Cusco is a stark contrast from the dirty hustle of Lima. It is the second largest city in Peru and the capital city of the ancient Incan empire. Located at 11,000 feet, this Andean city is the doorway to the Quechuan culture of the Incan people. The city center, Plaza de Armas, reminds me of many plazas you will find in Spain. On one side, you will find the main Catholic church. Shops and restaurants border the rest of the plaza. In the center, you will find flowers and benches to people-watch on.
Things to do: The main thing to do in this city is to tour the cathedral. Inside, you will find spectacular and ornate carvings still covered in the original gold leaf. If you look carefully, you will find some very interesting aspects of how the Spanish conquistadors and the ancient Inca people coexisted.
Story: When the Spanish came in and started taking over the country, they also tried hard to convert the Incan people to Catholicism. However, the Inca people were not so willing to do this. Luckily for them, the Spanish weren’t that smart. The Incan people worshipped nature, including things like the mountains and the sun. The Spanish hired many Incans to help them build this cathedral in Cusco. When they designed some of the art you find inside, they included clues about their gods, the mountains and the sun. When you go into the church, you will find the Virgin Mary with a large dress on that makes her look like a triangle (mountain), and on her head is a crown that looks very much like a sun. So when the Incan people went into this church, the Spanish thought they were really praying to the Virgin Mary, when instead they were praying to the mountain and the sun, never really converting.
Dinning: In Peru, a buffet is apparently the best way to eat, because in many restaurants you will find this setup. Pizza is also a big calling. In the Plaza de Armas, you will find many good restaurants. From my experience, the best ones seemed to be on the first floor of the buildings. The one I enjoyed the most is located to the right of the cathedral (looking at it from the square). It offered buffet-style food, but most importantly, it had an outstanding performance of Andean folk music with very enthusiastic musicians and a dancer. They were a lot of fun and made this place definitely worth going to.
Sights: Just overlooking Cusco are the ruins called Sacsayhuaman ("sexy woman"). This sight was designed to look like the head of a Puma, with the body extending down into the city of Cusco. It is more of a fort or defense type of ruins where the Incans also held many ceremonies. From this vantage point, you can get a great view of the city of Cusco and the surrounding mountains.
While many people in this city still speak some Quechuan, everyone speaks Spanish. Many of the people you encounter in the hotels and restaurants will also speak English, which makes getting around this city much easier.
Other Travel Secrets:
•Exchange money at hotels instead of the airports; you will get a much better rate.
•If you buy a finger puppet from one of the many children trying to sell them to you, expect to be accosted for the rest of your visit. The children picked you in the first place because they knew you would buy them, so they’ll just keep coming back to see if you will buy more.
•If you get food poisoning or drink the wrong water and forgot your Cipro, you can find it at the local drug stores.
•The cocoa tea is made from the same plant that cocaine comes from, and it’s really tasty.