For my first few days spent in Cuzco, I was relaxing a majority of the time. The organization that I went through, known as Proyecto Peru, had a requirement that you had to take at least a week’s worth of Spanish classes. Even though I had studied Spanish for 10 years and majored in it at university, I was looking forward to enhancing my knowledge of Medical Spanish. I took 15 hours of Spanish in a week and had another week to explore my surroundings before I would start volunteering regularly.
The Plaza de Armas, the main plaza in Cuzco’s city center or downtown area was constantly filled with tourists from all over the world. The plaza has this calming aesthetic even though it’s quite chaotic during the month of June because it’s the month of festivities. The plaza is home to a few of the best clubs in Cuzco along with usual tourist traps like McDonald’s, KFC, and Starbucks.
I decided to go on a city tour to learn more about the popular architectural structures in the city and the history behind them. I visited the Cuzco cathedral, a defining feature in the city center. It reminded me of cathedrals I had seen in Spain and Germany, which made sense as the Spanish had commissioned the building of the churches and cathedrals in most of South America and many had German influences. Ari, our enthusiastic tour guide, showed us a huge painting of the Last Supper, but instead of the traditional lamb in the middle of the table, there was cuy or the classic guinea pig. Instead of wine glasses, there was chicha morada, a popular Peruvian purple corn drink. I wish pictures had been allowed! The synthesis of Spanish and Inca cultures was unusual, albeit interesting. Cusqueños, local residents of Cuzco, infuse traditional Incan elements into the Catholic religion forced upon the natives when the Spanish first arrived to the Americas.
Our next stop was Quoricancha, a main place of worship of the Incas in the past. Now, only ruins remain and the former temple sits up on a hill in Cuzco, which you can’t miss. It has now been turned into a museum with paintings done by Inca artists accompanied by a beautiful courtyard. A ten minute drive from Qoricancha in another Mercedes shuttle bus (they love these here), we visited the ruins of Sacsayhuaman (SAK-SAY-OOH-AH-MAAN) and not pronounced “sexy woman” as Ari would tell us.
The Incas used carefully cut limestones to create this complex. Nearby you can also see the remains of an embalming center used for the dead bodies of loved ones and it felt cooler than the rest of the ruins for preservation purposes. There’s an aesthetically pleasing water Inca temple nearby known as Tambomachay, which is surrounded by a small river flowing through the natural scenery right next to it.
Want to take the Cuzco City Tour? Here are some tips:
How do I book this tour? Once you talk to several travel agencies, you will quickly learn that a Boleto Turistico (The Tourist ticket) is absolutely necessary to explore Cuzco and its surrounding areas. This ticket is like the CityPass, which is popular in the US. You pay one price and many different attractions are included. Some do require additional fees though, like the cathedral in the city center but these are also optional to enter on your tour. You can buy the Boleto on Avenida del Sol, a popular street for tourist needs.
Cost: The cost is 130 soles or about $40 USD. If you have a student ISIC card (I got one before I left for Peru!) it’s only 70 soles or about $20. The City Tour costs an additional ~$10.
- guided tour with an English/Spanish-speaking tour guide
Read more about Sacsayhuaman here!