In my first few months of traveling, I’ve hardly managed to get away from the gringo trail, so I’m quite used to seeing places that are full of tourists. Nothing could have prepared me for Cusco though – it’s easily the most touristy place I’ve been to so far. The city is absolutely heaving with travellers, and quite a different mix to the usual backpacking crowd.
As the jumping off point for the number one tourist attraction in Latin America, Machu Picchu, it attracts travelers of every age from all over the world. Luckily, the city has more than enough charms for that not to matter one bit. I’d been particularly excited about visiting the city ever since reading The Last Days of the Incas (you can see my thoughts on that from an earlier post here). Far from just being a colonial city, Cusco was the capital of the vast Inca empire before the Spaniards arrived.
At first sight, with its beautiful colonial houses and churches, the Inca heritage isn’t immediately obvious, but as you wander around, it son becomes clear that the city the Spaniards found was too impressive to wipe out completely (as they had with Aztec Tenochtitlan). Several of the buildings are built on top of original Inca constructions, which stand out because of their massive stone walls, impressively put together with huge stones, precisely cut and slotted together without mortar. The fact that they were all put together without the use of the wheel is just mind-boggling.
Best example of all of this stonework is the huge fortress of Sacsayhuaman, which sits on a hill overlooking the town. From down below it doesn’t look all that impressive, as the side facing Cusco is steep enough to be its own natural defence. Round the back is a different story though. After a steep climb up the hill, we arrived round the back to be faced with a series of absolutely massive, zig-zagging defnesive walls, with some of the individual stones being vast, and the view from the top is spectacular – well worth the climb.
With the prospect of seeing so many ruins on the Inca Trail, we decided to skip the other sights in the Sacred Valley and just spend a few days acclimatising to the altitude and just wandering around the city. It may be full of tourists but it’s such a beautiful city it makes a great place to chill out for a few days.
You can see all of my photos of Cusco here