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Cuzco, Capital of the Inca Empire


Rooftops of Cuzco, Peru

Red tiled roofs in Cuzco are a colonial legacy


About Cuzco:

The visitor to Cuzco, alternately spelled Cusco, Qosqo or Qozqo, can’t help but be awed and impressed by a city that was the capital of the Inca Empire. Today’s Cuzco combines the ancient city, the colonial additions and the modern buildings and amenities in a splendid reflection of culture and tradition-and reminds us that the sophisticated Incan civilization was not erased by the colonial invaders. Or tourists.

Qosqo, meaning navel or bellybutton in Quechua, is located in a fertile valley that supported civilization before the Incas, but it is more closely associated with the organized society in which everyone had a role to play, and a function to perform. Ama Sua, Ama Quella, Ama Lulla was the greeting to visitors to the city, and exhorted them “Don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t be lazy.” The results of their artisanry and building techniques are seen everywhere, and have outlasted numerous earthquakes.
Inca builders laid out the city in the form of a puma, with the fortress of Sacsayhuaman as the head, the plaza of Huacaypata as the belly, or navel, and the converging Huatanay and Tullumayo rivers as the tail. The ancient plaza was the core of the suyos, the Four Regions of the Inca Empire reaching from Quito, Ecuador to northern Chile.
The plaza was the site of official and ceremonial buildings and residences of ruling officials and was the locus for the famous road network where swift runners carried communications to all parts of the empire. Surrounding the city were areas for agricultural, artisan and industrial production. When the Spanish arrived, they destroyed many of the structures, and what they couldn't raze, they used as foundations for many of their churches and buildings.

Getting and Staying There:

Getting to Cuzco today is easier than for the Incas or the colonial forces under Francisco Pizarro, who imposed the colonial city on top of the existing city beginning in March of 1534 after plundering and looting the city.

Check flights from your area. You can also browse for hotels and car rentals.

There are domestic and international flights, public transportation, bus service to and from multiple locations, and of course, the train to Machu Picchu.

Restaurants, nightlife and shops service both resident and visitor.

Cuzco enjoys a temperate climate, with the rainy season from November to March and the dry season from April to October. Check today's weather.

Browse this hotel list for availability, rates, amenities, location, activities and other specific information.

Things to Do and See:

Cuzco, with its up and down streets, both colonial and modern, entices the visitor to stroll and discover the juztaposition of Inca architecture, the fabled wall of many angles, colonial red roofs, whitewashed walls and blue doors and windows, and the urban structures of the modern city, Take the time to see the many churches and explore the museums. Marvel at the masonry artistry described in Geometry Step by Step from the Land of the Incas.

From the Plaza de Armas, a walking tour takes you to the Cathedral, San Blas church, the Art School and Q'oricancha, the site of the Sun Temple.

The Major Attractions of Cuszco and environs are:

  • Qorikancha - the famous sun temple of Qosqo. When it is illuminated at night, we can get an idea of what it must have looked like when it was covered in gold.
  • San Blas church
  • La Companía Church - Cusco's masterpiece on what was once Inca Huayna Capac's palace
  • More Treasures:

  • The cathedral was built over the ruins of the palace of the Inca Viracocha.
  • Saqsaywaman or Sacsayhuaman – these photos tell the story.
  • Q'enqo – This labyrinth with a temple dedicated to Mother Earth is a unique center of worship and for ceremonies. Also called Kenko.
  • Puca Pukara – the Fortress Watchtower on a strategic point along the road to the Antisuyo, or Amazonian region of the empire. it also served as a checkpoint on the Inca road and was a military and administrative center.
  • Outside Cuzco:

  • Tambomachay – the Inca Baths believed to be an important center for the worship of water. The architecture and design display the Inca’s building talents and knowledge of hydraulics. photo
  • Laqo, Lanlakuyoq And Kusilluchayoq – thought to be observatories or ceremonial sites, these sites have felines, serpents and birds carved into the rock.
  • Machu Picchu – either by train to Aguas Calientes for a bus ride up the mountain, or to the drop off point at the beginning of the Inca Trail to the “Lost City.”

    Additional sights and excursions:

  • Pickillacta – the City of Fleas, an important city of the Wari or Huari civilization. See Tipón, Pikillacta and Andahuaylillas
  • Chincheros – the Sunday market day is set in the middle of a town where Incan design and architecture are still maintained.
  • Valle Sagrado - the Urubamba RiverValley flowing through a narrow, winding valley from east of Pisac to Ollantaytambo at the western end of the valley.
  • Maras – these salt flats on the side of a mountain were a commercial enterprise even before the Incas. photo.
  • Rafting on the Vilcamayu river from Huambutyio or Pachar
  • Ausangate Trek

    Enjoy these splendid photos Photos of Cuzco and surroundings to whet your appetite for your own visit, or to bring back your own memories.

    Have you been to Cuzco? Post your experiences, comments and questions on the South America for Visitors Forum.

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