Peru Day 12 – Cusco

Yes, I still have a few Peru posts left to write. I know it’s been a while but we’re almost there, I promise! So after we arrived in Cusco, following a magnificent day at Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, we had a tour of the city and the surrounding area ruins the next morning. It was a little cool and drizzly that day, the only time it really rained on our whole trip, so we felt pretty lucky with the weather.

Our tour started out at Koricancha, or the Temple of the Sun, which was literally across the street from our hotel, the Libertador  Palacio del Inka. It was an important temple for the Incas, but the Spanish eventually built the Cathedral of Santo Domingo over the temple. Still, they kept a lot of the original Inca walls with their unique trapezoidal doorways and windows, and the fascinating interlocking stones.

Spanish style courtyard inside

Trapezoidal windows that all line up

How the Inca stones interlock

View of the cathedral from the courtyard

View of Cusco and the solar garden

The next stop on our tour was a short drive from downtown Cusco, up into the hills were we went to visit Sacsahuaman. The site is believed to be an Inca fortress, with massive stone walls that form a zig zag pattern. The stones used in the wall are so big that it’s hard to imagine how the Incas managed to carve them and move them into position. There is also a theory that the walls were built in the zig zag shape as to form the head of a puma, when looking at the walls the the city of Cusco itself from above. Whatever the reason, it’s a pretty impressive sight.

Stone walls

Zig zag pattern

Massive interlocking stones

Trapezoidal doorway

After leaving the zig zag stone walls, we went over to Kenko, an Inca religious site with underground caves and temples. Many rituals are believed to have been performed here. In one cave, there was a huge stone slab that was supposed to have been used as an altar during the mummification process. It was an interesting place, and I was only slightly creeped out.

Going into one of the caves

Huge altar that was cold to the touch

Stone sculpture

Our last stop in the hills was Tambomachay, also known as the baths of the Incas. There are a series of aqueducts that lead to a temple where natural spring water pours out from specific points. It was a beautiful sight, and the sound of the water was very soothing.

Tambomachay - the Baths of the Incas

On our way back into the city, we stopped at a high point to look at the zig zag walls of Sacsahuaman, and a statue of Jesus that overlooks the city.

Sacsahuaman

White statue of Christ

The last stop of our city tour, and the end of the organized portion of our vacation, was the main cathedral on the Plaza de Armas. The cathedral was very intricate on the inside, with lots of carved woodwork and paintings, but no photos were allowed, unfortunately.

The outside of the cathedral

After the tour ended, we went to see La Campania church, which is also on the Plaza de Armas, next to the cathedral. There was an entrance fee to get in but it’s supposed to be the most beautiful church in Cusco. To be honest, I didn’t find it any more or less beautiful than the other churches we had seen, so if you don’t want to pay the entrance fee or don’t feel like seeing another church, you’re not missing a whole lot by skipping it. The church was pretty similar in style to most of the other churches, and there wasn’t anything in particular that stood out to me.

La Compania Church

Our tour guide on this day was really great, and we chatted him up on places to eat. We were complaining that whenever we asked other guides or the concierges at our hotels for local recommendations, they would send us to expensive, upscale places that weren’t really reflective of the local cuisine. He told us a place to try chicha, a sort of fermented corn beer, so we ended going there for lunch. The place was great, exactly what we were looking for. None of the waiters or counter people spoke english, and everyone eating there was local.

After going back to the hotel to rest for a while (being in altitude really does sap your energy!), we went back out and walked around the city at night, taking in all the lights and sights. Cusco was definitely one of the more lively cities we stayed in. There were lots of people out and about, and the bars and restaurants all seemed to be pretty full.

Plaza de Armas at night, with the lights of the surrounding hills in the background

A gateway into the city

One of the many plazas in the city

A government building

After walking around a bit to work up our appetites (the altitude also saps your desire to eat), we went to a restaurant that was also recommended by our tour guide, a place to get pollo a la brasa, which is Peruvian style rotisserie chicken. The place was not fancy but the food was fantastic, and exactly what we were craving.

It was a pretty packed day for us but also bittersweet because we knew that our trip was almost over. Still, we had a few more days in Cusco on our own, and we were looking forward to relaxing and exploring the city at our own leisure.

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