Discovering Cusco

Truth is that I had never heard of Cusco and had very little idea what to expect. This was a pre-arranged tour so research was not necessary and I let the experience just sweep me along.

Looking out over Cusco.

So it came as a bit of a surprise that this provincial town and ancient Inca capital is packed with a vast array of historical sites and experiences. Cusco is certainly worth whatever time you can give it. Our group was led by SAS Travel‘s Christian Gonzales and, like all our Peruvian guides, he had a great deal of knowledge and an obvious love of his country’s history and culture.

Our first stop was at Sacsayhuaman, an Inca ceremonial site and probably the place you think of when you imagine Inca walls. It was where the Inca’s court (“inca” literally means “king”) would witness priestly predictions for the coming season. The priest accomplished this by ripping the beating heart from a llama and evaluating the patterns of blood that dripped down his arm. Peru is subject to extreme weather swings due to changes in ocean temperature — el Nino — and knowledge of the coming year was important to their survival.

Christian Gonsalves Garcia was one of many very professional Peruvian guides whose knowledge and love of Peruvian culture was always evident. You can find him on Facebook.

We were soon off to Tambo Machay, a gateway to Cusco strategically located along the Inca Trail. This was a resting spot blessed with a seemingly eternal supply of spring water. Nearby was Quenko mortuary, a small cavern with various rock tables and niches used to prepare bodies for mummification.

Back on the bus for a short ride to Cristo Blanco, a statue very similar to the one overlooking Rio. We were told that the Rio statue was originally destined for Cusco but its size made transportation impossible. Curiously, the Cusco statue was a gift from Palestinian Arabs who settled in Cusco in the late 1940s. We drove back to Cusco to explore Santo Domingo Church, built on the site of Coricancha, a temple razed by the Spanish. The Inca respected the gods of his conquered subjects and gave them rooms in which to honour them. The walls of these rooms are sloped in very subtle and precise ways to counter seismic waves and are pierced by a series of perfectly aligned trapezoidal windows inserted to show the skill of Inca stonemasons.

Though the Spanish did their best to destroy Coricancha, archaeologists recently discovered the niche that held the temple’s main object of worship, their holy-of-holies. The golden statue was long-ago melted down but the niche is still there, like the prow of a great stone ship.

We used our free time to explore Cusco’s wild-and-woolly San Pedro Market which, much like markets in other developing countries, is packed with food, textiles, jewelry and almost anything else you can imagine. Another walk took us to Plaza de Armas, once the Inca main square and now lined with churches. A controversial statue of Pachakuti, the ninth and greatest Inca, has been erected above a Spanish fountain. Pachakuti glares defiantly at Cusco Cathedral located across the square.

Back to the Hotel Marqueses, off to dinner at one of Cusco’s many excellent restaurants and breakfast under the gaze of Christ carving up a guinea pig before an early start to the “Sacred Valley” and more wonders of the ancient world.

This Last Supper rendition adorned the Hotel Marqueses breakfast room. Christ is gnoshing down on that Peruvian favourite, guinea pig or cuy. He is also somewhat miraculously handing out pre-crucifixion pieces of himself in the form of communion wafers.

The photo gallery

A few links

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