What to do in Cusco and surroundings
When in Cusco, one will few times wonder what to do in Cusco. It will more be a case of planning and tying to do as much as possible in the limited time most visitors have. On you’re what to do in Cusco list there are of course some standard visits of places that cannot be missed when in Cusco. The list would at least hold a city tour Cusco including the following sites;
Following are the main sites you will visit on a City Tour Cusco;
The Plaza de Armas; Cusco’s beautiful main square surrounded by colonial buildings and galleries and flanked on one side by the Cusco Cathedral and on the other by the Church of La Compañía.
Qoricancha or the Temple of the Sun; this large site used to be the most important temple in the Inca era. A religious centre the site was completely dedicated to the Sun and the Moon, the main Inca gods. The temple was, according to writings left behind by the Conquistadores, covered with gold leaf and held some of the most impressive artifacts the Conquistadores came across. It was also one of the first buildings to be torn down by the Spaniards, making a statement by putting a large Convent on top of the Inca Site. Nowadays, the site is an interesting mixture of these two styles clashing in this convent. Most of the Inca chambers are so huge that the Spanish were not able of deconstructing them and therefore incorporated them into the new structure.
Sacsayhuaman; Or Sexy Woman as many tourists find it easier to pronounce, is probably the oldest constructed place around Cusco. Traces have been found of the Killke civilization having constructed buildings here and with the arrival of the Inca in the 1300´s the site was elaborated and taken to another level. Huge stones, some of the biggest registered in the Inca Empire can be found here. The site used to be a military camp and training ground under Inca reign and served as the main point of defense for the city. Two large towers used to stand on these hills and some of the fiercest battles with the Spaniards were fought here. After the conquest, the Spaniards used the smaller blocks of granite of this site to construct several colonial buildings such as the Cathedral.
Other smaller but very interesting sites you will visit on a City tour Cusco are located at about 15 minutes drive from Cusco and are Qenqo, a small site supposed to be used as a solar centre for investigation, Puka Pukara, a hunting base used as a travelers hut, and Tambomachay, a site dedicated to water.
Other places you cannot miss when doing a city tour Cusco;
Calle Hatun Rumiyuq or the street of the Twelve Angled Stone; probably one of the most visited streets in Cusco the street has a beautiful example of two Inca building styles. One side with small stones more or less cubicles stacked on each other without mortar and on the other the impressive huge granite stones in strange shapes completely matched together like a large puzzle. It is in this wall that you can find the Twelve Angled Stone, a masterpiece of Inca masonry. On top of this wall is the original Archbishop's Palace, now a museum of art mainly focused on the Cusco School.
Barrio de San Blas; Going uphill (in the first days in Cusco this may be quite the task) from the Twelve Angled Stone, you reach to a very steep street taking you to San Blas. This city centre colonial neighborhood is included in the standard city tour Cusco and is best visited on your own account. Here you can find the heart of artisan and craft houses in Cusco. The streets are for a large not accessible to traffic and since the neighborhood is built against one of the flanks of the valley, you will have to the necessary steps to get to know this area. The views from this part of town are also worthwhile and having a coffee on the upper part of San Blas Square is where you really feel on holiday. On the Plaza San Blas you will also find a small charge. The charge itself is maybe not the most interesting one but inside you can find one of the most beautiful wood carving pieces you can find. A whole preaching chair made out of a single log of wood.
The Sacred Valley of the Inca’s; this valley, located at about an hour drive from Cusco is also one of the mayor things that will figure on the -what to do in Cusco list- of many people. The Sacred Valley used to e the main source of food products for the Cusco area. Located at about 800 meters lower than Cusco, the Sacred Valley enjoys a micro climate, much milder than that of Cusco. The relatively broad valley is crossed by the Urubamba (also known as the Vilcanote River) River, making these lands very fertile. Besides the cultivated flats, many of the mountain flanks in this valley were constructed with terracing to create even more agricultural spaces in this valley. On the beginning and end of this valley you can find two large fortresses for the protection of this important valley. The ruins of Pisac, as many Inca citadels, is built on top of a strategically located mountain and surrounded by Andean terracing, is obviously a place of importance for the protection of this area. On the other end of the valley, in Ollantaytambo you can find the impressive steep ruins of Ollantaytambo. These ruins are not only protecting the Sacred Valley but also the access to Machu Picchu. It is here that the Spanish have suffered one of the biggest defeats by the Inca in a ferocious battle where the Inca, supported by the Indian from lower lands, outsmarted the Spanish in one famous occasion. The town of Ollantaytambo is also one of the few examples of the urban layout of Inca towns. Constructed in several large blocks with the houses and entrances towards the inner patio, this is a typical Inca construction type. Especially the houses and streets on the right site of the ruins are very interesting to walk through. Here in Ollantaytambo (maybe to mark the importance of this city in Inca time) you can find the last train station to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu.
Besides all these sites Cusco is also a centre for luxury travel. Being provided with some of the best hotels in Peru, Cusco and the Sacred Valley will not disappoint the traveler looking for some more luxury and good Spa’s and restaurants.
For the more adventure buffs, the what to do in Cusco and surrounding list will of course have one or more of the many outdoor activities this region has to offer.
Hike to some of the lesser known Inca sites in the region; Choquequirao or Espiritu Pampa. Choquequirao, meaning the Cradle of Gold is a lesser known large site connected with Machu Picchu through the typical Inca paths. The site can be reached through a 4 day trek starting and ending in Cusco. For combining this site with Machu Picchu allow at least a week.
Espiritu Pampa is the last resort of the Incas and the place from where they organized their rebellion against the Spanish conquistadores. The site was discovered by Hiram Bingham but discarded as not being important. In later excursions the site was valued for its importance and size. This site can only be reached by an at least 6 or 7 day hike.