Cusco, in the ancient native language of Quechua, is known as 'Qosqo' which means 'the navel.' To the Inca, Qosqo was the navel of the world. The historical capital of the Inca Empire, it was believed that the sun god Inti directed the first Inca king to Cusco to build the Temple of the Sun (Qoricancha) which can still be seen today. Cusco continues to maintain its special, spiritual significance among the descendants of the Inca.
Cusco might just be the most cosmopolitan city in the world. It is cosmopolitan in the traditional sense in that it attracts a convergence of people of all cultures from all over the world. But more interestingly, it is also cosmopolitan in its unique convergence of time; a living collage of three distinct eras: Incan, colonial and modern. Walking the streets of Cusco, the melding is evident on almost every corner. The Spanish conquerors built some of the finest examples of Renaissance and Baroque architecture in the new world on top of the foundations of the flawless Incan stonework. Today many of those buildings are occupied by modern hotels, offices and even fast-food restaurants.
The indigenous people of the Andean region are one of the few remaining cultures in the world that still maintain their traditional language and dress. Most of the residents are bilingual speaking both Spanish and ancient Quechua. The traditional skirts, shawls, and hats create a colorful, lively and festive atmosphere that provides a rich and authentic backdrop to our Cusco tours.
Cusco, the gateway to Machu Picchu has a history and legacy unmatched. Cusco is recognized as the architectural capital of South America and in 1983, Cusco was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Currently, Cusco receives more than 2 million visitors a year; a number that is growing by more than 10% a year. In recent years, Cusco hotels have been expanding and into every category to satisfy the demand of a new and growing supply of visitors.
Plaza de Armas of Cusco
Plaza de Armas of Cusco was the ceremonial place in the Inca era. During Incan times, the Plaza was known as the “Huaycapata”, the place of tears. The original Plaza was twice the size of existing site and in modern and ancient times is the center of the annual festival of the sun, the Inti Raymi. This historic location is where Francisco Pizarro proclaimed the conquest of Cusco. The Spanish then tore down the original Inca temples that surrounded the Plaza and built cathedrals and municipal centers on the ancient foundations.
Central Basilica Cathedral of Cusco
Built by the Spanish after their conquest of the Inca. The cathedral stands atop what used to be a palace of Viracocha, one of the Inca rulers.
Construction began in 1559 and was not officially completed until 1654. Nearly all of the artisans and laborers who built the cathedral were locals. Becuase of this, one can see many instances of Inca religion and ideology hidden in the art and architecture by the local artisans.
Because of its fame, Machu Picchu is easily mistaken as the most important site to the Inca. In fact, the Qoricancha or Temple of the Sun, was the most important spiritual center in the Inca Empire. The Inca dedicated this sacred center to the Inca Sun God; its walls and floors were covered with solid gold plating, and it’s central plaza contained idols shaped from pure gold. The Spanish demolished the most of the temple and pillaged and melted the gold into coins and ingots which were shipped back to Spain. They built the existing Church of Santo Domingo on the Temple’s foundations. Today, only the massive outer wall and some of the interior walls remain as an example of the integration of Incan and Spanish architecture.
Stones the size of cars, perfectly fit together with no gaps whatsoever. Saqsayhuaman baffles history experts and architects alike. To this day no one can quite figure out how the Inca built this site. There are four tiers of walls, each over 200 yards long and about 15 feet high. It is thought that this site was used more for sacred ceremonies than for defense. Like much of the Inca sites, Saqsayhuaman still holds a lot of mysteries.
This unique area was used as a place to worship and make sacrifices. The Inca believed that their ancestors watched over them and experts think Q'enqo was a place where some important mummies were kept to watch over the people. Q'enqo also has a natural cave in the rocks nearby with an alter carved into the cave wall. Alpaca bones and other animal bones were found there, suggesting the Inca sacrificed these animals as a part of their religion.
Caves to the Inca were portals to the underwold, sacred places that connected them to those who had passed on.
Not much is known about Puka Pukara but experts believe it was a fortress or at least a checkpoint of some kind. The walled fort sits on a hill overlooking the main road that lead to Cusco, the Inca capital. Roads were closely monitered by the Inca in order to control the movement of people and goods. With its location Puka Pukara would have been a prime spot for a military instalation to protect the nearby road.
It is likely that Tambomachay was a place of ritual cleansing and offerings. The site consists of aqueducts and beautiful fountains, still working today. Spring water was associated with purity and was used to perform ritual cleansing of the body.
The Sacred Valley of Urubamba
The Sacred Valley of Urubamba is a scenic, mystical and magical place. The Valley stretches between the towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo. It has wonderful Andean landscapes, where the inhabitants, native Quechua ethnic, still conserve many of the ancient customs and ancestral rites. You will find architectural marvels that represent the fusion between Inca and Spanish styles and a necessary addition to all Cusco tours.
Our Sacred Vally and Cusco tours always include the famous Pisac Market. Here you can find the best, and most interesting products, ranging from paintings, silver jewelry, woodcrafts, sweaters, scarves, and hats made of alpaca. Pisac is also the location of the Pisac Ruins made up of large agricultural terraces and living areas.
In virtually every society where food preservation was needed, salt was king. Salt is one of the greatest food preservers. The Inca relied on preserved food to survive during non-harvest months as well as during times of war, famine, and earthquakes. Maras was not only used by the Inca, but by pre-Inca civilizations as well. A salty spring of water flows out of the mountains around Maras. Hundreds of pools were created to capture this water, evaporate it, and excavate the remaining salt. These pools served to provide salt for much of the Cusco and Urubamba regions of the empire. Today these pools are still functioning and are operated by families who are decedents of the Inca.
At first, archeologists believed Moray was an amphitheater. Recently though, it's been discovered that Moray was used as an agrigultural laboratory by the Inca. The Inca empire included many different regions with many different climates. It was especially important to understand how plants grew at different altitudes.
The Inca were experts when it came to acclimatizing plants to different altitudes. Moray is made up of terraced rings. Each ring sits at a different height and allowed the Inca to observe crops in different environments. The Inca also imported different soils from around their empire to test them at Moray. With the different rings, the people were able to slowly move crops up or down from terrace to terrace, acclimatizing them as they went.
Never discovered by the Inca, Machu Picchu was lost to the world (but not nearby locals) until Hyrum Bingham discovered it in the early 1900's. It was originally built in the 15th century.
Machu Picchu was a small, but sustainable town built for the elite of the Inca society.
Fresh spring water was chaneled through the city via a series of genius aqueducts and crops were grown on the terraces. It was a self sufficient site and could house around 2,000 people.
As in other civilizations, the Inca relied heavily on the heavens for their crops, their calendar, and their religion. The site is a giant observatory, chosen for its alignment to the sun, moon, and stars. The elite of society were in charge of keeping the calendar and tracking time (the same as in the Aztec and Maya civilizations). Sowing and harvesting dates were determined by the movement of the sun, moon, and stars. Solstices were especially important to the Inca and there are a few spots in Machu Picchu that were built specifically to see those phenomonae. Much is still unknown about the site, giving its visitors an eery sense of wonder and mystery.