Vida Huancaína

Our adventure in the Andes

1 Comment

Cousin Adventures: Cusco

Cusco was the third stop on our gringo trail adventure. The city sits high in the Andes at 10,000 feet/3,000 meters above sea level and is the jump-off point for Machu Picchu. Hosting tourists from all over the globe, the city is well-maintained and offers everything that a gringo could want (at an escalated price, of course, for a captive audience).  Vendors and restaurant-owners shout loudly at visitors, luring us to purchase their goods or enter their establishment for lunch.  It’s a bit of an offense to the senses, leading us to avoid the main plaza and other highly-touristed areas as much as possible.

Cusco's main plaza

Cusco’s main plaza

plaza at night

plaza at night

We visited a few sights around town, starting with one of Chris’ favorites in all of Peru–the Museo de Art Precolombino.  The museum has a subset of objects, including pottery and carved wooden artifacts, that were originally housed in the Museo Larco in Lima.  Our favorites of all the examples were from the Mochica people.  The Moche lived in the northern, coastal region of Peru, and Chris and I had actually seen an example of one of their elaborate pyramid tombs during our trip to Chiclayo last year.  Their pottery incorporates anthropomorphized animals, and the museum had pieces that represented birds, deer, and llamas (Chris’ fave it the duck and mine are the llamas in the below photo collage).  The museum is really well done, with interesting displays and wonderfully written little blurbs about each piece that not only include information, but also evoke thoughtful emotion.

Museo de Arte Precolombiano

Museo de Arte Precolombiano

top left: carved wooden objects, others: examples of pottery, including the Mochica's anthropomorphized animals like birds, deer, and llamas

top left: carved wooden objects, others: examples of pottery, including the Mochica’s anthropomorphized animals

The second sight we visited was Qorikancha.  If there is only one sight you visit in Cusco, this should be it.  It is a great example of how the Spanish usurped the Inca’s power by taking over the location and the meaning of the place.  Qorikancha was a principle religious site founded by the Incan king, Manko Kapac, and then revitalized and adorned with gold under the rule of Pachakuti.  The Spanish looted all of the gold decorations and built a Catholic monastery on the grounds, on top of the Incan foundation and around remnants of the old religious site.  These remaining examples of the Incan architecture are absolutely spectacular.  The Incans perfectly carved out pieces of stone so that they fit seamlessly together without mortar, and then polished them by hand to an absolutely smooth sheen (I don’t think you’re supposed to, but cousin and I touched it just to see how smooth they are!).  It’s just incredible.  And that they’re all standing, completely undisturbed by multiple large earthquakes since their construction in the mid-15th century, is just remarkable.


you can see the multiple layers of construction, with the perfectly square stones of the Incas on the bottom, the less precise Spanish architecture, and the modern buildings that house the present-day museum


view of Cusco from the site


Spanish colonial architecture of the monastery


remains of the Incan temple inside the monastery


look how perfectly those hand-carved and polished rocks fit together!


more views of the remaining Incan temple inside the monastery

We stayed a few blocks off the main plaza at an adorable bed and breakfast called El Balcón.  All the rooms on the second floor are connected on a long balcony from which you get the most spectacular views over the city and surrounding mountains. One afternoon we were even treated to a view of a rainbow extending high above it all. We highly recommend El Balcón for a lovely little spot close enough to everything, yet just far enough away to be peaceful and relaxing.

a cup of coca leaf tea is offered to guests to help with the altitude

guests are offered a cup of coca leaf tea upon arrival to help with the altitude

the balcony at El Balcón

taking in the view from the balcony

rainbow over Cusco

rainbow over Cusco

Next up, the final installment of the “Cousin Adventures” series and the main event, Machu Picchu!