Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire. The city evokes the greatness of the sons of the sun god through its stone walls that are proudly preserved.
The city is located in the Huatanay River Valley, in the southeastern Andes of Peru at 3.360 meters above sea level. Cusco was the Inca Empire’s center, and it is called the «Navel of the World». This is why a tour to Cusco is an unforgettable experience, unveiling some Inca’s mysteries.
The legend tells that the first Inca, Manco Capac founded Cusco around the XI or XII Century, by order of the sun god. On March 23rd 1534, Francisco Pizarro carried out the Spanish founding.
Cusco, is called the Archaeological Capital of America. It is a city that is opened to the world and coexists in special harmony with an urban place. Some Inca monuments like the Koricancha (Temple of the Sun), the Amaru Cancha (Fence of Snakes), the Kiswar Cancha and the Ajlla Wasi amongst others, are the treasures of the mixing races along with the Cathedral, the Temple of San Blas and La Merced Church and Convent.
It is surrounded by amazing archaeological remains. On your day trips to Cusco, discover Fortress of Machu Picchu, the Fortress of Sacsayhuamán, the Ollantaytambo Archaeological Complex, and picturesque villages like Pisac, Calca and Yucay in the Sacred Valley that still preserve their ancestors’ traditions.
Legend has it that Manco Cápac, the first Inca, and Mama Ocllo emerged from the Lake Titicaca and guided by their father, the Sun god, they threw a gold rod and the spot where it fell would be where they would establish their town. This is how they founded their town which they called Cusco.
There is not accurate information about how Cusco was established, however, considering some archaeological and anthropological information we can infer that after the Tiahuanaco’s culture fall, many migrated to new territories. A population of approximately 500 men arrived at the Huatanay river’s valley founding Cusco. From some remains found in the zone, we know that the city was inhabited 3,000 years ago.
Some chroniclers claim that the zone was already inhabited before the Inca empire. Cusco was the capital and seat of the Inca empire and it became the most important city of the Andes and South America.
In 1438, Pachacútec became Inca. He and his son, Túpac Yupanqui, dedicated more than 5 decades to organize the empire and reach agreements with other cultures such as the Lupaca and Collas. During this period, the empire dominated territories up to Quito, Ecuador in the north and up to the Maule river in the south adding inhabitants from 4,500 of mountain range.
After Francisco Pizarro’s second travel, in 1527, the Spanish conquest reached Peru. Seven years later, after Atahualpa’s capture in Cajamarca, Cusco was founded by Francisco Pizarro in Cusco’s main square surrounded by Inca palaces that were soon replaced by catholic churches.
Part of the Inca nobility continued resisting the conquest and kept fighting during a few years forming the Vilcabamba Incas dynasty, which ended in 1572 when the last Inca was captured and beheaded.
Before the independence, there were several unsuccessful rebellions. After the independence, the Cusco department is created covering Amazonian territories that share borders with Brazil. From the 20th century there is an urban development and the Santiago and Wanchaq districts were created.
In 1911, the excursions to explore and discover Machu Picchu, an incan citadel found north of the city, started.
Cusco is located in the central-south part of Peru. It shares borders with Junín and Ucayali at the north, with Madre de Dios at the east, with Puno at the southeast, with Arequipa at the south and with Apurímac and Ayacucho at the west. It has an area of 71,896 km2 and a population of 1,316,729 inhabitants.
Cusco has a contrasting geography from the highest mountains to the lower Amazonia.
The most important rivers crossing Cusco are the Urubamba, Vilcanota and Apurímac rivers. Cusco´s landscapes are also embellished by the Urubamba, Vilcabamba and Vilcanota mountain ranges, the Ausangate, (6,384 m. a. s. l.), Salcantay (6,271 m. a. s. l.), Callangate (6,110 m. a. s. l.), Chumpe (6,106 m. a. s. l.), Alcamarinayoc (6,102 m. a. s. l.) and Verónica (5,682 m. a. s. l.) snow-capped mountains and the Humantay, Sibinacocha, Pomacanchi and Languilayo lagoons.
Cusco has a wide variety of attractions for all tastes.
If you are interested in culture, Cusco is the center of the Inca empire and where we can also see the strong imposition of the Spanish conquest. We recommend visiting the city on foot and wander on its streets. Take a tour to visit the nearby ruins: Sacsayhuamán, Kenki and Puca Pucara, which are representations of the inca architecture and engineering. A little further to the south, you will find Tipón, an incan enclosure for worshiping water. On this route, you should visit the Andahuaylillas, Huaro and Canincunca churches. The paintings on their walls and ceilings represent the colonial times.
After a 3-hour trip by train, visiting Machu Picchu is obviously a must if you are in Cusco.
If you are looking for adventure, you will find a lot to do in this city. However, we recommend choosing carefully the company that offers the service and not forgetting to hire an insurance. You will find the second highest bungee jumping in South America (125-meter high) north of the city. In the Sacred Valley, you can rent bicycles, motorbikes and four-wheelers, ride a horse, climb the via ferrata or slide between the mountains on zip line. If you have more time and budget, you can spend the night up on the mountain in hanging capsules that are completely transparent where your whole view will be the stars and mountains.
For nature lovers, Cusco offers more than 1,200 bird species on the route to the Manu National Park or a bountiful rainforest in Quillabamba after going through the Málaga pass, that is more than 4,000 m. a. s. l.
All the cultural and nature activities are suitable for a family trip.
The Inti Raymi is the city’s most important and representative festivity. Inti Raymi means festival of the Sun in Quechua and it is celebrated every year on June 24th.
According to Inca Garcilazo de la Vega, this celebration was carried out every year during the winter solstice and lasted approximately 15 days in which there were dances with colorful costumes and animal sacrifices. The last Inti Raymi with the presence of an Incan emperor was in 1535.
Due to the Spanish conquest, this festivity was forbidden in 1572 because it was considered as a pagan feast and an offense to the catholic religion.
Thanks to the historic reconstruction of this festivity, made by Faustino Espinoza Navarro in 1944, the Inti Raymi is once again a public celebration that receives thousands of tourists from around the world.
The festivity is carried out in the Sacsayhuamán fortress, where a representation of how the Sun god was worshiped more than 400 years ago is made. There are colorful costumes, luxurious feasts and historical recreations.
Throughout the year, there are different festivities in different towns in Cusco. San Sebastián is celebrated in February, the carnival festivities are celebrated in March with dances and music. The Qoyllur Riti festivity is celebrated before the Inti Raymi, in June, in Ocongate, about three hours from Cusco. Our Lady of Mount Carmel festivity, which is more known every year, is celebrated in July in Paucartambo. Andahuaylillas’ anniversary is in December and it is celebrated with dances and typical music.
There is a new gastronomy trend in Cusco called “novoandina”. The novoandina cuisine is based on the creation of new dishes using local ingredients such as quinoa, quiwicha, potato, alpaca and trout. This way, we have dishes such as alpaca tenderloin with “quinotto” (risotto made of quinoa instead of rice) or grilled trout with sautéed vegetables and native potatoes.
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