Located at an altitude of over 11,000 feet in the heart of the Andes mountains, is the dynamic and historic city of Cusco Peru. Cusco with a population of about 0.4 million is also called the archaeological capital of South America since it is the famed capital of the ancient Inca Empire and it has served as a travelers’ mecca for hundreds of years. Though Cusco was the center of the Inca Empire for are relatively short time, relics and imprints from the great civilization remain to this day. When you visit Cusco, you feel as if you’ve been transported to another dimension of sorts. Perhaps that is partly due to the altitude’s effect on your body and mind. If you are flying here and haven’t yet adjusted to the Andes Mountains, prepare to spend the better part of your first day simply lounging around or lying in bed with altitude sickness. While that seems wholly un-charming, there are natural means by which to ease your symptoms, like chewing coca leaves or drinking coca tea. The baroque main cathedral in the central tourist gathering spot of the Plaza de Armas is one of Cusco’s most impressive architectural structures. But perhaps even more fascinating when it comes to Cusco architecture are the surviving walls from the Inca. These walls were, and are, so strong that the Spanish often chose to simply build on top of them instead of destroying them. As if the stone streets and the city’s “living museum” feel were not enough, seeing these hundreds of years old stone walls as you make your way about town is truly a treat.
Cusco Peru is a city that is perfect for travelers since it is a jump-off point for excursions on the Inca trail and to nearby Machu Pichhu. Many people will stop here before heading to Machu Picchu, or to other points of interest located within Peru’s Sacred Valley. Cusco is a busy city, thriving in fact, and traffic can be a hassle to negotiate. Just make sure to politely ask before taking pictures of the local and indigenous people, as well as offer a small and modest monetary gift. The friendly nature and disposition of the indigenous population in Cusco will surely make a mark on your soul that you will carry with you for life. Shopping in Cusco is a joy and you can taste local delicacies like roasted guinea pig. I visited the local bazaar to shop for souvenirs and bought a "pancho" similar to the Indian shawl worn by the local men and women.
We travelled to Cusco in the midst of the Inti Rayma or Sun God festival, which is the most important Andean festival. The Inca cultures celebrate this festival from June 16th to 24th (shortest day in the Southern hemisphere). The festival travels from the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco to the massive fortress of Saqsayhuaman. The festival includes fire and lights to wake the sun god on the shortest day and longest night of the winter. The Sun, the main God of the Inca Civilization was considered to be the creator of all that exists. The festival lasts 9 days of colorful dances and processions, as well as animal sacrifices to ensure a good cropping season. The celebrants fasted for days before the event, refrained from physical pleasures and presented gifts to the Inca, who in return put on a lavish banquet of meat, corn bread, Chicha and coca tea as they prepared to sacrifice llamas to ensure good crops and fertile fields. The dance ritual happened all through the day and night and I soaked in the festivity just like 200 thousand other visitors. It was indeed a heavenly experience.