The internationally recognized travel magazine Travel + Leisure (www.travelandleisure.com) recently announced the winners of their yearly “World’s best awards”.
True, these yearly competitions often are not completely unbiased but therefore not necessarily unrealistic. Personally I feel that this is definitely true for this year’s winner of the category; Best city in South America, Central America and Mexico and that would be Cusco, Peru. It cannot be denied that putting South America, Central America and Mexico into one category is not the greatest idea and that this huge region is filled with mindboggling cities full of Latin flavor (where else…). Nevertheless, as I have chosen to be an inhabitant of Cusco I can only agree with this award and would like to point out that this was already foreseen by the Inca as the name Cusco stands for “Navel of the World” in Quechua (the local native language).
Cusco is maybe best known as the main gateway for people looking to visit South America’s number one historical site Machu Picchu but the city has so much more to offer when it comes to history. Cusco is the oldest consistently inhabited city in the Americas and was the capital of the Inca Empire, the largest empire known throughout the history of this continent. The Inca Empire was very much centralized around the Cusco region, blessing the city with numerous amazing sites and constructions. A lot of these constructions were partially destroyed during the conquest of the Spanish in the 16th century but luckily many of them survived mainly due to the sheer size of the stones the Incas used in their construction. This makes that Cusco itself enjoys a unique architectonic style that is made up of colonial buildings built on top of ancient Inca foundations. The whole city of Cusco is full of original Inca walls and doorways with beautiful colonial details and balconies constructed on top. Apart from the unique city centre with its beautiful alleys and plazas, just outside Cusco one can also find several other impressive Inca sites such as the Sacsayhuaman fortress and Tambomachay. Finally Cusco also makes itself a base for visits to the Sacred Valley of the Incas were one can admire sites such as Pisac and Ollantaytambo.
The days that Cusco was a mere backpacker destination are long gone and Cusco has become one of South America’s prime luxury destinations boosting several top end 5* hotels and Spa-resorts such as the Monasterio and the Palacio Nazarenas Hotel by Orient Express and amazing exclusive suite hotels such as La Casona and La Lune. Besides the amazing selection of hotels & Spas, one can also enjoy exclusive and unique tourist services such as the Hiram Bingham train to Machu Picchu or the Andean Explorer Train to Lake Titicaca.
Dining & Drinking
Maybe not one of the best known aspects of Cusco but definitely an up-and-coming one is food. Cusco is home to typical Andean cuisine, based on potatoes, corn and meats such as pork and the famous guinea-pig. As Peru is experiencing a new found love for their food and traditions, Cusco is taking the frontline when it comes to re-inventing Andean Cuisine and has done this with success; nowadays refined versions of typical dishes from the Andean highlands can be found all over Peru. In Cusco one can find great restaurants offering amazing dishes from all over Peru but with their own typical Andean touch. Finally, when it comes to booming nightlife Cusco also has plenty to offer. Around the main square one can find several lounge bars and discos playing the hippest Latin tunes side by side with the newest hits in USA and Europe.
Cusco is home to some of the best artisanal shopping on the continent and for many women (and men) a heaven when it comes to finding great and inexpensive souvenirs for themselves or loved ones. Especially alpaca wool products and Andean art make popular souvenirs.
Cusco is a true outdoors Mecca. The region is known for some of the best hiking in the world, not only providing you with the world-wide famous hikes such as the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, but also (sometimes literally)breathtaking hikes to the foot of some of the “giants of the Andes” such as the Salkantay or Ausangate Peak. Besides hiking Cusco and the nearby Sacred Valley, these locations are also home to amazing wild-water rafting, downhill biking, rock-climbing and zip-lining.
All this makes me conclude that the selection of Cusco as the best city in South America credits the fact already known by many. It should not be a surprise that Cusco is ranked over larger cosmopolitan cities such as Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City.
A complete overview of the awards granted to Peru;
Best cities in South America, Central America & Mexico;
Rank number 1) Cusco
Rank number 8) Lima
Best Lodges in South America;
Rank number 5) Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel by Inkaterra (Machu Picchu)
Rank number 9) Sanctuary Lodge by Orient Express (Machu Picchu)
Best Hotels in South America;
Rank number 4) Monasterio Hotel by Orient Express (Cusco)
Rank number 6) J.W. Marriot (Lima)
Rank number 13) Miraflores Park Hotel by Orient Express (Lima)
Best Romantic Hotels Worldwide;
Rank number 27) El MaPi Hotel by Inkaterra (Machu Picchu)
Rank number 36) Sanctuary Lodge by Orient Express (Machu Picchu)
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