- Cusco Sights
- Cusco 1 Day Tours
- Other Cusco Sights
- Cusco Uchu Steakhouse
- Lake Titicaca
Cusco was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO with the title “City of Cuzco”. It has an elevation of around 3,400 m.
Cusco or Cuzco
Due to the fact that I happened to see two different ways of writing the city name (Cuzco and Cusco) I started having a look at the history of the name of this gorgeous city.
The Spanish adopted the local name Qusqu, transliterating it into Spanish phonetics as Cuzco (Cusco was also used). In 1976, the city mayor signed an ordinance banning the traditional spelling and ordering the use of a new one, Cusco, in municipality publications. Nineteen years later, on 23 June 1990, the local authorities formalized a new spelling related more closely to Quechuan: Qosqo. Interesting is that there is no international, official spelling of the city’s name. In English-language both spellings are correct.
Cusco was very important for Incas who arrived in the 13th century – it was the historical capital of the Inca Empire till the 16th century Spanish conquest (Battle of Cusco). This is the reason why for example Santa Clara and San Blas neighbourhoods have Spanish influence. Unfortunately many Inca buildings were destroyed by Spanish. It was the center for the Spanish colonization and spread of Christianity in the Andes world.
Cusco has a subtropical highland climate with two defined seasons. Winter ( lasts from April to September with sunshine and occasional night-time freezes; – July is the coolest month) and Summer (lasts from October to March with clouds and rain – November is the warmest month).
Cusco is a lovely little town which can be visited by foot – the good thing is that being so small you won´t need a day to visit it. Therefore if you are running out of time I do suggest visiting Cusco in the afternoon after you come back from your 1 Day Tours. Saying that Cusco is really beautiful and therefore if you have time I do suggest staying a few days to stroll around and admire this enchanting place.
Plaza De Armas
Plaza De Armas was the heart of the ancient Inca capital and is surrounded by colonial arcades with small balconies. At the center of the Plaza there is a gorgeous garden with a statue of Incan ruler Parachuti. Here you can find Cusco´s Cathedral, which we were told took almost 100 years to built, where the Inca Version of Da Vinci´s Last Supper (with a guinea pig on the plates) can be admired. It was completed in 1654 and is an UNESCO Heritage Site.
San Blas District
San Blas District is close to Plaza De Armas. If you are looking for some souvenirs this district is full of small shops and galleries.
San Pedro Market
The San Pedro Market is a perfect place to drink freshly-squeezed juices with a lot of fresh fruit & veggies to choose from. If you happen to get here for lunch you can also try some delicious local food.
If you are interesting in learning a bit more about the Empire´s history you should not miss out on this museum. If you wish there is also the possibility to get a guide to walk you around.
Cusco 1 Day Tours
The Secret Valley (via Pisac & Cinchero)
Since the altitude can cause sickness it is important to choose wisely from which Trek to start. We opted for the Sacred Valley, which during the period from 1000 to 1400 CE was incorporated into the Inca Empire. We were told that the reason why Incas where interested in this area was the lower elevation which allowed Incas to grow maize. Maize was very important for Incas especially for making the Chicha (a fermented maize drink) used for ceremonies and religious festivals.
Our first stop was Pisac & his market. We had a look at how they work with silver. We also visited the ruins where we saw the terraces used for the agriculture.
The Pisac ruins are located high above the valley. Here you can find the largest Inca cemetery, a residential settlement & ceremonial baths. This ruin is surrounded by agricultural terraces used for more effective farming.
We were told two interesting facts:
- the graves of the cemetery are not deep and the reason why is that the bodies were buried in fetal position.
- the terrace where always built close to areas from where the Inca could get water from.
After that we went to Cinchero where we visited a weaving family where we were told wool weaving technics, how the colours of the wool are made & other interesting things
The women use a root to clean the wool. This root gets mixed with hot water creating a sort of liquid soap which is also used by locals as shampoo. https://youtu.be/gv2wcbjQEzw
Colours are made by leaves, flowers, roots, insects and much more. I personally found the woman who explained us everything so lovely and nice that I want you to learn about it directly by herself – if you are interested below the videos I have made. https://youtu.be/VW40SPkGTpc
Maras & Moray
Maras & Moray was our next trip. Maras town is about 52km from Cusco and is famous for its salt mines “Salineras de Maras” which consists of about 300 small wells with an average area of 5mq from which since pre – Inca times salt is extracted after a drying process. Nowadays they do not provide a way of life for locals but has mostly become a tourist attraction.
Please be aware that this is not the best time of the year to see those Salineras, but it was spectacular anyway.
I have read that since September 2019 it is no longer possible to walk around the salt ponds due to contaminations. This decision was made by the MaraSal S.A. (the company which owns the salt pans). If you are interested in buying some salt, there is a shop nearby which sells it.
The next stop was Moray which is a marvellous archaeological site consisting of circular terraces built in amphitheatre – style platforms and an irrigation system. This area was used by Incas to study the adaptation of plants to new ecosystems.
The Rainbow Mountain Hike
The Rainbow Mountain Hike was a challenging one –but I do assure you that every effort is worth it. It is about 15km in length with an elevation of 685m. Please be aware that the weather in the Andes can change drastically in a short time therefore you should wear layers of clothing.
This magnificent geologic feature is at an altitude of 5.200m above sea level. The mountain displays different natural colours – these colorations are due to the presence of sedimentary stones in erosion.
The Rainbow Mountain is considered to be holy and believed by locals to be the God of Cusco. Every year thousands of Quechua pilgrims visit this mountain to worship.
I do suggest, you all give it a go with the hike – you can always decide on the way to jump on a horse to get on top. Personally I think that if you are reasonably fit you should be able to make it and as I said you can always change your mind along the way.
The Machu Picchu was THE HIGHLIGHT of this trip. I decided to do the Inca Trail instead of the Salkantay Trek (I will talk later about this one) but I will definitely go back one day to do it. Anyway, the Inca Trail was absolutely spectacular. Please be aware that there are a lot of different companies which do this trip but, in my opinion, you should not go for the cheapest one. Please remember that the Inca Trail lasts 4 days, that you need to walk a lot and that in the evening you are tired and hungry. Therefore, I think that it is very important to choose a good company which gives you good food, a good tend and a toilet. The company we had chosen was absolutely great, our 2 guides were very nice and had a lot of knowledge. The cook was simply fantastic – during the Inca Trail I had one of my best meals in Peru. The food varied from lunch to dinner and from day to day. Having your own (GROUP) toilet is another BIG PLUS – on each camp site you camp with a lot of other tour groups and the toilets are not that many therefore having your own toilet is really a SUPER PLUS! Anyway the night before the trek a briefing will take place.
During the briefing you are given the duffel bags, plastic ponchos and backpack covers. Please be also aware that you need to provide your own water for the first morning – during lunch time the water gets boiled and you will be able to refill your bottles as you will do for the entire trek.
The first day started really early around 4am when we got picked up from your accommodation and we drove till Km82 (at an altitude of 2720 meters above sea level) where a delicious breakfast was waiting for us. We were then given a sleeping bag and a duffel bag (where you need to put all your cloth and everything you do not need during the day but at the camp site). Be aware that the duffel bag is carried by the porters and therefore the weight can´t exceed the 7kg. Please consider that considering the fact that you have to bring a sleeping bag with you which normally weighs between 1,5-3kg you have around 4-5,5kg left for the rest of your stuff which by the way is more than enough. On the first day we covered a distance of 14km till we got to an altitude of 3300 meters above sea level. The first 2 hours were quite easy, and the first stop was Patallacta which was an Inca check point for Machu Picchu. The rest of the hike was a bit challenging but mostly because of the altitude because the hike consists in slightly up and downs. By the time we arrived at the campsite everything was already prepared (tend etc) – we had a lovely snack time before having dinner which was simply delicious.
The second day was the most challenging with a distance of 16km covered – the hike brought us to the highest pass of the trek called Dead Woman´s Pass (also called Warmiwanusqa) at an altitude of 4215 meters above sea level. The views on the way up and from the view point are simply gorgeous – we were lucky enough to get just a bit of rain during the beginning of the hike which allowed us to have a nice view on the most challenging part of the hike. We then descended to Pacaymayu Valley – Hidden River. This river starts in the Willkapampa mountain range. Before reaching the second pass of the day we visited a small Inca site called Runcu Raccay. This is also the name of the second pass which is at an altitude of 4000 meters above sea level. Sayacmarca a small Inca site was our last stop before reaching our camp site.
On the third day we covered a distance of 10km. The first part of the trek is called “Inca Flat” which is definitely not completely flat but has some gradual inclines. During this part you enter the jungle also known as the Cloud forest. This is where (weather depending) you get the chance to see the Salkantay Peak and the Vilcamcamba mountain range. At the last peak called Phuyupatamarka you have the chance to see the Urubamba River. From there it is a 3hour walk down passing by two Inca ruins – “The town in the Clouds” and “Terraces of the sun”. In the afternoon we went to visit the gorgeous Winay Wayna ruins. The evening meal was fabulous – the chef made even a cake and there were balloons congratulating us for making it.
The last day had another early start but this time not because of the long distance to cover but in order to be one of the first group at the checkpoint which opens at 5:30am. It takes around 2hours to reach Machu Picchu where a 2hour guided tour starts as long as you do not decide to hike up the Macchu Picchu mountain which is what I did.
Macchu Picchu Mountain Trek
If you are fit it takes around 45-60minutes to get to the summit of Macchu Picchu mountain. From there you definitely have gorgeous views of Macchu Picchu and the surroundings. Please be aware that the hike has to be booked in advance – if you do not book it you won´t be able to do it.
To get back to Cusco we booked the Vistadome train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo. Before the train we had a lovely lunch with the entire group and the tour guides. From here there are trains departing – a lot of trains. Please consider that you should arrive at least 30minutes before the train departure. We were not lucky at all because our train had a huge delay, so we asked if we could jump on another one and we did. Unfortunately even the other train had a 2hours delay and stopped another 3hours on the way. This made us loose our connection to Puno – luckily our room in Cusco was still available.
Other Cusco Sights
Coricancha: The Golden Temple
We spent the last day in Cusco visiting Coricancha, „The Golden Temple,” which was the most important temple in the Inca Empire and is considered the holiest site in Incan Mythology.
I read that the interior was full of statues and ornaments of gold but that all this gold was taken and melted down by the conquistadors soon after they arrived in Cusco.
Here you can admire the six meter high Inca stonework, which forms the foundation of the church of Santo Domingo & withstood the major earthquakes of Cusco.
Cristo Blanco is a 8m high statue of Jesus Christ and is located on top of the Pukamuqu mountain which was said to be a spiritual place for Incas. From here you have gorgeous views over the city.
Please consider that it is a 30 minutes walk from Plaza de Armas.
Cusco Uchu Steakhouse
For dinner we wanted to try Alpaca meat and so we decided to book a table at Uchu Steakhouse a gorgeous place in the centre of Cusco. Everything was delicious. The meat is served on a hot volcano stone – highly recommended.
The overnight bus brought us to Lake Titicaca which is on the border of Bolivia and Peru. Whit its surface elevation of 3,812 m it is said to be the “highest navigable lake” and its famous for the floating islands of Uros where we were supposed to stay overnight if the train to Cusco would have not been delay.
The Uro or Uros
The Uru or Uros are indigenous of Peru and Bolivia. They consist of three main groups: the Uru-Chipaya, the Uru-Murato & the Uru-Iruito. The Uros islands had once a defensive purpose – if a threat arose the floating islands could be moved.
The base of the islands is made of large pallets of tied Totora reeds which forms a natural up to two-meter-thick layer called Khili which is anchored to large Eucalyptus poles into the bottom of the lake. After the anchorage multiple layers of cut reeds are added.
The maintenance of these islands is very complex and takes a lot of time because as the reeds dry they break, moisture gets into it and a new layer has to be added. We were told that the island has to be rebuilt every 30-35years.
Some other interesting facts about the Uru are that only a few live on the islands and that they have special cemeteries on the mainland. The larger islands consist of about 10 families while the smaller once consist of about 2 or 3 families. They used to have their own language – the Uru language which unfortunately it´s almost completely lost. The totora reeds that are used for the construction of the islands are also used by Uru´s as food and as a medicine (they use it when in pain, to cool off, to help recover from hangovers).
After that we visited the small island of Tequile. Some interesting facts we were told:
- about 2200 people live on the island (inhabitant of this island are called Taquileños and speak Puno Quechua).
- Taquileños are longeval (around 90Years).
- Weddings are a big event and the ceremony lasts for 7 days.
- Before the marriage the couple has to live 3 years together
- In 2005, “Taquile and Its Textile Art” were honoured by being proclaimed “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO.
Back to Puno we took drove to the Bolivian Border where we had to jump off and walk to the border after having filled some papers. After the passport got stamped we were officially in Bolivia
(to read about Bolivia please look for the article called Peru & Bolivia year 2018 – Lake Titicaca to La Paz)