Cusco, Peru’s Ancient Cloud City of the Inca’s
written by Alanna Byrne
High up, beyond the clouds, lies Cusco – Peru’s ancient city of the Inca’s. This venerable city, lying at an altitude of 3400m above sea level, is the country’s number one tourist destination, and the gateway to the legendary Machu Picchu.
With Evolve Tours, you can visit both of these wonderful destinations when you join our Peru School Trip. This ten day trip is action packed full of incredible activities, Cusco being only one stop along the way!
So, what does this magical realm of Andean-culture have to offer?
Cusco is a fantastic city to visit, whether it’s for a month, a week, or just a few days. This crumbling UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its cobbled streets and archaic, colonial balconies, is bustling with activity.
Until the Spanish conquest, this city, was the historic capital of the Incan Empire, and the centre of the ancient world. Sitting at the entrance of the Sacred Valley, this mystical realm has always been considered an area of spiritual significance.
While taking a stroll through narrow streets, I was encapsulated inside the city’s evident beauty. Having called the mountain city of Huaraz my temporary home for the past 6 months, I was well acquainted with Peruvian history. I imagined Cusco to resemble how Huaraz looked like before the devastating earthquake of 1970 that tragically tore the city to ruins.
The architecture of Cusco is charmingly decrepit – with old paint peeling away at the corners and the streets are bumpy and uneven. Tiny Peruvian ladies in their brightest textiles line the streets selling jewellery or perch in wait with lambs, to thrust them into the arms of passing tourists chanting, “Foto! Foto!”
Of course, it is a tourist trap if ever there was one. Street performers dressed as Inca’s stand frozen like the golden statue of the Incan Emperor, Pachacuti. The golden statue stands in the middle of Cusco’s Plaza de Armas, the street performers dotted all around it.
Parades take place almost daily, and there are Artisan markets literally everywhere. This is certainly the place to get souvenirs for friends and family. Although it takes a little time to rummage through the mountains of seedy trinkets, there are certainly wonderful gems to be discovered. And you can’t go wrong with an alpaca sweater! They are the snuggliest items of clothing on the planet!
Despite this, I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the level of tourism. I found the city to be very tranquil, brimming with beautiful architecture and quaint places to eat and drink. It is a relaxing little haven, ideal for recharging your batteries and doing some shopping before setting out on the illustrious Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
Visually, it is a wonderful city to just wander around. Take your time weaving through the network of tiny streets of Barrio de San Blas, and admire the lovely central courtyards all around.
Visit Qorikancha, Incan ruins only a short walk from the central Plaza. This site was once the richest temple in the Incan Empire and was, many thousands of years ago, entirely covered in gold. Sadly, only the stone frame-work remain, but you are able to enter the courtyard and wonder around the spooky, abandoned chambers.
If you’d like to walk a little further afield, you can head up to the north-west edge of the city and visit Saksaywaman. These pre-Incan ruins overlook the city and date all the way back to 1100AD. Begun by the Killke tribe, the ruins display the intricately precise stone work made famous by their Incan predecessors who completed construction of the site in the 13th century. This is also where you will can see Cusco’s very own Christ the Redeemer who watches over the entire city and can be seen from any point in the streets below. Not to mention, it’s the best place to take photos of the city!
Grab coffee, cake, sandwiches or the famous milkshakes at ‘The Meeting Place,’ by far my favourite little hole in the wall in Cusco to sit back and relax in. This small café located at Plaza San Blas is run solely by volunteers and donates 100% of its profits to various local community projects in place to help those in need in the area. They also boast to serve the best milkshakes on the planet!
Tired of lugging that enormous backpack or suitcase around? Why not take a load off and go for an Incan massage? Cusco’s Plaza de Armas is filled with ladies willing to sell you a massage at a decent price, and it really is a nice way to spend an hour relaxing after walking all day. For either 40 soles of 30 minutes or 50 soles for an hour, this fantastic massage comes with hot stone therapy to boot. You won’t be able to feel your legs afterwards though, so if you have a lot of walking to do right after then be wary!
So, why not take some time to wander around this whimsical city? Where every cobblestone tells a story and where flags, every colour of the rainbow, line the streets.