Cusco is simply stunning. It's one of those towns that spawns international travel. While the local people may have shaped and created it, they did such a good job that it just wasn't possible for them to keep it to themselves.
People say that Cusco is too touristy, that it's practically a caricature of itself. Those people can suck it.
Disneyland is touristy. Wall Drug is touristy. Cusco is enchanting. You may have to share it with a bunch people, and lots of folks want to sell you stuff, and the occasional hawker will try to bustle you into her restaurant, but who cares?
Strolling the narrow, stone-paved streets with their twists and hills and surprising openings onto tranquil little plazas can fill days.
Since Cusco was the old Inca capital, a lot of the current buildings are built on ancient walls of their construction. Since they were intended for royalty, the craftsmanship is superb.
The multi-ton blocks fit together like perfect jigsaw puzzles, without a drop of mortar. The unusual shapes were an engineering feat designed to thwart earthquakes, and apparently a quite successful one.
Rachel demonstrating how to stand next to epic world class masonry.
Building on Incan ruins is quite a theme in Cusco. In fact, the Spanish were so eager to do it that they went ahead and tore down a few things just to get a head start.
The Cathedral of Santo Domingo is built squarely on top of the remains of Coricancha, thought to be the most important temple in the Incan empire.
The city has done a wonderful job of restoring what is left and it's fascinating to see the interconnection between the two holy sites.
Another charming aspect to the town is how random festivals break out spontaneously around you; so plentiful not even the locals seem to be able to keep track. This day appeared to be an event making fun of their old colonial overlords.
Historically, the mocking was sanctioned for one day a year, but it was apparently so much fun that they just kept it going after their independence.
Another night, seemingly out of nowhere, a beautiful fireworks display went up in the main plaza, accompanied by drums and flute playing. But I didn't have my camera so you get this lovely night shot and a dash of imagination.
As you wander the nooks and crannies of the town, you find lots of weavings and tapestries for sale. The best are crafted with baby alpaca wool and colored with natural dyes. Some places have demonstrations set up like this talented lady working an old school loom with a trusty bone needle
and sometimes they're not demonstrations so much as straight up craftspeople plying their trade to make a buck. This lady was absolutely charming by the way, with fingers so quick they should have won some kind of award.
Occasionally, local gals will appear with alpacas or llamas or extremely adorable baby goats wearing hats, and offer a photo opportunity. It may feel a little staged, but not exactly inauthentic as you can see their counterparts busily working around town and in the surrounding countryside (sans the jaunty livestock headgear).
A lot of people see Cusco as simply a jumping off point to visit Machu Picchu and it's a shame. On its own, the town is worth the trip. A few days here is fun, enlightening and refreshing. Certainly worth a plane ticket.
Take it from this kid. Cusco is good times.
Tune in next time for food, food, and more food. From boozy strawberry corn beverages, to funky fermented potatoes, the markets and cafes of Cusco sure know how to keep it interesting.