By the time we got to Cuzco and checked into the hotel, we basically had one and a half full days to explore the city. Plan was to get some lunch and explore the sites nearer the hotel and then spend the next day wandering around a bit more. Cuzco is a very walkable city, and we did a good amount each day – but things are slow going due to the altitude. At nearly 12,000 feet above sea level you definitely move a bit slowly the first day, and even the second we were gasping for air many times!
First order of business was lunch! We wandered to the Plaza de Armas and decided on Limo restaurant based on TripAdvisor reviews. It definitely didn’t point. First order of business was pisco sours, well, because the review said they had some of the best in town and we had to find out for ourselves. This was followed by some very tasty grilled alpaca and lomo saltado – delicious! We debated coming back here for dinner one night, but there were so many other good looking places we wanted to try that we never made it. That’s one thing I’ll definitely say for Cuzco, it was filled with amazing restaurants!
Pisco sour at Limo:
Delicious lomo saltado:
After lunch, we crossed the Plaza de Armas and took a very short walk to the ruins of Qorikancha. First, a few different shots that I took of the very scenic plaza at different times of day:
…and just one more that requires a little explanation. I didn’t realise I’d gotten this shot, but we were sitting drinking coffee the first evening, and the couple in the lower centre of the picture was making out for a good two plus hours while we had coffee. I don’t know why this was so entertaining, but…
…anyways, where were we. Oh yeah, walking to the ruins at Qorikancha. I’m going to steal a bit from Wikipedia in order to describe them. “Originally named Inti Kancha (“Temple of the Sun”) or Inti Wasi (“Sun House”), Qorikancha 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. The walls and floors 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 Coricancha.
The Spanish colonists built the Church of Santo Domingo on the site, demolishing the temple and using 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. Nearby is an underground 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.”
Entrance was pretty inexpensive, and the Incan stonework was absolutely amazing. Plus, the ruins sat up on a small hill giving a great view of Cuzco.
By this point the altitude was taking its toll and after a little more walking we gave in to a nap. That’s what vacation is for – right? After nap time was the previously mentioned long coffee and people watching, followed by dinner at the Inka Grill – chosen for one reason. The local “specialty” in Cuzco is something called “cuy” – or guinea pig, and Inka Grill was said to have the best and most reliable supply in town. It didn’t disappoint! I guess it tasted exactly like I expected…a gamey chicken-like taste. (come on you had to know that was coming!) It was difficult to get off all the little bones, so eventually I just went full-on barbarian and picked it up and tore into it. To Hell with utensils!
Full of guinea pig, and lacking oxygen, we stumbled back uphill to the hotel and proceeded to crash for something like 10 hours. The altitude really did get us! After a good filling breakfast it was late morning, and it was time for more ruins! The side road in front of our hotel went up, and I mean STRAIGHT up at like a 10%+ incline to the ruins at Saqsayhuman. I’d say we gained nearly another 1,000 feet (yeah, I’m probably exaggerating, but it certainly felt like it!) and the walk took is a long time with frequent breaks every minute or so. The lack of oxygen combined with the steep climb was absolutely BRUTAL!
Once at the top, however, the views back towards Cuzco were amazing:
When we got to the top, we found there was a rather steep entrance fee to the ruins since you can only buy a multi-attraction pass to visit this site. It was somewhere around $30 and we didn’t have that much on us…so we pretty much decided that since we were headed to Machu Picchu the next day we’d just take in the view and head back down in a bit. On the way down, we met a little old lady with a llama/alpaca, who insisted we take a picture. When we declined, she glared at us and fired something back that ended with “putos.” Hey, that little old lady just called us whores!
Laugh was on her, however. We got a picture of her critter anyways! Plus, on the way down, we found some more to take pics with. This one seemed especially fond of Nick 😉
Walking down we passed the San Cristobal Church:
Then we continued down down the hill all the way to the Plaza de Armas. I wasn’t kidding when I said it was steep!
We asked the hotel concierge for a lunch recommendation, and ended up at Cicciolina just a block down from the hotel. Wow, what a find! Lunch was really fresh and tasty. We started with an alpaca carpaccio and some assorted tapas, and then had super tasty sandwiches. It was so good that we actually went back for dinner on our way back. But first, lunch:
I intended to post some pictures of dinner here, really I did, but, pisco sours conspired against us. We had only two each, but they were seriously strong. So much that I forgot to take pictures, but my alpaca steak was delicious! Proof there were piscos, however:
Now, back to the first day….when we had lunch there. We spent the afternoon wandering the small side streets of Cuzco just window shopping, looking around, buying souvenirs and enjoying the city. Of course with an obligatory late afternoon espresso stop again to keep us energized. For dinner, we decided to go to Chicha, which had very good reviews on TripAdvisor as well. It was quite tasty, and I seriously was impressed just how many great restaurants there were in Cuzco. I wasn’t all that hungry, but we still managed a cuy appetizer and entree each. Along with some fancy pisco cocktails of course! Then, it was early to bed for our train to Machu Picchu in the morning!