This is a travel blog for desktop travelers and other ramblers who want to know the world just a little bit better.

Right now I am living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala where I'll be settled for a while. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cuzco in Color

Welcome to Cuzco

Cuzco is a really nice place to visit and a main destination on almost everybody's trip to Peru. It is steeped in history and considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Americas. The past is oozing out from the Inca bricks, colonial courtyards, regal churches and narrow cobblestone roads that make up the center of modern day Cuzco.  

The city was first inhabited by some earlier peoples and was then eventually occupied by the Incas during the thirteenth century. Cuzco was the capital of the Incan Empire until the arrival of the Spanish in 1533. After 36 years of war the Spanish finally conquered the Incas, destroyed the city and then built their own churches and buildings on top of the remaining massive stone foundations of Incan civilization. Fast forward to 2011 and Cuzco has become a major tourist destination in Peru.
An homage to the Inca past

The Spanish used Incan blocks as foundations for their buildings
These Incan walls were built with large stones cut at odd angles and with incredible precision. They did not use mortar and the seams are extremely thin. Over the centuries these walls have survived several major earthquakes whereas some colonial and contemporary buildings have crumbled completely.
The Stone of Twelve Angles: The most famous and photographed Inca rock in Cuzco
The center of town based around the main plaza is extremely touristy. Hotels are only outnumbered by travel agencies which are probably outnumbered by tourist restaurants serving alpaca and guinea pig which must only take a backseat to the gargantuan number of places selling Peruvian handicrafts.

Click here for my post about and photos of handicrafts in Peru

Alpaca wool sweaters: an all too common sight in modern day Cuzco
Sit in the main plaza for just five minutes and you are sure to be approached by either shoeshine boys, pendant sellers, art sellers, sunglasses sellers or old men buttering you up to eventually ask for some money. A walk on the narrow cobblestone street to see the famous Inca stones is to run a gauntlet of massage girls, wool hat sellers, restaurant touts and ladies who charge money to take their photo wearing traditional dress and holding cuddly lambs. As you can probably tell, the tourism factor in Cuzco's center is off the charts. It is a bit obnoxious, but surprisingly not ostentatious. It seems to fit the city well and I think adds to the atmosphere of any visit to Cuzco.

The Cathedral at night

A photo of someone taking a photo of women in traditional clothes
 -- for a fee of course 

Taking a Pass on the Boleto Turistico

Well what can I say, there is a lot to see in around Cuzco and we see mostly none of it. I know this sounds pretty lame, but there are two good reasons for this:

The first is that soon nearing my one whole year of traveling anniversary I have hit a slight sightseeing wall. In Cuzco, and especially after visiting awesome Machu Picchu, I lose interest in chasing after every last (and first) guidebook recommended place of interest. Call it a mild case of traveler's fatigue. The second reason is that in Cuzco you cannot just visit your preferred places of interest. You have to buy a Boleto Turistico (Tourist Ticket) which costs about US $45 and offers entrance to sixteen different museums and ruins. There are a few places not included in the ticket that have individual entrance fees.
A free peek into part of the cathedral during a wedding 
I feel that if I buy this ticket I am obligated to run around and see everything. I am not quite sure why they do it this way, but in my opinion it is just another attempt to gouge as much money as possible from tourists. In the end there are maybe three archaeological sites, two churches and two museums that I probably would have liked to visit. Oh well, whatever.... by the way, saying "whatever" to places of significant historical importance is one symptom of traveler's fatigue.

Enjoying the beauty of Cuzco from the outside

The Real World Cuzco

Now I would guess that the majority of visitors do not leave the center of Cuzco. They arrive to their hotel, tour the sites, go to Machu Picchu, come back to Cuzco and soon leave. This plan is not so bad for people on short holidays because the center of Cuzco is beautiful and fun. The plaza and old churches are there, most hotels and tourist restaurants are there, and plenty of handicrafts shopping is in the center too.
The main plaza
Mika and I end up spending over two weeks in Cuzco which gives us plenty of time to get out of the historic/touristic center and explore. We find some good places just blocks away from the center where the local cuzqueños (people from Cuzco) shop and dine. Some days we are like an old retired couple with nothing to do but figure out where to eat. Finish lunch and soon begin discussing our dinner plan -- a true shout out to my Miami grandparents.
Quinua or quinoa (the little white squiggles in the photo)
is protein-rich, native to the Andes mountains and also known as Inca Rice

Juice seller
Our hotel is in a San Blas, a quiet, touristy neighborhood north of the main plaza. Every day we pass the main tourist drags to get to El Sol Avenue. Avenida El Sol is a main thoroughfare with wide sidewalks and lined with pharmacies, money changers, and shops. It is the fusion between tourist world and regular Peru world. Cross this road and in a few short blocks the number of hotels and tourist restaurants thins out dramatically. Just a few more blocks away and everything is just for locals. It is real world Cuzco. Peruvian Soles carrying foreigners are always welcome of course. Just do not expect to find a menu in English or German or Hebrew. These restaurants do not serve alpaca.

We find several good priced supermarkets, the main market with fresh fruit juice and S3 (US $1.07) lunches, a cake street, a chicharron - fried pork - street, a socks and underwear street and a shoes street. Maybe the best discovery is a very popular, slightly dingy vegetarian restaurant (we have to wait for a table at peak lunch hour) where for S4 (US $1.45) we get soup, salad, a plate of two mains with rice, bread, tea and a shot of yogurt.

My favorite lunch spot in Cuzco

Adios Cuzco

Grilled Trout
After what seems like quite a many days we finally manage to get ready to leave Cuzco. In the morning we buy our bus ticket for Puno and decide to have a big splash out for lunch. There is one restaurant that we have passed many times that has a large roasted chicken spit, bowls of crispy french fries and a fresh salad bar in the front window. It is always full of Peruvians. When we go in every single customer has the S12 ($4.30) 1/4 roasted chicken with fries on their plate. Since I do not eat birds I order the S18 (US $6.43)grilled trout with a pile of fries and salad bar.

After this terrific lunch we cross Avenida El Sol heading towards the main plaza when we see spots and spots of bright colors. Upon closer inspection we see streets filled with people in a rainbow of clothing. It happens that today is a festival where market workers put on traditional costumes and masks to march and dance around the main plaza. Every group is accompanied by live musicians. It is a very happy event and all performers are very obliging to our photography requests. The cobblestone streets and antique churches of the main plaza make a spectacular backdrop for this colorful dancing parade . It is also creates a very memorable last impression for our stay in Cuzco.


  1. Such of wonderful to visit and experience the culture of the local people. The most I like about their costume so colorful and awesome. Thanks for sharing the info and feel free to visit mine here I shares more to Asia interesting and beautiful places to visit.


  2. Thanks for the nice comments Ms. Littlewing.

    I saw your post on Perhentian. Sounds like you had fun. We were there (kecil) last year. I really miss Malaysian and Indonesian food.