Everywhere there is historical significance. You can almost hear the clip-clop of conquistadorial horse hooves on the cobblestones of narrow alleyways.
You can run your hands along smooth, expertly-chiselled stone walls, built hundreds of years ago, and imagine the Incan craftsmen at work. Cuzco is a city to capture hearts and fuel the imagination.
Here are four ways it charmed me:
1. Its a pulsating vibrancy
Yes, it is uber-touristy and the locals love to fleece you for everything you’ve got. Walking around the town’s tourist focal-point, Plaza de Armas, you encounter large tour groups snapping photos every which way, bunches of dreadlocked hippies strumming guitars, European couples seizing the most of the romantic location to have a good snog. But the enthusiasm gives this city an irresistible pulsating vibrancy.
2. Its history
There is a sense of treading history in Cuzco; this is, after all, the sacred navel of the Incan empire of Tawantinsuyo, Q’osqo.
Plaza de Armas, for example, is pre-colonial. The Spanish built upon the old Incan palaces that lined the square to construct their own imposing cathedrals and discourage the idolaters from worshipping their blessed Sun.
The foundations of buildings in the historical centre of Cuzco consist of a jigsaw puzzle of giant blocks that originally formed the basis of Incan buildings.
Above are the typical colonial adobe and whitewashed walls, complete with blue door frames and windows and carved wooden balconies.
One of the most marvellous examples of Spanish colonial imposition over Incan culture is the muy bonito Qoricancha (Templo del Sol), aka the Convento de Santo Domingo.
Che Guevara described the transformation of Q’osqo’s most religious site, the Templo del Sol (Temple of the Sun) into a catholic convent as “lesson and punishment from the proud conqueror”.
Inside the convent, one can still see the remains of the original temple, sans the original gold and silver decorations that were plundered by the greedy conquistadors.
3. The Sacred Valley is so close.
The beauty of the nearby Sacred Valley rivals Cuzco. Every which way you wander from Cuzco, you are bound to find plentiful supplies of Incan ruins.
The Sacred Valley includes the terraced ruins of Ollantaytambo, built in the shape of a llama upon the hill overlooking the town of the same name. This town still features the characteristic layout of original Incan citadels.
It’s also home to the charming Chinchero, with its proud weavers who provide exhibits on how they make their marvellous colourful woven products.
And finally, there’s the mystical circular ruins of Moray, an Incan experimental agricultural site.
4. You can explore the mysteries of Saqsaywaman
The archaeological site of Saqsaywaman is wonderfully imposing above a hilltop overlooking Cuzco. Although still incredibly impressive, it is in fact a mere shadow of its former self, since the Spanish used the place as a quarry, moving the rocks from here into town to build their prestigious Cathedral of Cuzco, along with many other buildings.
Saqsaywaman is well known as the place of the last stand of the Incan rebellion, but it was originally designed in 1431 for spiritual and religious purposes. Its most impressive work is the zig-zag triple-level fortress with stones over twice my height.
From the ruins of Saqsaywaman one can see the blanched figure of Jesus Christ and beyond, the town of Cuzco, just one example of many of the mixed cultural influences of this amazing place.
Cuzco isn’t just about the history. It has an enticing energy today that forces you to prolong your stay. This is a city where friends are easily made and encountered in the streets day after day. It’s a city where something new always remains to be discovered.
Need more reasons to visit Peru?
Easy. Peru is jam-packed with adventure and culture waiting to be experienced. Here are some more things to do in this amazing country:
- Meet the Uros people on the floating islands of Lake Titicaca
- Take the jungle trek to Machu Picchu
- Prepare to be mystified by the ruins of Machu Picchu
- Descend into – and out of – the world’s 2nd deepest canyon
- Go sand-boarding at the desert oasis of Huacachina
- Hike to the pristine Laguna 69