In addition to serving as a gateway to near- by attractions like Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail, Cusco offers travelers a host of culturally enticing museums, cathedrals and markets. This city an excellent addi- tion to any itinerary. For outdoor enthusi- asts, the Cusco area presents a number of spectacular trekking opportunities. And for those who want to stretch their legs a bit but aren't up for a week-long adventure over mountainous terrain, the nearby Inca ru- ins of Sacsayhuamán, Q'enqo, Puca Pucara, Tambo Machay, Tipón, and Pikillacta and Rumicolca make excellent day trips.
In Quechua Cusco translates as "belly but- ton of the world," and at its height Cusco truly was the center of the great Inca Em- pire, which stretched across parts of South America from Northern Chile to Colombia. In terms of architectural prowess and po- litical importance, Cusco paralleled the well- known Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán as one of the great imperial capitals of America. Today, Cusco is known for its inviting and intriguing blend of Spanish and Inca culture, most evident where Spanish churches and convents have been built squarely on top of perfectly laid Inca walls. While the Spanish did their best to pillage and plunder the city, they failed to completely destroy the massive network of Inca stonework, which continues to withstand both time and the elements. The Spanish buildings in contrast have be- gun to crack and crumble.
The Quechua people, the present-day ances- tors of the Incas, have also been a city build- ing block, they bring the charm, humility and beauty that keep tourism booming in Cusco. Because the city is a popular destina- tion along the Gringo Trail, it has a variety of hotels and restaurants to accommodate any traveler's tastes, from world-class hotels to hostels the most miserly of backpackers will find affordable. Cusco is an extremely visitor-friendly city, with tour agencies on every block and very helpful locals. Most of the major Cusco activities are within walking distance of one another and can be covered in about half a day, though you may want to devote a little more time to browse the vari- ous shops and markets you encounter along the way. Some Cusco highlights include the Cusco Cathedral, Iglesia San Blas, San Blas, Qoricancha Templo del Sol and Santo Do- mingo, Museo Histórico Regional, Museo de Arte y Monasterio de Santa Catalina
Cusco is best known for its Incan and co- lonial periods; however, those two epochs represent only about one-third of Cusco's settled history. The city's first settlements, located in the eastern part of the current city, date as far back as 3,000 years. As a result, some consider Cusco to be the longest con- tinually settled city in the Americas. In the years those first residents, various settlers have come and gone, including the Wari invaders around 750 AD—a period which preceded the construction of the buildings which today are called Pikillacta.
The Inca Civilization began around 1200 AD, and with it came the development of Cusco into a major political and religious center, one that could serve a relatively large population. A large expansion phase began around 1400
AD, when the Incas laid out the city in the shape of a Puma, their sacred animal. The ex- pansion was short-lived as the Spanish would arrive next century, on November 15, 1533. Thus began violent and ruthless attempts to conquer the city. In 1536 the Incas rebelled against the Spanish in an attempt to regain control of the city. The ensuing war lasted 36 years, finally ending when the head of Túpac Amaru, the Inca dynasty's last emperor, was lopped off in Cusco's Main Square.
Cusco experienced a large earthquake in
1650, after which nearly every colonial build- ing needed to be rebuilt (further emphasiz- ing the quality of the Inca architecture, much of which remains standing today). A valiant attempt at emancipation was attempted in
1780 by José Gabriel Thupa Amaro Inga. When he was betrayed by his followers, and he and his whole family were executed in Cusco's Main Square. Independence was finally achieved in 1821, following a long, bloody process that served as the template for Latin America.
Once a stunning Inca capital, Cusco today offers one of the finest mixes of pre-Colum- bian, colonial and modern mestizo culture of any South American city. Cusco is often referred to as the archeological capital of South America. The colonial history of the city is not completely untouched, but the central historical area has not undergone an overwhelming number of alternations despite the high concentration of stores, hotels, restaurants, tour operators and other tourist-driven enterprises. A quick walk through the city allows visitors to see the influence of different periods of history with the naked eye. Inca ruins such as the Temple of the Sun contrast with Span- ish churches and mansions, underscoring Cusco's various phases of development.
Cusco's unique mix of Amerindian and mestizo culture has persevered despite a massive influx of tourism. The best ex- ample is Inti Raymi, an Inca tradition that celebrates the winter solstice, according to the ancient Inca sundial. Locals and tour- ists alike are welcome to participate in the day-long event, in a show of how Cusco has reconciled its indigenous history with its recent tourism boom.
Legend has it that when the ancient sun god made his two children, Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, they emerged out of Lake Titicaca and on an island in the lake, he gave them a great golden staff to be used for a specific task. The task? Founding the Peruvian Incans and finding the most ap- propriate location by sticking the staff into the ground. Manco and his sister, Mama, searched Peru high and low for the right spot, but the staff would not stick into the ground. Finally, they came upon the most beautiful place they had seen yet. They stuck the staff in the ground and it stuck. They founded the city of Cusco, conquering the tribes already living there and ruling them under the Incan Empire. Manco mar- ried his sister and they ruled side-by-side.
Some legends say that in the spot where they stuck the golden staff, Manco and Mama also built a Temple of the Sun dedi- cated to their father. If the legends are cor- rect Manco would have been ruling the In- cans in about the 12th century. During the
17th century, the Santo Domingo Church and Qoricancha were built on the site of the Temple of the Sun; the spot remains one of the biggest and most impressive tourist attractions in Cusco.
For convenience sake, most people get to Cusco via airplane; a bus from Lima can cost $35 but takes 26 hours. You can break up the trip by stopping over in Nasca, but you would still have to leave at night to resume your trip. By contrast, a plane trip costs $70 and only takes an hour. Except for chartered planes, there are no international flights to Aeropuerto Internacional Velasco Astete in Cusco. The train stations, Estación de Huanchaq and Estación de San Pedro, connect to Aguas Calientes (Machu Pic- chu), Arequipa, Puno, and the Oriente (the Amazon jungle). There is also bus service between Cusco and those four regions.
For those travelling to Cusco from Lima who do not want to take the over 24-hour, non-stop bus ride needed to access--or depart from--the region, there is the Ale- jandro Velasco Astete International Air- port. The airtime between the two cities is one hour. Freshly remodeled, this is one of the most modern of all Latin American airports; the only one featuring board- ing bridges between the terminal and the planes. It is named after a Peruvian pilot who in 1925 was the first man to fly over the Andes. The airport has mostly domes- tic flights, though it does receive some in- ternational charter flights. Due to its high altitude (10,860 feet / 3310 meters above sea level), all flights to Cusco from Lima leave in the morning. The airport is about three miles (5 kilometers) east-southeast of the city; a cab will take you there for 6 soles ($2), or you can take a bus for one sol. There are no hotels at the airport, so an early departure may end up choosing to sleep on the floors. It is safe and well-pa- trolled by guards. An ATM dispenses cash with most cards. A special feature of this airport is the domesticated and people- friendly alpacas that will greet you, and are open to both petting and pictures.
Most of what you will want to see in Cusco is within walking distance of the central Plaza de Armas, but if it is late, if you are in a hurry, or going to or from the outly- ing residential areas, there are plenty of cabs available. The tourist police recom- mend that tourists only use cabs that have the diamond-shaped sticker of official approval in their windshields. Apart from that, there are many combis or mini-vans, which can take you to the airport and other points around town.
Cusco plays host to several yearly festivals, some driven by Amerindian influences, others by post-Columbian traditions and some that blend both. The most well attended and most popular festival in Cusco is Inti Raymi, the yearly Inca festival celebrating the winter solstice on June
24, according to the Inca Sundial (modern sci- ence has since pinned the date to June 21).
Qoyllur Rit'i usually takes place on the Sun- day before Corpus Christi. People make the pilgrimage from all over to pray to the Lord of Qoyllur Rit'i who they believe has powers to bring them success in love, school, etc.
The festival is capped off by a procession on the final night when hundreds of people climb the surrounding glaciers and lug down huge icicles. The icicles are melted to produce holy water which is thought to help the sick com- munity members. As in pretty much all Latin American cities, Cusco lets loose for Carnival. The celebration peaks the Monday and Tues- day before Ash Wednesday and is a great time to visit Cusco if you want to party.
Likewise, Semana Santa, held during Easter, is celebrated all over Latin America. Cusco celebrates by holding numerous processions through the streets, including an Easter Monday procession led by El Señor de los Temblores (Lord of the Earthquakes). For the Santuranticuy festival, on December 24, hundreds of artisans head to Cusco's Plaza de Armas to spread their wares out on blankets. It is one of the largest craft fairs in Peru.
Tourist Information Office
Monday - Friday, 8 a.m.-6:30 p.m., and
Saturday, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Portal Mantas
117-A (next to the La Merced Church),als hall, Tel: 51-84-247-364. For tourist information and assistance.
The following services may be helpful for tourists while in Cusco: Tourist Information Office Portal Mantas 188 (next to the La Mer- ced Church) Telephone: 51-84263-176 Hours: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-6:30 p.m., and Sat- urday, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Tourist Police Saphi
510 Telephone: 51-84-249-654 The Tourist Police will provide information and will also investigate crimes that are committed against tourists, such as theft of property. More seri- ous crimes are handled by other law enforce- ment organizations. Immigration Av. el Sol
620 (1/2 block uphill from the post office) Telephone: 51-84-224-741 Hours: Monday- Friday, 8 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2-4:30 p.m.
Visas can be renewed for 30 days without leaving the country for $20. Monday - Friday,
8 a.m.-4:15 p.m. Av. el Sol 620 (1/2 block up- hill from the post office), Tel: 51-84-222-741
CIMA Hyperbaric Center
Cusco is often breathtaking…in more ways than one. Even the most athletic are not im- mune to high altitude sickness if they are not accustomed to high up climates. Altitude sick- ness a condition which can affect people at over 2,400 meters (8,000 feet) over sea level. Cusco is 3,536 meters (11,600 feet), and such symptoms as dizziness and fatigue can develop into high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). The CIMA Hyperbaric Center, with its hyperbaric chamber, has become one of the most respect- ed clinics in Cusco for treating high altitude sickness. They also provide any and all needed vaccinations and medical assistance relating to outdoor sports. 978 Avenida Pardo, Tel:
San Pedro Market / Mercado Central
(ENTRANCE: FREE) Located across from the San Pedro train station; a few blocks southwest of the Plaza de Armas, the central market offers one-stop shopping for the trav- eler with a grocery list and limited needs in the souvenir department. Though the Mer- cado Central is largely dedicated to sales of fruits, vegetables, meats and bread, there are a few vendors hawking souvenirs to those tourists who wander in. For practical goods, like socks or batteries, the Mercado Cen- tral gets the job done, although the range of goods is infinitesimal compared to Mercado Mollina. most markets in Peru, the Mercado Central has plenty of cheap local eats for the traveler with a sense of adventure and an iron stomach. Open Daily.
Cusco Tourist Ticket / Boleto Turístico Cusco
What is it? Even if you plan to visit only a few places in and around Cusco, it is wise to purchase the Cusco Tourist Ticket (Boleto Turístico Cusco, or BTC). It's the only way to get into some of Cusco's main attractions, and includes useful maps of the regions and the city. Although, recently the tourist ticket has changed and you have to buy tickets for the different sites individually. How much is them? $10 adults $5 students under age
26 with ISIC card Note: The ticket only lasts ten days but can be renewed at any one of the two offices below. Where can I get them? Although it's theoretically available from all the sites on the ticket, your best bet is to buy it from one of the following two tour offices in Cusco: OFEC Avenida El Sol 103, #106
Telephone: 51-84-227-037 Monday-Friday,
8 a.m.-5 p.m. Casa Garcilaso corner of Gar- cilaso and Heladeros Telephone: 51-84-226-
919 Monday-Friday, 7:45 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat- urday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m.-noon. They cover Cusco Cathedral, Museo de Arte Religioso, Iglesia San Blas, Museo Histórico Regional Museo de Arte y Monasterio de Santa Catalina, Museo Palacio Municipal, Museo de Sitio Qoricancha Sacsayhuamán, Q'enqo, Puca, Pucara, Tambo, Machay, Pikil- lacta, Tipón and the Pisac, Ollantaytambo and Chinchero ruins.
With a commanding spot at the center of the city, the Plaza de Armas is perhaps the best point from which to start exploring the city. From here you can access all of the Cusco's major attractions, which spread out across the city along all four points of the compass. Within the Plaza de Armas you will find the Portal de Panes, Cusco Cathedral, Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, Chapel of El Se- ñor de los Temblores, Museo Inka, and Igle- sia de la Compañía de Jesús.
Following Callejón Loreto to the west of the Plaza de Armas will bring you to the spec- tacular stone walls of ancient Acclahuasi, or Temple of the Sun Virgins, where the Spanish built the Convent of Santa Catalina in 1610. Today about thirty sisters continue to live and worship here; inside is the Museo de Arte y Monasterio de Santa Catalina. South- east from the convent, at the intersection of Avenida El Sol and Calle Santa Domingo, is the complex of Qoricancha Templo del Sol and Santo Domingo, a wonderful example of the city's characteristic mix of Spanish and Inca cultures. Within three minute's walk of this architectural amalgamation is the Museo de Sitio Qoricancha, which offers an interest- ing display of various archeological artifacts.
To the southwest of the Plaza de Armas are the Iglesia y Convento de la Merced and the Plaza de San Francisco, where you will find the Museo y Convento de San Francisco. Fur- ther to the south is the Central Market, which is known for its quality alpaca goods and an- tique textiles. Another area of interest lies near the Plaza Regocijo, just a block south- west of the Plaza de Armas. In the southwest corner of the plaza stands the Museo Históri- co Regional, the residence of a prolific half- Inca, half-Spanish poet and author, and now the home to pre-Inca ceramics, Inca artifacts and numerous examples of Cusco's historic art. If you're in need of a drink but don't want to stray too far, then follow Calle Santa Te- resa from Plaza Regocijo to the House of the Pumas, a small café whose entrance sports six pumas carved by the Spanish during the rebuilding of Cusco. Not far from the café is the Iglesia de Santa Teresa, which features beautiful paintings of St. Teresa, usually illuminated by candlelight.
Wander northeast of the Plaza de Armas, along Calle Córdoba del Tucmán, and you'll stumble across Plaza Nazarenas, a small and quiet section of town that boasts the Chapel of San Antonio Abad, Museo de Cerámica, and Museo Taller Hilario Mendivil. This area also has four other important attrac- tions: the Museo de Arte Religioso, Hathun Rumiyoq, the most famous Inca passageway in the city; and Iglesia San Blas and San Blas, a bustling artisan neighborhood whose steep cobblestone streets offer fantastic views of the city. NOTE: Whether or not you plan to visit all the attractions in Cusco, it is worth purchasing the Cusco Tourist Ticket (Boleto Turístico General, BTG), which covers many of the historic museums, cathedrals, and ruins in the Cusco area.
Located in the center of Cusco on the Plaza de Armas, Cusco's massive stone cathedral is well worth a visit. Construction began in 1560; much of the stone used to build the ca- thedral was brought from Sachsayhuamán and other Inca sites. Time and earthquakes took their toll on the cathedral; an ambitious resotration project took place between 1997 and 2002. Much of the stonework has been shored up and the magnificent paintings have been delicately wiped clean of centu- ries of grime. Be sure to check out the Matia Angola bell in the bell tower, made with more than fifty pounds of gold. The entrance is no longer included as part of the Cusco Tourist Ticket. You now have to buy a ticket separately for 25 soles. Plaza de Armas.
The Church and Convent of Mercy was orig- inally built in 1535, making it one of the old- est religious institutions in South America. It was rebuilt after an earthquake destroyed it in 1654, and is still host to the white-robed Order of Mercy priesthood. The impres- sively designed courtyard and select rooms, all filled with centuries-old religious art (in- cluding a 16th century menorah), are open to general public. The wall murals were origi- nally reproductions of Catholic iconography from the order's home in Seville, Spain, and they include what may be considered a very controversial depiction of the Virgin Mary. This is essential touring for those who want to understand Cusco's colonial past. Open 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Closed Noon - 2 p.m. and Sundays. Manta 121 ,Tel: 51-8-423-1821.
(ENTRANCE: $5.50 or with BTC) Iglesia San Blas is just one of the Cusco attractions located in the bustling artisan neighborhood of San Blas. Built in 1563, Iglesia San Blas is thought to be one of the oldest parishes in Cusco. Although unremarkable from the outside, this small, white-washed adobe church houses, one of the most exquisite ex- amples of woodcarving in the world. Carved in a churrigueresque style from a single tree trunk, the famous cedar pulpit features in- tricately carved images of the Virgin Mary, apostles, cherubs, a sun-disc and bunches of grapes. Perhaps as interesting as the pulpit is the story that accompanies it. According to legend (you'll have to decide for yourself if it's true), the carpenter who created the pul- pit's skull was placed inside the masterpiece, at the top beneath St. Paul's feet. While you're looking for the skull (let us know if you find it!) be sure to check out the ba- roque gold-leaf main altar. Plaza San Blas.
For art aficionados and architecture fiends alike, the Museo de Arte Religioso is one of the most interesting spots in the city. Like many other attractions in Cusco, the museum sports a rich cultural history that appears in both the architecture outside and artwork inside.
The museum itself is located inside the Pala- cio Arzobispal, which sits adjacent to Hatun- rumiyoc, a magnificent pedestrian alleyway lined with Inca stone masonry. The name Hatun Rumiyoc means "Street with the Big Stone," which is a reference to the massive
12-sided stone situated perfectly in the cen- ter of the wall. Originally the site of Inca Roca palace, the building has also served as the residence of the former Spanish marquis and the Archbishop of Cusco.
Today, this building houses a collection of colonial religious paintings. One room in particular is filled with paintings by Marcos Zapata, an 18th century mestizo artist whose work often mixed indigenous elements with religious themes. In addition to the artwork, you're sure to admire the Moorish-style doors, ornately carved cedar ceilings and spectacular stained-glass windows. For a breath of fresh air, step out into the court- yard, adorned with blue and white tiles from Seville. Monday-Saturday, 8-11:30 a.m., 3-5:30 p.m., Corner of Hatun Rumiyoc and Palacio, Tel: 51-8-422-5211.
Formerly the residence of one of Peru's most famous writers and Inca historians, Garcilaso de la Vega, the Museo Histórico Regional now offers an excellent review of Peruvian history, from pre-Inca civilizations to the Inca and colonial periods. Though the mu- seum is not particularly well labeled, it does have interesting displays of Inca agricultural tools, colonial furniture and paintings, in- cluding a mummy with braids 1.5m long and photos of the damage incurred after the 1951 earthquake. In terms of Cusco attractions, this is an excellent place to start, as it pro- vides a thorough archeological overview of the Chavín, Moche, Chimú, and Chancay cultures, in addition to exhibits that trace the evolution of the Cusqueña School of paint- ing. Whether you're an avid historian, or just want to learn more about Peruvian culture, plan to spend a couple of hours exploring the exhibits. Plaza Regocijo (corner of Gar- cilaso and Heladeros), Tel: 51-84-223-245, Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Located under the garden below Santo Do- mingo, the Museo de Sitio Qoricancha consists of three small rooms, which contain a pre-Columbian collection, Spanish paintings from the 18th century and photos of the ex- cavation of Qoricancha. Although it is one of the smaller attractions in Cusco, this muse- um also has a decent collection of ceramics, metalwork and textile weavings dating back to Inca and pre-Inca civilizations. Avenida El Sol (across from Qoricancha).
(ENTRANCE: $15 or with BTC) Perched forebodingly in the hillsides rising above Cusco, the fortress of Sacsayhuamán make up some of the most impressive and closest ruins in the area. Few structures now re- main inside, but the massive 20-meter-high outer walls that zigzag together like razor- sharp teeth have stood stalwartly against past battles, earthquakes and time.
Emperor Pachacútec began building the hillside citadel in the 1440s, but the massive complex wasn't completed for almost anoth- er 100 years. Every Inca citizen was required to spend at least a few months a year build- ing it, which involved dragging the massive stone blocks (one block is estimated to weigh an astounding 300 tons) via a system of log sleds and levers from as far as 32 kilometers away. Legend has it that 3,000 people died while dragging a single stone into place. Dur- ing Manco Inca's great rebellion, the fortress was the scene of a massacre of an estimated 1,500 Inca soldiers who became trapped in- side the three stone towers. Rather than face death at the Spaniards hands, many Incas leapt to their deaths from the high towers. The next morning condors feasted on the pile of corpses; the image was captured for- ever on Cusco's coat-of-arms.
Even today engineers marvel at the scope and scale of the ruin's stonework, which fits together perfectly without mortar. Like oth- er ruins in the Cusco area, Sacsayhuamán exemplifies the Inca's extraordinary archi- tectural prowess. A huge trapezoidal door leads into the ruins from the walkway. From here you can explore inside the ruins, which once consisted of an intricate network of small streets and buildings overshadowed by three main towers. Today, adjacent to the grassy esplanade in front of the main defen- sive walls, is Rodadero (Sliding Place), an in- tricately carved volcanic outcrop where the Inca throne once stood. In ancient times, this area was probably used for ceremonial gath- erings. Even today you may be lucky enough to catch one of the many sun ceremonies still
held throughout the year. If you can, plan to visit the ruins around the Inti Raymi festival held in June, during the summer solstice. From Sacsayhuamán you can also reach the Inca ruins of Q'enqo, Puca Pucara, and Tambo Machay. 2 kilometers from Cusco, getting there: From the Plaza de Armas, it's a 45-minute steep climb 2 kilometers uphill. Follow Calle Suecia to Calle Huaynapata, to Calle Pumacuro, which winds its way uphill past a small café. From the café it's about a 10-minute walk via signposts. Travel tips: Night tours available 8-10 p.m., but bring a flashlight and some friends.
(ENTRANCE: $10 or with BTC) The temple and amphitheater ruins of Q'enqo are locat- ed east of the giant white statue of Christ, perched on the hill next to Sacsayhuamán, and are only about a 20-minute walk from the famous fortress ruins. The Q'engo ruins derive their name from the Quechua word meaning "zig-zag," a reference to the series of perfectly carved channels adorning the upper western edge of the temple's stone. In ancient times these channels probably flowed with chichi, sacrificial llama blood used by priests during annual fertility festi- vals and solstice and equinox celebrations. In addition to the channels, Q'enqo sports a series of intricately carved designs, includ- ing steps, seats, geometric reliefs, pumas and condors. The hollowed-out limestone outcropping which comprises the main al- tar emphasizes the importance of the Rock Cult in Inca cosmological beliefs, and simi- lar rock carvings can be found throughout the surrounding foothills. The complex also offers visitors the opportunity to explore a series of caves and tunnels beneath the rock. If you're up for a walk, you can also access the ruins of Puca Pucara and Tambo Machay from here. Near Sacsayhuamán ru- ins, to get there follow the signs posted on the main road from Sacsayhuamán.
(ENTRANCE: $7 or with BTC) Though per- haps the least impressive of the ruins around Cusco, Puca Pucara offers stunning views of the Cusco Valley and glaciers to the south. Located about 11 kilometers outside the city, right beside the main Cusco-Pisac road, the ruins can also be reached via a one to two hour cross-country walk uphill from Sacsay- huamán and Q'enqo. In Quechua its name means Red Fort, and the complex was prob- ably used by Emperor Pachacútec as a tam- bo, or out-of-town lodge. It's likely that the Emperor's court was stationed here when the Emperor came to visit the nearby baths of Tambo Machay. Beneath the complex there are several chambers to explore; the platform on top offers spectacular views. To get there go 11 kilometers from Cusco down the Cusco-Pisac road.
(ENTRANCE: $10 or with BTC) Located just a 15-meter walk along a sign-posted path from the main road past Puca Pucara, Tambo Machay ruins are one of the more impressive examples of Inca baths, which can be found at nearly every important Inca temple, in- cluding Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Machu Picchu. Water was worshipped by the Incas as a vital life element, and the painstakingly carved network of aqueducts and canals that comprise these baths are a reminder of their fascination with water. The complex consists of three tiered platforms which ingeniously channel spring water into three impressive waterfalls. All of the waterworks still func- tion today. The quality of stonework indicates that the site was probably restricted to higher nobility, who might have used the baths only on ceremonial occasions. The site also has an impressive Inca wall that rises above the cer- emonial niches. Near Puca Pucara.
(ENTRANCE: $7 or with BTC) Much of the ancient Inca's organizational expertise and city planning abilities originated from the pre-Inca Huari Empire, which dominated the lands of Peru from 500 to 1000 A.D. An interesting example of Huari engineering is Rumicolca, an ancient aqueduct poised on a valley along the side of the high- way, about 32 kilometers (22 miles) from Cusco. After their rise to power, the Incas converted this ancient water channel into a massive gateway to Cusco. Not far from Rumicolca is Pikillacta, the largest provin- cial outpost ever built by the Ayacucho- based Huari and one of the only pre-Inca sites of importance near Cusco. Were it not included on the Cusco Tourist Ticket, this 47-hectare, adobe-walled compound might go unnoticed; and, it affords visitors a great opportunity to check out pre-Inca architecture. Though little is known about the site's history, we can tell you that the little turquoise figurines displayed in Cus- co's Museo Inka, were discovered here.
Taxis won't drive up it, and you'll have a hard time finding your hotel if it's on it, but for some reason the tight, narrow cobblestoned street, Calle Procuradores, just off the west side of Plaza de Armas is known among lo- cals as "Gringo Alley." Unless your hostel is down the alley, you're likely to pass by the unassuming entrance, which looks like a barren road. But take a stroll down and you will find a handful of charming hostels, a slew of authentic artisanal shops, several Internet cafés and a few great, mouth-wa- tering, mid-range restaurants and bars you won't want to miss. Its tall colonial buildings and narrow streets capture the air of old Eu- rope. Calle Procuradores leads to a maze of small, seemingly endless alleys where you'll find even more shops and hotels. The nick- name, Gringo Alley may be a bit deceiving since it's not really all gringos; in fact, it's less gringo than the tourist glitz of Plaza de Armas. So, what makes this quaint sector a gringo zone exactly? Well, it is where grin- gos have been going in recent years to get away from the hustle of the Plaza de Armas and, of course, it has a steady flow of tour- ists. Whoever started this trend was on to something—it's close to everything a tourist needs, but feels more like a piece of San Blas.
Characterized by steep cobblestone alleys with spectacular views of the city, San Blas is one of the oldest and most picturesque neighborhoods in Cusco. A thriving artistic community lives here—some families have been operating in San Blas for decades— and it is known for producing fine tradi- tional and contemporary artwork. As many streets are pedestrian-only, San Blas is an excellent place to explore on foot. A relaxed stroll through streets lined with studios and workshops is a great way to soak in the artis- tic atmosphere and do some window-shop- ping. While you're in the neighborhood, you may want to head over to Iglesia San Blas, home to one of the New World's most fa- mous woodcarvings. As you wander, be sure to look out for your belongings, as tourists aren't the only people scoping out the area; thieves operate here too.
North of Cusco's Plaza de Armas towards Cuesta San Blas, you will come upon one of the most haunting tokens of a civiliza- tion: the foundation for the one-time pal- ace of 14th century Incan ruler Inca Roca. Throughout Cusco, the Spanish attempted to establish their hegemony by demolishing a century's worth of physically impressive architecture from the Incan and pre-Incan civilization. But they couldn't quite destroy it all. The stone blocks were too large, too heavy and, above all, too tightly fit. The wall on Calle Hatun Rumiyoc is particu- larly fascinating; locals will approach you and point out how the Incas were able to so tightly fit irregular blocks of stone, is a mystery yet to be solved by archaeologists and architects. The stones have the distinct outline of a puma, an animal considered sacred in Inca religion. The original city of Cusco itself is also supposed to resemble this animal. At the wall, the animal is seen in a crouching position. The smaller stones at the base of the wall serve as a reminder of Incan ingenuity, in that they functioned as shock absorbers for the wall itself, which accounts for how it endured though all the earthquakes in the region's history.
(ENTRANCE: $7 or with BTC) Located 23 kilometers southeast of Cusco, these ruins are not particularly popular among travelers who want to visit some of the bigger-name ruins around the Sacred Valley area. Despite its position off the beaten tourist trail, this extensive temple complex is one of the best examples of Inca stonemasonry, and some might say it is equal to the more celebrated ruins of Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Chinche- ro. The temple includes well-preserved agri- cultural terraces, baths, irrigation canals and aqueducts that emphasize the Inca's skillful building technique. The ruins can be reached via a steep one-hour climb up a lovely path, or up a dirt road by car. If you're feeling es- pecially agile, you can check out the ruins located about a 2-hour climb above Tipón. Note: It's virtually impossible to visit the ruins during the rainy season. 23 kilometers (14 miles) southeast of Cusco.
Of the numerous attractions in Cusco, this should be on the top of your list. Once home to nearly 4,000 of the Empire's high- est ranking priests and their attendants, Qoricancha was an extraordinary display of Inca masonry and wealth. Dedicated to the worship of the sun, the Temple of the Sun was the main astronomical observatory for the Incas. The complex also included smaller temples and shrines dedicated to the worship of less important deities of the moon, Venus, thunder, lightning and rain- bows. In Quechua its name means Golden Courtyard, which is an appropriate title for a temple once adorned with gold panels, life-size gold figures, solid gold altars and a gigantic golden sun disc all intended to re- flect sunlight and drench the entire temple in golden light. During the summer, light enters a strategically placed niche, where only the Inca Chieftan was allowed to sit.
When the Spanish ransacked the city during their conquests, this glorious shrine to the sun was stripped of its golden accoutrements and most of its aesthetic glory. The Temple of the Sun was awarded to Juan Pizarro, younger brother of Francisco, who willed it to the Dominicans after he was wounded during the siege of Sacsayhuamán. Eventu- ally the temple's carefully constructed stones were used as the foundation for the Convent of Santo Domingo, a baroque church built in the 17th century.
Today the site of Qoricancha and Santo Do- mingo is a magnificent testament to the cul- tural collision that occurred when the Span- ish descended on the Inca Empire. Recent excavations have uncovered five chambers once belonging to the temple, in addition to some of the best stonework visible in Cusco. The sex-meter curved wall beneath the west end of the church, which has withstood repeated earthquakes, is perhaps the best example of Inca masonry this site offers. Excavations below this wall have uncovered a garden of gold and silver animals, as well as maize and other plants. Another remark- able stretch of Inca masonry extends from Calle Ahuacpinta, located outside the tem- ple to the east of the entrance. Though not as spectacular as either Qoricancha or Santo Domingo, the nearby Museo de Sitio Qori- cancha offers visitors a chance to further investigate and explore the development of Inca and Spanish cultures in the area. Open
8 a.m. - 5 p.m., Sunday 2 - 4p.m.Plazoleta Santo Domingo, Tel: 51-8-422-2071.
(ENTRANCE: $3, no longer included on BTC & closed for renovation at time of writing) Built by the Spanish between 1601 and 1610 on top of Acllahuasi, where the Inca emperor once housed his chosen Virgins of the Sun, this convent and museum houses an inter- esting collection of colonial and religious art. Like other attractions in Cusco, the museum has a number of pieces from the Cusqueña School, an art movement emphasizing the union of both Inca and Spanish culture. In addition to baroque frescoes depicting Inca vegetation, the chapel also houses macabre statues of Jesus, beautifully painted arches and 17th century tapestries. Perhaps the highlight of this site is a series of 3-D figu- rines which recount the life of Christ. Objects such as this were popular devices used by the Catholic Church's "traveling salesmen," who were responsible for converting many of the indigenous people throughout Peru. Santa Catalina Angosta, Tel: 51-84-226-032.
For spectacular views of Inca artifacts head over to Museo Inka. This recently renovated colonial home, run by the Uni- versidad San Antonio de Abad, is located down an alley to the left of the Cusco Ca- thedral. Focused on the development of pre-Inca and Inca culture, the museum contains an intriguing collection of jew- elry, ceramics, textiles, mummies, tre- panned skulls, and a number of metal and gold pieces. Explanations are in English. Be sure to check out the stunning col- lection of miniature turquoise figures, among other examples of offerings to the gods. You may also have a chance to par- take in the weaving demonstrations that take place in the courtyard. Among the at- tractions in Cusco, this museum is famous for housing the world's largest collection of wooden queros, which the Incas once used for drinking. Allow 1 ½ to 2 hours to see the whole collection. Cuesta del Alm- irante 103, Tel: 51-84-237-380.