There are so many things to see in Cusco. Cusco is a UNESCO heritage site at an elevation of 11,200 feet (roughly 3,400 m). From the 13th to the 16th century it was the capital of the Inca Empire. The 16th century saw the Spanish Conquest. The historical center of Cusco is a mix of Inca and Spanish architecture. Walking the streets one can only image what they have witnessed through time. It is easy to see the layers of history as you walk the streets. You will frequently see indigenous women or girls with either an alpaca in tow or carrying baby goats.
1. PLAZA DE ARMAS
The first place in Cusco you have to visit is Plaza de Armas or the main square. The square is home to the Cathedral and the most beautiful church in Cusco, Church of La Compañía. The plaza is full of both tourist and locals enjoying their city. As you walk around Plaza de Armas, you will pass many shops both high end and touristy along with lots of restaurants.
2. SAN BLAS
San Blas is a not to be missed area. This neighborhood houses many artisan and craft shops. It is one of the most picturesque sites in the city. Its streets are steep and narrow with old houses built by the Spanish on top of Inca foundations. It has a lovely square and the oldest parish church in Cusco, constructed in 1563. The church has a carved wooden pulpit typical of the elegant Colonial era woodwork in Cusco.
3. HATUNRUMIYOQ STREET
Along the street of Hatunrumiyoq or the street with the big stone, which runs from Plaza de Armas to San Blas you will see an exquisitely constructed wall built by the Inca. The wall contains a large Incan stone with twelve angles that fit so tightly together a piece of paper could not fit in the seams, and no mortar was used to set the stones. The entire wall is a marvel of ancient stonework and part of the iconic history of the city. Be sure to look for the hidden animal depictions as you walk along.
4. LA CATEDRAL
La Catedral is a magnificent display of Cusco's architecture. Constructed in the 1550s, La Catedral, is a baroque cathedral featuring opulent ceilings and gold and silver altars. It is also home to a vast collection of colonial art that mixes Catholic traditions with indigenous legends. The art shows how the people embraced Christianity while keeping their Andean life close at hand. In the cathedral, there is a rendering of the last supper. In this depiction, the disciples are eating roasted guinea pig, a commonly eaten food for special occasions in the Andes.
5. FREE WALKING TOUR
One of the highlights of our visit to Cusco was the Free Walking Tour. You can find the guides and representatives of this company in Plaza de Armas. They do two tours a day. You pay in the form of a tip at the end of the tour. We took several tours while in Cusco, but this one was by far superior. We took the afternoon tour. Our tour guide, I wish I could remember his name, took us up high so that we could watch the sun set over Cusco. He was knowledgeable, articulate and one could tell he loved his city.
6. SANTUARIO ANIMAL DE COCHAHUASI
Santuario Animal de Cochahuasi is an animal sanctuary you do not want to miss. Dedicated to rescuing and looking after animals which have suffered mistreatment, poaching or trafficking by illegal hunters. There is a nominal entrance fee that is used solely to care for the animal. The guides are volunteers. All of the animals are rescued animals. For example, found illegally in a nightclub were three pumas or mountain lions. They had their claws removed to perform in the nightclub. They were brought here because they are unable to survive in the wild. There were several injured condors, one that was scheduled to be released back into the wild in a month. One condor which is over 65 years old will live his life in peace here no longer worrying about being poisoned to have his feathers removed for their value as souvenirs for tourists. We were able to see condors fly, something I am not sure I would ever see in person again. There are also llamas, alpacas, vicunas, and tortoises.
7. SAN PEDRO MERCADO
The San Pedro Mercado or Central Market is another not to miss site. Be sure to inquire as to the price of foods, I am sure you will be surprised. Pineapples were in season, and we could purchase one for .25 USD. San Pedro market located in a semi open-air structure with a metal roof offering protection from sun and rain has much to tantalize your senses. We opted to forgo the meat section and concentrated on the baked goods and produce.
So Many Things to See in Cusco
The history of Cusco at an elevation of over 11,000 feet lives in its streets. A visit to Cusco gives you a taste of ancient Andean culture mixed with colonial culture and even modern western culture. The colorful textiles of the indigenous women throughout the city keep vivid the cultural past. Possibly the Archaeological Capital of the Americas, Cusco is a beautiful city with much to offer.
I would love to hear about your adventures in Cusco. If I missed a great feature, please let me know.
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