The capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco, has a lot to offer, even though the empire fell more than five hundred years ago. In the center of the Peruvian Andes, Cusco stands as a city that has combined the indigenous and specifically Inca past, with the Spanish and finally the Peruvian, so in the city there are many things to see and do that tourists love.
Because in Cusco there is such a remarkable source of cultural syncretism, museums have flourished. In the city there are many religious, archaeological, regional and even coca museums. Many of them are included in the best tours of Cusco. Do you dare to visit some of these wonderful museums?
1. Museum of Religious Art
Cusco is known throughout the world for the Inca power, but the Spanish religious domain left its mark on the city. The Museum of Religious Art is a beautiful space where you can enjoy the colonial past of the city, from the Catholic point of view.
The best of this museum is that you will know the Archbishop's Palace of Cusco, where is located the world famous Stone of the 12 angles, a diorite rock that has twelve angles that fit in perfect harmony with the rest of the surrounding rocks. This is a sample of the complexity of Inca architecture and you will surely want to take a picture in front of the stone.
Once inside the museum, you can admire the best colonial religious paintings, with a collection that also includes carvings and altarpieces with gilded inlays. In the Corpus Christi Hall you will find twelve canvases that will dazzle you, but you can also see regional wonders in the Golden Hall, the Zodiac Hall and the Orchard Hall, among others. Are you going to miss the opportunity to visit this magnificent building?
- Location: Herrajes 38, Cusco 08002, Peru.
- Price: about 6 €.
- Hours: 8 am to 6 pm, Monday to Saturday. Closed on Sundays.
2. Cusco Cathedral Museum
One of the most imposing colonial works of the city is the cathedral of Cusco and you can buy tickets to visit its museum. This church built in the early sixteenth century with a small chapel is formally known as the Basilica of the Virgin of the Assumption. It is a long and imposing church that was built on the same site where the Incas had their government palace, in what is a sign of colonial rule.
To get to the cathedral and its respective museum, you only have to be in front of the Plaza de Armas of Cusco. In truth, the cathedral is a complex, which includes the Temple of El Triunfo, the first chapel that was erected as a cathedral and the Temple of the Holy Family. All this means that within the complex there are 11 chapels that took almost a century and a half to finish.
When you are in the museum part, you can see colonial liturgical elements, as well as paintings and carvings from that era, particularly from the 17th and 18th centuries. One of the most beautiful is the canvas of The Last Supper, a work by Marcos Zapata. Also the anonymous El Señor de los Temblores is a favorite of tourists. The idea when you are here is to have a great panorama of colonial architecture and art, in a memorable place.
- Location: Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru.
- Price: around 6,5 €.
- Hours: daily from 10 am to 6 pm.
3. Museum of Pre-Columbian Art
Despite all the colonial influence, Cusco is actually known throughout the world for having been the capital of the Inca empire, with all that implies. The Museum of Pre-Columbian Art is the main museum of its kind in the city and it houses more than 400 pieces of art in a phenomenal site, which is the Casona Cabrera, right in the center of the city. This museum depends on the BBVA Foundation and its collection belongs to the Larco Museum of Lima.
Most of the museum rooms are divided according to the material of the artwork. There are rooms dedicated to wood, shells, silver and gold, but there are also others that try to show according to the archaeological pieces according to the regions of Peru: south, north and center. Finally, there are other rooms dedicated to explaining the historical evolution of the pre-Columbian world: the origins, before the Incas and the Inca imperial expansion.
The composition of this museum will make your tour through it like a trip to pre-Columbian America, where the different indigenous empires fought for power with great cultural symbolism. Here you can see pieces at least 3 thousand years old, in a beautiful building like the Casa Cabrera, which before the colony was a school of the nobility of the Incas. For all this, it is one of the best activities to do in Cusco.
- Location: Plaza de las Nazarenas 231, Cusco.
- Price: For foreigners, the general admission is about 5 €. Foreign students, half price.
- Hours: daily from 8 am to 10 pm.
4. Inka Museum
Want to stay in the pre-Hispanic vibe? The National University of San Antonio Abad del Cusco offers locals and tourists a beautiful museum dedicated to specifically Inca art. Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire, one of the most important in all of pre-Columbian history and this museum recognizes the importance of this empire in the regional and global context.
This is not a very large museum, so you can do a good tour in an hour, unless you are too detailed. The idea of this museum is to show you how life was lived in the Inca Empire, with a lot of emphasis on ceramics, instruments and real mummies, where you can see how the Incas treated death.
The archaeological findings of this museum are usually from the Cusco region, so it is also a regional museum where even skulls of ancient inhabitants of the Inca empire and who lived in that area are shown. Do you dare to know these mummies and other works?
- Location: Cuesta Almirante Nº 103, Cusco, Peru.
- Price: around 4 €.
- Hours: Monday to Friday, 8:00 am to 6:00 pm and holidays from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.
5. Museum of Contemporary Art
It is well known that Cusco is a city and department known worldwide for its pre-Hispanic influence, but it is not the only type of art you can see in this city. The Museum of Contemporary Art of Cusco, founded in 1995, is one of the most modern in all of Peru and was founded on the initiative of the mayor's office. In fact, the museum is located on the premises of the Municipal Palace.
Practically all the works of art in the Museum of Contemporary Art are from the twentieth century and there are more than 300, which allows them to have more than 50 temporary exhibitions every year. Most of them are focused on Peruvian artists, but being Cusco such a touristic city, this museum usually receives different Latin American events of contemporary art.
The museum has mainly three exhibition halls, so you can easily walk through it in about 45 minutes and then continue with your day. Don't forget to take pictures with the works of Edilberto Mérida Rodríguez or with the paintings of Remigia Mendoza or Francisco Olazo.
- Location: Calle Espinar 270, Cusco 08002, Peru.
- Price: Most of the time there is no entrance fee.
- Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Saturday.
6. Museum of Monastic Life of the Monastery of Santa Catalina of Cuzco
Religious life is always captivating for those who love history and culture. In Cusco, there is a museum dedicated to monastic life, which is located in the majestic Monastery of Santa Catalina. This monastery was built in 1601 over an Inca construction, of which some columns and walls are still preserved.
Inside the monastery, a museum with permanent exhibition was created in 1971. At first, the idea was to show the life of the cloistered nuns throughout history, as well as the artistic productions of the nuns themselves. However, this concept changed and today the museum includes a beautiful collection of colonial religious art, as well as popular art.
The canvases with religious images are the most notable, but there are also sculptures and even crockery used by the nuns. At times, these permanent or temporary exhibits can take a back seat to the enormous beauty of the monastery, with its captivating architecture, which will take you back to the colonial past and the quietness of a convent.
- Location: Calle Santa Catalina, 401, Cusco.
- Price: about 2 €. If you are a university student, you pay half price.
- Hours: Monday to Saturday, 8:30 am to 5:30 pm.
7. Museum of the Convent of the Temple of St. Francis
In front of the Plaza de San Francisco in Cusco is the Temple and Convent of San Francisco, one of the most iconic of the entire Altiplanic city. Originating in 1534, the Spanish Franciscan friars who arrived in the city gave birth to this beautiful church, which was destroyed in 1645 and rebuilt in 1652.
This church is really important in Cusco, because along with its convent, it became one of the main religious symbols of the city. Inside the convent, in the cloister, a giant canvas is exhibited, called the Epilogue of the Franciscan order in a tree with twelve branches. According to some experts, it is the largest painting in the entire continent and it would be one of the oldest in the city, because it shows the evolution of the members of the order until the 17th century.
Besides this canvas, there are many other works such as sculptures, carvings, religious figures, crypts and a huge amount of colonial paintings, mainly with Christian motifs, but with many links to the indigenous world. Are you going to miss the opportunity to see the largest painting in the continent?
- Location: in front of San Francisco square.
- Price: just over 1 €.
- Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Sunday.
8. Coca Museum
Although all over the world coca is related to drugs, the truth is that this is an ancient plant that in the Inca world has had an extremely strong meaning, which has remained present in history. Coca related to the industrial drug is only a small part of this plant and if you go to the Coca Museum in Cusco, you will be able to enter into its past.
Inside a beautiful colonial house, the Coca Museum has three exhibition rooms designed to show, through panels, the history of coca in this region of the Andes. Here you can learn about the indigenous origin and its magical and religious significance, as well as the scientific, cultural and social understanding of coca in Peru and Latin America.
This museum does not shy away from debate and is therefore a place for encounters. Here you can also see the many products that are made with coca, such as drinks and sweets, as well as textiles and artistic representations of coca. Are you going to miss the most controversial museum in Cusco?
- Location: Plaza San Blas 618, 2nd Level, Cusco.
- Price: about 2.5 euros. For students, the entrance fee is half.
- Hours: from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
9. Museum of the site of Coricancha
Don't let the size fool you: the Coricancha site museum is small, but it is among the most important in the region, because it is where the main archaeological findings of the pre-Columbian civilizations in the Cusco region are exhibited. Here you can see fragments of ceramics, instruments, tools and lithic pieces both Inca and pre-Inca.
In the five rooms of the museum you can also see different reconstructions from archaeological finds, so you can see what life was like before the Spaniards in the area, all based on the excavations of the site of Coricancha, which in Quechua means golden courtyard. Most of these findings were found in the late 1990s.
Other aspects that tourists like the most are the large models that reconstruct the Inca city and, specifically, Coricancha. There are also mummies and some perforations of skulls dating from the Inca period. I assure you that this archaeological site is worth a visit. If you are interested in this topic, you can also consider going to the archaeological site of Sacsayhuaman in Cusco.
- Location: Av. El Sol 526, Cusco 08002, Peru.
- Price: about 2,5 €.
- Hours: Monday to Saturday from 8 am to 5 pm, Sundays from 2 to 4 pm.
10. Regional Historical Museum - Casa Garcilaso
Many years ago, at the beginning of the 16th century, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega lived in this house. Garcilaso was one of the first mestizos of renown in the American continent, because from the letters he exalted his Inca culture, as well as the Hispanic one. In addition to his work as a writer and poet, the Inca Garcilaso owes much of the documentary record of the Inca culture and its past stories, which were part of the oral tradition.
Today, the Garcilaso house houses the Regional Historical Museum of Cusco, which is a monument and heritage of the country. This building has its origins in the Inca empire, but was rebuilt by the Spaniards and acquired by the father of Inca Garcilaso. When you are inside, you can take a walk through the thirteen permanent exhibition rooms that tell the history of the city.
Also in this museum, you will see a plurality of exhibits, as at least six rooms are dedicated to archeology, while seven others are focused on art and ethnography, mainly indigenous. This will allow you to have a varied tour where you will have plenty to choose from.
- Location: Calle Heladeros s/n, Casa del Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, Cusco.
- Price: Entrance included in the Cusco Tourist Ticket.
- Hours: Monday to Sunday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.