machu Picchu.