We arrived in Cusco primarily planning to spend a few more days to acclimate to high altitude (the city sits at 11,000′) before starting our trek on the Inca Trail later in the week, but were pleasantly surprised by its character, colors, and Peruvian charm.
While admittedly a tourist hub, Cusco is known for its historic role as capital of the ancient Inca civilization – as well as its current-day role as jumping off point for visiting Machu Picchu!
Given its importance in the Inca culture, the city was also a prime target, sadly, for Pizarro and the Spanish conquistadors in the mid-1500’s who destroyed Inca strongholds and essentially ended the Inca civilization. Following subsequent centuries of Spanish rule, religious missionary quests, attempts at Inca rebellion, and ultimately, Peruvian independence, the city managed to survive and now boasts an impressive and beautiful mix of Inca ruins and amazing stone architecture…
… mixed with 16th century Spanish buildings including expansive cathedrals (often built over Inca temples!)…
… as well as bustling squares and markets,
And all of this within a vibrant Andean culture that blends traditional cultures in a modern city structure.
We also had the opportunity to tour several sites in the “Sacred Valley”, an area stretching from Cusco to Ollantaytamba, that was the home of several important Inca communities and farmlands. We enjoyed visiting Chinchero, a village known for maintaining long- held traditions of colorful hand weaving, using fibers from their own alpacas, llamas, and sheep, and plant-based dyes.
We also were amazed to see workers in the Maras area skimming salt from hundreds of salt pans, created from salt-rich springs that are diverted over the hillside…
…and the amazing stone-built Inca terraces at Moray, thought to have served as an agricultural “laboratory” of sorts, where Incan farmers tested strains of corn and other plants to adapt to the range of temperatures and altitudes that comprised the terraced fields across their Andean regions.
So having spent a great few days exploring – and faithfullly taking our Diamox! – we headed out for one last night in Ollantaytambo before our date with the Inca Trail – next up!