Peru Tours 2015: Spotlight on Cusco

Cusco

Set in the legendary Valley Huatanay, at an altitude of 3,360 meters, Cusco has been inhabited since ancient times, and is the oldest known city in the Americas. This region was the capital of the glorious Incan empire during the 15th century. The Quechua people spread their influence throughout western South America and their legacy is scattered throughout the territory. You can still find places in the region honoring their old customs and traditions.

Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas is the heart of the city where you will find several Churches including The Cathedral, La Compania and the Jesuit Church. There is also a lovely park and several restaurants. If you go to some of the smaller cafes you can usually buy their daily special which is soup and their dish of the day, which is often chicken and a glass of juice for around $20.00 PEN which is currently $7.55 USD. Popular food items include deep fried pork, tamales, stuffed peppers, soups and ribs. Yes if you prefer more American food, you can find pizza and even a McDonald's in the Plaza, although you won't see the protruding golden arches. Popular hang outs in the evenings are Norton's Rat Tavern, Los Perros or Rosie O'Grady's, although we do not suggest wandering far from your hotel in the evenings unless you are in a large group. Do expect lots of vendors to be pressuring you to buy their local goods and crafts. As always when traveling be on the lookout for pick pockets.

Llamas in Peru

An Intimate Experience

Walking through Cusco is a unique experience. Expect to find both beautiful colonial buildings along side with well preserved ancient archaeological sites. This legendary city not only offers ruins, but it is full of myths and legends that seem to be reborn every time you walk through its century old streets. The people dress very colorful, and it's not unusual to see a woman with baby llamas waiting for photo opps with tourists. Yes, I even wanted to take a baby llama home!

The streets of Cusco are made of unique stone walls carved by the Incan people. Make sure you make time to walk down the Incan street of Loreto, said to be the longest surviving Incan wall, with its intricately carved stones. Calle Hatunrumiyoc, is a narrow pedestrian street where you will find 12 angled stones that were cut somehow to fit perfectly together with no mud or concrete. Some feel the 12 stones were meant to symbolize our modern day calendar. Another interesting example of Peruvian stone work is an alleyway known as Inca Roca. Here you will find stones said to form the shape of a puma including paws and a tail.

Sample of Incan Stone work
Sample of Incan Stone work
Santo Domingo Church and Sun Temple
Santo Domingo Church and Sun Temple
Train to Machu Picchu
Train to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu

The Ruins and Other Aspects of Cusco

We also suggest a visit the Incan ruins of Sacsayhuaman. It remains a mystery how and when this fortress of gigantic stones, some weighing around 350 tons, was built during ancient times. This archaeological site can be easily accessed by taxi. If you are not part of an escorted tour, you will need to purchase an admission ticket, and please note that credit cards are not accepted. You can also walk there from the Plaza de Armas, but it is a steep climb. You can often take group tours that will include visits to Sacrayhuaman, Qenko, Pukapukara and Tambomachay all in one day.

East of the center of Cusco are the pre-Columbian ruins of Qoricancha, the Incan Temple of the Sun, which was originally covered with gold. Built by the Incan emperor Pachacuti, it is made of polished stones that again fit together perfectly. Gold panels lined the walls along with gold altars and statues as well. Other temples and shrines to lesser gods were located there as well. It was destroyed by Spanish conquerors who built the Dominican Convent of Santo Domingo church over it. During an earthquake in 1950, parts of the Sun Temple became exposed. Now you can see both Peruvian and Spanish architecture together.

For people wishing to visit the major tourist buildings of the city, places of archaeological value and the Sacred Valley, there is a tourist pass that provides access to about 15 sites. These passes can be purchased at tourist offices and are valid for 5 or 10 days depending on the preference of tourists.

If you are planning a visit to Machu Picchu, you can get there by train. If you are not part of a group, buy your tickets well in advance becuase they do sell out. You can choose the "Backpacker train" or the "Vistadome train." The Vistadome has a bit larger windows and windows on the roof. A snack and hot drink are also included with this upgraded service. The price difference is currently $22 pp. Please note that when the train is running the complete line, it takes around 4 hours, but you get off at Poroy and have to take a taxi from there. If there is rain in the region, it is possible that part of the track will be closed which means you would have to be transported by bus to a second train in route. There is a seperate admission for Machu Picchu of $44 pp. You can also hire a guide for a couple of hours for around $20. Keep in mind that all of this is included if you are part of a travel group.

For shopping, there is a great market near the Plaza de San Fransisco. You'll find everything from food and flowers, to handmade goods and souvenirs. There is also an Artisan Market at the intersection of Tullumayo and Avenida del Sol. You'll find great buys on very colorful, hand woven shawls, hats, blankets and scarves.

Try to allow yourself a day to take it easy when you arrive so that you have time to get used to the altitude. It's not advisable to drink alcohol on the first day. If you aren’t feeling well and forgot the Dramamine, look for candy or coffee made from local coca leaves which are said to help minimize symptoms of altitude sickness.

Check it Out for Yourself!

Peru tours are also an economical and safe way to travel the region. There are all types of packages available. If you prefer traveling on your own, then Peru Highlights with Monograms vacations is a great option. You get your transportation to and from the airport, hotel accommodations, breakfast daily, 2 lunches and 1 dinner, as well as air transportation between cities and some basic sightseeing. You still have plenty of free time to explore, but the main components of your vacation are all taken care of. The 8 day package starts at $1,329 pp. For the adventurous at heart, G Adventures offers an 8 day trip that includes a 4 day trek along the Inca Trail priced at $1,249 pp. To have a guide with you at all times, Trafalgar Tours offers an 8 day Highlights of Peru that visits Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley from $1,989 pp. This trip has a unique option to add on an Easter Island package for 3 nights.

However you choose to visit Cusco and the surrounding regions of Peru, you are sure to have an unforgettable trip. Make sure and pack your camera with lots of extra memory cards.

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