NOTE: This article is part of a series of 12 articles on Peru and the many beautiful aspects of this country. There is a post for each day I spent there, although some may not be relative to that particular day. I intend to post two articles a week for this series, on Thursdays and Mondays.
Cuzco is one of the largest cities in Peru, along with Lima. However, unlike the capital, this city is much higher in elevation- a striking 12,000 feet. Even for those who live in the mountains, like myself, the difference in oxygen supply is noticeable. Cuzco is known as the Incan capital and is home to 348,000 people. It holds many ruins and is known as the Incan Capital, giving it plenty of history to explore.
It is also a safe city to visit, much like Lima. We did meet some edgy people but none of them were dangerous or threatening in any way. They did stereotype Americans for party people but there was no intensive pressure by any means. In fact, it was pretty funny.
My group flew into Cuzco to travel to Machu Picchu. At first glance, the city is packed and every space of it is used. At the same time it feels small, especially compared to Lima.
The food in Cuzco was exceptional. Here is where the famous cuy, or guinea pig works itself into the meal plans. It is typically roasted over a fire with herbs and spices inside. It has a very distinct taste and a texture similar to chicken. Along with that, we also had plenty of the classic Peruvian meals (quinoa soup, chicken, potatoes). One night we also had this appetizer of dried corn and cheese. It was super chalky in terms of texture, but it tasted so good. I definitely ate more than I should have.
There are many things to do just outside of Cuzco, but the city itself holds many historical and exciting features as well. Some of my favorites include the Cuzco Cathedral, the Chocolate Museum, and the large markets.
The Cathedral is directly in the middle of Plaza de Armas, the main square. It is divided in several portions of which were built during the colonial era. The towering pillars are enough to gawk at alone, with their enormous size and detail. The mantles are similar to those in Europe and often plated in gold. However, what really takes the cake for the coolest feature is the paintings, which were done by Incas unwillingly. While the slavery-made aspect is incredibly disheartening and sad, noticing the way the Incas retaliated helps, as it models how strongly the Incas held onto their culture and survived. Throughout the paintings, there is hints of the Incas’ own gods and beliefs, such as Pachamama, the goddess of earth. There will be references in paintings and carvings scattered throughout. This is certainly one place that you should get a guide even though its a single building because there is so much hidden detail.
Tip: Make sure to check out the rendition of the last supper, which has Jesus and the 12 disciples feasting on the local delicacy, guinea pig!
The Choco Museo is less local but still very interesting. This company is spread throughout South America, but there are many stands and shops within the towns of Peru. I visited the shop in Cuzco, which is a brief walk away from the Cathedral. Here, you can sample chocolates (try the white chocolate with cardamom!) and learn about the history of cocoa. Its very fun and free, unless you walk out with loads of chocolate!
Lastly, I thoroughly enjoyed the markets. There are the tiny little ones scattered throughout, but there was also one close to the Cathedral that was by far the biggest market I have ever laid my eyes on. It was chock full of souvenirs, spices, meat, flowers, and plants. I loved all the smells and sights. There were also plenty of good deals. I bought a bag and a bunch of llama keychains for all my family back home and they were all super cheap. I loved this place, even though it was a danger to my wallet.
I totally wish I could have spent more time here, although maybe I will in the future! Cuzco is extraordinary! It has so much history as it was known as the capital of the Incas and experienced colonial rule, but also still has modern ways of life and a strong culture.