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?

Walking tour of Arequipa’s old town

Misti Volcano, between the two towers of the Arequipa cathedral, Plaza de Armas.

I took a free walking tour of Arequipa beginning in the San Lazaro neighborhood. I learned a few things, took too many photos and also got some serious exercise.

To get the the day tour, I had to cross the bridge to the old town section, going through a long narrow, landscaped park. I love this cactus–some are so large they are like shade trees.
This is plaza San Francisco, my new favorite plaza in Arequipa. It’s where the free walking tour would start.

I recently found this great description of the city: “Surprisingly, despite a population of nearly 900,000, the city feels less like a metropolis and more like a compact town, one that’s graced by magnificent Spanish Colonial and Moorish architecture, fancied up with baroque, rococo and neoclassical embellishments. Located at roughly 7,500 feet above sea level in a lush valley between the Andes and coastal desert of southwestern Peru, Arequipa was founded in 1540 by those land-grabbing Spanish conquistadors. The city sits at the base of El Misti, a 19,000-foot volcano that’s bookended by slightly higher and lower volcanoes. But it’s the cone-shaped, seasonally snowcapped El Misti that symbolizes the spirit of the town, which was nicknamed the White City for its many buildings constructed from a pearly-hued volcanic stone called sillar.”

You can see Misti Volcano from the edge of the plaza.
The central fountain wasn’t working, but I liked this detail–the water comes from the frog’s mouth.
This is our tour guide, Johnathan. He is from Peru, but says he’s been traveling the world for the last 8 years. We had a group of about 20 people and I was the only US American. Most everyone was from Canada, and one man was from Tibet.
Johnathan was an OK tour guide. He walked REALLY fast and much of the group had trouble keeping up with him. I did OK, which must mean I’m getting used to the altitude. Dropping another 10 pounds would make a difference, too.
We started our tour in the San Lazaro neighborhood, part of the old historic downtown and mostly constructed of sillar, a volcanic stone mined locally. The San Lazaro neighborhood in Arequipa has narrow alleys like this one. It’s a maze, but once you figure it out, it’s probably fun. Teachers Alina and Drew live in this neighborhood. So far I’ve always had them to show me which turns to take.
I love this wall detail.
This is San Lazaro plaza. Arthur’s (a restaurant some of us ate at a couple weeks ago) and a bar some of us went to last Friday, are in this area.

The guide then took us up the hill to the Parque Selva Alegre (the Happy Forest Park). According to Wikipedia: “Parque Ecològico Alto Selva Alegre. Located in the eastern part of the city, in Selva Alegre District, next to the Chili River. The park and its surrounding areas occupy an area of 1008 hectares of which 460 hectares covering only the ecological park. A part of the park is located in the buffer zone of the National Reserve of Salinas Aguada Blanca.”

There were also a few animals, mostly monkeys, in small, sad cages. I felt sorry for them. The guide assured us they had been rescued and would be returned to their native habitat. I hope so.

This is Parque Selva Alegre–a park that Amy (another teacher) and I found last Saturday. We were allowed in for a quick look by a kind guard at the time, but it was too dark for photos and we didn’t have time for a good look. I feel lucky this was on the tour. It’s only open weekends and holidays.
There were many pictures worked into the walking path. This one is corn. There were also flowers, trees, two bulls fighting and a snake.
The fighting bulls are a tradition here. Instead of a matador killing a bull in the ring, two bulls fight each other. Neither dies. It seems a much better sport.
I love all the designs on the sidewalk. You can see why I keep saying my feet hurt. Most outdoor walking surfaces are cobblestone. Hope my feet toughen up soon.
We were told Selva Alegre park is only open weekends and holidays. It cost 1.50 soles to enter (about 50 cents in the US). This was a Tuesday, but fortunately it was a holiday, Arequipa Day.
The duck pond has a few boats you can rent.
This is in the center of the duck pond (lagos de patos)

Selva Alegre is almost directly across the river from my rooming house. The park is well up the side of a mountain from the Chili River, which you can’t quite see for the houses. This overlook shows the river valley.
You can see mountains from almost everywhere in the city.
Lookout spots are called Miradors. This mirador of the park overlooks the university below.
Choclo con queso, traditional corn with cheese, is a common snack.
The Lazaro church, just outside the park.

Next we got to see the animals!

Lamas and alpacas! The cutie in the middle, facing the camera is an alpaca. To me, they look like long necked poodles.
Dry. It’s a desert here.
Then guide Johnathan brought us into a room filled with alpaca wool for us to touch.
This is the alpaca wool. The baby alpaca (the first sheering of the baby’s wool) is softer than an adult, though both feel pretty good to me. The softest wool of all comes from the vicuna.
These are the different types of camelids in South America. The Vicuna are wild and a protected species (to the far left). I can now tell a lama from an alpaca!
As a final stop on the walking tour, we were taken to the roof of one of the buildings overlooking the Plaza de Armas.
Plaza de Armas, and a great view!
Misti Volcano, between the two towers of the Arequipa cathedral, Plaza de Armas.
The cathedral of Arequipa on the Plaza de Armas.
Santa Catalina street, from above
Plaza de Armas

We then went down two floors to meet the owner of the restaurant on the building. The restaurant, Sonoccolloy, claims to be the only establishment of its kind, serving Inka cuisine–including alpaca, duck and cuy (guinea pig).

This is the chef, a charming, articulate man who clearly loves his restaurant and cuisine. this voice is very deep and inviting.
He shows us what’s cooking in the wood fired oven.
This is cuy (guinea pig) roasting. One of the guests on the tour was clearly disgusted and couldn’t even look at the roasting meat. The body is laid out flat and a heavy weight is put on top during the roasting process. The weight has been removed for the photo.
This is the bread baking oven
Here’s the dining balcony for the restaurant.
This is billed as the only restaurant in the world that serves Inca cuisine. It’s pricey, so I didn’t go today, but I’m going to try it before I leave.

And now it was time to walk home, almost 2 miles more!

This woman is an artist. Her hats were lovely.
Candied fruit. To the right is figs (higos), but I was never sure what was in the cups. For 2 soles, I bought the cup of orange balls of candied fruit to the right. I asked the vendor what they were, but the word meant nothing to me. She finally told me they were similar to grapes. They were good but anything with that much sugar can’t be all bad tasting.
On the way home, I passed by a group of young dancers, dressed in traditional costumes of the Colca Canyon area. This was a holiday, Arequipa Day, and so there were parades, dances and music.


Day tour of Arequipa, Peru

First stop on the tour was Carmen Alto–a high point overlooking the Chili River Valley. It’s called in Spanish a “mirador,” a lookout point.
This is the awesome volcano Misti from the overlooks balcony. This is a great tourist spot–with a cafe and gift store. They even have a zipline. I may come back to try that! Originally, it was just a farm house (and it’s still surrounded by farms).

Yesterday, I took what turned out to be a private tour of the city–just me and a young guide named Stephanie. She was pretty nervous so this must have been one of her first tours. Her English was better than my Spanish, and we managed to communicate.

At the bottom, you can see the Chili River. And yes, it’s cold. In fact the Quechua name for the river is spelled similarly and also means “cold.”
To the right is Misti, an active volcano. Her last eruption was a very long time ago, but occasionally you can see smoke rising. The last serious earthquake was in 2001.
To the right are the dormant volcano chain called Chachane.
This is Casa de Retiros de la Luisa, a religious retreat center, surrounded by terraced farms.
In the far distance, the upper right hand corner of the photo, you can just make out the dormant volcano chain Picchu Picchu. “Picchu” is a Quechua (KET CHU WA) word that means “mountain.” To make a plural in Quechuan, you just say the noun twice.

I also found a short video of the area:

Chachane mountains and the terraced farm land below.
These cows only seem to have a fence on three sides of this triangular piece of ground. The far edge for them is just a cliff!
A display of Peruvian items. at the top are three fruits and vegetables: Tumbo (also called Banana Passionfruit) Papaya de Arequipa (a small, sour papaya of the area) and Macha (a small potato like vegetable that is used only in small amounts). the last item doesn’t seem to be related to the green tea-like drink. I clearly need to investigate more.
To the left is Cat’s Claw and to the right are powered preparations of Macha.
To the left is Una de Gato (the herb Cat’s Claw) and to the right are Coca leaves, which also have small “stones” of ash to be taken with them. Yes, this is legal in Peru. Yes, I bought some. No, I haven’t tried them, yet. I also got some Coca candies, which tasted like horehound and had no effect.

I didn’t buy the Cat’s Claw, but after reading THIS, I will: “With a lengthy history dating back to the Inca civilization, Cat’s Claw has been used as a traditional medicine in the Andes to treat inflammation, gastric ulcers, rheumatism, dysentery, intestinal complaints and wounds.
The tribes of the Amazon have used this woody vine as a general tonic to promote good health for 1000’s of years – a tonic that can be used to bring anyone back to health. Its reputation as a “cure all” now seems to be validated by modern science, with numerous studies on the plethora of active compounds shedding new light on this ancient herb.
A recent study showed that Cat’s Claw significantly elevated the infection fighting white blood cell count in adult men who supplemented with this herb for 6 months. Researchers also noted a repair in DNA – both single and double strand breaks.
Its effect on the immune system appears to be two fold, with the ability to both boost and dampen immune response, depending on what is needed. Hyper immune responses can be contained, whilst a weak immune system that allows disease to advance undeterred is strengthened by supplementation with Cat’s Claw.”

This is the front of the Yanahuara District church, Church San Juan Bautista, in Yanahuara with it’s Peruvian Baroque facade. I actually live in this neighborhood, so I’d found it the day before. It’s the highest point in the city, so basically, I just walked straight up from my house.
The church was constructed from sillar, a pearly white volcanic rock, in 1750. It was closed this Sunday afternoon, but I’d seen a wedding there the day before.
This is one of the “teaching tools” for the natives, to help them understand Christianity. Latin and Spanish was spoken inside the church for the Spanish, but outside the mass was in Latin and Quechua.
This is the overlook from Yanahuara Plaza.
One of only a few olive trees in the city, but it doesn’t bear fruit.
Next we drove back to the Plaza de Armas–the central square of the old city of Arequipa. This is the cathedral of Arequipa, which is along one side. I’ve tried three times to visit it, but it’s been closed each time. Better luck next time.
This is a close up of the clock on the cathedral. There’s a bullet hole just inside the number 9. This from Arequipa Travel: “Arequipeños like to think of themselves as being separate from, and superior to, the rest of Peru, and much of Arequipa is very traditional and regional. It is even possible to get an Arequipeño passport, although this is no more than regional pride. However, the independence of the city is reflected in its history, which has often opposed itself to directives from Lima. In 1950, students from the Colegio Independencia school went on strike to protest again central government policies. In a march in the Plaza de Armas the police opened fire on the students, killing many. Signs of this are still visible in the clock face of the Cathedral, where a bullet hole from the shooting can be seen.” My guide assured me that Peruvians are quick to go to fight when needed.
We were supposed to go inside the Inglesia de Compania (church of the Companions of Jesus/Apostles), but it was closed. This is from the nearby cloisters, now a public square with shops.
A close up of the details pillars and arches. Remember, this is an seismically active area. Arches are not only decorative, but strong in an earthquake. It’s not always enough, though. This area has been re-built a few times. The last big quake was in 2001, an 8.4 on the Richter scale! The earthquake occurred at the boundary between the Nazca and South American plates. The two plates are converging towards each other at a rate of about 78mm per year. At least 74 people were killed, including 26 killed by a tsunami. At least 2,687 were injured, 17,510 homes were destroyed and 35,549 homes damaged in the Arequipa-Camana-Tacna area. An additional 64 people were missing due to the tsunami in the Camana-Chala area. Landslides blocked highways in the epicentral area. Many of the historic buildings in Arequipa were damaged or destroyed, including the left tower of the Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa.
This is the students’ cloister–much plainer, so they wouldn’t be distracted from their studies.
An exterior door of the Iglesia de Companias shows St. James fighting the Moors, with mermaids below.
Plaza de Armas, facing the basilica of Arequipa.
A lovely church garden, on my way back at the end of the tour.
And here’s what the chef recommends at Dimas Restaurante: Carpaccio of alpaca (thinly sliced, air dried alpaca meat), Grilled salmon and Lomo Saltado–a popular, traditional Peruvian dish, a stir fry that typically combines marinated strips of sirloin (or other beef steak) with onions, tomatoes, french fries, and other ingredients; and is typically served with rice. The dish originated as part of the chifa tradition, the Chinese cuisine of Peru.

We also visited the Monastery of Santa Catalina, but I’ll post those separately.