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Cuzco: The Epicenter of the Inca Empire

With elements of colonial architecture, crooked, cobbled streets, and dramatic churches with towering spires, Cuzco looks like a transplanted European city in the midst of the Andes Mountains. On closer inspection Cuzco reveals vendors selling colorful, woven tapestries, dazzling Inca relics, and impressive archaeological sites. While once the seat of the sprawling Inca Empire, Cuzco saw the demise of its people to the hands of the Spanish Conquistadors. Today, Cuzco is mix of European flare and colorful Peruvian pride. As the gateway to Machu Picchu, Cuzco sees hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, and serves as an international hub for hippie backpackers and retired tour goers. It is here that Dan and I made a temporary home for ourselves for five days as we set out to explore the remains of the Inca Empire.


Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Peru wasn’t my first choice for destination of the year. My ideal vacations tend to involve lots of sandy beaches or bustling metropolitan cities. Now, as much as I like to think that I am in charge of the travelling reigns, once in a while I have to let Dan steer the vacation wagon. So last year we cashed in our airline reward miles and booked two round trip tickets to Peru and planned to divvy our time between Cusco, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, and Lima. So it was that two weeks ago Dan and I found ourselves in the middle of the chaotic charms of Cuzco.


Our first impression was one of hesitation. The effects of poverty were seen everywhere and the thick smell of car exhaust clung to the air choking our already oxygen starved lungs. Yet, as our taxi navigated through the crowded streets we began to see a more lively and charming side to Cuzco. Although the poverty was inescapable the city was also rich with character and history.


We stayed at the Niños Hotel, a sparse, but clean establishment, whose profits benefit several orphanages in the Cusco area. Within the lobby and small restaurant the walls were collaged in classic black and white portraits of the children the hotel was helping. The courtyard was peaceful and seemed worlds away from the rumbling congestion of the diesel spewing traffic just outside. While far from a five star establishment, we found Niños to be homey and charming.


The bustling center of Cuzco is the Plaza de Armas where locals and tourists alike gather to enjoy the stunning scenery of the towering La Catedral and the Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus. When the altitude got the best of us, we often enjoyed a leisurely afternoon relaxing on one the Plazas many benches and green spaces.



Perched high above the city center, San Blas offers sweeping views of the city and a collection of smart restaurants and shops, and is an easy favorite for many tourists. The plaza stays packed with vendors selling their wares, and families enjoy strolling the picturesque streets. One afternoon as we sat admiring the simplicity of our surroundings a young boy, perhaps two or three years old, wandered over with his soccer ball. Dan couldn’t resist jumping up from his bench to play a quick game with the lonesome boy. While back home, kids are never left home alone until at least the age of twelve, in Peru it was common to see children as young as three wandering the streets without any other children or adults around. Our new soccer friend Jose, was happy to have found a friend in Dan, and the two easily got along despite language and age barriers.



While the city hosts a variety of art and history museums, we only had time for the Museo Inka where hundreds of Inca artifacts are displayed. Within the courtyard of the museum we were fortunate to watch as Andean weavers demonstrated their fine finger work creating beautiful garments and tapestries.


While wandering about the city, it was easy to stumble across the remains of ancient Inca structures. Qorikancha was once the richest temple in the Inca Empire and despite years of leveling earthquakes it still stands as one of the finest examples of the masterful stonework by the Incans. Today it has been “improved” with steel and glass additions creating an oddly disharmonious façade.


We had one last place to visit in Cuzco. Saqsaywaman, pronounced “sexy woman,” was a steep, heart pounding hike up from the city center. Immensely beautiful, Saqsaywaman was an experience worthy of an entry itself and with that I will have to leave you hanging until next time. To be continued…


Posted by Jennylynn 21:07 Archived in Peru Tagged tourist_sites

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Thanks for sharing! I have been waiting for your return so much.
I have a Peruvian coworker who always sings the praises of Peru but he didn't have to convince me. I have wanted to go see Macchu Pichu since learning about it in grade 10 geography class. It is on my list of places to visit.
Is it cold there? It looks chilly by the locals dress.
Did you guy actually sleep on that bed together??! :)
Can't wait for "sexy woman" details.

by CanaGerm

It got coldish at night, but the days were very warm.
Ha... yes we tried to share the twin size bed. That lasted about 5 seconds. Luckily there were two twin sized beds!

by Jennylynn

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