Cusco (also spelt Cuzco and Qosqo) is essentially base camp for anyone looking to explore the heart of the Inca empire. A picturesque World Heritage Site, it hosts both impressive inca ruins and cobbled colonial suburbs. It is rich in history and one could spend a comfortable week exploring the town and it's immediate surroundings.
The city centres around Plaza de Armas, an impressive square flanked by old colonial shop fronts and two impressive churches, the Cathedral and the Jesuit's Church. The former is a must visit. The Cathedral features a massive basilica with ornate wooden carvings, shrines and great stone pillars. The Cathedral hosts the remains of Gasilasco de la Vega, the Spanish chronicler of the Incas, and you will also see the famous Last Supper painting with a slight twist – roast guinea pig has been added to the table.
Although the Spanish did their best to tear down most buildings of significance to the Incas, it is still possible to seethe remains of the Qorikancha, the Inca's principle Temple of the Sun. Garcilasco de la Vega reports that the Temple was an awesome site to behold, with the inner chambers lined wall to ceiling with plates of gold. Apparently each Inca emperor competed with his predecessor to make the Temple more impressive. At one point it featured a garden of silver and gold plant sculptures and hosted a wall size golden image of the sun.
Of course Pizarro and his thugs raided this with rabid glee, melting down the metals and using the gold to build their fortunes and that of the Spanish empire. To help further break the spirit of the Incas the Spanish built a church and convent on the site. Today only the foundations remain.
While we were there several parades popped up in Plaza de Armas. They wore elaborate costumes and played drums and wind instruments. We never fully understood why so many were staged or by whom, but they were fun to watch and proof of South America's love of festivals.
Of course any visit to Peru requires a tasting of guinea pig. This animal has been cherished as a food source since before the Conquistadores so Mark was keen to give it a go. Some friends of ours were also in town so we met up with them at a locally recommended restaurant.
The meat was tasty, sort of a cross between mutton bird and lamb. Mark enjoyed it but of course Saskia abstained!
Cusco was good fun, the architecture is fantastic and there is a lot to see with many museums, restaurants and shops. This is a good place to buy alpaca textiles that would be considered fashionable back home, just be prepared to pay a higher price for it. There is also a lot of art for sale, we recommend stopping by at the Puna shop for music, graphic art and books (we bought several cds, including a fusion of electronica and cumbia by Dengue! Dengue! Dengue!).