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.
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
Lowest point: 532 m.a.s.l. (Pilcopata)
Highest point: 4801 m.a.s.l. (Suyckutambo)
Variable in the highlands region with rain in summer. The medium temperature in the capital city is 12 ºC, the highest is 18 ºC and the minimun is around 4ºC. The highest zones have cold nights and warm mornings. The average anual temperature is 11ºC. In the jungle the temperature goes over 25ºc.
The Main Square
According to the tradition, it was traced by Manco Capac as a symbolic center of the empire. The Inas called it Huacaypata, which means “place of tears”. It was the scene of important events in the history of the city, such as the proclamation of the conquest of Cusco by Francisco Pizarro, and the execution of Tupac Amaru II, his wife Micaela Bastidas and his sons for rising up against the Spanish oppression. The Inti Raymi or Sun Festival was celebrated here evry year.
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 $5 adults, $3 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.
It is located 97 km northeast from the city of Cusco, this archaeological complex was a very important fortress city, built as a tambo (place to rest) and to control the routes to the Antisuyo (jungle), also to facilitate the protection of the great Inca capital from the attacks of its various enemies. The stone blocks used for its construction – each one with an approximate weight of 90 metric tones – were brought from quarries located 7 km away. Ollantaytambo also includes temples, towers, terraces, aqueducts and spaces with functions that have not been determined yet.
It is located in the district of Vilcabamba, on the skirts of the snowcapped mount Yanacocha, in the province of La Convencion. The highway to Abancay gets you here from Cusco. In kilometer 154 a detouris taken to the town of Cachora; there a 30 km road made on horseback or trekking takes you to archaeological center that has a importance comparable to Machu Picchu. According to the specialist, it would have been a religious, political and economic enclave – as well as a commercial and cultural link between the coast, the highlands and the jungle – built during the command of Inca Pachacutec. It is divided into nice sectors and its architecture is distributed around a large area or main square. It includes hundreds of agricultural terraces, rooms and irrigation systems.
It is located 2 km northeast from the city of Cusco (10 minutes by car). Sacsayhuaman is an outstanding architectural complex constructed using enormous carved stones, placed with a precision that still dazzles locals and strangers. Its name in Quechua mean “satisfied falcon”. According to the tradition, as the whole city can be seen from the hill in which it was built, this animal kept custody over the capital of the empire. It is believed that its main function was to serve as a military fortress, but according to diverse sources and recent investigation it can be said that it was built as a temple in honor of the sun god. Currently only 20% of the complete archaeological group can be appreciated because the Spanish conquerors took down its walls to build houses and churches in the city. The Inti Raymy or Sun Festival is celebrated here on June 24.
Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
This is the most famous and best kept route from the thousands of kilometers of trails that integrated ancient Tahuantinsuyo. It starts at kilometer marker 82 of the railroad Cusco-Machu Picchu and continus along 40 km until it reaches the archaeological complex. Its geography is rough, but it offers the tourist some of the most outstanding landscapes in the area, among forest, ravines and snow capped mountains. Trekking through it requires at least three days. Visitors are recommended to spend some days in the city of Cusco before starting the trail so that they can complete it without problems.
Machu Picchu: Wonder of the Modern World
Located 2438 m.a.s.l. and about 112 km by train, north of the city of Cusco, Machu Picchu is the most renowned symbol of the Inca’s Empire. Its name is Spanish means “Old Mountain” but these words only give us a vague idea of what this stunnig place means for our country and the world.
Machu Picchu is really a complete archaeological complex ─ what we now know as the Historical Sanctuary of Machu Picchu ─ and the citadel located on the mountain top is only the best known attraction. Though various sources point its nature as an urban complex developed throughout many years and made to shelter the Inca aristocrats, many recent studies describe it as a religious sanctuary.
Also known as the “Lost City of the Incas”, it is believed that its construction took place only 100 years before the arrival of the conquerors during the lead of Inca Pachacutec, the most brilliant statesman in the Tahuantinsuyo. The archaeological studies confirm these presumptions and include dates obtained using the Carbon-14 method, that also locates the sanctuary of Machu Picchu in the 15th Century.
Exactly the same as in the case of Sacsayhuaman, the construction of the Machu Picchu citadel meant transporting immense stones and placing them in places that seem inhospitable. The techniques used have not yet been explained convincingly by experts; nevertheless, that is not as highlighting as the fact that Machu Picchu was built in perfect conjunction with its surroundings, respecting every element in its environment and turning it into an outstanding proof of the perfect fusion of the Andean dweller with nature.
Machu Picchu ─ declared a Cultural and Natural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 1983 and considered among the seven wonders of the modern world since last year─is, without a doubt, a masterpiece of architecture and engineering. Though it was introduced to the world by Hiram Bingham, a North American archaeologist, it depends on us, Peruvian people, to keep it as one of the most popular destinies in the planet.