Cusco – Experience the Capital of an Incan Empire

There is so much to see and do in Cusco it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where to begin.  Cusco is an interesting city filled with a mix of old and new.  As we had a few days before the hike to properly acclimate, we decided to use that time to explore the city and surrounding areas.  Three days was plenty of time to fully explore the city and visit some of the surrounding areas.

About Cusco

Captured by the Spaniards  in the 1500’s, the Spanish were so impressed by the Inca masonry they chose to incorporate it into their new architecture instead of completely razing the city.

We were fortunate to be in the city during the winter solstice so the city was full of life with parades and festivals happening every night.  One of my most memorable experiences was stumbling upon this street festival and being the only gringos among the hundreds of Peruvians.  A Peruvian, perhaps noticing our confusion, grabbed us, hugged us and told us we were one of them for the night.  An awesome welcome to the city indeed!

Where to Stay in Cusco

View from the balcony of Loki Hostel, Cusco

View from our balcony at Loki Hostel

Being a little younger at the time of the trip we decided to stay at Loki Hostel.  Loki Hostel is a “party” hostel and I would only recommend it for those looking to stay up a little later than normal.

We fortunately were staying in the quiet section so the nightly music wasn’t an issue.  The hostel was on a steep hill overlooking the city, while nice it became a pain to get to after days spent exploring the city.  The party reputation comes from the hostel bar.  Peruvians from outlining areas will purposely stay at Loki just to go to the bar.  Typically after it closes down people go as a group to a local club for an after party.  The vibe of the people were friendly so it’s easy to make friends.  They also had lockers for you to charge your phone, which was a nice amenity.

Where to Eat in Cusco

alpaca at Marcelo Batata

Delicious, tender alpaca at Marcelo Batata

We ate at Marcelo Batata one night and the food was excellent.  With a great roof deck to take in the wonderful city views, Marcelo’s was a great evening cap after a long day of walking around.

The alpaca here was a must have and worthy for anyone who is curious what it taste like.  Described to me as a cross between steak and pork – at Marcelo’s they cooked it perfectly.  With extremely reasonable prices (I think we spent about $20 each for tip, a drink and our meal), it was a great way to end the day!

What to do in Cusco

Cusco has so many amazing museums, churches, and historical sites tough to decide where to go first.

Koricancha/ Santo Domingo

Gold Plate Depicting Mother Earth and the Incas at Santo Domingo musuem.

Gold Plate Depicting Mother Earth and the Incas at Santo Domingo museum.

Visiting the combined Koricancha and church of Santo Domingo should be at the top of anyone’s list.  Once with walls of gold Koricancha, or the Temple of the Sun, was the holiest place in the Inca empire.  Converted to the church Santo Domingo by the Spaniards, it’s still a site worth visiting.

When we were there it was also a gathering on Sunday morning for the high Inca “priest” to give his blessings for the Winter Solstice.  It was a neat experience to see all the Peruvians gathered awaiting him to come out in the morning.  There were thousands of people gathered!

Doorway in Qurikancha, Cusco

Doorway in the Qurikancha Temple/Church

Saksaywaman

Saksaywaman was the first Inca ruin we visited on our trip to Cusco.  While no exact date is known when it was built, the massive stones were pillaged by the Spaniards in the reconstruction of Cusco after their occupation.  We used the hike up the hill as our first acclimation hike for the Inca Trail.  Definitely worth a visit even if its to just gaze at the giant stones!

Cusco Cathedral

Built on the ruins of a former Inca temple, Cusco Cathedral is on the main steps of the town square and an impressive site to see.  Most of the stones from the building were taken from Saqsaywaman and when the Spaniards learned of the sacred nature of the sand in the town square, they used it for their mortar.

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