The first thing guides tell you is that Cusco is high. Really high, something like 11,000 feet. Altitude affects almost everyone who visits. We were encouraged to drink coca tea, which tastes pretty much like green tea, to help acclimate ourselves and prevent altitude sickness, and we were urged to rest. The air here is seriously thin, and even short walks the first day left me gasping. The city is also hilly, like Seattle or San Francisco, so walking a couple blocks to a museum or restaurant can be a challenge. The locals tend to be short people with wide shoulders and great heart and lung capacity, and they walk everywhere. It's humiliating to be passed up by an apparently ancient person when walking up a narrow cobblestone street.
It is also a UNESCO world heritage site, so the buildings keep their original character, even the MacDonalds that came to the square six months ago.
Cusco was the capital of the Inca empire, the "Navel of the World." The oldest part of the city was built in the shape of a puma, with the site that is now the cathedral as the heart.
We stayed in a very nice hotel, the Picoaga. It was once a Spanish home, and has a beautiful central courtyard. This is one of our guides, Jose. He lives in Lima, and did his utmost to accommodate our group of two dozen, with their varied needs and interests.
We also had a Cusco local as a guide, a well educated and charming man who knew everything about local history and culture. The first day he took us through the Cathedral, pictured here on the left. It was cold and rainy that day, and between the wet and the thin air I wondered how the trip would go.
After the cathedral we visited another church built on Inca foundations. The Spanish took any Inca temple they found and built a Catholic church on the foundations. The area has had several major earthquakes. The newer construction always crumbles, while the Inca foundations stand. This church and former monestary covers the Temple of the Sun.
The last place we visited that rainy day was another Inca ruin called Sacsayhuaman (pronounced similarly to "Sexy woman"). If the weather were better and we weren't so tired, we could have walked to the site, but we were happy to get a bus ride. The place might have been a fortress, or something else. The stonework here is what will remain in my memory, the huge shaped and interlocking stones weighing at least 130 tons. There are huge doorways, like this one, build to allow an Inca king to be carried on a litter through it. Much of the smaller stonework is destroyed, stolen by the Spanish to build their own walls in Cusco.
Soon after we left this area the sun came out, and a double rainbow touched the green fields and trees.