Hi, this is Bruno and Bong Gu and this our unique guide to Cusco.
On it, we invite you to see Cusco through our eyes. Whether you’re living or just visiting Cusco, we hope you find some hidden gems on it, and we invite you to send us your own tips or favorite places through our contact form.
If you’re wondering if it’s Cusco or Cuzco, the answer is that both are correct, so call it any way you want, but DO visit it, you won’t regret.
Most of the pictures in the guide are of my dog because almost every picture on my phone is on my dog. Dog owners will understand 🙂
CUSCO OLD HOUSES and MANSIONS
“The contrast among the external austerity and the gardens with ornamental fountains framed by porticos and covered galleries, the latticed balconies to look at the street without being seen, the entrance halls as areas of transition between the family life and the street…all are elements that arrive at the Andes through Andalucia”.
Ramón Gutiérrez, La Casa Cusqueña, 1981.
The first colonial mansions of Cusco held conquerors and commissioners. Situated in privilege places, they turned the noble areas of the Inca city into palaces of renascentist inspiration. They quickly opened patios, arches and entrance halls. The facades introduced heraldries, mullioned windows, and balconies of Mudejar origin. They were not only radical architectonical improvements but also symbols of different lifestyles and new social functions. Many of these large houses survive and have kept -up to our days- the style of their first inhabitants.
Transformations and features of the architecture of Cusco
The process of adjustment to the pre-Hispanic structures represents one of the most hinting chapters of the urban history of Latin America. Open areas in the old grounds – around which they used to build houses for one family each- were turned into patios of summerhouses.
Some houses kept the Inca trapezoid lintel over which they held the nobiliary coat of arms of the new inhabitant, simple classic columns and large flowers in plateresque style
The position of the entrance hall is neither central nor symmetric as in Lima, but it is on one of the sides of the house sometimes even on the corner. In this way, it is not possible to see the interior of the house from the street door. Only after passing the entrance hall, the visitor could discover the typical patios of Renacentist style. This way is very similar to the one used in the convent cloisters, though in the domestic architecture they usually alternate two or three arches with halls or high galleries in carved wood. The stairs, with stone steps, used to be like boxes and occupied one corner of the patio. Sometimes they had ornaments in relief or sculpture figures such as the lion of the Admiral House.
At the external facade, we can frequently see mullioned windows (divided into two by a central column) or corner windows with columns in the angle in a medieval style. There are definitely wood balconies though they are mostly open in contrast to the balconies in Lima. There are some balconies wealthy carved in the obscure styles of the baroque of Cusco. Some balconies have curved panels which are proof of the style of Luis XV or “Rococo” (style characterized by the enormous quantity of ornaments and decoration) known up to the end of XVIII centuries
The materials used are typical of the area. In Cusco, they used to cover the Inca wall, made with andesite and tranquil stones they brought from quarries near the city, with a second floor made of adobe. Apart from the “adobe” and the mud or adobe wall, already known by native builders, Spanish introduced the brick especially used in the facades and arches of the patios. Wood, though short in the area, was frequently used in corridors, high galleries, balconies, and mostly in nice coffered ceilings covering some houses. For this purpose, they brought alder trees, willow and cedar from adjoining valleys and even from the rainforest.
The roofs were made of two waters, provided with tiles, which is an effective protection against strong seasonal rains. Since the XVII century, tile makers of the town of San Sebastian became famous and supply the entire city that even today shows the red cover of its centenary roofs.
Colors and mural paintings
Regarding the colors of the houses in Cusco, Ramon Gutierrez states that the most important colors were white, yellow and blue. Red was coming from the “cochineal insect” while blue came from Centro America. The mural paintings were also important in the entrance halls, in the interior walls and even in the ceilings. The topics varied from the Christian religious iconography to the classic mythology including landscapes, scenes and figure entirely ornamental. Most of this work was partially destroyed or stayed covered under layers of paint. They have just been restored recently.
For the construction as well as for the decoration, the houses in Cusco demanded numerous workers and specialized artisans. There were master builders and masons and even stonecutters, carpenters, painters and gilders. The important architects who came from Lima and other cities participated only in some occasions because they were busy building churches and convents. On this way, the owners’ initiative and the participation of native workers allowed the increase of creativity thinking about the kind of life they had and the social functions the city created by itself.
CHURCHES AND CONVENTS
Most of the small cloisters of Cusco still remain the Renacentist style of the second half of the XVI century. They are formed by brick arches of an exact semicircle that are lying over stone columns. In contrast to the convents in Lima with asymmetric and different arches on both floors, these arches have two times more little arches on the second floor than in the first one. The most important improvement in this field was the cloister of the Order of La Merced built up to 1663 in a complete baroque style and joined by two big affixed columns of rich woodcarving.
CUSCO POPULAR ART
The popular art in Cusco is the result of the meeting of two worlds, the merge between the ancient Andean world conception and the European conception in the XIV and XV centuries. In addition to this connection, we have the quality, the technique, the notable skill of the artisans in any expression: textile, pottery, and imagery as well as silversmith work and candle art.
There is not an archaeological site, nor a town where they do not offer you beautiful handicraft pieces. Almost in any central place of the city of Cusco we can find shops or street vendors and even in the porches of the Main Square, for instance.
But there are also workshops of famous artisans traditionally joint in the district of San Blas. There they make the famous sculptures of saints, archangels, and Santiagos with a long neck, done with a paste of wheat flour, rice, and cheese. They are considered as real masterpieces of the collection.
Besides, the alpaca, llama and sheep wool are also important as well as felt hats. You can also find beautiful silver pieces, with Inca and Colonial features. There are also silver pieces with Inca and colonial features, diverse pottery, musical instruments such as quenas, zampoñas, and charangos. You can also find mirrors with plaster and pan de oro (golden ornaments), as well as some paintings with regional purposes.
The artisan offer in Cusco is diverse, we find cloth, images, pottery pieces, silver jewels, carvings, among other objects. Without a question one of the most important districts is San Blas due to its artisan tradition. There, you can admire the workshops of the masters such as Mendivil, Edilberto Merida, Antonio Olave and Gregorio Béjar The rich and variety of images include kings, virgins, Manuelito’s valley, archangels among many other pieces.
Artisans from Cusco are representatives of two traditions of high quality: the Inca and the Colonial. The style of the Imperial Inca is mainly characterized by the quality of its polish, the simplicity, and nobleness of its shapes, as well as the sobriety in the decoration which is frequently imitated by artisans in Cusco these days.
During the colony, the best pottery of Cusco was made with glasses. They mainly used green over the cream background with designs mostly fitomorphos, though this type of production is unusual nowadays.
In Cusco, you will not have to worry about food, because the different restaurants of the city offer a varied menu, an excellent service and an exquisite flavoring. You don’t need to ask for more.
Most of the restaurants are in the surroundings of the Main Square.
The prices suit all the budgets and vary according to the service quality and type of food.
But if you want to taste the typical food of the country, we recommend you to go by the “picanterías” (restaurants specialized in spicy dishes) and “chicherías” (“chichi” drink sellers) where you will find dishes like the quso kapiche (prepared specially in November and December). It is a stew of green broad beans and boiled potatoes, seasoned with onion, garlic, butter, milk and hot chili pepper.
Other recommended dishes are “timpo” or “puchero”, typical dish for the Tuesday of carnival, which is a soup of cow breast, head of lamb, pork fat and legs, cabbage leaves, potatoes, garbanzo beans and rice, among other products. You must also taste “pepián” (chili stew) from rabbit or guinea pig.
To drink, we recommend you “chicha de jora”. An Andean drink prepared with fermented corn.
Address: Cuesta del Almirante 260
Address: Av. Micaela Bastidas 821
Address: Calle Plateros 384
Address: Plazuela de San Blas
Address: Choquechaca 384
Quinta el Corcel Dorado
Address: Plaza de San Sebastián 124-126
Quinta Jardín Cuzqueño
Address: Línea Férrea 425
Quinta los Pinos
Address: Av. De los Incas 1512
Address: Plateros 309
CUSCO ADVENTURE SPORTS
Cusco offers beautiful landscapes and approaches you to the magnificent past of the Inca culture. That is true, but it also brings us emotions. For those who love the quiet adventure or the adrenaline shock, Cusco is the precise destination.
If you want to walk, the Inca Trail is the best option for the tourist. In two or four days, depending on your choice, you’ll reach Machu Picchu from Cusco. On the way, you’ll enjoy the different archaeological places along the route. You’ll also enjoy being in touch with people from the small towns nearby the route.
The “parapente” lover finds in Cusco height and winds.
Four or five thousand meter high mountains and thermal areas make of this activity a pleasure to fly.
There are also rivers of vertiginous currents or of middle mildness for those who like rafting. To practice kayaking by the Urubamba River or the Apurímac Canyon is an unforgettable experience both for the expert and for the beginner.
Likewise, there are impressive routes for those who want to practice mountain bike or just to ride the bicycle. Especially if you take into account that this sport is the most popular in the region. Not only can you visit the Cusco ruins along the road, but if you wish, you can even go until Puerto Maldonado.
This information of Journeys and Tourism about horse riding in Cusco Peru is an excellent opportunity to know the ruins situated around the Imperial City of Cusco. You admire the different architectonic complexes. Generally, they had religious purposes especially dedicated to the worship such as Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo, Tambomachay and Puca Pucara. Places magically evolved by an Andean mystic that take us to the past and show us the greatness of the ancient Inca civilization.
The Fortress of Sacsayhuaman.- It has enormous walls composed of stones displayed in zigzag in three platforms of 360 meters long. There are stones of 9m long and 5m wide.
Tambomachay Cusco.- Known as the “Inca baths” through its steps you admire the crystalline waterfalls. It is said that they used to offer worship to the water.
Red Fortress of Puca Pucara Cusco.- Fortress composed by terraces, steps, underground passages, towers, vaulted ceilings, and platforms.
Amphitheatre of Qenqo.- Ancient Inca temple. It was also built in stone. There are passages, canals, and steps with carvings representing the sacred puma.
This tour starts with a transfer from your hotel and then we go to the farm situated near the ruins of Sacsayhuaman where the riding circuit starts. We visit the ruins of Qenqo, Tambomachay and Puca Pucara. After about 5 hours we go back to Cusco by private bus.
FESTIVITIES IN CUSCO
The historic background of the festivities
Since the Inca period, the religious, military and civic ceremonies were very important in the Sacred City of the Incas as they reaffirmed the magic and mythic character of their city. During the colony, religious festivities became more important. Along the years, festivities have suffered many changes. Although all the elements that have been included, the celebrations have not lost their main features and they are still, most of them, related to the agriculture and cattle calendar.
The festivities of the vital cycle
It is about a series of festivities that had, even today they do, a very important role in their social life. They create and reinforce the links of relationships and reciprocity among the Andean communities. Among them, we have the haircut or rutuchikuy, the serwinakuy or mock marriage and the day of death people.
The colonial festivities
Festivities became more important during the colony. The baroque festivity, splendid product of the Counter-Reformation was thought as a method of resistance against the sudden attack of the Protestantism. As they considered it as the institute for the civilization par excellence, Spanish authorities tried all the social levels participate in them. Thus, in the new squares, in the masses and processions, along with the songs and firework, the native inhabitants were incorporated little by little to the new order. The wealth of the prehispanic ceremonial life facilitated the establishment of colonial ceremonies and contribute to the symbiosis. As Catholicism is also a religion of solar worship, the date of the catholic festivities were the same as in the Andean world. The western calendar of festivities was established along with the Andean calendar. We have the same day the celebration of the Inti Raymi and the Corpus Christi for instance.
Easter and the Lord of tremors
Easter is a central commemoration in the catholic world as it reminds us of the death and resurrection of Christ. In Cusco, the celebration of Easter is related to the Lord of tremors: the defensor of the city.
The image of the Taytacha Tremors, as it is called in Cusco, amazes by its expression of roughness and pain. The worship dates from the colony when in 1650 a horrible earthquake practically destroyed the city and the population decided to take the Christ out in procession by the streets of the city.
For the cross, the saints and crops
At the time of the conquest of America, the cross was the symbol of the new religion and the European civilization. With that purpose, the Council of Lima ordered to put crosses in all the ancient worship places. But, despite all the orders, the Indian continue venerating their huacas below the Christian symbol. As the time past, a religious syncretism started. The cross was related to the huacas. Finally, it became the symbol of the union between the Catholic religion and the Andean believes. Nowadays, the cross has a very important place in the Andean world. The festivity of the Velacuy cross is celebrated the first week of May and concurred with the period of harvesting.
During the last years, regional festivities have become more and more popular. They join thousands of pilgrims from all the Andean south and nearby countries. The organization of the festivities and the competence among the devotees to assume their charges and the butlership of the festivity are clear signs of their importance and meaning. The most celebrated regional festivities are the festivity of the Lord of Coyllur Riti, the Lord of Huanca and the Virgin of Carmen.
The renaissance of the Inti Raymi
In 1944, on the initiative of Humberto Vidal a representative of the Inca Garcilaso Center and one of the most notable characters of the neoindian movement, they established the week of Cusco. June 24th was declared as the main day of Cusco and the Inti Raymi was established the most important event taking place in the esplanade of Sacsayhuaman. Besides, they composed the hymn and the song of the city. For some notable persons in Cusco, the intention was to support a “revolution” directed to the people in Cusco in order to make them assume the importance of valuing the inca past.
Cusco is characterized by the richness and diversity of its traditions. It stands out the dances of Chunchos, Qollas, Carnaval Cusqueño, Danza de los Doctorcitos, Danza de los Negritos, Contradanza, Saqra K’achampa, and el Panadero, among others.