What to see in Peru
Ancient Incan capital conquered by Pizarro, Cusco today is an active city of colonial buildings surrounded by reminders of this splendid civilisation. For example, the Santo Domingo cathedral is built on the stone of the Incan Casas del Sol, some of the walls are even still visible. This is the classic departure point for trips to Machu Picchu.
You may be passing through Cuzco because you want to see Machu Pichu. However, at Exoticca we recommend that you pay attention to the city as well. This is a place with a wealth of history and great beauty. There is a reason it was the capital of the Inca Empire and a strategic hub during the Spanish colonial period. The combination of both cultures is a feature that will provide a constant source of delight.
When you see the Plaza de Armas for the first time, it won't occur to you that it was originally a swamp. The Incas installed drainage, dried it out and made it their administrative centre. The Spanish colonisers built their churches and buildings on top of former palaces and today it is a place to have coffee.
The Cathedral and the Church of the Society of Jesus are outstanding places to visit. The latter was built in a beautiful baroque style and houses a golden pulpit and four cedar altars.
The city's oldest church is the one that gives its name to one of its most charming districts. San Blas is a place to lose yourself amid steep cobbled streets full of interesting nooks and crannies. Don't miss the colonial-era buildings and take advantage of the walk to buy your Cuzco souvenirs here. If possible, in one of the craft workshops. When you reach the highest part of the district you'll be able to soak up one of the city's most beautiful views. And, if it gets late and you are in San Blas after dark, take advantage and have a pisco sour cocktail.
Calle Loreto is one of those places where the contrast between the pre-Columbian Inca culture and the colonial culture is best appreciated. The lower sections of the buildings consist of walls of Inca origin, yet they support buildings of colonial architecture.
The best known place in Cuzco meanwhile is the twelve-angled stone, very near Calle Loreto. You'll find it in Calle Hatun. This stone is remarkable for its workmanship.
The developer of the most famous structure in Paris, the Eiffel Tower, also built the Mercado de San Pedro, or Central Market of Cuzco. Inside, you can buy Peruvian food and local handicrafts. We recommend that you try the fruit: it's absolutely delicious.
The temple of Qorikancha is an Inca construction dedicated to the sun god, and at one time it was the most important place of worship of the Inca civilization. Its enormous blocks of rock, which are joined together without the use of mortar, have been preserved. In the past, they formed walls covered with sheets of gold that marked the limits of the enclosures of the various buildings of the complex, since the temple of Qorikancha was not a single building, but a real religious complex that housed the temple of the stars, the moon and, of course, the sun.
To reach the ruins of the Sacsayhuamán fortress, one must walk about forty minutes to the north of the city. It's well worth the walk. In fact, it would be unforgivable to travel to Cuzco and not visit this complex, which dates back to the 15th century, when Pachacutec commissioned its construction. The three superimposed platforms, made up of gigantic blocks of stones similar to those of Qorikancha, have been preserved to this day. They exhibit images carved by the Incas
Don't miss the Sun Gate.
No list of archaeological sites would be complete without mentioning Tambomachay, Pukapukara and Qenqo. All three of them would be more than enough reason to travel to Cuzco on their own, but we recommend that you don't miss a single one.
Tambomachay, which lies 8 km from the city, is a place where water was worshipped. There is a complex system of aqueducts and canals here. Pukapukara is only a five-minute walk from Tambomachay. It is known as the Red Fortress, and you can still see the remains of the walls and inner quarters. Qenqo is further away. It contains the remains of a religious complex with the ruins of an amphitheatre, an underground hall, a canal and two religious columns.
The White Christ is an 8-metre-high statue near Qenqo. From here you can walk to the centre of Cuzco on a descending walk that will reveal beautiful views of the city.
Our recommendation is that you do the whole route on foot so that you can appreciate the surrounding landscape, but you can also take a bus or combi.