June 17, 2024

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Latin America is surging in popularity with American travelers now that they’re letting go of their reservations and starting to question their preconceived notion of the ‘dangerous’, ‘risky’ Global South, and how mainstream media portrays it.

Cusco Cathedral, Cusco, Peru, Latin America

From a beautiful, sprawling Mexico City down to the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, they are (re)discovering the subcontinent’s diverse heritage, falling back in love with its culture, and being greeted by friendly locals who’ll go out of their way to make they feel welcome.

One such destination that has somehow flown under the radar for most, yet is now experiencing a Tourism Reinassance, is Cusco:

Record Increase In Tourism This Year

Historic Colonial Cathedral In Cusco, Peru, Latin AmericaHistoric Colonial Cathedral In Cusco, Peru, Latin America

Cusco is the cultural capital of Peru, as well as the country’s leading destination.

It hosted 121,000 guests in the first trimester of 2024, and as confirmed by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism, it is the second most important region in the country in terms of tourism.

So far, there’s been a 67% increase in the number of arrivals year-on-year already, the most out of any destination in Peru, and if the international crowds cramming into the cobbled streets and the young clientele in local hostels are anything to go by, it is one of Latin America’s trendiest spots.

Market In Cusco, Peru, Latin AmericaMarket In Cusco, Peru, Latin America

However, Cusco is not as popular a Latin American city break as Medellin in Colombia, or Buenos Aires in Argentina, and you may be wondering how this lesser-known Andean hub has managed to gain so much traction, in such a short period of time.

There are many factors to be taken into account here, which we’ll get into in detail, but the main thing is Cusco is a literal playground for culture enthusiasts:

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

Baroque Church In Cusco, Peru, Latin AmericaBaroque Church In Cusco, Peru, Latin America

For starters, it is one of the oldest cities in the Americas.

It was settled as early as 1100, when the European Middle Ages was at its peak, by a Peruvian civilization that was developed enough to build fortified cities, imperial palaces, and centers of knowledge.

You might know them as the Incas, who made Cusco the capital of their vast empire, which included much of the so-called Sacred Valley, as well as the historic Machu Picchu, still a popular pilgrimage site for tourists visiting the region.

woman overlooking machu picchuwoman overlooking machu picchu

The arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century led to many changes, namely the introduction of a Europeanized city layout, with a central square and cathedral serving as the main meeting point, commercial zones, and colonial mansions that replaced once-ornate Incan temples.

The Very Best Of Both Worlds

Horrors of colonization aside, Cusco is the perfect marriage between the native Peruvian and European settlers, in the same way, the encounter of the Aztecs with the Spaniards gave rise to Mexico City, or the interactions between Mayans and Europeans resulted in a multicultural Merida.

Aerial View Of Cusco, Peru, Latin AmericaAerial View Of Cusco, Peru, Latin America

Nicknamed ‘Rome of the Americas’, the UNESCO-listed Old Town is an absolute marvel, with cobblestone paths that start from the colonial Plaza de Armas and run uphill towards picturesque alleys lined by terracotta-roofed, low houses.

It has Spanish-built monuments that were lifted from the ruins of conquered Incan forts, a unique cityscape characterized by Baroque and indigenous elements, and a delectable cuisine that combines both cultural traits that make up modern-day Peru.

old street in cusco peruold street in cusco peru

The local cuisine is an attraction in its own right, with a variety of chilies and quinoa, corn-based dishes—no trip to Cusco is complete without a visit to a local market to get a chicha sandwich or a savory tamale—and there’s plenty of cheap local eateries to pick from.

It’s Ridiculously Affordable

Speaking of affordability, Cusco is one of the most budget-friendly cultural destinations in Latin America:

Cusco PeruCusco Peru

Whether you’re traveling on limited funds or you’ve got a healthy budget, you’re unlikely to break the bank here when street delicacies cost $1 – $3, and full restaurant meals are still an affordable $5 – $10.

Staying at the Dreams Boutique Hotel in Downtown Cusco, a 16-minute walk from the Plaza de Armas, will also only set you back by $46 per night in August.

Meanwhile, the 5-star, historic Palacio Manco Capac by Ananay, boasting incredible views of the Old Town and the Andean peaks that surround would still cost only $154.

Guest making a card payment at a hotel check-in deskGuest making a card payment at a hotel check-in desk

The ‘young & broke’ also have a reason to rejoice, as dormitory beds in centrally-located hostels, within walking distance of all the fun, start from a shockingly-cheap $5.

Overall, the cost of a one-week trip to Cusco for a single traveler, staying in three-star hotels and eating local (as opposed to fancy, dollarized restaurants) is, believe it or not, $353: you’d probably spend that in a low-season weekend getaway to New York, and that’s a conservative estimate.

Is Cusco Safe?

Young Female Tourist Admiring A Colonial Building In Peru, Lima, South AmericaYoung Female Tourist Admiring A Colonial Building In Peru, Lima, South America

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.

Tourist woman in rainbow hat and brown poncho holding man by hand and going to the lake in the mountains in peruTourist woman in rainbow hat and brown poncho holding man by hand and going to the lake in the mountains in peru

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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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com

Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

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