|Cusco and Its Environs
The city of Cusco, located in Peru’s Southern Andes, is one of South America’s most beautiful and intriguing cities. Still retaining much of its Inca and Spanish architectural influences, Cusco offers a magnificent array of old Inca monuments, churches and other structures, some dating as far back as the 15th Century. Examples of some of these architectural wonders include Cusco’s Cathedral, the Church of La Compañía de Jesus, the Monastery of La Merced, and the Santo Domingo Monastery, which was built on top of the old foundation of the Qoricancha, once the Inca’s Sun Temple.
Many of Cusco’s old Inca streets, including Calle Loreto(called sun´s alley in inca times) and Calle Hatun Rumiyoc, have been preserved over the centuries, and still appear much as they did during the time when the Inca’s built their intriguing empire. Both streets are lined with beautiful masonry walls that the Inca’s built with perfectly shaped and dressed stones.
Located right outside Cusco is the magnificent Sacsayhuaman, considered to be one of the Inca’s most important architectural complexes. The building’s limestone blocks are huge and imposing, which has led some scholars to believe that the Inca’s used Sacsayhuaman as a protective fortress. Other scholars, however, based on recent archeological finds and other historical evidence, now suspect that the Incas may have used Sacsayhuaman primarily as a temple.
Other important Inca monuments located fairly close to Cusco are the Quenko, an old shrine built in and around a giant rock; the Puca-Pucara, an intriguing housing complex, and Tambomachay, a travelers’ rest area and shrine with a spring-fed water falls.
The Vilcanota-Urubamba Valley or Sacred Valley of the Incas
Cusco lays in the Amazon Basin, along side the Vilcanota-Urubamba River, one of the Amazon River’s main tributaries. The Vilcanota-Urubamba flows into one of Peru’s most fertile valleys, known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas, an agriculture area where the Incas grew corn. Two of the Inca Empire’s most important cities, Pisac and Ollantaytambo, are also located in the Sacred Valley.
Pisac is a large Inca town located in the Andes that winds around a mountain that looks over the Sacred Valley. Ollantaytambo, a beautiful well preserved Inca town , still has Inca homes, water channels and farm plots dating back to the late 15th Century, a time when the Inca Empire had reached the peak of its social dominance. Ollantaytambo also has an impressive group of terraces located near a large stone building known as the “Fortress,” which was not fully completed by the Incas due to the wars between Inca and Spaniards during the Spanish conquest.
Salt Mines of Maras
During Peru’s dry season, May through September, it’s always enjoyable to go to the salt mines near the town of Urubamba where a spring pours saltwater into man-made pools. Once the saltwater pools dry, villagers collect the salt, pack it, carry it down the mountain on their donkeys, and then sell the salt in the region’s market. It’s an amazing site to behold; the salt almost makes the salt mines look like a giant snowfield.
Farming Terraces of Moray
The beautiful Terraces of Moray, located close by Maras, resemble an amphitheater. It’s believed that these terraces were primarily used for farming purposes. Some scholars also theorize that the Incas may have purposely designed the terraces in their circular, step-level amphitheater style to create microclimates for the purpose of increasing the yields of their farming crops.
Village of Chinchero
Chinchero is a large village where the Quechua culture continues to thrive. The village’s women are skilled weavers, and hand-make brightly colored shawls, belts, vests and other clothing items using alpaca and sheep wool. Incredibly, they still use plant extracts and other natural coloring substances to dye their clothes, which they sell at the village’s market. Chinchero also has an old church that has magnificent frescoes that was produced by native artists inspired in the Flemish School.