Peru | This Lesser-Known Latin American City With Ancient Ruins Is Seeing Record Tourism

This Lesser-Known Latin American City With Ancient Ruins Is Seeing Record Tourism

2024-05-17

Latin America is becoming increasingly popular among American travelers as they shed their reservations and challenge the stereotype of the 'dangerous' and 'risky' Global South perpetuated by mainstream media. From the vibrant streets of Mexico City to the sandy shores of Rio de Janeiro, they are rediscovering the rich heritage and diverse cultures of the region, warmly welcomed by friendly locals eager to share their hospitality.

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One destination that has been relatively overlooked but is now undergoing a resurgence in tourism is Cusco:

Record Increase In Tourism This Year

 
Historic Colonial Cathedral | Cusco | Peru
 

Cusco stands as the cultural hub of Peru, holding the title of the country's premier tourist destination. In the first quarter of 2024, it welcomed 121,000 visitors, solidifying its position as the second most significant tourism region in Peru, according to the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism.

Remarkably, Cusco has witnessed a remarkable 67% increase in arrivals compared to the previous year, surpassing any other destination in Peru. The bustling streets filled with international crowds and the youthful atmosphere in local hostels testify to its emergence as one of Latin America's trendiest destinations.

Market | Cusco | Peru


Despite not enjoying the same level of popularity as Medellin in Colombia or Buenos Aires in Argentina for city breaks, Cusco has rapidly gained momentum. The question arises: how has this relatively lesser-known Andean city captivated so much attention in such a short span?

Several factors contribute to this phenomenon, which we will delve into shortly. Nonetheless, one key aspect is that Cusco offers a veritable playground for enthusiasts of culture and history.

It's One Of The Oldest Cities In The Entire Americas

 
 

To begin with, Cusco holds the distinction of being one of the oldest cities in the Americas, with its origins dating back to as early as 1100 AD, a time coinciding with the height of the European Middle Ages. It was founded by a sophisticated Peruvian civilization capable of constructing fortified cities, grand imperial palaces, and centers of learning.

This civilization, known as the Incas, established Cusco as the capital of their expansive empire, which encompassed vast stretches of the Sacred Valley and included the renowned Machu Picchu, a site that continues to attract throngs of tourists seeking a pilgrimage experience.

The arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century brought significant transformations to Cusco. This included the imposition of a European-style urban layout characterized by a central square and cathedral serving as focal points for gatherings, alongside the establishment of commercial districts and colonial mansions, which replaced the once elaborate Incan temples.

The Very Best Of Both Worlds

 
Panoramic view of Cusco historic center
Photo: javarman3
 

Putting the grim history of colonization aside, Cusco represents a harmonious blend of native Peruvian and European settler influences, reminiscent of the cultural amalgamation seen in Mexico City after the Aztec-Spanish encounter or the multicultural ambiance of Merida following interactions between the Mayans and Europeans.

Famously dubbed the 'Rome of the Americas', the Old Town of Cusco, recognized by UNESCO, is a sight to behold. Its enchanting streets, starting from the colonial Plaza de Armas and ascending toward picturesque alleys adorned with terracotta-roofed, modest houses, are a testament to its charm.

Within this cityscape lies Spanish-built monuments, repurposed from the remnants of conquered Incan forts, creating a unique architectural landscape blending Baroque styles with indigenous elements. Additionally, Cusco offers a tantalizing culinary experience that reflects the diverse cultural heritage of modern-day Peru.

Local cuisine, featuring an array of chilies, quinoa, and corn-based dishes, is a draw in itself. No visit to Cusco is complete without exploring the vibrant local markets to sample delights like a chicha sandwich or a savory tamale, all of which can be enjoyed at affordable eateries scattered throughout the city.

It's Ridiculously Affordable

 

When it comes to affordability, Cusco stands out as one of the most budget-friendly cultural destinations in Latin America:

Whether you're traveling on a tight budget or have more to spend, you'll find Cusco easy on the wallet. Street delicacies typically range from $1 to $3, while full restaurant meals remain affordable at $5 to $10.

Accommodation options cater to various budgets as well. For instance, a night at the centrally located Dreams Boutique Hotel in Downtown Cusco, just a 16-minute walk from Plaza de Armas, will cost you only $46 in August. Even a stay at the luxurious 5-star historic Palacio Manco Capac by Ananay, offering stunning views of the Old Town and surrounding Andean peaks, comes at a reasonable $154 per night.

For the budget-conscious traveler, centrally located hostels offer dormitory beds starting at an astonishingly low $5, putting you within walking distance of all the city's attractions.

Considering a one-week trip to Cusco for a single traveler, opting for three-star hotels and dining at local eateries rather than upscale, dollarized restaurants, the total cost comes to just $353. To put that into perspective, this amount might barely cover expenses for a weekend getaway to New York City during low season—making Cusco an exceptionally affordable destination by comparison.

Is Cusco Safe?

 
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Latin America has got a bad rep in recent decades for being a crime hotspot, and we'll keep it real with you: it's no… Switzerland.

The media is right, to a certain extent, when they point out that violent crimes occur at a higher rate in select cities or that corruption is endemic, pervading several sectors of society from politicians high up down to merchants in street markets that sell overpriced trinkets to naive tourists.

That being said, not one Latin American destination is like the other, and risks vary dramatically depending on where you are in the continent.

In Cusco, violence is not that big of a concern for visitors—it's an unusually peaceful mid-size city compared to its Latin counterparts—but they must watch out for pickpockets and scammers.

Peru as a whole is fairly peaceful, with U.S. authorities considering it a Level 2 destination.

In non-technical terms, you should simply exercise greater caution in specific situations, such as avoiding deserted areas at night, watching out for bag snatchers in crowds, and avoiding showing signs of wealth.

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