November 19, 2014: A Day in Cuzco
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November 17, 2014
From Quito to Cuzco, Peru
An Afternoon in Cuzco


Last night in the Marriott brought the Celebrity Galapagos adventure to an end; the last thing that would be provided us is our early-morning transfer from the Marriott to the Quito airport. From there, we will fly to Cuzco, Peru (transferring in Lima, Peru). We will settle in to our apartment there and walk around Cuzco this afternoon.


Traveling from Quito, Ecuador to Cuzco, Peru

We had arranged for the earliest shuttle to take us to the airport, and by 6AM we were leaving the Marriott for the Quito Airport.

We got to the airport about six-forty-five and moved through security, picking up our tickets and boarding passes with little difficulty.

We were aboard our flight and heading down the runway just after 8AM in the morning.

One of the interesting pictures that Fred took from his window seat was just after liftoff, as we were passing close to the control tower. On our climbout and along the trip down to Lima, Fred took a great many pictures. I've selected a few of them that show Quito below us and some that show the Andes mountains to include here. You can click on the thumbnails below to have a look at them:

Our first leg took us from Quito to Lima, Peru. In Lima, we changed planes. While we were waiting to taxi out to the takeoff runway, Fred took one picture at the Lima airport. Then we took off, and as we climbed out, Fred could see across the industrial area of Lima and out to the Pacific Ocean. You can see that view here.

As we headed southeast from Lima to Cuzco, we were traveling over a particularly barren part of the Andes mountains. Fred was in the window seat, and of course he was snapping away. There was a lot of haze, it seemed, and not many of the pictures turned out well, but there are thumbnails below for the best of them:

The flight to Cuzco took a little over an hour; it is about the same distance from Lima to Cuzco as it is from Dallas to San Antonio.

Fred took a number of pictures as we came down into Cuzco. Cuzco is high in the Andes- some 11,000 feet high, to be more precise. The city of Cusco extends throughout the Watanay river valley. North of Cuzco is the Willkapampa mountain range with peaks over 18,000 feet high- the highest being Sallqantay Mountain- 20,574 feet high. We did not see that peak- it is about 40 miles northwest of Cuzco.

The city itself (population about one-half million) is spread across hills within the valley and up the mountainsides as well. You can get an idea of the topography of the city by looking at some of the pictures Fred took as we were coming in for a landing:

Our flights within South America were all on LAN Airways, which is a partner of American. All three of the flights were pretty standard; the second one ended when our plane taxiied to its gate at Cuzco. As we were entering the airport from the jetway, Fred took another picture of the activity on the tarmac.

Once we got our bags, we had to dig out the info for the apartment that we'd booked on AirBnB. While Greg was doing that, Fred took a few candid shots and you can click on the thumbnails below to see them:

Once we had the info in hand, we found a taxi driver to take us there from the airport.


To Our Apartment in Cuzco

Our only problem getting a taxi was getting one large enough for us and our luggage, but we found one without too much trouble. We schlepped our stuff outside the terminal and piled into it.

As it turned out, the area where the apartment was located was fairly near the airport; both were on the south side of the city. Our driver made a couple of wrong turns getting there, but then we didn't know the best way to go at the time. This was our first time in Cuzco, of course, and so we were all taking pictures out the taxi windows.

Looking back on it, we took a more circuitous route than we needed to, but since the fare was a flat amount, it really didn't matter that we got rather a longer introduction to the city than necessary. I can't be sure now of the actual route we took; the map at left shows the route that we probably should have taken.

While we got much better pictures when we walked around later that afternoon and on Wednesday, a few of the pictures we took from the cab were interesting:


Our Apartment Area in Cuzco

I knew we would take quite a few pictures in and around the apartment we rented over the next three days, so I decided to postpone a look at it until our day of departure. But you might be interested now in seeing where we were in the city. The map above has already shown you the general area.

The apartment we rented was actually owned by a German couple who, apparently, were only in Cuzco infrequently. They rented it out, of course, when they weren't intending on using it. The apartment came complete with a housekeeper, and it was she who came downstairs to let us in the building when we first arrived.

The apartment was on the third floor of the building, and it was very spacious, with three bedrooms and three bathrooms, kitchen, living room, dining area and quarters for the housekeeper. There was even a rooftop deck. The front window faced west and looked along one of the valley hillsides that shelter Cuzco; you can see that view here.

As I said, we will take a detailed tour of the apartment on an upcoming album page. Once we got our stuff into our bedrooms and had a chance to relax just a bit, we all walked down the street to a little neighborhood grocery to stock up on water, soda and some other things for our stay. (There was a large farmers' market a few blocks west of us that we also shopped at later in our stay.)

Once we got our fridge and pantry stocked, Yoost and Greg had a cup of tea, and a little while later we headed out for our first walk through Cuzco.


An Afternoon Walk in Cuzco

We didn't have a great deal of time left this afternoon; it was about 4PM when we'd gotten everything from the store and were ready to go out. Greg thought that with his breathing problems he ought to relax and acclimatize himself to the altitude, so Yoost, Fred and I went out for a walk to see what we could see.

As you know already, I have a penchant for being a bit meticulous in this photo album, and this afternoon walk is no exception. I have created a large aerial view of the part of Cuzco thta we walked during our visit, and I have put it in a scrollable window below. If you scroll all the way to the bottom, you will see where our apartment is, and you can set out on our walk with us. Along the yellow pathways, I will sometimes drop a letter marker, and refer to it in the picture descriptions so you can get some idea of where our many pictures were taken.

When we left the apartment, we walked back the way the taxi had brought us, following a zig-zag route through the area south of Avenue Agustin Gamarra. This area seemed to be part residential and part commercial. We took a narrow street named "Professional" up towards the avenue, which was higher on the hillside. We found steps up to the avenue, and when we got there I took my first picture looking back south down Professional street ("A" on the aerial view).

Back of the Fountain at Plasa Pumaqchupan

At the top of Professional Street we took the stairs up to the avenue, but cars take the ramp up from Professional Street to the avenue. The avenue makes a gentle curve around to the north, and we followed that. We took a couple of pictures along the avenue ("B" and "C" on the aerial view), and you can click on the thumbnails below to see them:

The first named site we came to was Plaza Pumaqchupan- a small, triangular park at the point where Avenue San Martin splits as it heads north into Avenue El Sol (which we followed this afternoon) to the left and Avenue Tullumayo to the right. You can see this small park behind Yoost and I; we are standing aross Avenue El Sol from the little plaza, whose name translates loosely as Water of the Cougar. There was a waterfall fountain which was not on, and the back of the fountain was the beautiful mosaic that you can see in the picture at left.

During the Inca period in Cusco, Paqchas (water sources) abounded. The original sources no longer exist, but this one was rebuilt on the supposed site of a much earlier one. Near the fountain is the monument to the Incan emperor Pachacutec. Pachacutec was the ninth Sapa Inca (1438–1471) of the Kingdom of Cusco, and his name means "he who shakes the earth". During his reign, Cusco grew from a hamlet into an empire; he began an era of conquest that, within three generations, expanded the Inca dominion from the valley of Cusco to nearly the whole of western South America. Most archaeologists now believe that the famous Inca site of Machu Picchu was built as an estate for him. Just near his monument, there was what appeared to be a military band performing. They finished just as we arrived, so no movie.

We continued walking northwest on Avenue El Sol, and we passed the gigantic mural that you can see on the other side of the street behind Fred. I did my best to take a series of pictures of it and put them together:

Actually, my big picture doesn't do justice to the beautiful detail; to see that, have a look at one of Fred's closeups here. We also passed some interesting little shops before we arrived at Qurikancha.

When we first came up the street, we found ourselves at the southwest end of a large, open grassy area with the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo on a hill opposite. Here is a panoramic view of what we saw:

Qurikancha (the spellings vary, but the name is constructed from "quri" or "gold" and "kancha" which is an "enclosure" or "enclosed place") was originally called "Quechua" or "sun house" and was the most important temple in the Inca Empire, dedicated primarily to Inti, the Sun God. It was one of the most revered temples of the capital city of Cusco.

After a period of decline, Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui rebuilt Cuzo and the House of the Sun in the early 1300s, 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, sceptres of gold, placing them on a golden bench.

A we came up the street to the site, Fred and I each took pictures, and there are clickable thumbnails below for them:

The walls were once covered in sheets of solid 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 Qurikancha.

There is a broad lawn below the walls, and beneath the surface there is an archaeological museum, which contains numerous interesting pieces, including mummies, textiles, and sacred idols from the site. The site now also includes the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo. We did not visit the museum, although we walked out onto the lawn for some pictures. From the middle of the lawn, I took a series of pictures to attempt to piece together a 360° view of the entire area, including the street we'd come up, the street on the north end of the open area, of course the church and old walls on the hill and the south end of the lawn as well. You can see that view below:

From the middle of the grass, we walked back to the street and continued north until we turned right at the little street that led up to the top of the hill and the actual Church of Santo Domingo.

From the Street Above the Lawn

Just before we reached the church, we found a platform from which we could get expansive views of the lawn, the church gardens on the side of the hill, and the city of Cuzco back the way we had come. Below us, we could see an old stone watercourse that fed a little pool down below.

If you would like to see some of the other really pretty views from our vantage point high up near the church, just click on the thumbnails below:

From our vantage point just at the southwest corner of the actual church complex, we walked up the little street to the convent itself.

Convent and Church of Santo Domingo

As we came around to the front of the church, I found this Peruvian woman selling little handicrafts. Her dress was typical of many Peruvian women, young and old, that we saw here and at Machu Picchu.

The Spanish colonists built the Church of Santo Domingo on the site of the original Inca temple, of course demolishing the temple in the process. They did use 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. 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.

In front of the church there was a small plaza (that you can see on the aerial view above) and we spent some time there taking a few pictures. We did not go inside the church, but took our pictures outside. You can click on the thumbnails below to see some of these:

From the plaza by the church, we found a very narrow alleyway that led north alongside an area of Incan ruins. At Maruri Street we turned left heading back down towards El Sol, and we passed by a glass window that allowed us to look in to the excavations and to the Church of Santo Domingo in the background. You can see that picture here.

A Mural Along Avenue El Sol

We walked down Maruri street towards Avenue El Sol, passing the Scotiabank museum and its fountained courtyard. Just around the corner on El Sol we found a beautiful mural at a small parking lot; you can see it at right.

Walking north on El Sol again, we passed the provincial courthouse as well as a huge city map made of painted tiles. You can see more of the pictures taken along El Sol; just click on the thumbnails below:

After a few more blocks, El Sol deadended and a short jog to the right brought us to the southwest corner of Plaza de Armas, from which point that last picture was taken. Known as the "Square of the warrior" in the Inca era, this plaza has been the scene of several important events in the history of this city, such as the proclamation by Francisco Pizarro in the conquest of Cuzco. The plaza is in the shape of a rectangle, but it is tilted to run southeast to northwest.

Plaza de Armas

The plaza was also the scene of the death of Túpac Amaru II, considered the indigenous leader of the resistance. The Spanish built stone arcades around the plaza which endure to this day. The main cathedral and the Church of La Compañía both face directly onto the plaza- the cathedral on the northeast side and La Compañía on the southeast.

Pretty much in the center of the plaza there is a very pretty fountain with a statue called "The Inca" on top of it. Little did we know at the time, but this fountain has, for the last three years, a controversy has swirled around the fountain and the statue. The original statue, brought to Cuzco by an archaeologist from New York, was of a North American Indian, complete with bow and arrow. This was thought not to reflect the Incan heritage of the city, and this statue was eventually replaced with the one that is there at present. But there are those in Cuzco who think that The Inca slights the obvious impact of the Spanish colonial era. Add to this some perceived fiscal shenanigans by Cuzco's mayor, the involvement of the Peruvian National Culture Administration and even UNESCO (Cuzco is a World Heritage Site) and you have the makings of a very large tempest in a very small teapot.

The Plaza de Armas has always been the heart of Cusco, from the time of the Inca Empire when the square was called Huacaypata or Aucaypata, to modern day. The center of the square is a nice place to rest on the benches, soak up the gardens, and admire the fountain in the center. The area is also very lively and beautiful at night, with people mulling about and the architecture lit up with spotlights. Below are clickable thumbnails for some of the pictures we took in and around the plaza:

We walked all around the plaza this afternoon, looking at the churches and other structures surrounding it.

The Cathedral of Cuzco

The Cathedral, on the northeast side of the Plaza de Armas is the main attraction, where locals and tourists often spend time lounging on the stairs in front. On one side of the Cathedral is the church of Jesus Maria and on the other is El Triounfo.

Construction on the Cusco Cathedral was begun in 1559 and completed in 1669, in the Renaissance style. It is built on the site where the Inca Wiracochas Palace once stood. Adjoining the Cathedral is the church of El Triunfo to the right, and the church of Jesus Maria to the left.

The Cusco Cathedral houses an impressive collection of art work, with over 400 paintings from the Escuela Cusquena. These paintings from the 16th and 17th century are unique in that they are European style with an obvious Andean Indian influence. This can be seen for example, in The Last Supper by Marcos Zapata, which shows the apostles dining on guinea pig. Also of note in the Cathedral are the half-ton main altar made from silver, the cedar choir stalls, and other wood carvings.

The Capilla del Triunfo houses the famous Alonso Cortes de Monroy painting of the 1650 earthquake that devastated Cusco, and it is decorated on top with religious figures.

Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesus

The southeastern side of the main square is dominated by the church of La Compania, which is easily mistaken for the Cathedral on first glance due to its ornate façade. However, it is obviously smaller and lacking the grand stairs in front. The other two sides of the Plaza de Armas are lined with colonial arcades.

This church, whose construction was initiated by the Jesuits in 1576 on the foundations of the Amarucancha or the palace of the Inca ruler Wayna Qhapaq, is considered one of the best examples of colonial baroque style in the Americas. Its façade is carved in stone and its main altar is made of carved wood covered with gold leaf. It was built over an underground chapel and has a valuable collection of colonial paintings of the Cusco School.

It was getting late this afternoon, and we wanted to return to the apartment before dinner, so we headed out of the plaza on our way back home. Before we leave Plaza de Armas, though, I want to include one panoramic view of it. A couple of my photos in the series that I wanted to stitch together did not turn out well, so I had to do some futzing with the pictures to get them to dovetail. Anyway, my 360° view of Plaza de Armas is in the scrollable window below:

We returned to the condo to see whether Greg thought it prudent to go out with us for some supper. He thought that he should take it easy and fully acclimatize himself to the altitude so as not to run the risk of spoiling our trip to tomorrow to Machu Picchu. So Fred, Yoost and I went back out some time later to find a small restaurant that we had found online. We had quite a nice supper, and when we returned to the apartment we went to bed early, since our train would leave from the station 25 miles away at 7 in the morning.

Since it was so memorable, and since we took so many pictures, I have made our day in Machu Picchu is a separate element of our South American trip. It "interrupted" our time in Cuzco, however, and so you can go ahead and finish off our time in Cuzco by using the link below to continue directly to the day after tomorrow where we will spend our second day in Cuzco. At the end of that day, you can return to the Index for 2014 and choose the next element of our South American trip- "Machu Picchu, Peru".

November 19, 2014: A Day in Cuzco
Return to the Index for 2014