Cusco Stories and Tips

Streets

Many are steep and narrow Photo, Cusco, Peru

Some visitors use Cusco purely as a stopping point n the way to Machu Picchu but this is a mistake. One of the joys of this city is to explore the many narrow cobblestone streets with their colourful terra-cotta roofed buildings. If you are not acclimatised to the altitude, this can be a real problem.


The central city is most enjoyable explored on foot. Even many of the streets which are open to traffic are so narrow that it’s simply faster to walk than to drive. One problem, however, is that streets change names every few blocks and this has been further complicated by the city erecting new street signs with old Quechua names to highlight its Inca heritage. These naturally bear no relationship to the common Spanish names that everyone still uses to designate addresses.


I strongly suggest you walk the narrow, steep streets which lead north from the Plaza de Armas to the San Blas district. This area has recently been restored and the white-washed adobe homes with bright-blue doors shine in the sun. Many of the stone streets are built as stairs or slopes not suitable for cars so it is pleasant, but exhausting, walking. The area is known as Cusco's artisans' quarter since many of the best craftsmen have their workshops and small art galleries in the cobbled, narrow streets surrounding the 16th-century church of San Blas. It is believed that this area was also the artists' district even during the Inca times, with the streets filled with the best gold- and silver-smiths, potters, painters and carvers from throughout the Inca empire.


San Blas church, founded in 1562, is of simple adobe construction but it contains an extraordinary wood pulpit once claimed to be carved from a single massive tree trunk. This is now disputed. At the top stands Saint Paul, his foot resting on a human skull, believed to belong to the craftsman who made the pulpit.


San Blas really comes to life in the evenings when the bars and restaurants open. It is wise, however, not to walk the pedestrian-only streets late at night because of possible opportunistic thieves. The area above the fountain to the northeast of the plaza is a good place to take advantage of the view out over Cusco and the red tiled rooftops. On Saturdays there is a handicraft market in the square.

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