You could spend months in an around Cusco as there is so much to see and do, but like most people you probably only have a short time on your Peru tour so we have written a resume of the most visited places in this city, the navel of the Inca world.
Cusco a UNESCO World Heritage site – is an architectural and cultural jewel of a city set in the South-eastern Andes. Standing at 3350 m. above sea level, Cusco is also the gateway for the magnificent Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, the starting point for treks along the famous Inca Trail, and the perfect base for exploring the many other sights of the Sacred Valley. The city was the former capital of the Inca Empire, and is a fascinating mix of colonial churches, monasteries and convents, and extensive, pre-Columbian ruins. Almost every central street has remnants of Inca walls and much of this ancient stonework now serves as foundations for more modern dwellings.
Originally named Qósqo meaning “Navel” the city was considered to be the centre of the world by the Incas. From here the Incas expanded outwards to form what was at the time the world´s largest empire. There is a great deal to see and do in Cusco from the principal sights, to wandering about the back streets, visiting galleries, shops, churches and markets. You are also likely to come across a parade during your time in Cusco as these tend to occur at least a couple of times a week.
There is a great range of hotel accommodation from simple guesthouses to 5* comfort. You will also find restaurants of all types and levels as well as bars and nightlife which continues to the early hours. Cusco Cathedral is one of the finest Colonial Cathedrals in the Americas. Building started in 1560 and was completed in 1664. The design is constituted by a Latin – Cross base, the facade has a Renaissance style, very ornamental, and it contains the best work of colonial goldsmiths and wood carvings, as well as a valuable collection of canvases from the Escuela Cusqueña (Academy of Cuzco). There are two auxiliary chapels on its both sides: Capilla Del Triunfo and Jesus and Maria y Jose.
Coricancha (from the Quechua word Quri Qancha meaning ‘Golden Courtyard’), was the most important temple in the Inca Empire, dedicated primarily to Inti, the Sun God. The walls and floors were once covered in sheets of solid gold, and the courtyard was filled with golden statues. The Church of Santo Domingo was built on the site, using the ruined foundations of the temple that was flattened by the Spanish in the 17th century, and is a fine example of where Inca stonework has been incorporated into the structure of a colonial building. Major earthquakes have severely damaged the church, but the Inca stone walls, built out of huge, tightly-interlocking blocks of stone, still stand thanks to the sophisticated stone masonry. Nearby is an underground archaeological site museum containing a number of interesting pieces, including mummies, textiles and sacred idols.
In addition to the sights within Cusco itself there are also a number of Inca ruins nearby which are included in tours of the city. These include Tambomachay which was an Inca sanctuary dedicated to the cult of water, and it was reserved for Inca Royalty. Consisting of a group of walls that are united by stairs, there are springs that cascade to a pool through several channels. The waterfalls in these ruins form part of a terrace to the second wall where the drainage cascades on the first and forms a small pool. The window sills, hole or niches are 2m height, and was where, according to historians, that the Inca and the most important people of his court offered water rites to the god Inti (sun). It is located 8 km from the Main Square.
Puca Pucara (Quechua for red fortress) is an Inca archaeological site located on the peak of a hill and is thought to be a military position and an administrative centre. Due to its proximity to Tambomachay, it is believed to have had a relationship with its defense, as well as the control of the route to Calca that led to the Antisuyo (Forest County of the Inca). It is a fortification formed by platforms, stairs, passages, turrets, windowsills, and a wall that defends the whole construction in one circular shape. It is 7 km from Cusco main square.
Qenko, a sanctuary dedicated to the adoration of animals, consists of ruins formed by rocks with stairs in a zigzag, and a main building similar to a circular amphitheatre where 19 window sills are located as a way of seats. It is presumed that this place was a site of adoration, and supporting this presumption is the presence of an enormous stone block of 5.9m height that resembles the appearance of a puma. There is a labyrinthine entrance to several underground galleries, passages, channels and stairs with signs of an earlier culture. These reveal themselves in a series of drawings and engravings including outstanding figures of pumas.
One of the most important Inca sites in South America is the enormous fortress of Sacsayhuamán. Its Quechua name means “satisfied falcon”, as it was the falcon that guarded the capital of the empire. Cuzco was designed in the shape of a lying puma with Sacsayhuamán as its head, and the Coricancha (or Sun Temple) would correspond to the feline’s genitalia. Its construction took over seven decades and required the work of approximately 20,000 men, both for the foundations and hewn stone works, the transportation of materials, carving and stone setting. Hewn stones could have been located at Muina, Huacoto and Rumicolca, 20 kilometers away from Cuzco, and at closer places such as Sallu, Rumi, Chita, Curovilca and Viracocha. Some of its external walls exceed 9 meters in height and 350 tons of weight.
All in all Cusco is a must for any trip to Peru and a principal destination within South America. It forms the hub of any tour to Peru and apart from being the stepping off point for Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, also gives access to the Amazon Rainforest and to Lake Titicaca.