Peru | Loving Cusco

For the Incas, Cusco was considered the navel of the world, and I can truly see why.

What Cusco lacks in cleanliness and structure, it surely makes up for through charisma – the city is a bustling cluster of energy and friendliness, certain to make even the most experienced traveler excited. We are continuously awed by the variety of architecture and beauty of the valley it’s nestled in – and, unsurprisingly, finding it difficult to leave. We have little to complain about; the food is delicious, the people joyous and kind, and the days filled with music and color.

Cusco has been an amazing experience, and I am heartfelt in saying that I will miss this leg of the trip dearly. Unfortunately, dear reader, as many times as I’ve tried to bundle the days we’ve spent here into a concise entry is as many times as I’ve failed. So, I will here provide you with a simplified list, though it fails to capture the zeal and flavor that is, for us, now associated with this lovely city…

Things we loved about Cusco:

  1. Qorikancha – The first time we went to the Santo Domingo area, we only popped inside the cathedral and didn’t think much of it. However, we decided to revisit the Qorikancha complex, having heard that it’s a must-see in Cusco. After exploring the museum rather thoroughly, I find it difficult to disagree; it is seriously amazing, and now my favorite site in Cusco. Firstly, the complex is built on Inca ruins, which are extremely well preserved. The giant bricks lay neatly on one another, completely sealing all cracks sans any mortar in a dry-fit fashion. It’s amazing to think about the work that goes into filing bricks down so perfectly, especially when the modern equivalent rises from the remains. While the newer addition is beautiful and impressive, it certainly does not compare to the ruins, which humble any Cusco edifice. The entire place is like being in half of an Inca site, and half of a Peruvian one, which earns major points for uniqueness. Secondly, Qorikancha is packed with really nice art, from extensive collections of religious oil paintings to modern art statues. Perhaps the greatest art is the courtyard of the building itself, which lies on the interior, mimicking Tuscan architecture. We took pictures of the courtyard and surrounding botanicals for what seemed like hours, having been taken to another place through its simple beauty. Lastly, admission to the museum lets you wander the estate’s extensive gardens, often alone, and analyze even further the fusion of Incan and post-Conquistador styles as well as stroll through the magnificent and highly-manicured greenery.
  2. Hanging out in the Plaza de Armas – The Plaza de Armas is absolutely mesmerizing at first glance, especially by night, when the illuminated white Jesus hovers watchfully over the square, itself lit via the numerous facades of churches and cafes nearby. Even during the day, however, the ruined Sacsayhuaman fortress towers impressively above, while the surrounding buildings dominate the horizon, creating between them a stage for Cusco life. In many ways, the Plaza is representative of this city as a whole. The square is significantly tilted, like much of Cusco’s architecture, which is rarely on any kind of flat land and therefore appears to be thrown together helter skelter, barely keeping its balance as crowds trudge by. Additionally, the Plaza is a giant bowl of locals, tourists, dogs, and benches; a place where everyone mixes together and inevitably merges cultures. It’s the eternally busy, magnetic center of town, where Inca festivals are held and lovers huddle together among the shops, restaurants, and greenery.
  3. Prasada – During one of our typical rambles around town, we ended up walking around the residential area behind San Blas, which offered up fantastic city panoramas and Mykonos-like alleys. By the time we had gotten ourselves properly lost, we were starving. Luckily, we stumbled across a local eatery where we shared a table with a cheery old local and devoured their specials: noodle soup and fried trout (a popular Cusco dish). Now in search of an internet cafe to finalize train tickets, we ducked into an alley and discovered another gem, Prasada. This little dive is not much more than a kitchen the size of a large pantry with a window and miniature door to the alley, where several planks are nailed to the colorfully painted walls. Although we had already eaten, our mouths began to water as we watched plates of amazing vegetarian food being whipped out. Immediately, a decision was reached to return, and Prasada soon became our local haunt. The lone chef is a cheery vegetarian with an ever-lasting smile and skills to make any wannabe envious. Serving everything from stuffed chili potatoes, zucchini lasagna, and pizza marghuerita to vegan chocolate balls and fruit lassis, Prasada is just the ticket for a cheap, delicious meal. We even got our ELIM roommates hooked on this stellar cafe.
  4. ELIM – We obviously had no idea what to expect in terms of our volunteer program, but the orphanage we currently call home (ELIM) has turned out to be a rewarding experience, and our time in Cusco would not be nearly as powerful without it. While the boys orphanage is being built, the girls and boys reside together, making for an unusual and energetic environment. The children were immediately welcoming and warm – as time passed, we shared art projects, card games, puzzles, and sports. The language barrier naturally means little as comments are expressed through smiles and body language. We’ve had so much fun sharing the lives of these kids, who are endlessly enthusiastic and positive in their day-to-day ventures. It’s also been a blessing to make friends with other volunteers, especially our English roommates Tom and Jack, who have shown us around town and introduced us to many of their friends in turn. We’ve played intense games of football with locals, wandered obscure markets, and dabbled in the thriving nightlife. Through ELIM, Cusco has become a rather friendly place for us to lay our heads.
  5. Exploring the Museums and Cathedrals – From the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus to the Cathedral of Cusco, this city offers seemingly endless churches to explore and gape at. The previously mentioned two are my favorites, the prior offering grand views of the Plaza de Armas from above, the latter an intensely large and ornate interior to stroll through, including an alter made exclusively of embossed silver. In addition to these beauties, The San Blas Cathedral, Museo Religioso, and Museo Inka provided us with days of exploration. Much of the city’s edifices have been restored from ground up due to several enormous earthquakes that heavily shape local history. Even through such challenges, Cusco is surely not lacking in the area of impressive and glorious architecture – one could do much worse.

One Response to “Peru | Loving Cusco”
  1. Mary says:

    Those pictures are stunning, I especially love the ones with the kids. Sounds like your trip started off wonderfully, keep the blogs coming! I’ll be thinking of you both!

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