"The City of Cuzco is a unique testimony of the ancient Inca civilization, heart of Tawantinsuyu imperial government, which exercised political, religious and administrative control over much of the South American Andes between the 15th and 16th centuries. The city represents the sum of 3,000 years of indigenous and autonomous cultural development in the Peruvian southern Andes." by UNESCO
Cusco was definitely one of our biggest surprises in Peru and South America. The city was the historical capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th to the 16th century (until the Spanish conquest) and it was declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983. It has become a major tourist destination, receiving approximately 2 million visitors per year. It was also one of the most touristic places we visited in all South America, specially full of Americans, French and Germans.
The Spanish destroyed many of the Inca buildings (including temples and palaces), using the remaining walls as bases for the construction of a new city. Thus, many of the actual buildings have a mixture of Spanish influence with Inca indigenous architecture. And that's what makes this city a completely different place from other we visited in the past.
There are several things to see and do in Cusco, including:
- Plaza de Armas - Known as the "Square of the Warrior" in the Inca era, this place has been the scene of important events in the history of this city, like the proclamation of the conquest of Cusco by the Spanish and the death of Tupac Amaru II (the indigenous leader of the resistance).
- Cathedral of Cusco - This huge and magnificent cathedral was built between 1560 and 1664 using mostly stone, extracted from nearby quarries. It is a great example of the colonial architecture in the city (and in the country) from outside and inside. Although a bit expensive (25$S/person) don't forget to visit the cathedral inside - they give you a tablet and phones so you can guide yourself through this beautiful and historical cathedral.
- Qurikancha and Convent of Santo Domingo - During the Inca Empire this was the most important sanctuary dedicated to the Sun (Qurikancha = golden place). The Spanish described this place as the most precious and rich place they ever saw: "a garden of golden plants with leaves of beaten gold, stems of silver, solid gold corn-cobs and 20 life-size llamas and their herders all in solid gold". It was destroyed by them and only the structure remains. On top of that they built the St. Dominic Convent in a Renaissance style. Partial ruins can be seen from inside so don't miss this place!
- Inka Museum - The museum building rests on Inca foundations and it was the house of an important admiral from the colonial times: Admiral Francisco Aldrete Maldonado. The museum itself has a very interesting and complete collection of metal work, pottery, ceramic, textiles and jewelry. We also liked the models they have of parts of the Sacred Valley, like Pisac and Machu Picchu. Lots of explanations in Spanish and English.
- Museo Historico Regional - Another colonial building that was made a museum. Its collection is chronological organized starting with the Pre-ceramic Period and exposing artefacts from the Wari, Pukara, Inca and Nazca cultures.
- San Cristobal Church - The best here is the view of Cusco. We passed here while going down from Sacsaywamán to the city and the afternoon/night view was great!
- Mercado Central de San Pedro - Passing through Arco de Santa Clara you will find the San Pedro Central Market easily. This is simply the place where most locals go for their groceries. There's everything in this market, from pig's heads to towers of all kinds of fruit. It’s an authentic look at everyday culture! There's also a food court where you can buy prepared food (or just have lunch there!) and a few places selling crafts such as textiles and art.
- Centro Artesanal de Cusco - This is one of the best places to buy handcrafts and souvenirs in Peru. It is also one of the cheapest places you will find with a great diversity and choices.
- Monumento Pachacuteq - This is just a statue in the entrance of the city (actually in the middle of the main roundabout!).
- Barrio de San Blas - A great place to walk (if you like ups and downs!) and full of good restaurants and coffees. It is also where you will find several Inca streets.
- Museo de Arte Popular - A small museum where the winning entries in Cusco's annual Popular Art Competition are displayed. This museum gives an interesting view of life in the region and country. It would be much more interesting if there were more information in the models.
Next stop: Sacred Valley & Machu Picchu (Peru!)
- Cusco is a relatively expensive city. In South America is probably one of the most expensive places we've been!
- If you are planning to visit several historical sites in Cusco and Sacred Valley buy the 10-days Bolleto Turistico. It costs 130 Soles/person and includes some of the city museums and archeological sites like Sacsaywamán, Pisac and Ollantaytambo (we will write a post about these places later)
- Main costs: Bolleto Turistico (130S/person), Santo Domingo (15S/person), Cathedral (25S/person), Inka Museum (10S/person) - these costs do not include guide which in some places could help (specially if you don't understand Spanish).