I first visited Lima, Peru in 2008 for an AMCIS conference and afterward took a short, 2-day trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu. I might not have gone again in March but my son Eric was interested and it was a way for us to celebrate his upcoming birthday together. I must say, it was all “lovelier the second time around”!
We had a bit of a rough start. Eric’s second flight from Dallas was horribly delayed into the wee hours of morning, meaning he missed his next flight from Lima to Cusco. He was rebooked 4 times, finally arriving badly sleep-deprived on another carrier without his luggage. There was much bi-lingual confusion dealing with three different airlines, none of which wanted to be responsible. We finally met in Cusco and proceeded, one bag light, to our hotel in the San Blas area on a hill overlooking the town center. A hot meal in the coziest little restaurant across the street (five tables and a beehive fireplace in which they toasted our bread) and a good night of sleep helped us soldier on.
Cusco was the original epicenter of the ancient Incan Empire and our first day exploring was a warm-up for all things Incan. We took a 1/2 day tour starting in the Plaza de Armas at the spectacular Cusco Cathedral with its elaborate architecture and paintings that rival the best art museums, including the infamous Last Supper by Quechua artist Marcos Zapata complete with guinea pig. Outside was a depiction of the Incan Holy Trinity: a Condor representing the heavens, a Puma representing the earth, and a Snake representing the underworld.
Then we bussed to Sacysayhuaman, an archeological park and UNSECO World Heritage site that sits high above Cusco at 12,142 ft. Once we caught our breath, we were impressed with the view of the city and the colossal ancient stones of the former fortress. From there we continued to Qengo to explore its sacred rock formations and to Tambomachay where they had an extensive aqueduct system for managing water.
At each stop we our guide revealed more about the Incan culture, its dedication to Pachamama (mother earth), its moneyless value system, its burial rituals, and its annihilation by the Spaniards. We learned that the local people were Quenchans, the Incas were their royalty, and their language is very hard to pronounce.
Back in the city, we visited Coricancha, the most important of the Incan temples, believed to have been built around 1200 AD. Sadly, it was destroyed by the Spanish in 1533. As conquerors, they stole the abundant gold and precious metals and used the stone to form the foundation for the Dominican Cathedral that sits on top of it.
It was a long tour, at high altitude, with a lot of walking. When we returned to our room, Eric’s luggage was waiting for us! Thanks was given to the goddess because it had the warmer clothes and rain gear we were both going to need for our trip to Machu Picchu. That night wee ate at another local charmer and crashed hard, listening to the rain pouring in our hotel courtyard.
Read about our 2-day excursion to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu in
Peru: Tripping and Touring, Part 3.
Just hanging out
On my last day in Cusco, we kicked back and just meandered around the city. Cusco itself seemed to have grown immensely since my last visit; bigger and more modern, yet still charming, quaint, funky. It has everything from street vendors selling guinea pig on a stick to organic vegan restaurants; from high-end shops selling expensive jewelry and leather goods to places where you can get down with a shaman.
We walked the narrow streets up, up, above our hotel to explore the San Blas area. From the coffee shops, restaurants, and artist studios, we realized we were in the hipster part of town. Every small doorway had something interesting behind it, a tiny restaurant, a shop where someone was making their art, or a open courtyard.
Iglesia San Blas, built in 1544 over an Incan Temple (of course), is the oldest parish in Cusco and occupies a central square in the area. From the outside it is small and unassuming, but the inside wows with its elaborate altar and an intricately carved pulpit, supposedly made from a single tree trunk.
We kept climbing and climbing until we came to a small quiet park that overlooked the entire town. We stayed to watch the sun set. We went there again the next morning, before I had to leave for the airport, to see the same scene in the full daylight.
Beautiful both ways.