A March 2002 trip
to Cusco by Kez
Quote: Cusco is like being presented with a beautiful uncut gem!
Lacking a little polish on the outside but fascinating when looking into it's many different and intriguing facets of history and daily life.
It is the logical base to explore all the layers of the past that Cusco itself and the Sacred Valley has to offer.
Highlights in Cusco itself beside the Incan walls in evidence all around are the Plaza de Armas with the Cathedral on one side and Koricancha within the Convent of Santo Domingo on the other and San Blas which is known as the artist quarter.
Also allow enough time to visit the other fantastic ruins in the Sacred Valley besides Machu Picchu such as Saqsaywaman, Ollaytambo and Tambo Machay. All of these are exceptional as is the scenery of the valley as a whole. Take the city tour and the Sacred Valley guided tour, personally we are not ones for organised activities but these particular tours turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. This was due to our guide, Jorge, he was studying to be an Archaeologist and was a wealth of information you would otherwise have never have known. We booked him through Cultural Travel on Santa Catalina Angosta just off the square.
On arrival try to have some idea of where you are staying even if you are not really planning on staying where you say because your taxi driver will bound out of the cab before all four wheels have even stopped to your chosen or his recommended hotel thus ruining your chances of obtaining a decent rate due to the fact that he receives a commission for depositing you there even if this was where you were going in the first place!
Prior to entering your first major sight you need to purchase your Cusco tourist ticket for . You buy this at your first entry point and it is then valid for 10 days. It covers entry fees for 16 sites such as Saqsaywaman, the Cathedral, Ollayantambo etc. However it only allows you entry to the museum of Qorikancha not the the site itself, the entry fee is another 4 soles.
Taxis are very plentiful and cheap so these are another option if the altitude is taking it's toll. Be warned every single driver we met was also a "tour guide" and immediately started their sales push!
Their normal door rate was US$45 and at that time their starting price was $35. However most people, including ourselves, seemed to be paying $28 for a double.
The first room we stayed in we really liked; it had balcony in the traditional carved Cusco style that opened on to the street so we could watch all the action, including the endless trail of taxis and hawkers. This was number 109 but it would not be recommended if you liked peace and quiet because it was noisy and there was a street light directly outside that tended to shine in.
When we returned from a few days away, although we had held a reservation, we arrived off the afternoon train from Machu Picchu and it was quite late. We were allocated, from what we could see, the worst room in the house, number 111. It was small, boxy and a little claustrophobic. No windows and only a skylight in the ceiling that doubled as a wake up call as the light streamed straight onto the bed first thing in the morning.
At least our hosts were understanding and moved us then to 113 located looking over a small courtyard. This was probably the pick as it was roomy, comfortable, and quiet, and although it did not offer a passing parade, it offered a higher level of tranquility.
All the rooms offered steaming hot showers with good water pressure along with bar heaters to take the chill off the air in the night.
Breakfast was included in the rate with the choice of coffee or tea and flat rolls, served with a daily dose of cable news so that you weren't totally in the dark about the happenings of the world. They also offered a fairly reasonably priced laundry service.
It is good value for money.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 5, 2002
Hostal Santa Catalina
Calle Santa Catalina Ancha 366
El Cuarte is one of the few restaurants that doesn't have hordes of people trying to drag you in. I think they have a good reputation anyway and don't need to. All the restaurants in the alley have one or two token Mexican dishes on their menu, but this was the only "dedicated" Mexican restaurant. It was also a nice change from the standard dishes on most restaurant menus here.
When you do finally arrive what you will find is a cosy restaurant made up of a couple of different rooms and, I believe, an upstairs section, but this was not open when we were there.
The menu has all the standard Mexican dishes, along with various set menus, for reasonable prices. For example, with a set menu would be included a small chip and dip, a soup, your choice of enchilada or similar, and a dessert, for between 10-15 soles. I would not recommend ordering a set menu for each person as we made that mistake and it was just far too much food. You would be better ordering one set menu with an extra main for two to share. Since it's at such a high altitude, appetites are lower and if you eat all that is served with the set menus you, feel like rolling back to your hotel and lying down for a few hours before being able to sleep.
They also have Pisco Sours, Sangria, and wine by the Jarra or glass. If you pick up one of their small flyers it entitles you to A Pisco Sour gratis. Yummy.
El Cuarte Mexican Food
Attraction | "City Tour including nearby ruins"
Try to book when Jorge, the tour guide studying to be an archeologist, is working. He is an absolute treasure trove of information.
First of all we went to the Cathedral; after some waiting and much knocking on the door using the big old brass knocker the door was finally opened. You enter through the door over which a skull and cross bones is engraved. Jorge explained that this was the last room that held the condemned prisoners before they were taken to their deaths. Continuing into the actual church, he explained how the Spanish religious beliefs and the local beliefs were intertwined. For example, the use of mirrors on the walls interspersed with the religious paintings. These were used not only for the curse of vanity but also as the Indigenous people believed if that if they could see their image they had committed a sin and therefore had to do penance. There was also a painting of The Last Supper. But where the face of Judas was meant to be the artist, without permission, had substituted the face of Pisarro. Of course the poor artist paid the ultimate price and was subsequently executed.
Next stop Koricancha (or Qorikancha), with its Inca walls and cubicles, complete with niches for offerings and sacrificial altar.
Next, out of town to Sacsayhuaman or Sexy Woman as it is called; it was fantastic with all those gigantic stones.
On to Qenqo with its cave that you walk down into. Then on past Pukapukara and to Tambomachay with its wonderous aquaducts and terraces with ceremonial niches.
We found the way the Incas had designed their walls was very sophisticated; they always used sets of three (their sacred number), in their interlocking design of stones, whilst allowing for expansion,contraction, earthquakes or whatever else was thrown at them.
For just 20 soles this tour offers superb value and if you are lucky enough to score the same guide it is a real afternoon of discovery! All entry fees are covered on the Tourist ticket for $10 except for entry into Koricancha. This is an extra 4 soles.
Cusco, Peru 00 51
0051 84 273693
Attraction | "Sacred Valley of the Inca's"
In the town of Pisac the markets are a great place to sift through what's on offer: some unusual pieces and great souvenirs. Besides the normal woolly Alpaca things and typical touristy buys, you can find some ancient treasures. We bought an Incan statue made from white granite from near Machu Picchu. There was not only old stone relics but also loads of pottery pieces. Also, from the colonial era, there were old coins, silver pieces and even the old wooden stirrups, enclosed and richly carved. I could have spent the entire day there browsing.
Ollantaytambo was the next highlight and our favourite ruin aside from Machu Picchu. Our guide was the same one as we had for the city tour so was a wealth of information.
He explained how, when originally built, the large stones (and they were gigantic) of the ruin came from across the other side of the river. When they were all down next to it, the river was actually re-routed around them so that they could be moved up into position. He also pointed out the face carved into the mountain so as to "scare" off the native peoples from the Amazon, as they carried many diseases such as malaria that the Incas had no resistance to.
We also learned how they had calculated exactly where the wind would hit the mountains around them, so that when it came down through the valley, they built their storage huts for grain and dry-goods in these spots so that their food supply stayed fresh and dry.
Then we moved on to the village of Chinchero, with their church and square with their kids all wanting to know your name and where you were from.
And then after an exciting day past some of the most beautiful mountain scenery back to Cusco.
If you have the Cusco Tourist ticket all entry fees are included with this.
A very enjoyable and interesting tour.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 6, 2002
Sacred Valley of the Incas
Valley In The Andes Of Peru
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