Southern highlands of Peru, at 3,400 meters or 11,150 ft. above sea level.
Cuzco, founded in 1100 A.D., is the oldest city in the Western hemisphere.Once the flourishing capital of the Inca Empire, Cuzco is built in a mountainous region and considered one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Natives and visitors alike consider it the most impressive of all Peruvian cities for both its history and its remarkable mix of Incan and Spanish colonial architecture coupled with the breathtaking beauty of the local terrain and the warmth of the local people.
Things to do here:
- Visit archaeological sites
- Local feasts and folklore
- Visit historic buildings
- Party at night
- Trekking and outdoors
Cuzco has a mean annual temperature of about 15°C (59°F)- sunny and warm during the day but cold at night. Winter which lasts from June to August, is characterized by low temperatures, sometimes, below 0°C (32°F). The rainy season is from November to March, however, it doesn’t rain the whole day, and it’s nice because it turns all the fields and hills in the countryside green.
It’s a perfect combination of Andean and tropical landscapes. The Urubamba Valley, known as the Incas Sacred valley, is a nature-lover’s delight with snow-capped mountains, eucalyptus tree forests and corn fields beside the river. A succession of picturesque towns with colonial churches, agricultural terraces and many archaeological sites show up along the road. The main spots are Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Yucay and Urubamba.
Cuzco was the capital of the Inca Empire which extended through the west coast and highlands of the South American continent. It and its surroundings were the first settlement of the Incas, it happened in early 13th century. From that moment, the Inca people developed a kingdom and later an Empire by conquests and wars, but also by agreements with other kingdoms in the Southern highlands (Titicaca Lake), west coast, and Northern coast and highlands. Finally, in early 16th century, it was a big Empire, but the arrival of the Spaniards and the later conquest of the Incas by the Spanish Crown, cut its development.
In 1533, the Spaniards arrived at Cuzco and founded their own city over the Inca city. They destroyed the palaces and temples of the Incas to build on top their churches and mansions. In colonial times, Cuzco was a very prosperous city thanks to agriculture, livestock breeding, the mining and commerce. The artisans of Cusco became famous because of their paintings and wood-carvings. The main ruin in the city is the “Koricancha” (Golden temple), it was the most important temple at the Incas times. Unfortunately, it was partially destroyed by the Spaniards to build a church and a monastery on top, but some remains as chambers, rooms and walls are still on feet. Other ruins close to the city are Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo and Tambomachay. The most interesting is the first one, it looks like a fortress with three large walls of huge stones of 9 meters (30 ft.) height and 350 tons of weight. It was built on the top of a hill beside the city, with a zigzag shape to worship the lightning god.
Finally, it is Machu Picchu, but it deserves a complete chapter for itself to describe its uniqueness and mystery.
Customs and feasts: In Cuzco are many feasts thanks to the catholic devotion of its people and its history. One of the most important is the “Inti Raymi” (June 24th), this festivity is an Inca ritual to worship the sun, the main god of the Incas. Another important celebration is the “Qollur riti” (Lord of the snow), this is a catholic pilgrimage at the end of May (dates vary). Some people there hike a snow-capped mountain with huge blocks of ice on their backs as penitence. The feast of Virgen del Carmen (July 15th – 17th) is another catholic festivity celebrated in Paucartambo town with a procession accompanied by many musical ensembles and masked dancers.
Trekking: The most famous trek in Peru and South America is the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, which has three alternatives. The longest one takes 8 days and 7 nights, it’s very hard and high. The most popular is the one of 4 days and 3 nights, in this one you pass through many Inca ruins and see different kinds of sceneries (Andean and tropical landscapes). And finally, the shortest one is only 2 days and 1 night, it’s easy but it has also its magic, the trail goes next to a beautiful waterfall and some ruins. All three finish in an impressive way in the citadel of Machu Picchu.