The Heart Of Cusco, Peru

Nestled in the Andes of Peru above 11,000 feet is the old capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco. Boasting a population of around a half million the city’s biggest draw is that it is the gateway to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. If your plan has you passing through Cusco on your way to Machu Picchu do yourself a favor and plan a few days in this interesting city.

In the middle of Cusco the old historic district acts as a magnet drawing crowds into the city’s beautiful main square, the Plaza de Armas. This square marks both the Spanish colonial center of the city and the site of the capital of the vast Inca Empire. The Plaza features a large public space with gardens and wide pathways anchored by two iconic buildings, the magnificent Cusco Cathedral and the Church La Compania de Jesus. Ringing this large space are a number of good restaurants, cafes and shops with narrow streets radiating off in several directions. Within a half mile radius of the Plaza de Armas you’ll find over fifteen hundred years of historic sites and museums to explore.

Qorikancha – Located among examples of of several colonial Spanish buildings are these Inca ruins that actually form the foundations of a church and the convent of Santo Domingo. These large carved stones were once part of the richest temple in the whole of the Inca Empire.

Iglesia de La Compañía de Jesús – Built upon the foundation of the palace of Inca Emperor Huayna Cápac, the last Inca to rule the unconquered empire, this church was built by the Jesuits in 1571.

Cusco Cathedral – An ornate building housing a number of significant artworks, chapels featuring an interesting blend of Catholicism and local Indian culture.

Museo Inka – The amazing collections of the Museo Inka, a block northeast of the Plaza de Armas, is the largest display of Inca and pre-Inca artifacts anywhere.

Museo de la Coca – The Andean coca leaf culture permeates the region and this little museum traces the uses of the coca leaf, from sacred ritual to helping to overcome altitude sickness.*

In 1983, Cusco and the historic district were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO with the title “City of Cuzco”.

While strolling through the area don’t shy away from the opportunity to shop with the many sellers dressed in traditional Indian garb offering scarves, hats and stuffed animals. Negotiating a price is part of the fun. Also the wide range of Peruvian restaurants in the historic district offer opportunities to try Peruvian foods like grilled guinea pig or llama prepared in a variety of traditional ways. For those less adventurous the plaza also offers a McDonalds and a KFC.

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