Cusco City (also spelled Cuzco), the famous capital of the Inca Empire and gateway to the imperial city of Machu Picchu, is one of the undisputed highlights of a visit to South America. With its stone streets and building foundations laid by the Incas more than 5 centuries ago, the town is also surprisingly dynamic. Enlivened by throngs of travellers have transformed the historic centre around the Plaza de Armas into a centre for South American adventurers.
Cusco City is one of those rare places that seems to be able to preserve a unique character and appeal despite its prominence on the international tourism scene. Cusco City was the Inca empire’s holy city, and it was also the focal point of the legendary network of roads connecting all points in the empire. The Spanish conquistadors knew that to take control of the region, it was essential to topple the capital city. This feat was accomplished after an epic battle at Sacsayhuamán.
Although the Spaniards tore down most Inca buildings and monuments, the found in many cases, that the structures were so well engineered that they built upon the very foundations of Inca Cusco. Many perfectly constructed Inca stone walls, examples of unrivalled stonemasonry, still stand. After a devastating earthquake in 1650, Cusco Citybecame a largely baroque city. The city showcases many layers of history.
Qoricancha,Templo del Sol and Santo Domingo
Plazoleta Santo Domingo, Qoricancha and Santo Domingo together form perhaps the most vivid illustration in Cusco of Andean culture’s collision with Western Europe. Like the Great Mosque in Córdoba, Spain — where Christians dared to build a massive church within the perfect Muslim shrine – the temple of one culture sits atop and encloses the other. The extraordinarily crafted Temple of the Sun was the most sumptuous temple in the Inca Empire and the apogee of the Incas’ naturalistic belief system. Hours Mon to Sat 8:30am – 5:30pm; Sun 2 – 5pm. Prices not included in boleto turístico; Admission $1.70 adults, 85¢ students.
Plaza de Armas (north side), No phone. Built on the site of the palace of the Inca Viracocha, Cusco’s cathedral is a beautiful religious and artistic monument, and it recently completed a massive restoration ahead of schedule. Completed in 1669 in the Renaissance style, the cathedral possesses some 400 canvasses of the distinguished Escuela Cusqueña that were painted from the 16th to 18th centuries. There are also amazing woodcarvings, including the spectacular cedar choir stalls. Hours Mon-Sat 10 – 11:30am and 2 – 5:30pm; Sun 2-5pm. Admission is included in the boleto turístico (tourist ticket) which you can purchase from the Oficina de Información Turística in town.
Museo de Arte Precolombino
Casa Cabrera, Plaza de las Nazarenas s/n. A new and sumptuously designed addition to the Cusco cultural landscape, this archaeological museum features part of the vast collection of pre-Columbian works belonging to the Rafael Larco Herrera Museum in Lima. Housed in an erstwhile Inca ceremonial court, Santa Clara convent, and later colonial mansion (Casa Cabrera) of the Conquistador Alonso Díaz are 450 pieces — about 1% of the pieces in storage at the museum in Lima — dating from 1250 B.C. to A.D. 1532. Halls exhibit gold and silver handicrafts, jewellery, ceramics, and other artefacts depicting the rich traditions from the Nasca, Moche, Huari, Chimú, Chancay, and Inca cultures.
Although the number of pieces isn’t overwhelming, they are all beautifully lighted and displayed. Scattered about are comments about “primitive” art by major Western artists such as Paul Klee, and deviating from the museum’s main thrust is a room of Cusqueña School religious painting. The museum is especially worthwhile for anyone unable to visit the major museums in Lima. Allow 1 or 2 hours for your visit. Within the courtyard, housed in a minimalist glass box, is MAP Café, one of Cusco’s finest restaurants.
Exploring the Ruins
Just outside Cuzco. The best way to see the following set of Inca ruins just outside Cusco is as part of a half-day tour. The hardy might want to approach it as an athletic archaeological expedition: If you’ve got 15km (9 1/4 miles) of walking and climbing at high altitude in you, it’s a beautiful trek. Otherwise, you can walk to Sacsayhuamán and nearby Q’enko (the climb from the Plaza de Armas is strenuous and takes 30-45 min.), and take a colectivo or taxi to the other sites.
Alternatively, you can take a Pisac/Urubamba minibus (leaving from the bus station at Calle Intiqhawarina, off Av. Tullumayo, or Huáscar 128) and tell the driver you want to get off at Tambomachay, the ruins farthest from Cusco, and work your way back on foot. Admission is to these ruins are included in boleto turístico (tourist ticket) which you can purchase from the Tourist Offices in town.
Cusco Useful Info
Time Zone: GMT -5
Religion: Predominantly Roman Catholic 92.5%
Emergency #: 011 / 5114
Driving side: Drive on the right
Altitud: 3,400 msnm.
Temporada : between april and september