Perhaps the most visited area in Peru, Cuzco and its surrounding area is home to a wide array of archaeological sites and interesting cultural experiences. It’s proximity to Machu Picchu makes it the ideal place to stop over on one’s way to visit the aforementioned famed archaeological site, and it’s own local attractions give tourists a reason to linger in the ancient city for several days.
A simple Google search can land you, seemingly, all the information you need to know about Cuzco; tourist agencies, hotels, local attractions, pictures. There is such an overwhelming amount of information and photos you might even feel like you don’t even need to go there, because you’ve already seen it all. Well, I’m here to verify that there is far more to see in and around Cuzco than you could ever possibly find in a Google search. You are guaranteed to say “this is unbelievable” so many times, that you have start looking for another phrase to use.
After many weeks of anticipation (and a heck of a lot of planning on Julio’s part) I collected my dad fresh off a plane from the USA and we set off for Cuzco for a week of exploring. Sending a history teacher and his archaeologist daughter into the oldest and one of the most ruin-laden cities in Peru is like sending two kids into a free candy store. We couldn’t be happier.
While we planned to do some of the most popular tours, we also chose a few lesser known excursions (at Julio’s suggestion). Although we didn’t know much about them, we were assured they were worth our time to check out, and that we certainly wouldn’t be disappointed
Shortly after arriving in Cuzco, we set out on the City Tour; one of the most popular tourist excursions, and probably one of the most economical. Having purchased a Tourist Pass (one ticket that allows entrance into multiple local sites and museums), participating in the City Tour allowed us to visit multiple places all in one go.
The City Tour brought us to 5 different places – each of them unique and fascinating
Our first sto was Coricancha, an Inca/Colonial site. The base of the site is the Incan Inti Kancha (Temple of the Sun). When the Spanish arrived in Cuzco, they sought to build the Church of Santo Domingo and built it on the remnants of the Inti Kancha to both demonstrate religious superiority and to make use of the Incan’s mastery of solid foundations.
It was really interesting to witness both Inca and Spanish design/construction at the same location beautiful oil paintings adorned walls adjacent to Incan rooms. A reminder of how Incan and Spanish history are forever fused together and of how the Spanish demonstrated there political superiority.
Next on the tour were the ruins of Sacsayhuaman (which many people mistakenly pronounce as “Sexy Woman”). Sacsayhuaman is a huge site on the outskirts of the city that serves as an impressive reminder of the caliber of Incan construction capabilities. Giant 150-ton blocks of perfectly aligned and carved limestone compose the seemingly endless walls and terraces of the former ceremonial site. To this day it is still used for celebrations; the annual Inti Raymi festival takes place there.
Adjacent to Sacsayhuaman is the smaller site of Q’enko, which was the next stop on our tour. It served as a religious center for the Inca and sits on a small hillside. It is far less impressive, construction-wise, to Sacsayhuaman, but there are some interesting objects, including a cave, a monolith, and a wall of 19 seats carved into stone.
After Q’enko, we drove a few more minutes up the road to the site of Tambomachay. Located a short walk up a hill, the small site sits adjacent to a stream and boasts several channels and small waterfalls. Legend has it that if you drink the water from these fountains, you will stay young forever. And incidentally enough, Cuzquena beer is manufactured in Cuzco with water from the same stream that feeds Tambomachay. Therefore drinking it is also supposed to keep you young. (Not that you need another reason to drink Cuzquena – it’s so good!)
Finally, we visited Pukapukara. which is just up the road from Tambomachay. Also known as the “red fort,” it is believed to have served as a military checkpoint and possibly toll booth for merchants traveling the Inca Road. Small, but well-constructed, the site looked beautiful in the sun-set, when the stones turned a beautiful red.
The City Tour was well worth it, and my dad and I were able to visit some amazing places we otherwise would have not been able to access easily if we had adventured out on our own. We were very impressed with what we saw – we certainly thought that Sacsayhuaman was unbelieveable, but it was nothing compared to what we would witness the following day at Maras and Moray. But for that story, you’ll have to check back in a few days for my next article!
Kate is a volunteer and researcher for the Karikuy Volunteer Program in Lima, Peru.