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The stately and lively Plaza de Armas, lined by arcades and carved wooden balconies, and framed by the Andes, is the focal point of Cusco. After Machu Picchu, it is one of the most familiar sights in Peru. You will cross it, relax on the benches in its center, and pass under the porticoes that line the square with shops, restaurants, travel agencies, and bars innumerable times during your stay in Cusco. The plaza -- which was twice its present size in Inca days -- has two of Cusco's foremost churches and the remains of original Inca walls on the northwest side of the square, thought to be the foundation of the Inca Pachacútec's palace.

Many principal sights within the historic quarter of Cusco and beyond the city are included in the boleto turístico, but a few very worthwhile places of interest, such as the Templo del Qoricancha (Temple of the Sun) and Museo de Arte Precolombino (MAP), are not included.

Cusco's Boleto Turístico

Cusco's municipal tourism (Calle Mantas 117-A) office sells a tourist ticket, or boleto turístico, that is virtually essential for visiting the city and surrounding areas. It is your admission to 16 of the most important places of interest in and around Cusco, including some of the major draws in the Sacred Valley. Though it has more than doubled in price in the last few years and is no longer much of a bargain, the boleto is the only way you can get into a number of churches, museums and ruins sites. The full ticket costs S/130 for adults and S/70 students with ID and children, is valid for 10 days, and is available at the tourism office at Mantas 117-A (tel. 084/263-176), open Monday through Friday from 8am to 6:30pm and Saturday from 8am to 2pm.

In addition to the main Tourist Office, the boleto can be purchased at OFEC, Av. El Sol 103, office 101 (Galerías Turísticas; tel. 084/227-037), from 8am to 6pm Monday through Saturday, and Casa Garcilaso, at the corner of Garcilaso y Heladeros s/n (tel. 084/226-919), from 8am to 5pm Monday through Friday, and 8am to 4pm Saturday.

The full boleto allows admission to the following sights: in Cusco, Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporáneo, Museo Histórico Regional, Museo de Sitio Qoricancha, Museo de Arte Popular, Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo, Monumento al Inka Pachacuteq; the nearby Inca ruins of Sacsayhuamán, Q'enko, Pukapukara, Tambomachay, Pikillacta, and Tipón; and the Valle Sagrado attractions of Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Chinchero.

La Catedral, the imposing cathedral on the Plaza de Armas, formerly included in the boleto, now charges a separate admission fee (although there is a combination ticket that covers the cathedral and other principal Cusco attractions not covered by the boleto, including Templo de San Blas, Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, and Palacio Arzobispal, for S/50 adults, S/25 students).

Not all of these attractions are indispensable, and you probably won't end up checking off absolutely everything on your color photo-coded boleto, but it remains the best admission ticket in Cusco. You can also buy a partial ticket for S/70 that only covers either attractions in the city, or ruins outside of Cusco. Make sure you carry the ticket with you when you're planning to make visits (especially on day trips outside the city), as guards will demand to see it so that they can punch a hole alongside the corresponding picture. Students must also carry their International Student Identification Card (ISIC), as guards often demand to see that ID to prove that they didn't fraudulently obtain a student boleto. For additional information, visit www.boletoturisticocusco.com.

The Cusco School of Art

The colonial-era Escuela Cusqueña, or Cusco School of Art, that originated in the ancient Inca capital was a synthesis of traditional Spanish painting with local, mestizo elements -- not surprising, perhaps, because its practitioners were themselves of mixed blood. Popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, the style spread from Cusco as far as Ecuador and Argentina. The most famous members of the school were Diego Quispe Tito, Juan Espinosa de los Monteros, and Antonio Sinchi Roca, even though the authors of a large majority of works associated with the school are anonymous. Most paintings were devotional in nature, with richly decorative surfaces. Artists incorporated recognizable Andean elements into their oil paintings, such as local flora and fauna, customs, and traditions -- one depiction of the Last Supper has the apostles feasting on guinea pig and drinking maize beer -- and representations of Jesus looking downward, like the Indians who were forbidden to look Spaniards in the eye. Original Escuela Cusqueña works are found in La Catedral, the Convent of Santa Catalina, the Museum of Religious Art, and a handful of other churches in Cusco. Reproductions of original paintings, ranging from excellent in quality to laughable, are available across Cusco, particularly in the galleries and shops of San Blas.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.