PERU – The city of Cusco, UNESCO World Heritage Site, colorful, vibrant, welcoming


View of Cusco taken from the Temple of the Sun

Today my trip down memory lane jumps from Europe to South America.  So many people have Machu Picchu on their bucket list and we were fortunate to be able to check that off in late August, 2009.

This was our first time in South America and we were excited to see as much as we could in the 10 days we had available.  Instead of choosing a tour company from the USA, our traveling companions found a local Peruvian company that could assist and personalize our tour experience.

A long flight to Lima, a short overnight stay, followed by a shorter flight brought us to Cusco for the first three days of our time in Peru.  Due to the high elevation, we decided to spend this time in Cusco to get acclimated before continuing on.


Cusco (also spelled Cuzco in some publications) was the capital of the Inca Empire from the 1200’s – 1532.  It was planned to be in the shape of a Puma and has an elevation of approximately 11,000 feet.  Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983, it did not disappoint.

After checking in to our hotel, it was time to get out the door and do some exploring.  Colorful, friendly, welcoming, and full of life, I was instantly captivated by the cities local charm.

Gus goes shopping

Gus goes shopping and makes an instant friend

Let me introduce you to Gus.  Tim liberated him from one of those claw vending machines on the Santa Monica Pier when we were first dating.  He has a habit of sneaking into our suitcase and has traveled throughout the world with us.  All of about 6 inches tall, with a long nose, white chest and yellow fur he makes friends where ever he goes.

You will occasionally see him pop up in our travel pictures.

Woven goods and bargains to be had

Woven goods and bargains to be had

Peru is known for their colorful woven alpaca goods, sweaters, shawls, hats, gloves and silver jewelry.  There was much to choose from, and bargains galore.

Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

With a threatening sky, we stopped off for lunch in a wonderful restaurant we found that overlooked Plaza de Armas.   They were refinishing the floors, so we took window seats for both the view and fresh air.

That is the Cathedral of Cusco on the left.

Mother and child

Mother and child

This young mother graciously posed for a picture, but as was common, a small donation was expected and appreciated in exchange.

The rest of the day was spent browsing crowded markets, sampling local cuisine, and exploring the sights found between our hotel and the several block easy walk to the main plaza.

After a restful sleep, we were greeted the next morning with sunshine.  We took our time over a late breakfast and eased into the day.  Our small group of six was hit with altitude sickness, “Pachacuti’s Revenge” (that is the same as Montezuma’s Revenge, only in Peru), insomnia, and a fall on the steps resulting in a badly bruised hand.

Thankfully Tim and I remained unscathed.

The pre-arranged afternoon city tour started off with a stop at Coricancha (Temple of the Sun).

Temple of the Sun

Temple of the Sun (Coricancha)

Coricancha means “Golden Courtyard” in Quechua.  The walls and floors were once covered in sheets of solid gold and the courtyard was filled with golden statues.  It was the most ornate temple in the Inca Empire and where highest ranking priests were housed as they dedicated themselves to worshipping the sun.

After the Spaniards ransacked the temple, taking the gold, they built the Church of Santo Domingo on top of the remaining foundation.

Our tour continued out-of-town with a drive along the Circumvallation Road.


Saqsaywaman entrance

Saqsaywaman entrance

The ancient walls of Sacsahuaman were built by the prehistoric indigenous Killke people about 1100 AD.  The Inca people occupied and expanded the complex beginning around 1200 AD.

Our group of six at Saqsaywaman

Our group of six at Saqsaywaman

Like much Inca stonework, there is still mystery surrounding how they were constructed.  The stones fit so perfectly that no blade of grass can slide between them.  There is no mortar.  They often join in complex and irregular patterns that would be a nightmare for a stonemason.

The Spanish harvested a lot of the rock from the walls of the structure to build churches in Cusco.  This is why the walls are in perfect condition up to a certain height, and missing above that point.

Saqsaywaman structures

Saqsaywaman site

Some believe the walls were a form of fortification, while others believe it was only used to form the head of the Puma that Sacsayhuaman along with Cusco form when seen from the air.

Note several different spellings of the name, including a pronunciation that sounds like “sexy woman”.

Our afternoon continued with a stop at Q’enqo (which means maize).  With passages and carved stone channels in a zigzag pattern, it is a site where the dead were prepared for mummification.

Explanation of mummification process at Q'enqo

Explanation of mummification process at Q’enqo

And our final stop on the tour was Tambomachay.  This was thought to be a royal bath, used by the Incas for religious ceremonies dedicated to water.  It is also referred to as a fountain of youth, but we were discouraged to drink the water to prevent an upset stomach.

And once again I missed an opportunity to turn back the clock…

Tambomachay - royal bath or fountain of youth?

Tambomachay – royal bath or fountain of youth?

The intricate rockwork is more visible in this picture.

Along the walk up the path, we have our choice of local woman and their flock to take pictures of or with.

Will gladly pose for a picture in exchange for a small donation

Will gladly pose for a picture in exchange for a small donation

Llama or lamb, both fun to include in a picture

Llama or lamb, both fun to include in a picture

But the day was not over.  That evening we had a special dinner show included at the Don Antonio Restaurant.  It is a generous buffet with a large salad bar, many hot items and a desert bar.  Cuy, or guinea pig is an Andean delicacy that is found in many Peruvian dishes and was one of the many choices we were offered.

Cuy (guinea pig)

Cuy (guinea pig)

I am quite adventurous when it comes to trying new foods, but I just could not bring myself to eat an animal that has been raised as a pet in our household.

Besides, it probably just tasted like chicken…

The entertainment was over the top with vibrant costumes, dazzling dances, and talented musicians.

Tim with dancer, Don Antonio Restaurant

Tim with dancer, Don Antonio Restaurant

Entertainers at Don Antonio Restaurant

Entertainers at Don Antonio Restaurant

Can you see why Cusco captivated me?

My early photography skills leave a lot to be desired, yet everywhere I turned I was faced with a new opportunity to learn, compose, snap and try to capture the moment.

I hope I have given you enough of the essence of Cusco to intrigue you. 

Our tour of Peru will be continued…

About Tim and Joanne Joseph

Hi and welcome! We are Tim and Joanne Joseph and we have just embarked on our latest adventure. We hope you will join us!
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12 Responses to PERU – The city of Cusco, UNESCO World Heritage Site, colorful, vibrant, welcoming

  1. mike alesko says:

    Joanne, I totally love your travel blog no matter where it takes you, but this one I especially loved…maybe because I have wanted to see Peru and Machu Pichu literally since childhood, with an unexplained draw for me quite unlike other ordinary travel dreams. (I must have a past life connectiion there I think). I will never get there now — and regret never doing it — so your blog, and especially its photos, really made a wonderful substitute connection for me today. And cheers to you for the way you always capture the real essence of life and people in your travel photos. So many travelers are focused on taking unimaginative pictures of themselves in front of every famous place they go to, just to brag/prove that they were there. But not you guys — yours really invite viewers along in a really personal manner. Thanks much for making my day…..


    • Mike, as always your comments are so thoughtful. It makes me sad to think that this place held such a draw for you and that you were not able to realize your dream. I’m glad that you will be able to get a glimpse through our pictures. This magical land is like no other and I am so grateful that we were able to go.


      • mike alesko says:

        Thanks Joanne. Can’t wait for the installment of arriving at Macchu Pichu itself. And my advice to others: be sure to work on that bucket list when and while you can…especially your top items. Don’t wait for Joanne and Tim to have all the fun..LOL


  2. Glad you liked my blog. You might especially like the series of posts on my three week trip with friends to Ethiopia last summer. Go to my blog and choose July 2014 if you are interested.


  3. Many thanx for sharing the info and photos on your wonderful trip. Will have to return to view more of your cool adventures.


  4. Thank you for liking “Grass Geometry.” I enjoyed reading about your trip to Peru. I appreciate the background information about the ancient architecture, and I liked seeing the colorful costumes and market stalls. 🙂


  5. Cheryl says:

    Great post! Thanks for liking my blog as well. You two have certainly travelled the world. I look forward to seeing where you go next!


  6. mxolisi says:

    Thank you for the info you have provided us,much appreciated.


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