Cusco, located in the Southern Sierras is a fascinating city that was the capital of the Inca Empire. Cuzco is a Unesco World Heritage Site and is one of Peru’s most visited cities as it is the largest and most comfortable city from which tourists can begin visits to Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and other Inca sites in the region.
Cusco is a beautiful city with well preserved colonial architecture, evidence of a rich and complex history. The city itself represents the centre of indigenous Quechua culture in the Andes, and by merely walking the streets one sees the layers of history. Spanish colonial buildings erected directly atop Inca walls line the square, while the modern tourist nightlife flourishes in their midst.
Despite being a very sleepy city overall, with many examples of lazy life, Cusco is surrounded by a number of ruins, the most impressive being Sacsayhuaman, the site of the battle in 1536 where the Spanish invaders charged uphill to battle the forces of the Inca. Nowadays, Cusco is known for its indigenous population – often seen on the streets in traditional clothing – and its substantial nightlife for the tourists. Despite this entertainment, altitude sickness can be a problem in Cusco (you are, after all, currently 3,400m above sea level). Altitude sickness tends to sneak up on you and although its symptoms may not be apparent at first, it has the potential to develop into something extremely dangerous.
Much more so than Lima, Cusco was a great opportunity to find llamas in the streets. Llamas are icons of Peru, and everywhere you go in Cusco, there seems to be one of these dopey animals lounging around on the doorstep chewing grass. I was always a little wary of these llamas, as I heard they can kick like a horse (not to mention spit!), but in general I guess they were kind of cute, and the locals seem to love them too – even if they do have a tendency to photobomb all of your snaps!
I am not a huge fan of Peruvian cuisine. In fact, I find it more interesting to write about rather than actually eat(!) but one thing I have always been aware of is the delicacy of cuy (guinea pig) in Peru. Over the years, I have seen much worse being eaten around the world (dogs in Indonesia, China, and Korea, tarantula in Cambodia…oh, and durian in Singapore…), but for some reason it is always a shock to the system to see these regular pets being roasted and sold as street food for passers by. I wouldn’t want to try one, although I bet they taste like chicken!
Cusco is an amazing city to explore, and is one of the major places in the world for culture vultures to enjoy due to its long list of ancient architecture and relics (along with the likes of Siem Reap in Cambodia, Hue in Vietnam, and Rome in Italy). Sacsayhuaman is one of the most important areas, and any visitor to Cusco will want to visit that area, but then you have the likes of the Salineras (salt mines) and Moray close by to each other, which are doable on the same day.
There really was something amazing about Cusco. Coming by bus from Lima (maybe a mistake) gave me a long time to think about what I was going to find in the ancient capital of the Incas, but when I arrived it was far more ‘normal’ than I first reckoned – and that’s a compliment! It reminded me of Madrid, with the Spanish influences here and there, yet with the stunning backdrop of the Andes and classic ruins on the doorstep, I knew I was going to have a lot of fun during my week in Cusco! Let’s just hope I don’t get sick on the altitude…