- Altitude; 3400 meters above sea level
- Cusco translated from Quechua means “Navel of the World”
- Old Inca Capital
- Dry season; April – Mid-November
- Wet season; End November – March
- Inti Raymi; Festival of the Sun – every year June 24
From all destinations in Peru, together with Machu Picchu, Cusco and the Sacred Valley are probably the most well-known. As Cusco is the main gateway for people who want to visit Machu Picchu, it is obvious that almost all people coming to Machu Picchu pass by Cusco. What some people may not know is that Cusco (even without Machu Picchu) is more than worth the visit.
The city is situated in a large valley with views on the 6500 meter high Ausangate Mountain in the distance. Cusco in Quechua (local language originating from the Incas and still spoken today) means “Navel of the World” and was built as the Inca capital from where the empire started growing. The original structure of the city was laid out in the form of a Puma with fortress of Sacsayhuaman being the head of the puma. Sacsayhuaman was the fort and military camp from where Cusco was protected. It is made up out of massive walls lined in a zig-zag patron and used to have two large watchtowers on top of the structure. It took the Spanish several fierce battles to take Sacsayhuaman and hence conquer Cusco.
The city center of Cusco stretches out underneath Sacsayhuaman and has undergone several changes after the arrival of the Spanish. The Spanish destroyed many of the Inca constructions only to find that many of the Inca buildings were too massive to completely destroy. This is the reason why many of the colonial buildings in Cusco are built on top of Inca Foundations. Nowadays this gives the city a very unique characteristic and architectural style combining the Inca foundations with Spanish Colonial buildings, balconies and squares. The city center is spread out around the Plaza de Armas (Main Square) and is filled with small cobblestone streets and alleys. On one side of the Plaza you can find the Cathedral that was built on the remnants of the old Inca Palace. Behind the cathedral the city start rising up against the mountain side and here is where you can find one of the most beautiful barrios;
San Blas. San Blas is the bohemian and artistic neighborhood in Cusco and definitely worth walking through. Another main site to visit in Cusco is Qoricancha or the Temple of the Sun. This used to be one of the most important religious temples for the Inca and home to many important rituals such as the worshiping of the sun. It was this temple that made the Spanish go wild about Cusco as it was supposedly covered in gold and had large quantities of gold art inside. Nowadays the building is home to a monastery and provides one of the strangest examples of how the Spanish incorporated the Inca structures in their own. Just outside Cusco there are also several interesting Inca sites to be visited. Qenqo, a strange rock formation with amazing carvings, Puka Pukara, a fortress that was used to protect Cusco from this angle and Tambomachay a site dedicated to the rite of water.
Apart from all these archeological and architectonic wonders, Cusco is also a nice city for travellers as it comes with most tourist services. Cusco has a large selection of hotels for all budgets, great restaurants, booming nightlife and one of the best shopping in Peru (especially artisanal souvenirs).
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