Cusco really is a beautiful city, clean and historically rich, it was the capital of the great Inca Empire. When visiting Cusco City you are guaranteed to be constantly surrounded by the magical beauty of this ancient place.
While Exploring Cusco City make sure to pay close attention to Inca (stone masonry) architecture and fully enjoy the most important pieces of Cusco that make it the unforgettable and unique place.
1. Cusqueños Citizens.
An important common denominator in any city is its inhabitants. But that applies absolutely to the citizens of Cusco, that have remained active for centuries in different geographical areas. The descendants of the great Pre-Incas and Incas, they carry on ancient traditions set by their educated and sophisticated ancestors. Look out for women dressed in the traditional Inca dresses, carrying children on their backs or vending souvenirs in colorful long wool-skirts (llicllas), just the way their grandmothers used to do. Cusqueños are nice, amicable and helpful, very welcoming and warm. Although the streets are pack with people trying to make living in imaginable ways, in rare occasions you might meet a beggar. Majority of them have something to offer in return for a few soles (Peruvian currency).
2. Quechua Language.
The official language of the great Inca Empire was Quechua, just like the rest of the Incan culture the Spaniards have tried to eradicate for centuries, but the Inca language has lived through the tough times. Quechua it’s a bit melodic and tough language that has no closeness with Castellano(Spanish) spoken in Cusco. Although is the second official language, majority of Cusqueños speak alternatively Spanish and Quechua, outside Cusco City Quechua is spoken naturally.
Lately the Inca’s language it’s experiencing a true revival and often you can hear it being spoken on the streets. Quechua learning schools are widely open to public, tourists and visitors can get an instant taste of Quechua while trying to read the streets signs around Cusco City. Although it can create a bit of confusion, but majority of street names are in Spanish and the Quechua names are written with Spanish vowels.
Cusco’s citizens, archaeologists, anthropologists, historians and linguists want to ensure that Quechua remains a living language and takes an equal to Spanish place in their society.
3. The Andes Mountains.
The Inca’s father, the Sun god told them to search for a fertile and good land to found the empire, Manco Capac was given a golden stick, the one that if it sinks that’s the sign of the promise land and their choice is indisputable.
Cusco City is surrounded by a lot of mountains. Travel somewhat fifteen minutes outside of Cusco City, and the Andes scenic views will open before you. People are amazed by the natural beauty of the snow cape mountains, and the fresh air will breath energy into your lungs. And here it will occur to you that you are indeed in the navel of the world. Inca’s descendants have been always dependent on agriculture, they associated significant power to the Apus(mountains) around them, which provided them with their food and water. Some of the most important mountain peaks of the Andes were assumed to be living mountains. The Apus was associated with deity, which provided the inhabitants of the region with water, and various rituals and sacrifices were devoted to them.
4. Mercados or Local Markets
You can’t affirm that you know Cusco, if you never visit one its local mercados, or markets. One of those could be
Mercado San Pedro or Mercado Wanchaq. All mercados are somewhat similar to super markets, except they still maintain old ways of selling their goods with little or no refrigeration. All mercados carry a good selection of meat, fruits and vegetables, freshly picked in the Andes and brought down by the villagers. Mercado San Pedro has a large area dedicated to souvenirs with very competitive prices.
The Andes soil is very fertile and famous for the twenty-six hundred kinds of potatoes or hundreds of types of corn, while visiting a mercado you will learn, save time and money on going to a museum. Campesinos (farmers) sellers carry an impressive number of different types of this vital Peruvian food that will be on display in any mercado.
TIP: On the way out, don’t forget to buy a small bouquet of freshly Andean cut flowers. They are cheap, but popular among Cusqueños who love decorating their houses with those vestiges of life and beauty.
5. Andean Food.
Lately Peru and it’s diverse cities, are being rediscovered by the world as a gastronomic paradise. Although it obviously caters better to the meat-lovers, even the most healthy faithful veggan will be surprised by the variety of food products available at his/her disposal in Cusco. A popular dish among Cusqueños fried pork(Chicharon) is usually served with slices of fried potatoes and giant corm(enormous size), is a must-have for Cusqueños on their lunch menu (once a week). Papas and choclo (potatoes and corn), is very popular among Cusqueños and are cooked and served in different ways. A good meal is always accompanied by mate(coca leaf infusion) or a glass of chicha morada, or a bottle of Inca Cola (Peruvian soda). What adds special aroma to the Cusqueño food, is the fact that everything is organic and hand harvested in the Andes mountains, and is rarely grown with the use of pesticides or chemicals.
6. Escuela Cusqueña Paintings
If you you have been traveling throughout Europe, then you have seen enough of religious art and nothing else can impress your exhausted imagination. But yet don’t jump to conclusions until you get to see the art of Cusco’s region known as la Escuela Cusqueña.
Escuela Cusqueña was composed by a a group of local andean artists who worked incognito and have managed to create a vast number of real masterpieces(religious paintings). When Spanish colonists arrived to Cusco City, they didn’t have many tools of converting the non christian Inca population into Catholicism. Mainly, at their disposition they had only the language of art. Under the Inquisition threat of painful execution, the andean local masters were coerced and forced to recreate the powerful European religious images and teach their people about new religion. Following the Spanish colonist instructions, the andean painters managed to include images of Incan prime Gods, Pachacámac and Pachamama. It is hard or impossible not to notice a colonial painting created by the impressive genius of the local masters that doesn’t contain an Inca religion symbol, whether is the sun, the moon, the snake, or the corn. A good example to this phenomena is the reproduction of the “Last Supper” by the andean artists (Escuela Cusqueña), you can clearly see a cuy(guinea pig), Cusqueños major delicacy, is being served, and the Judah has a stunning resemblance to Francisco Pizarro, the first conquistador. Every Escuela Cusqueña painting is an astounding fusion of Inca centuries long veneration of Pacha Mama(Mother Earth) and the new Catholic religion.
7. Main Plaza de Armas.
Inca Pachacuti though of Cusco to be the navel of the world, and Hauqaypata (Plaza de Armas) is the real beginning of all beginnings, Cusco City’s Plaza de Armas is a sacred place that the Incas designated as the heart of their vast empire and the worshiping place to their most sacred god Inti (sun).
During Spanish occupation, all Inca buildings surrounding Plaza de Armas had been transformed or demolished. The modern version of Cusco City’s Plaza de Armas is an amalgam of Inca sturdy walls, cobblestone streets and architectural genius of the colonists, who build houses and churches on top of Inca buildings remains.
There are three big important churches in Cusco City’s Plaza de Armas, La Basilica Catedral del Cusco, Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesus , Iglesia de la Merced. All around the Plaza it’s full of stores, restaurants and cozy cafes (McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks). You can observe the surrounding mountains filled with adobe type houses, gradually creeping higher and higher up the valley.
Cusco City’s Plaza de Armas is a common meeting point to relax as well as do business, during the evening travel visitors and locals gather at the center.