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The World Heritage Site of Cusco is packed with history and culture – as well as plenty of lively nightlife. From the rooftop bars of the central square, Plaza de Armas, you can take in views of the Andes mountains and the city's famously steep roads. Along any of these streets, you'll find a colourful fusion of colonial and Inca architecture interspersed with modern Peruvian buildings. And at 3,400 metres, it's the ideal base to acclimatise before doing the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
There are more than 100 hostels in Cusco, which means lots of young travellers and a buzzing atmosphere. Happy hours at the on-site bars and restaurants serving local food are right at the heart of it. You can pick from dorms or private rooms, and at many Cusco hostels you'll wake up to a free breakfast. Whether you're chilling in the gardens of a converted colonial casa or on the terrace of a 500-year-old mansion, you'll find new trekking buddies and home comforts such as free Wi-Fi. You'll even find one Cusco hostel that claims to have South America's biggest Irish bar! Discover the best hostels in Cusco here.
Cusco's neighbourhoods each have a distinctive character. To be in the heart of the city, choose a hostel near Plaza de Armas. In this thriving central district, there are museums, shops and nightlife. The popular area of San Blas is the artisan quarter, where craft stalls line the cobbled streets. If it's living history you're after, choose a hostel in Santa Ana. On patron saints days, the streets of Cusco's oldest neighbourhood come alive with dancers and floats.
Any itinerary should take in the compact, historic centre, and free walking tours are a great way to explore. Be sure to head down Hatun Rumiyoc, a preserved Inca road and home to the famous Twelve-angled Stone. In the Plaza de Armas, visit Cusco Cathedral to see the crypts and an unusual painting of the Last Supper, featuring an Andean chinchilla. About 30 minutes outside Cusco is the historical capital of the Inca empire, Saqsaywamán, a UNESCO site. Or, for something a little more off-beat, catch a bus to the terraced hillsides and ancient aqueducts of Tipón, part of the Sacred Valley which attracts fewer visitors than the better-known Machu Picchu.
Cusco's Alejandro Velasco Astete airport takes domestic flights and one route from La Paz, Bolivia. It's a 10-minute bus journey from Cusco. However, most travellers arrive by bus, and different companies operate between Cusco and Lima, Arequipa or Puno. All arrive into Terminal Terrestre, a 10-minute walk from the centre. While most sites in the city are walkable, you can get to Saqsaywamán by bus from Terminal Terrestre.