Cusco,The Qorikancha

This is the entrance to the church that was built on the foundation of the Incan temple. It is now a museum.

Qorikancha (alternatively spelled Coricancha, Koricancha, Qoricancha from Quechua quri gold; kancha enclosure) is often called the House of the Sun. It was the most important temple in the Inca Empire. What remains of the original structure, probably built in the late 15th century, is now part of the Church of Santo Domingo. The Spanish colonists demolishing this important temple and used its foundations for the cathedral. Construction took most of a century. This is one of numerous sites where the Spanish incorporated Inca stonework into the structure of a colonial building, which saved part of the structure for posterity. Interestingly, major earthquakes severely damaged the church, but the Inca stone walls, built out of huge, tightly-interlocking blocks of stone, still stand due to their sophisticated stone masonry.

This was originally an inner temple, one of several, dedicated to one of the many gods of the Incan pantheon. Most were weather related–the sun (the head god), moon, stars, thunder, and rainbow. These structures were saved only because the Spanish incorporated them into a new structure.

The day I visited, I have to say that I wasn’t in a position to truly appreciate what remains of the Qorikancha. I saw the sight as part of the worst tour I’ve ever been on in my life. The tour guy seemed like a nice enough guy, but he had two failings: 1) He didn’t know much history and he knew even less English. It was a recipe for a bad afternoon.

This looked to be a very interesting site located near the church (you can see the bell town in the distance). My guide was unable to tell us what this was, if it was possible to visit, or if it was originally part of the Quoricancha.

Originally named Intikancha or Intiwasi, the Qorikancha was dedicated to Inti– the ancient Incan sun god and probably the most important god in the empire. The structure is located at the old Inca capital of Cusco, now located in the historic old section of the modern city. Mostly destroyed after the 16th century war with the Spanish conquistadors much of its stonework forms the foundation of the Santo Domingo church and convent.

Lousy photo of the church, but the sky was so beautiful. But only for about 30 more minutes. It began to pour rain. Higher in the mountain, there was hail, which we missed by only a few minutes.

Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui rebuilt Cusco and the House of the Sun, enriching it with more oracles and edifices, and adding plates of fine gold. He provided vases of gold and silver for the Mama-cunas, nuns, to use in the veneration services. Finally, he took the bodies of the seven deceased Incas, and enriched them with masks, head-dresses, medals, bracelets, scepters of gold, placing them on a golden bench.

The walls were once covered in sheets of gold, and its adjacent courtyard was filled with golden statues. Spanish reports tell of its opulence that was “fabulous beyond belief”. When the Spanish required the Inca to raise a ransom in gold for the life of the leader Atahualpa, most of the gold was collected from Coricancha.

The gold was long gone, but the Spanish painted the walls. Here you can see a small sample of how these structures were decorated by the Spanish conquerors.
Part of the grounds of the temple. Once it would have held priceless gold and silver objects, especially statues.
On this day, the grounds was mostly just wet.


Plaza de Armas, Cusco


After a quick breakfast at the hotel, I went for a walk to find the center of the city. My first morning in Cusco and the weather was great. I was staying in the historic district, and was only 3 blocks from the Plaza de Armas, where the majority of these photos are taken. It’s a busy, touristy place, but still a bit thrilling. If you can only visit one city in Peru, skip Lima and come here. It’s not as large as Arequipa, but felt more metropolitan. And with so many things to see and so much history, you could easily do day trips from here for a week.

My first view of the Plaza de Armas.

From The Only Peru Guide:

Cusco’s main square – Plaza de Armas – is a busy and vibrant space that marks the colonial center of the city. The plaza, which features wide stone pathways and well-kept colorful gardens, is home to two iconic buildings: the Cusco Cathedral and the Church La Compañía de Jesús.

Cusco’s Plaza de Armas covers part of the area that was once the Haukaypata – The Great Inca Square. Today however, Spanish colonial buildings and long stone arcades dominate the architecture of the plaza, but many of the precisely carved Inca walls remain as foundations.

The plaza is where many of the city’s most important gatherings, events and festivals take place, including Inti Raymi – the Inca Festival of the Sun and the religious festival of Corpus Christi.

The plaza is always bustling with activity whatever time of the day (or night), and is great place to soak up the laid back atmosphere of this Andean city.

The plaza also has a wide variety of restaurants and eateries, which offer everything from traditional Peruvian food like cuy (guinea pig), lomo saltado (a Chinese inspired stir fly) and aji de gallina (chicken in a creamy yellow pepper sauce)  through to more well-known international cuisine like pasta, pizza and steak. Indeed the plaza is home to some of the city’s best restaurants like the up-market Limo or Gaston Acurio’s new gourmet burger restaurant Papachos.

Unlike many cities around the world Cusco is buzzing every night of the week, and if you are looking for nightlife you simply need to head to the plaza. Norton Rat’s Pub is a favourite of both locals and tourists alike, who harmoniously drink the night away whilst playing darts and pool. Paddy’s Irish Pub is also another great place to meet people from around the world, whist enjoying exceptional homemade food and drinking few local Cusqueña beers. If you want to dance there are also many cool clubs and lounge-bars dotted around the plaza; Mushrooms and the famous Mama Africa are to name a few.

When wandering the plaza expect to see local vendors (often children) selling everything from day trips to Machu Picchu to wooden carvings to paintings and alpaca clothing. If you are not interested simply say “no gracias.” Be warned, many vendors can be persistent, but simply ignore them or repeat “no gracias.” If you think it’s annoying, then think of the poor ex-pats that live in Cusco and are asked by the same people day in day out if they want to buy a finger puppet!

My hotel and neighborhood.

This was my hotel, Suenos del Inka–Dreams of the Inca. I was here for about 5 days, so I got to know the area well. Just 3 blocks from the Plaza de Armas. Notice the rainbow flag. That’s not a gay pride flag. It’s the flag of Cusco.
There were many flights of stairs in my hotel–I had 5 just to get to my room.
The dining room. They served a very nice breakfast.
Just outside my hotel door.
Even the alpaca has to cross the street.
It’s a lovely city, with lots of small parks with fountains and statues. This was my favorite city in Peru, but only the historic center.

This is just a small courtyard, but isn’t it lovely?

Driving to Cusco


The “traveling” part of travel is often pretty dull, but in Peru it’s easy to get tour buses that make a stop every couple of hours to stretch your legs, grab a meal and see a few sights. And you can watch the scenery go by.

Colorful cemeteries. Like in Mexico, Peruvians celebrate The Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) on November 1 with music and picnics in the cemetery. The graves are decorated. In general, those with a white cross indicate a baby who died before one year of age.

Here are a few photos from my bus ride through the district of Cusco, on the way to the city of Cusco. It was dark by the time we arrived to the city, so no photos. From the heights of Puno, we descend a bit into Cusco and it gets greener and warmer as the hours roll on.

This is a terrible photo from the window of the bus, but this was the third, and largest, of the fires we saw along the way. This one seemed out of control and I could even feel the heat from it through the bus window. Fire is often used to clear new farmland.
We are descending lower in altitude, so the crops are farther along here. According to the guide, there are more than 200 varieties of corn and 2-3,000 varieties of potatoes, many developed and cultivated by the Incas. Another common crop is quinoa. The Peruvian diet is high in carbohydrates and the use of cocoa also seems to help in the digestion of these.
Notice the silver-green trees near the bottom of the hill? Those are probably eucalyptus. Though not native to this continent, they grow fast. According to this website: “The Eucalyptus tree (E. globula), a native of Australia, has become a major part of the ecosystem in the southern Peruvian Andes, thanks primarily to a land reform program, and the tree’s suitability for successful growth in this difficult habitat.
Around 1970, the Peruvian government placed a great deal of land in the hands of the campesinos (formerly landless peasants). To help make this land reform work, the government planted hundreds of thousands of eucalyptus trees in the nearly treeless region to give the peasants the ability to stay on the land.
Both the reform, and the eucalyptus forestation of long-bare slopes, are regarded nearly half a century later as successes.”
Once you notice the eucalyptus trees, you see them everywhere, such as theses scattered over the side of this mountain. They cut down on erosion, a huge issue here. Eucalyptus oil has many medicinal uses, foremost among them being as a decongestant. They grow up to 180 feet tall and can grow 100 feet in 10 years.
These are larger farming plots than I saw near Puno. The land seems richer too.

A school and the all important soccer field.

Our first stop was just outside of Cusco to see a lovely church. I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside, but was given a CD. I’ve not looked at the CD yet since I don’t own a device that plays them at this time.

We stopped at this small town. The main square–Plaza de Armas, as all the main squares seem to be called–was lovely. These huge trees were in fruit and were far more stunning than the photo shows.
There are always stalls to buy trinkets and alpaca textiles.
Here is the church, the main reason we stopped. Church of the Society of Jesus is a very common name here. Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús.

According to Wikipedia: “The Church of the Society of Jesus is a historic Jesuit church in Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, in Peru. It is situated in the Plaza de Armas, the city center. It is built on the site of an Inca palace. It is an example of Andean Baroque architecture. Its construction began in 1576, but it was badly damaged in an earthquake in 1650. The rebuilt church was completed nearly two decades later. The Jesuit college in Cusco was dedicated the Transfiguration of Christ, and the high altar features a painting of the Transfiguration attributed to the Jesuit Diego de la Puente. The most notable piece of art in the church is a painting depicting the marriage of Martín García de Loyola, the nephew of Ignatius Loyola to Beatriz, the great-niece of the Inca ruler Tupac Amaru.”

Just outside the church door.
Even the stones of the church were lovely!
I really admired how clean the rows of crops were.

The small road in front of the lake is part of the Inca Trail–a walking path to Cusco. Actually there are many Inca trails, spanning 5 countries that the Incas built to enhance transportation, trade and communication.

The small towns we drove through seemed to specialize. The one above made a type of local bread. Another had cheese. But they were mostly just wide spots in the road and getting a decent photo was tough. Saylla appeared to be the pork skin capital of the world. All the restaurants seem to feature chicharron.

I found this article: Saylla – the Ultimate Chicharrón Challenge

I was sorry we didn’t make a stop here to try some, but it’s an easy dish to find at Peruvian restaurants.

Saylla was mostly restaurants selling pork skin….
….and not much else.
Notice the icon of the Virgin Mary outside the police station.
A Chicharroneria is literally a place to get chicharron–pork skin. and Inca Kola is the most popular soft drink in Peru. It’s electric yellow in color, a very sweet, carbonated beverage.

Finally, we got to Cusco.

It’s getting darker and we have just hit the outskirts of Cusco.
These are the poorer areas of Cusco, but the old center was the site was the historic capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th until the 16th-century Spanish conquest. In 1983 Cusco was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It has become a major tourist destination, hosting nearly 2 million visitors a year. The Constitution of Peru designates it as the Historical Capital.

According to Wikipedia: “Cusco (Spanish: Cuzco, [ˈkusko]; Quechua: Qusqu or Qosqo, IPA: [ˈqɔsqɔ]), often spelled Cuzco (/ˈkuːskoʊ/), is a city in southeastern Peru, near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes mountain range. It is the capital of the Cusco Region as well as the Cusco Province. In 2013, the city had a population of 435,114. Located on the eastern end of the Knot of Cuzco, its elevation is around 3,400 m (11,200 ft).

Most of my trip between cities was by bus. I can particularly recommend the bus line Cruz del Sur (Cruise of the South) as a good way to get from one place to the next, especially overnight. This company has service between many major cities in Peru and even a few outside the country. They don’t make stops between cities, but there are other advantages. The buses have a bathroom, serve a light meal and the seats recline so you can actually sleep. At night they provide blankets and pillows. If your Spanish is good, they also have movies and books on screen and some buses also allow you to charge your electronics and have wifi onboard. One advantage of taking an overnight bus is that you don’t have to pay for a hotel room for one night. I used this service three times, and used other companies for the rest of the travel. I only took one flight during my 15 day, Grand Tour, to Lima. Buses are probably only a good idea, however, if you can speak at least functional Spanish, as these places won’t have English speakers.

It’s not the cleanest section of town, either. Tourists probably rarely come here.

Raqchi–Incan site


Most of the information in this article is taken from Wikipedia, but coincides with the information given by our guide. 

Raqch’i (Quechua) is an Inca archaeological site in Peru located in the Cusco Region, near a city of the same name. It is 3480 meters above sea level and 110 kilometers from the city of Cuzco. It is best known for the Temple of Wiracocha. The site has experienced a recent increase in tourism in recent years.

The Inka site at Raqch’i was a primary control point on a road system that originated in Cusco and expanded as the Inka empire grew. It is located in a valley known for sacred sites. Most of the Inka structures are enclosed by a 4 km-long perimeter wall, but just outside it, on the Inka road that entered from Cusco, an enclosure with eight rectangular buildings around a large courtyard was probably a tampu (a lodging house for travelers). The complex of Raqch’i consists of several different areas each designated with a specific function—religious, administrative, defensive and for storage of food. Nearby are the ruins of many circular buildings, likely used as storehouses, called qullqas. On the nearby hillsides are irrigated terraces which were likely used to keep the qullqas full for those traveling through. When I was visiting, there were work crews actively rebuilding these round stone storehouses. Raqch’i also houses a nearby spring and a pool or bath in proximity to the Temple of Wiracocha which could have been used for rituals.


To the eastern side of the temple are 152 round qullqas in parallel lines, each measuring some 10 meters (33ft) in diameter. These storehouses were used to hold grains, such as corn and quinoa, that would have been used for ceremonial purposes as well as pottery, woven cloth and military equipment. The storehouses are also unique as unlike other structures throughout the empire they are not square cornered. The reason for this is unknown.

These storehouses are also called colca–similar to Colca Canyon–a rich farming area. The Incas understood how precarious weather and natural disasters like earthquakes could be, so stored food was extremely important.

Inside one of the rebuilt storehouses.


There is some evidence that there was a village on the same site before the Inka conquest, but that it was the Inka who built the defensive changes to the city. Raqch’i is located on a prominent ridge overlooking the surrounding valley which provides a natural defensive position.

This could have been an administrative building.
This street is lined up with the sunrise at the winter solstice.

Temple of Wiracocha

The most prominent structure is the Temple of Wiracocha, an enormous rectangular two-story roofed structure that measures 92 metres (302 ft) by 25.5 metres (84 ft). This structure consists of a central adobe wall some 18 to 20 meters in height with an andesite base. Windows and doors allow passage. It is flanked on each side by a row of eleven columns. The foundations measure 4 metres (13 ft) for both the wall and the columns are classic high Inca stonework with the remaining height built of adobe.

Prior to its destruction by the Spaniards, the temple had what is believed to be the largest single roof in the Incan Empire, having its peak at the central wall, then stretching over the columns and some 25 meters (82ft) beyond on each side. The huge proportions of the temple, and its prominence on the site explain why the whole complex is also sometimes referred to as the Temple of Wiracocha.

The Temple is the only Inka building for which we have an account of how people should walk through it. In processing through the temple, the devotees would have wound their way towards the statue of Viracocha, the volcano and the spring.

According to Inca mythology, Wiracocha came to the region the Inka called Kacha but the local people there did not recognize him and tried to attack him. When he them, he made fire fall from the sky and burn the hills around the people. The Kacha went to Wiracocha pleading forgiveness and he put the fires out and explained to them who he was. They built a wak’a (shrine) where Wiracocha had stood and gave him many offerings. When the Inka Huayna Capac passed by the province of Kacha he saw the wak’a shrine of Viracocha in the midst of the plain and he asked why it was there. The people of the province told him of the miracle that Viracocha had performed. He decided that the remembrance of this event should be greater and ordered the erection of the temple.

There is still a small town along side the ruins. This is the town square and church.
Always lots to buy.
The Incas understood how important water was. Also, if I understood my guide correctly, the Inca Trail, to Machu Picchu, goes right through this site.
It’s still an important agricultural area.

Notice the protrusions from the stone terrace walls? Those are stairs. You see this in most terraces.



Driving from Puno to Cusco, Peru

This is a very common site at almost ever hotel I stayed in. There’s a pot with hot water, instant coffee, various bags of tea and a bowl of leaves. Cocoa leaves, actually. And everyone drinks cocoa tea, chews the leaves–grandmothers, children….but especially tourists who are feeling the effects of seroche–altitude sickness. It’s only mildly stimulating and seems to have a lot of minerals and micro-nutrients. It’s not cocaine. It’s just cocoa.
This woman turned out to be from Atlanta! We knew many of the same areas of the city. I enjoyed talking and lunching with her and her husband. She said something very interesting about finding balance in relationships. Imagine that there are 10 people in your life that you’re close to–family, friends. At any one time, four of them won’t be happy with something you’ve done. Four is normal. You can’t please them all. Try not to piss off more than 6 at a time, though.

This will just be photographs. I spent a lot of time on buses during this “Grand Tour” of Peru, but it’s a great way to see the countryside. The drive between the cities of Puno and Cusco is roundly 390km (240 miles), but the road is good and the bus was comfortable. We even had hot drinks and a bathroom on board. Unfortunately, there were no cold drinks, as I found out when I asked for a soda. Room temperature is considered “cold” in these parts. No ice.

And here we have one of many statues of someone holding a head.
Some of the many pre-Inca civilizations in the area.
Pueblo of Pucará Or Pukara, depending upon who you talk to. There is a museum and archaeological ruins at Pukara. Pukara is famous for the sale of toritos or bulls made of ceramic which adorn the roof of homes in Peru. The word for bull is toro, but these are small, so they are called toritos–little bulls. Most homes have tile roofs with two bulls and a small cross between them on the top of center of the roof. It’s to bring good luck.
This is the center of town, and by far the largest building.
Leaving town, it was flat with mountains in the distance. This is the altiplano.

There are some small gardens, but it’s mostly a grazing area for cattle, sheep, lamas and alpacas.

The towns are very small, just a few buildings along the highway. I rarely saw a person.
The small towns don’t have a lot to offer.

It was a relief to finally go over a river. Water is scare here.

This is very similar to the road side altars in the USA. Usually the spot marks where someone has died.
Traditionally dressed women. Often their hats seem too small. I don’t know how they stay on. And everyone carries things–even children–just like this, wrapped in a colorful blanket.
It’s dry and there are few people, but I’m impressed that the entire area has a sidewalk. I couldn’t get a sidewalk in my Atlanta neighborhood!

At what is presumably the highest point along this road and conveniently about half-way, the bus pulls over, as you leave Puno region and enter Cusco region. A roadside sign indicated we were at 4335 metres above sea-level! The only visible purpose of this stop, however, seemed to be the rows of stalls of souvenirs being sold. Why this spot, aside from an arbitrary point where the two regions meet, I do not know.
According to the website DangerousRoads:
“Abra la Raya is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 4.350m above the sea level located in Peru. The pass marks the divide between the Puno and Cusco regions.
The road to the summit, also known as Apu Chimboya, is called Carretera 3S. It’s asphalted. With such a high summit altitude the road can be closed anytime due to snowfalls. The zone is prone to heavy mist and can be dangerous in low visibility conditions. Avalanches, heavy snowfalls and landslides can occur anytime, being extremely dangerous due to frequent patches of ice. The climb is simply terrible, with a notorius lack of oxygen that tests the organisms and a high degree of steepness. Most people feel altitude sickness at around 2,500-2,800 meters.” Whoa! Glad I didn’t know all that at the time!

This is possibly the highest point in Peru–the boarder of Cusco and Puno “states” (called divisions, here).
This woman sold me a sweater. I’ve been using a ratty old one for quite some time, but now have a new red, patterned sweater of baby alpaca.
Almost as soon as we enter the division of Cusco, it got greener. We started descending too, so breathing was easier.
It’s spring planting time here. And some of these fields were cultivated by tractors. Up to this point, the fields were small and worked almost entirely by hand.
Look how clean those fields are. they probably are already planted in potatoes. There are over 3,000 varieties of potato–most for Peru and surrounding Andean countries.

There were many more people, too. And nicer houses…..
…though they weren’t all occupied.
This is a school and it’s very large compared to the ones we’ve passed the last few days.

But there’s always the mountains……
….and always churches.
Side roads are dirt, even in town, but the highway the bus was traveling on was quite good.

Virtually every small town had “signs” like these in the side of the mountain. A guide told me that they are usually businesses, churches or schools.

This shepherd is bringing his flock of sheep up the side of the mountain on a narrow footpath.
Another Seventh Day Adventist church. Hummmmm.

I saw at least three fires this day–probably cleaning land. One was very out of control. In an area with little water, a fire that gets out of control is a huge issue.