The ruins and the beautiful Plaza de Armas get all the attention in Cusco, and they’re certainly going to be the first things that you check off your to-do list. After you have explored some of the remarkable sites in and around Cusco, though, head to the museums to get a better understanding of Inca history and customs. Here’s our guide to the best museums in Cusco to check out before you leave the sacred land of the Incas.
Museo de Arte Precolombino
Located inside an Inca ceremonial house that dates back to 1450 AD, this is Peru’s only museum dedicated to ancient Peruvian art. Inside you’ll find a collection of 450 pieces that date from 1250 BC to 1532 AD. The artworks are all from Lima’s Museo Larco’s storage collection, and descriptions in various languages help to give you a fuller picture and understanding of the people who created them.
This is without a doubt the best museum dedicated to the Incas, and it’s only a block from the Plaza de Armas. In it you’ll find gold and metal work, pottery, ceremonial jewelry, textiles, and mummies. The museum also explains the cultural significance and importance of coca leaves to the Incas. It is a good place to start in any attempt to gain a better understanding of the Incas and their culture.
Museo de Historia Natural
The natural history museum offers visitors a view of the animals and birds – and especially the snakes – that call the various regions of Peru home. You find a whole range of interesting stuffed animals here.
Iglesia y Monasterio de Santa Catalin
Stretch your legs as you take a walk around this church, admiring the architecture and art. La Inglesia has an impressive collection of colonial paintings representative of the Cusco school of art. While the church may seem like an exhibit, nuns still live here and take care of the grounds.
Museo de la Coca
At this museum you can gain a better understanding of the Andean tradition of coca, and how Peruvians’ relationship to the coca plant is different than its now insidious representation would have you believe. The exhibits are in both English and Spanish and will give you a history of coca use from Inca times right up to the present-day narco wars.
Museo Machu Picchu
This museum exhibits the artifacts that were won back in the decades-long battle with Yale over Hiram Bingham’s stolen artifacts from Machu Picchu. The exhibition also houses more Inca artifacts that were discovered during the excavations of the Casa Concha, where the actual museum is housed.
Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporáneo
This small art museum showcases the artwork of contemporary Andean artists and gives them a space to continue to produce their art. The museum is not grand by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s good to check out the contemporary art being made today, and it’s included in your boleto turístico (a ticket that covers entry to a number of tourist sites).