Travel: Cusco, Peru (Plaza de Armas, Sacsayhuaman)


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I’m so excited to share the incredible experience Sean and I had travelling around South America this August. He’d been working in Chile and Argentina for a couple of years now, and it was the first time I’d flown nearly 40 hours each way to see him. It’s always been a dream to experience Latin America! It had always struck me as a place with so much diversity, colour, warmth and fascinating cultures. We visited Peru, Ecuador and Brazil over three weeks. And I’ll be sharing about all that in the coming posts.

But first, let’s start in Peru.

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Plaza de Armas

Sitting at an elevation of 3,400m, Cusco (or Cuzco) is arguably the historical crown jewel of Peru. It was once the capital of the ancient Inca civilisation and is known today for its mind-boggling archaeological ruins and traditional Spanish architecture.

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Lima felt a lot more like the financial heart of Peru (more on that in another post!), but I thought it was Cusco that revealed its true soul.

From children with colourful wide-brimmed hats playing in the narrow cobblestone alleys of Plaza de Armas, to old shophouses spruced up with merry flags dancing in the wind. Cusco felt like it was awash in a constant buzz of activity.

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We ran into a traffic-stopping strike of hundreds of teachers armed with huge hastily painted banners and megaphones, and tour agencies and souvenir shop owners touting in halting English to passing tourists. I loved everything about it. It had a kind of life I’ve never quite experienced in any other city.

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A seamless blend of the crumbling ancient and the spanking new, cool winds frolicked with the warm sun, the impatient swearing drivers of rumbling vehicles stalled alongside passersby taking life languid and slow. The people had fire in their bellies, but yet were always laid back and polite.

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Following the advice of many locals, Sean decided to take the plunge and try Peru’s most iconic dish – Cuy (pronounced kwee). Yes, Peruvians love their guinea pigs. I’m generally game to try anything. But this I couldn’t stomach because I actually have a pet guinea pig at home and it was just impossible to do it without feeling like I let him down.

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But this brave one took the fall for both of us and ordered one roasted with some sides made of potato, eggs and flour that tasted a lot like a quiche. Overall, if you asked Sean, he’d tell you it tastes a lot like gamey chicken, or rabbit. (yes we’ve tried that too.) But deep fry anything and it becomes strangely inoffensive. Kind of like how crispy fried insects don’t seem half as bad as when people eat them raw. Either way, our mantra for travelling is “when in Rome..”

Sacsayhuaman (‘Peruvian Stonehenge’)

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Something that we absolutely couldn’t miss when in Cusco was the chance to see the Sacsayhuaman (pronounced ‘sexaye woman’) It’s one of the most baffling yet intriguing mysteries of the ancient Inca civilisation.

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This famed old citadel was built thousands of years ago by people who somehow (without all the know-how, technology and machinery we possess today) managed to lift 100-ton rocks and stack them so perfectly together like a jigsaw. How amazing!

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It was practically impossible to fit even a dollar bill through those cracks. It was measured with such precision!

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Quick Tip: A great time time to go is around 4pm. The place gets dark before 6pm and they’ll stop visitors entering at around 530pm. Going at 4 gives you plenty of time to explore the sprawling compound. And the view at sunset and dusk is absolutely magical!

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As you can see, we managed to avoid the scorching afternoon sun. There is no shelter there at all. I recommend bringing a small umbrella with you just in case. Another plus is not having to jostle with too many camera-toting tourists.

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But the best part? This view. A breathtaking panorama of the sprawling ancient city in the pastel glow of the sunset. A picture paints a thousand words so I’ll leave you with an unforgettable view of charming, colourful Cusco.

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