You just can’t help but wonder how the great Incan empire used to be back then. A collection of small villages connected and governed by a ruling class whose power reached beyond mountain ranges. It was enlightening to know how this empire fell and from its rubble another culture rose. Through time traditions and cultures fought, merged, and became Cusco Peru as it is today.
We’ll start today’s tour at Plazoleta Santa Catalina, a slender park located next to the Convent and Monastery of St Catherine (Convento y Monasterio de Santa Catalina). The small park features a narrow fountain with animal statues and figures of a couple wearing traditional clothing. There are benches at the park and cafes nearby to power-up for the day. The two top rated ones are Qura and Three Monkey’s Coffee Co.
The Convento de Santa Catalina is huge complex built on top of Acllawasi where the Incas housed the chosen Virgins of the Sun. Young girls were brought here from different villages under the empire as tribute to be trained in becoming priestesses, textile workers, cooks, or wives to great Inca warriors.
From Plaza de Armas walk down the narrow Calle Loreto in between the smaller chapel of Our Lady of Loreto and the Zelenque, an old house where Starbucks is located. In the time of the Incas, it served as a division between the House of the chosen Virgins of the Sun (St. Catherine Convent) and the House of the Great Serpent (Church of the Society of Jesus).
Calle Loreto which was named Sun Alley takes you directly to Qorikancha (the sun god temple). It features great stonework from Pre-Columbian times that holds courtyards on both sides. On one of the courtyards is the Campo de Artesanos, Llamas y Alpacas where you can find colorful keepsakes & handicrafts and a chance to take photos with Cusco’s unofficial mascots, llamas, and alpacas.
**Which one is which? Alpacas have short, straight, and pointy ears while Llamas have long, curved, banana-like ears.
Church of the Society of Jesus (Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús)
The church occupies the site where one of Cusco’s great palaces stood, Amarucancha (House of the great snake). It housed the Inca Huayna Cápac and the snakes brought offered to them as a sign of reverence.
Another handicrafts shop flanks the church to East that will tempt your eyes in a feast of colors, from traditional clothing, textile, and religious pieces to souvenirs and trinkets made from alpaca hair, natural dye, stone, and wood.
Go west of the church then down to the Avenida El Sol. This main artery is always busy with traffic going in and out of the Historic Center.
Travel agencies, restaurants, banks, shops, and money exchange sites are scattered in Avenida El Sol on both sides. About half a block on the left will be the Municipalidad de Cusco where the Museo de Arte Popular is located.
Museo de Arte Popular and the Cusco Boleto Integral
Show your tickets and head down the flight of stairs on the left to visit this small and eccentric museum. This attraction is part of Cusco’s Boleto Turistico Integral (General Ticket), that costs s/. 130 ($35). It is worth it if you are staying longer or visiting ruins and daytrips outside of Cusco like the Sacred Valley.
The museum showcases pieces from locally known artist from the 1940s. Cusco’s dynamic culture is well represented in the mediums that they used, such as ceramics, photographs, and woodwork. The guides are very welcoming and informative. We have learned plenty regarding customs and traditions practiced from before that persist to this day.
Qorikancha: The Golden Temple
Qorikancha was the most important temple during the Inca regime. It was said that statues of gods, animals and rooms made of gold used to exist within its walls. During the Pre-Columbian era this sacred ground was dedicated to Inti, the sun god. To show its dominance over the indigenous gods the Spaniards destroyed the temple, stripped all its gold, and used the rubble to build Santo Domingo church on top of it.
You can do a self-guided tour of Qorikancha for 15 soles ($3.83) or get a tour guide outside for additional 30 soles ($7.66). It was included in the Boleto Integral before but not anymore. (April 2022). The exhibit grounds wrap around a beautiful and wide courtyard and garden showing the beginnings and transformation of the people’s practices and beliefs through time.
Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo
Considered as the first folkloric institution in Peru, this organization is dedicated to compiling and preserving traditional music and folk dances of Peru. Performances are presented by talented artists who showcased their unique heritage in festivals held all over the world.
We had a wonderful time appreciating colorful hats, dresses and scarves used all through the performances. All the acts were dynamic and well-rehearsed as they frolic around to live music. You will be presented facts regarding the pieces of clothing and the significance of each dance as the show goes on.
Centro Artesenal Cusco
As you walk south Avenida El Sol, right next to the La Paccha park will be the Centro Artesenal Cusco. This enclosed market houses dozens of stores selling souvenirs, knick-knacks, and local handicrafts. Much of the shops offer the same kind of things. You can bargain especially if you buy more than one item. The same item could cost half the price on other stall. We walked around one time and bought a few items for the price that we want.
Yes, we travel to get away from work and responsibilities for a little while. We want to take pictures amidst amazing places we have never been. However, one of our most important goals is to learn. Know beliefs that are foreign to us. Acknowledge the difference and embrace it as part of our vibrant and ever-changing human tapestry. What is life, if not a collection of memories, snapshots that makes us who we are.
Trial Retirements are periods of time we dedicate traveling to beautiful countries to know if they are perfect for us when we eventually retire. The time spent outside of work will serve as a preview of our habits and behaviors when we reach Financial Independence, and of course, our way to recharge after months of hard work.
Anything we missed? Questions? Violent reactions? Let us know on the comments below!