Friday, September 14, 2018

Cusco Day 1: Qoricancha and Plaza de Armas

Peru Day 2: After a continental breakfast in the spacious restaurant area of the Wyndham, we headed back across the street to the airport. We collected our boarding passes for the Latam flight to Cusco and headed to the gate. 

There was a giant TV temporarily set up in the gate area and the Mexico-Sweden match was being watched by dozens of people. The locals here take their soccer seriously! Peru being in the final 32 of the FIFA World Cup may have added to the hype. 

We made it until half-time, but then had to leave as they switched our gate. Unfortunately, the new gate had no such TV. Eventually we boarded buses to drive out onto the tarmac to board the actual plane. My mom was a bit worried that we would have difficulty boarding if we were at the end of the line, but funnily enough, the buses invert the order. Last in the bus is first on the plane, a neat example of LIFO (last-in-first-out). 

Once on the plane, we were further delayed about 45 minutes, but eventually had a smooth flight of about an hour into Cusco. The flight attendants only served water, but that made sense given the listed short duration of the flight. Prior reviews had noted that flights into Cusco can be variable given weather conditions there, although our delay seemed mechanical.

Gorgeous views of the Andes greeted us as we flew east towards Cusco. Descending into the Cusco valley gave us panoramic views of the city, culminating in a remarkably smooth landing. The real turbulence though came once we stepped off the plane: the altitude change is real! All three of us felt somewhat lightheaded and imbalanced as we walked the relatively short distance from the gate through the terminal.

Once outside, we ended up taking a private car which cost 35 sol (S/35 is about $10 USD). The taxis outside were reportedly as low as S/15-20 but our taxi was fine, taking us to our hotel in about twenty minutes. We stayed in Casa Andina Standard Catedral, located at NE corner of the Plaza de Armas / Catedral area, the center of Cusco. The hotel room was nice and quiet, with 3 separate beds - quite a rarity!

Iglesia de Compania de Jesus, Plaza de Armas, Cusco
After dropping off our bags, we made our way first to the nearest tourist office to purchase the ‘boleto turistico’ or tourist ticket. The ticket cost S/130, but allowed for 10 day access to most of the major points of interest around Cusco / Sacred Valley. They only accepted cash.

Unfortunately one of the excluded sites was our next stop Qoricancha (also spelled Coricancha or Koricancha). The term comes from the Quecha language for ‘golden enclosure.’ Qoricancha was the most important temple in the Incan Empire. Most of the gold was given to the Spanish though, as ransom for the return of the Incan leader Atahualpa. The Spanish then built the convent of Santo Domingo on the foundations of Qoricancha, so what exists today is a hybrid of the two. To enter, we purchased tickets for S/15 each.

A Scale Model of the Church / Qoricancha

The inner courtyard contains two levels. Around the perimeter, the old Incan masonry still exists. It is quite distinct as they fitted stones together without the use of mortar (also known as 'dry' mortar). As impressive as it is in photos, it is still something else to see up close. After walking the perimeter, we ventured upstairs, which connected to the Santo Domingo portion of the facility. The church itself was nice but I found the display of the old ornate garments worn most interesting.

Upon heading back outside, we went to Casa Cancha, a museum of Incan artifacts, under the mistaken impression that it would close within an hour. Luckily for us it was actually open until 7pm! Unluckily for us, they charged us another S/20 to enter. Inside though, the exhibits were well worth it, with two floors of what looks like a converted hacienda dedicated to Incan artifacts.

After the museum, we met with our tour guide for the latter half of our trip. We had planned to visit Manu National Reserve, the Peruvian portion of the Amazon, where its headwaters start. Initially, we were planning on doing a more popular circuit of Lima - Cusco - Machu Picchu - Puno - Lima. However, after learning about Manu, my parents decided to amend the trip to remove Puno and shorten Lima to create time for a 3 day / 2 night tour of Manu. Our guide Mr. Abraham of Amazon Trails Peru met with us at our hotel to go over the trip itinerary and fit us for rubber boots for hiking in the rainforest.

We ended the night with dinner at Greens Organic. The restaurant was on the 2nd floor of the building two doors down from our hotel. It served organic food with a large range of vegetarian options. We had the African curry, spinach ravioli, and sweet potato gnocchi along with coca tea infused with ginger and lemongrass. All were excellent. After dinner, we walked around Plaza de Armas and purchased bottles of water before retiring for the night.


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