Monday, 21 November 2016

Cusco City Tour

DAY 2 - I continued to take it easy on Day 2 morning in Cusco to acclimatize to the high altitude. Breakfast at leisure in the Hostal El Triunfo. Then walked to Peru Rail office to buy my rail tickets to Machu Picchu. More on this at a later post.  After getting my train tickets, I walked to explore the streets around the Plaza de Armas and the nearby museums. There were lots of street vendors and local shops but it was nice that none of the street vendors bothered me.

I went to Jack’s Cafe for lunch. It’s a popular restaurant with an extensive menu. The service was quick and the price was reasonable. Here I met two travellers from the United Kingdom and Germany. We agreed to join at a table and shared our travel stories.

In the afternoon, I went on the Cusco City Tour. This tour usually starts at 1:30 PM every afternoon and lasts about five hours. It starts at the Cathedral in Plaza de Armas, then the tour bus will take you to the following four archaeological sites:
  1. Qorikancha (or Coricancha in Wikipedia)
  2. Saqsayhuaman (or Saksaywaman in Wikipedia)
  3. Qenqo (or Q’inqu in Wikipedia)
  4. Tambomachay (same spelling in Wikipedia)
Please note that there are different spellings of the four Inca sites written in this post. I used the spellings on my entry tickets.

I paid 30 soles (US$10) for the Cusco City Tour which included hotel pick-up, drop-off, and an English-speaking guide. I found this was very good value for the money and would recommend it to anyone on their first visit to Cusco. The tour bus service from one site to another was well worth the cost of the tour as it would be quite a walk to see the Inca ruins.

Entrance fees to the sites are extra. Tickets are sold on site:
  • Cathedral 25 soles (US$8)
  • Qorikancha 15 soles (US$5)
  • 10-day Tourist ticket 130 soles (US$40) covers entry fees to the Inca ruins on the Cusco City tour and the Sacred Valley tour, as well as, a number of museums in Cusco. It is a cost saver.
Heidi, my Cusco city tour guide, picked me up from my hotel on time. We walked to the Plaza de Armas to meet up with about a dozen travellers from different parts of the world (India, Italy, Australia, Thailand, the United States, etc.). The tour started with a visit to the Cathedral. Since I’ve seen many cathedrals before, I skipped this part of the tour and waited outside to watch people mingling in the plaza.

First archaeological site: Qorikancha. Our tour bus picked us up at the Cathedral exit and took us to Qorikancha (Temple of the Sun). “Qori” means gold and “Kancha” means an enclosed space, bounded by walls. This was the most important temple in the Inca Empire in the early 16th century. The Inca stone walls were built out of huge, tightly interlocking blocks of stone. Qorikancha housed fine gold and silver and was dedicated to the Sun God (Inti). The Spanish colonists built the Church of Santo Domingo on the site. Now visitors would see both the impressive Inca stonework and the Spanish colonial architecture.

Qorikancha site exterior
Qorikancha stone wall
A precisely cut stone block
Spanish architecture, Santo Domingo Convent
Gold display at Qorikancha
Second archaeological site: Saqsayhuaman. Our tour bus driver picked us up from Qorikancha exit and drove towards the northern outskirts of Cusco, to reach the Saqsayhuaman. The drive was uphill and by the time we reached Saqsayhuaman, we were at an altitude of 3,701m (12,142 ft). I was  prepared with layered clothing and had acclimatized to the high altitude in Cusco.

At first sight, Saqsayhuaman looks to me like a large fortress built with Inca stone walls in tiers and with grassy areas that can hold thousands of people. Click to enlarge the pictures.

Heidi explained to us that the Killke culture occupied the area around year 900. They built sections of Saqsayhuaman citadel about year 1100. The Inca added stone walls to the citadel from the 13th century. The stone walls consisted of huge boulders that fit together tightly without mortar. Simply amazing stone masonry! Both Saqsayhuaman and Cusco were declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1983.

Stairway at Saqsayhuaman
Newlyweds at Saqsayhuaman
Huge boulder at Saqsayhuaman
Local Peruvians with llamas
Third archaeological site: Qenqo. From Saqsayhuaman, we headed downhill to Qenqo. There is a big monolith on this site. Heidi explained that Qenqo was believed to be a holy site where sacrifices took place.

Monolith at Qenqo
A view of Cusco and its stadium

Fourth and last archaeological site of the tour: Tambomachay. From Qenqo, our driver took us to Tambomachay. Here we saw a series of aqueducts and small waterfalls that run through the terraced rocks. “Tambo” means inn or guest house, “Machay” means to get drunk. The function of the site is uncertain. However, the alternate Spanish name “El Bano del Inca” means the Bath of the Inca. There are four tall spaces in the centre and two on the side. Perhaps they were for people with important roles?

Small waterfalls at Tambomachay
Tambomachay stone walls

At the end of the tour, I was dropped off at my hotel. All in all a very good day with an informative tour of the four archaeological sites in and around Cusco. One couple on the tour decided to join me for dinner at Don Marcelo pizzeria. We had a fun conversation about our trip so far and enjoyed the different dishes we ordered.

If you have been to Cusco, I’d love hearing from you.

Next post: The Sacred Valley tour.

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