Thursday, August 2, 2012

Journey of a Lifetime ( Part 7 ) Cusco " The Imperial City "

Located at an altitude of over 11,000 feet above sea level in the heart of the Andes mountains, is the dynamic and historic city of Cusco. Cusco is the famed capital of the ancient Inca Empire, and it has served as a travelers’ mecca for hundreds of years. When you visit Cusco, you feel as if you’ve been transported to another dimension of sorts. Perhaps that is partly due to the altitude’s effect on your body and mind. If you haven’t yet adjusted to the Andes Mountains, it would be best to spend the better part of your first day simply lounging around with altitude sickness. Cusco is more than just Inca relics and magic leaves, there is a hearty Spanish colonial feel to the city as well.

When we arrived in Cusco, we had to transfer to a smaller bus. Jesus informed us that our bus was not allowed to enter the main city because their streets were narrow and it would be very hard to navigate a huge tourist bus around the city.

On our way to our hotel ( San Agustin International ), I was surprised to see that Cusco had cobblestone streets, stone buildings with big wooden carved doors and central courtyards, fountains with statues of inca warriors, and the mountains in the background. With such a fantastic sight it  will make you want to study the history of the Inca people and the Spanish conquerers who made this city.

After checking in our hotel, we went on a tour of the city. 

We went walking down to the Plaza De Armas and shopped around in the local artisan areas. I really loved seeing all the different souvenirs, crafts, and artwork they have for sale. Everything was so colorful and there were so many choices.

Here are some places we visited in Cusco :


Built in 1550, the baroque- style cathedral in the central tourist gathering spot of the Plaza de Armas is one of Cusco’s most impressive architectural structures. In 1983, the Cusco Cathedral was listed as a UNSECO World Heritage Site. There are two chapels built on either side of the main chapel. The one on the left is called El Triunfo or Church of Triumph. It was built on the site of the main Inca armoury. It symbolizes Spains victory over the Inca. On the right side is the chapel of the Sagrada Familia.

As we were entering the main cathedral, Jesus informed the group that NO PICTURES ALLOWED! I felt disappointed. But when we entered the cathedral I knew why they did not like any pictures inside. The art work was fantastic, from the paintings to the carvings and everything else in between. Spectacular! It had a huge collection of colonial art. Their craftmanship was simply mind boggling!!! I do not know which was more impressive, the solid silver altar or the carved cedar choir. In my opinion, I would surmise that the choir was the most outstanding !! - there were a lot of wonderful wood carvings as you walk around the cathedral. I was very impressed with the intricately carved gold altars stunning and the silver religious vessels. The "Lord of the Earthquakes" crucifix was beautifully decorated with fresh flowers. One should not miss the Andean version of the "Last Supper" which was tucked away behind the main altar, It was done by local indigenous artists of the Cusco School and is unique in the world. In this rendition of the  passover, Jesus and the apostles are dining on cuy ( guinea pig ) and drinking chicha. How else would you celebrate Passover if you were an Inca?  This is a must see!!! According to Jesus, many silver artifacts that are on display in cathedral are still used in current day ceremonies.

** The Church of Truimph or  Iglesia de Triunfo was built in 1536, just three years after the conquistadores settled in Cusco. This building is important because it was the first Christian church to be built in the area.


The convent of Santo Domingo was completed in 1633. Inside the convent you will see several chapels with sculptures and paintings. There are sculptures of Saint Dominic and a painting of the Virgin of the Rosaries. The outside courtyard is very beautiful and impressive. In the middle of it is a stone rectangular tank coming from an Incan temple. The walls of the convent surrounding the main yard have paintings about the life of Saint Dominic. We were not allowed to take photos of the paintings.

Jesus told us the history of this site. Koricancha was a temple built by the Incas to worship INTI who was their Sun god. It has been said the walls were covered in gold and shows of wealth. There was a huge figure of a Sun god made in all gold. The god was said to have a rounded face with thunder and flames of fire. Koricancha housed special Incan mummies that were decorated in gold and gems and were taken out on special occasions for processions. The people considered these mummies to be like saints living with god. Koricancha Temple also served as the main astronomical observatory for the Incas.

The workmanship of these walls was amazing! Take note on how the bricks where laid and the smoothness of the stones. How the Inca polished these stones remains a mystery. Jesus explained to us how these Inca walls have withstood earthquakes. According to him,  there were several contributing factors: the walls are thicker at the base, the size of the stones decreases towards the top of the wall, and all doorways and niches are trapezoidal in shape. The bricks were so heavy that would make you ask yourself... how did the Incas carry these bricks??


It is just a couple of blocks from Plaza de Armas ( the main square of Cusco ). San Pedro Market looks like a semi-outdoor mega-supermarket.  Also known as the Central Market in Cusco, it has become a tourist destination.

In this market you can have a first hand experience on how the locals live day to day. This is the biggest fresh market in Cusco, and a food lover’s dream come true. Here you can get all the fresh ingredients for a meal, a bouquet of gorgeous flowers, and all the spices and condiments. Unlike other markets I have gone to, the San Pedro Market has no smell and it was very clean inside! 

It’s comprised of different stands housed under a roof of corrugated metal. The stands are organized according to their wares. 

Here are some things you can buy in the market:

Fresh herbs 

Huge rounds of bread which were bigger than my head.

Different varieties of corn




San Pedro market is also home to local medicine. This is located at the lower half of the market in a row selling medicinal herbs and diagnosing symptoms for locals seeking traditional remedies. In this stall you can see different kinds of teas and coffees. I bought a box of coca tea here to take home as a souvenir to friends.

Different varieties of potatoes

The San Pedro Market is the center of Peruvian life. Part of the fun was listening to the witty exchanges between neighbouring stall holders, as they compete for the attention of customers. People watchers could spend an entire day among the sea of vendors listening to the haggling over prices, watching the tourists trying on faux alpaca sweaters and eavesdropping on the " mamitas " gossiping with children strapped to their backs.

Inside the market here is what you can do:

- hear the language as it is spoken and properly pronounced.
- view the gestures and habits that are common to the Andean culture.
- smell the scents of local produce and flora.
- see the fruits, vegetables and meats that make up the main staples of traditional meals.

 I highly recommend this place to every traveler visiting Cusco. San Pedro Market is a great option that is within a 10 minute stroll from the main plaza.

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