Cusco the capital city of the Incas.
June 18, 2014 – June 21, 2014
After our long bus ride, we finally arrived in the sacred heartland of the Incas, and the city of Cusco their ancient capital. The city, set high in the mountains is like no other we have been in before. A modern tourist trap of hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, tourists and pilgrimaging hippies from around the world, and of course an endless sea of overpriced trinket and souvenir shops. All built right over the ancient Inca ruins that are still plainly visible throughout the city. Often 1000 year old Inca stone foundations have been incorporated right into the modern buildings built atop them, with often noticeably less quality… Inca stone floors and walls are everywhere and look just as perfect as the day they were built.
After dropping off our stuff at our hostel we went out to explore the city, starting with the famous Plaza de Armas, packed with tourists and locals selling souvenirs. One thing you may notice around the city, and indeed all around Peru is the rainbow flag. At first it may be mistaken as the international symbol of the gay community, but here it represents the legacy of the Inca empire.
The crowded Plaza de Armas, Cusco.
Inca ruins are plainly visible throughout the city, many streets and alleys are lined with Inca walls, often with newer buildings built right atop them. Everything from homes, souvenir shops and restaurants have first floor walls built entirely from Inca stonework. However if you want to see more than just the recycled walls you can visit the Qorikancha ruins which are right in the middle of the city. This ancient palace was mostly destroyed by the Spanish when they arrived. As we have found from our travels through most of South America, the beautiful stonework was often destroyed by the conquistadors in their infinite wisdom and any prominent structures were usually turned into churches. The same is true for Qorikancha, much of the structure was demolished by the Spaniards but the lower foundations and walls were so strong they remained and were incorporated into the lower floors of the church that the Spanish built in the palaces place. In many places you can see the fine stonework of the Incas with the best efforts of the Spanish right atop.
**Side note, one of the reasons Machu Picchu is so well preserved is because it was unknown to the Spanish conquistadors and they were not able to destroy it in their paranoia of any structure not Christian in nature.
Close up of the Inca stonework, you cannot fit a piece of paper between them anywhere.
The church built atop the ruins, you can plainly see the gray Inca stonework towards the bottom of the church.
Inca stonework throughout the city
You don’t have to visit any ruins or museums to see the Inca ruins, nearly every street around the plaza has evidence of Inca stonework.
There are plenty of markets around the city, and street food options. We randomly hit the Corpus Christi festival, which occurs the ninth Thursday after Easter. The traditional dish served for this festival is chiriuchu, which includes guinea pig, chicken, sausage, seaweed, something similar to corn bread and beef. We stopped to try some. We also enjoyed fresh made juices and a meal at the Mercado de San Pedro .
One evening we met up with Gary, our friend from the Huayhuash hike, for dinner, since he was also in town. We agreed to meet him at a plaza near his hotel, and it turned out to be full of endless food stands serving the exact same dish, chiriuchu for the festival. Since we had all tried chiriuchu, we opted to grab something else to eat at a restaurant.
There are many museums around Cusco, besides the Qorikancha ruins the Inca Museum is worth a visit.
Ruins Around Cusco
There are hundreds of ruins spread out through the Incan sacred valley and beyond which surrounds Cusco, the most famous of which is of course Machu Picchu. There are also dozens of tourist agencies offering trips to most of the ruins, while most can be seen on your own cheaper by using public transportation, the tourist agencies make it very easy for people who do not want to have to worry about planning, bus schedules and train schedules.
Being on a budget we arranged our own trip to Machu Picchu, and after Cusco we were on our way to the small town of Ollantaytambo and the train that goes straight to Machu Picchu!