Cusco City - On the Trail of the Incas

A look at some of the Inca ruins and sites of interest located in and around the glorious city of Cusco.


Q'enqo

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Shady Ady on October 21, 2006

Towards the East of Sacsaywaman and included in most of the city tours of Cusco is the small, but rather fascinating Inca ruins of Q’Enqo (also spelt Q’Enko). Q’Enqo is a Quechua word that means ‘labyrinth’, ‘twisted’ or ‘zig-zag’ and is said to be one of the 365 adoratories that should have existed in the Qosqo Valley.

The Q’Enqo Inca ruins consist of a small outcrop of limestone riddled with extraordinary symbolic carvings, niches, steps, and channels. As the site is thought to have been used for ritual sacrifices and ceremonies, the channels probably carried away the blood of llamas, and possibly also young virgins, who were also sacrificed by the Incas. I found it very strange to hear that in Incan times, to be chosen as a human sacrifice to the Gods was seen as the biggest honour, and such virgins were often treated almost as a God themselves. If anyone were to cause harm to these virgins then as a punishment whole villages could be killed off in retaliation, which is what some historians say could have happened to the people of Machu Picchu.

Etchings of puma, llama, and condors can still be seen to this day at the top of the rock on the flat surface that was used for the ceremonies. Below are a series of caves, niches and tunnels, with altars cut deep into the stone where it is thought the mummies of lesser nobility were once kept.

Towards the site’s northeast side, there are the remains of a fountain that contained abundant good water, showing again the Inca’s amazing talent of understanding geology and the flow of water. Sadly today though the fountain is dry and past it's former glory due to the water being channelled away from the fountain towards Cusco’s Cusqena Beer Brewery. Obviously for Peruvians, this amber nectar is much more important than the countries history and past glory!

Only 4km from Cusco, it makes for an interesting trip, especially if taking in the other Inca ruins in the area. Compared to the ruins of Sacsayhuaman just down the road, they pale in significance and I probably wouldn’t have visited this individually, but as most tour companies include this in the daily tour of Cusco then you can visit both at the same time. Tours of Cusco cost between $6-10 for a half-day trip. Entrance is through the ‘Boleto Turistico’ ticket, which costs $25 and gives you entry to 15 other attractions around the city of Cusco. Due to the altitude of Q’Enqo, at 3600m a.s.l it may be best to wait a day or two after arrival in to Cusco before visiting to enjoy the ruins and scenery to its maximum.
Q'enqo
10 minutes outside Cusco towards Pisaq
Cusco, Peru

Sacsayhuaman

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Shady Ady on October 21, 2006

Sacsayhuaman, or as it is also known, Saqsaywaman, meaning ‘satisfied falcon’ is probably the most impressive of all the Inca ruins immediately surrounding the city of Cusco and can easily be reached as part of a day trip from the city, taking in some of the other Inca ruins in the area. Plus being perched overlooking the Inca capital, it gives amazing views of the urban sprawl below.

As with many of the Inca ruins witnessed today, many historians argue over the true meaning and use of Sacsayhuaman. Some say it was built in order to put it ahead of the city’s Sun Temple and therefore it has enormous religious presence. Others say it was strategically positioned as a war-like fortress to fight against the invading Spanish armies. Indeed whichever reason is true; there is no doubting the formidable size of the ruins, which could have easily housed 5,000 people in its prime. Upon visiting the ruins I was amazed to learn that only 20% of the original site remains today, and even now it dominates the skyline above Cusco.

Today, the ruins are only a shadow of their former self, but the masonry and handicraft of the Inca culture is still more than evident. In its heyday Sacsayhuaman was a complex and broad labyrinth of underground passages and doorways. There were three separate walls, still evident today built parallel to each other on different levels with limestone of enormous size, zig-zagging across the site. The three-levels are said to represent the three levels of Andean religious life; the underground stage (Ukju Pacha), the earth’s surface stage (Kay Pacha) and finally the sky stage (Hanan Pacha), identified by the snake, puma, and the condor.

Some say Sacsayhuaman represents the teeth of the pumas head, with Cusco being the body and many tour guides will show you diagrams and pictures mapping the ruins and its likeness to that of a puma. It really is uncanny and makes you wonder how such a grand design could have been accomplished. Even more amazing is the fact that many of the stones used came from over 35km away, giving it a ‘Stonehenge-esq.’ mystery surrounding it.

The best time to visit Sacsayhuaman is on June 24th when the annual Sun Festival takes place, celebrating the winter solstice, giving a glimpse of life and celebrations that many visiting tourists fail to see. If this is not possible, then at dawn gives you amazing views over Cusco as the early morning sun rises. Entrance to the ruins is through the ‘Boleto Turistico’ ticket, costing around $25, giving you access to 15 other sites dotted around Cusco. Most city tours of Cusco include Sacsayhuaman in its schedule and at only $6-$10 for the city tour, I would highly recommend seeing these ruins this way as the tour guides tend to be very knowledgeable about the facts surrounding the ruins. In my opinion, by far the best set of Inca ruins surrounding the city of Cusco.
Sacsayhuaman Archaeological Park
Located On A Steep Hill That Overlooks Cusco
Cusco, Peru

Tambomachay

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Shady Ady on November 24, 2006

Opposite the Inca ruins of Puka-Pukara, one can find the more impressive ruins of Tambo-Machay. Tambo-Machay is located 300 metres from the main road, several kilometres from Cusco on the road to Pisaq. If you have just arrived in to Cusco, the 300m walk from the main road can be quite demanding. Tambo-Machay, when translated into English literally means 'lodge resting place' and it is thought these ruins were once an exclusive relaxing and retirement palace for the more well-off and prosperous members of the Inca culture.

Today the ruins consist of a beautifully wrought, ceremonial stone bath channelling water down through the different stone levels. It amazes me that even 500 years after the Inca empire collapsed, the water features still work perfectly. The channelled water, or 'ceremonial water fountains' are built in two different levels and historians believe were made so that strict ritual duties could be performed, as water was an important male deity that fertilized the Earth. This would explain why the water found here is both clean and crystalline clear. Even to this day, the source of the water is unknown for sure (some say towards the mountain range of Senqa), which to me shows how amazingly intellectual the Inca race were.

Due to the well intact water features, some call Tambo-Machay 'El Baño del Inca', and relate the structure to an Inca water cult. When looking closely at the ruins, four trapezoidal niches in the upper wall and two other ones lower to the right can be seen. These niches were probably used in order to hold Inca idols and mummies. Opposite the fountains is another building also made with carved stones. Due to its location, this would have been an observation point, allowing visual contact with Puka-Pukara.

On the negative side though, at Tambo-Machay there is an unusually large number of beggars, unlike other Inca ruins I have visited. Most are only after your money. Others though offer small bunches of 'Muña' (Minthostachys spicata) to passing tourists. This plant, native to the region, has many medicinal properties including relief from nausea, dizziness, headaches, altitude sickness and Diarrhoea. They can also be used to help stop inflammation and infection. Being a fan of natural remedies, if suffering from any of these ailments I would highly recommend buying a bunch of 'Muña' off the sellers (usually old women, with very poor sight). It can be rubbed in your hands and inhaled, or used in a drink (wash thoroughly first though!). I wouldn't chew the leaves on their own, as you never know where they have been!

Entry to the ruins is through the 'Boleto Turistico' ticket, which costs approximately $25 and gains entry to another 15 visitor sites in and around Cusco. Although there are many Inca ruins nearby that offer a more enjoyable trip, Tambo-Machay is offered as part of the Cusco city tour, and as this only costs between $6-$10 for a half day, it would be rude not to visit.
Tambomachay
7 kilómetros de Cusco
Cusco, Peru

Puka Pukara

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Shady Ady on November 24, 2006

Puka Pukara is one of five Inca archaeological sites that you take in during the Cusco city tour. Although I probably wouldn't make the effort to see this on an individual trip, as part of the tour, it makes for another excellent glimpse of the ancient Inca culture.

Puka Pukara (or 'Puca Pucara') is found several kilometres outside of Cusco on the road to Pisaq at an altitude of 3,750 metres (12,300 feet). More or less directly opposite it are the Inca ruins of Tambo Machay. Its name comes from Quechua and means 'red fortress' when translated. A simple reason for this name is that in some lights, especially at dawn and dusk, the ruins have a strange red glow. This can be attributed to the high levels of iron in the limestone and soil. If you imagine the rocks of Sedona, Arizona, then on its day Puka Pukara can look just as inspiring. At first the site seems like a bunch of serpentine stucco walls encircling an overgrown garden of grass. However, on closer inspection you understand the significance Puka Pukara once had.

Although acquiring the name 'red fortress', it is widely believed that these ruins were not a fortress at all, but in fact a hunting lodge, guard post and stopping point for travellers. To back this up it, from looking at the ruins lower residential chambers can be seen, alongside storerooms and an upper esplanade offering great views. Like all Inca ruins in and around Cusco though, researchers and historians again like to differ. Some back up the 'red fortress' name tag, stating that the ruins are strategically placed to facilitate observation of the surrounding countryside. Its placement also allowed visual communication with Tambo Machay, and these historians say that Puka Pukara was built to protect Tambo Machay, an important palace during Inca times. A good guide will also point out the various canals, fountains, baths, and towers that also make up the ruins.

Although the ruins are nothing in comparison to the other nearby magnificent ruins of Sacsayhuaman, Machu Picchu and Ollaytantambo, the redness of the rocks offers a unique opportunity to see something slightly different than other Inca ruins offer. Another added bonus is that on the road that passes the ruins a few souvenir sellers gather to sell their products. Although they aren't necessarily any different to souvenirs you will find elsewhere in and around Cusco, due to the limited number of tourists that pass this way, you will find very reasonable prices on offer. There are also numerous children in traditional Andean dress who for a few Soles will allow you to take their picture.

A Cusco city tour that includes Puka Pukara will cost you between $6 and $10 for a half day tour. This takes in another 4 Inca sites around Cusco, as well as Cusco itself. You will need a 'Boleto Turistico' ticket to enter, which costs approximately $25 and takes in another 15 visitor sites in and around Cusco.
Puka Pukara
15 minutes outside Cusco towards Pisaq
Cusco, Peru

Temple of the Sun

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Shady Ady on January 7, 2007

A trip to Cusco is not complete without visiting the Temple of the Sun, once the most important temple of the Incas. ‘Coricancha’ (meaning ‘Golden Courtyard’) was covered in gold and silver sculptures during its heyday representing llamas, corn, babies, and the sun, all of which were melted down by the Spanish when they captured Cusco. Those that weren't melted down were given to pay the ransom for the captured Inca ruler Atahualpa. Unfortunately this proved to be blood money as Atahualpa was later murdered.

The Temple of the Sun was built during the reign of Inca Pachacutec and served predominantly as an astronomical observatory and repository for the realms treasure of gold and silver. When you look at the shape of Cusco, it can be seen that it looks remarkably like a puma, with the temple positioned as the animal’s loins, the centre of which all creation came from.

It is thought some 4,000 priests and their workers lived within the confines of the temple. In the centre of the complex sat a huge giant disc positioned to reflect the sun and bask the temple in light and heat. During the summer solstice the sunlight reflected into a niche in the wall, where only the wealthiest Inca’s were allowed to sit. The Temple of the Sun also served as a sacrificial temple where animals such as the llama, and also young virgins were sacrificed to appease the Gods. There is also evidence of tombs here, where it is thought some Inca royalty were laid to rest. When the temple past to the Dominicans, they used many of the stones from the temple to create the foundations for the Church of Santa Domingo, which today is one of Cusco's most striking imperial-colonial pieces of architecture.

It always amazes me how perfect the Inca masonry was, and this is still evident here where 40% of the original stonework can be seen, including earthquake proof trapezoidal doorways and exquisite carvings, which were incredibly built. I don't think from visiting the temple today you can grasp exactly how powerful this place once was, with cars rushing past on the main road outside.

Bilingual tours are available everyday, and this is included in your admission price. Admission is through the 'Boleto Turisitico' ticket, which costs approximately $25 and allows entrance to 15 other sites of interest in and around Cusco. Half day city tours of Cusco also take in the Temple of the Sun. These cost on average between $6 and $10, and is well worth the price as you get to see other Incan archaeological sites of interest including the Sacsayhuaman ruins overlooking Cusco. The temple is open Mon-Sat from 9am-5.30pm and on Sunday from 2pm-5pm. There is a small museum attached to the grounds of the temple containing a few artefacts that were found on the sight, including a little gold and silver, although there isn't really that much here to keep you for more than 30 minutes.
Koricancha-Temple of the Sun, Cathedral of Santo Domingo (Cusco Cathedral)
Plaza De Armas
Cusco, Peru

Cusco Cathedral

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Shady Ady on January 7, 2007

Cusco Cathedral is the focal point of Plaza de Armas, and once inside you’re surrounded by a magnitude of wealth and beauty. The baroque-style cathedral is built on the foundations of the palace of the Inca Wirachocha. Started in 1539 it wasn’t declared finished until 1664. Its Renaissance style design, constituted by a Latin-cross base, contains the best colonial goldsmith and woodcarving supposedly in the whole of Peru, as well as a valuable collection of paintings from the Escuela Cusqueña. Many of its stone blocks were brought from the neighbouring fortress of Sacsayhuaman.

Once inside, the first thing that struck me was the richness of alters and chapels. The main altar is made of silver and it represents the introduction of the neoclassic style into the city. Other altars, include the Señor de los Temblores (Lord of the Tremors) and the altar of the Virgen de los Remedios (Virgin of the Remedies), which are rich with gold and silver offerings. Behind the main altar is the original wooden altar primitivo dedicated to St. Paul. The 64-seat cedar choir has rows of carved saints, popes, and bishops, all in stunning detail down to their delicately articulated hands.

By far the most impressive part of the cathedral is the 'capilla de la Plateria' (Silversmith Chapel), where the cathedrals wealth and treasures are really appreciated. Here the most precious jewel can be found, an enormous silver small temple that is used as a processional portable platform for the Corpus Christi. This was a gift from the Bishop Friar Bernardo de Serrada in 1731. On both sides of the cathedral there are two chapels, Capilla del Triunfo and Jesus, Maria and Jose. All of the chapels are enclosed by amazing golden railings and carvings.

Two of the most remarkable paintings on show are the 'La Imposicion de la Casulla a San Ildefonso' (Imposition of the Chasuble to Saint Ildefonso) and 'El Milagro de San Isidro Labrador’ (The Miracle of San Isidro Labrador). Paintings by indigenous artists, including Antonio Sinchi Roca a descendant of the Incan nobility can also be found. It's nice seeing indigenous work instead of Spanish paintings, which are more common inside religious places of worship in Peru. Antonio’s paintings represent the Israelite evangelists, prophets and kings. For me the most impressive artwork were the 50 canvases about the Lauretan Litanies executed by their master Marcos Zapata in 1755. These decorate the upper part of the cathedral, covering the arcs both from the aisles and from the sacristy.

Guides offer tours in Spanish, English, French, Italian, and German, which are included in your admission through the 'Boleto Turistico' ticket, costing $25 and also gains you access to 15 other attractions in and around Cusco. Unfortunately I visited the Cathedral as part of the Cusco City Tour and my guide, although obviously full of all the information you needed did not have adequate enough English to portray this. The Cathedral is open daily from 10am-6pm and can be contacted on 084/254-285.
Koricancha-Temple of the Sun, Cathedral of Santo Domingo (Cusco Cathedral)
Plaza De Armas
Cusco, Peru

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