The Charms of Cusco

Flying into Cusco (Peru :)), you know your landing is going to be a little tricky because the air is thin at 11,000 feet. As you approach the city, you see that there isn’t much room for error because you will be landing in a small valley surrounded by mountains, and the landing strip is flanked by 3 and 4 story apartment buildings. A modified helicopter landing! You land safely and wonder how this isolated place could have been the the center of an empire.

Here’s the short version — between 1438 and 1533, the Incas governed 10 million people speaking 30 languages from this hidden spot in the Andes. The empire spanned 3400 miles north to south, from Ecuador to Chile. The Inca were accomplished engineers and accountants with a strong system of governance. They had a strong connection to nature and a lot of gold (tears of the sun)and silver (tears of the moon). Then the Spaniards came and destroyed the empire.

The Spaniards brought disease, violence, and horses to Peru

Cusco is no longer a place of power but a place of charm. Cobblestone streets wind up and down the hillsides. Music. Craft shops. Red tile roofs. Amerindians in traditional dress amble through the streets with lambs and llamas. It’s a hippie paradise, with vegan restaurants and hostels but also plenty of boutique hotels. We have spent a lot of time just walking and, er, gawking.

Cusco has 16 churches, many of which the Spaniards deliberately built on top of  important Incan structures.

One of my favorite songs, “El Condor Pasa” is based on a traditional Peruvian piece.

Last night, we took a cooking class. We met our chef, Chris, at the San Pedro market, a giant complex designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel. Chris gave us a tour of the market, where vendors sell every imaginable food as well as crafts and housewares.

One of Peru’s 35,000 varieties of potatoes. Each traditional dish is served with a specific type of potato, the same way some pair foods with wine.

Purple corn in Peru is used mostly to make chicha, a traditional beverage that can be non-alcoholic or mildly alcoholic.

Not sure, probably donkey.

Quail eggs.

The stuff in the back basket is cuy (guinea pig) but I couldn’t understand what she said was in the front basket. Probably better that way.

After the market, we walked to Chris’ kitchen, where he first taught us how to make the national cocktail, pisco sours, which made us very agreeable sous chefs. For dinner, we cooked a variety of “updated” Peruvian dishes, including mushroom quinoa risotto and a dessert of Peruvian fruits with names you don’t know, topped with candied almonds.

We made three kinds of ceviche — all amazing!

Today I got to ride through the Cusco countryside to the ruins of 5 Inca complexes. The landscape was breathtaking — green hills and small villages overlooking high valleys. My horse, Apu, (spirit of the moon) was a Peruvian Paso, a breed that is famous for flashy and very smooth gaits. Riding Apu was so comfortable!  You can see examples of how the breed moves here

My horseback riding tour guide, Gabriel “born-on-a-horse,” is a passionate historian and loved sharing  his knowledge of the Incas as we traveled from one site to the next. He told me why Cusco was the center of the Inca universe. Basically, it is the Incan equivalent of a vortex — a place the gods designated as magical.  I believe it!  There is something here that is so special.

A quiet moment on the top of what was once the Incan Emperor’s palace at the Temple of the Sun, Sacsayhuaman ( pronounced “sexy woman”)

Something special for everyone….


  1. Sounds very special, Kim (except for the donkey heads…)! Lovely for you to have a Navidad peruana. xoxo

  2. The first photo is my favorite. It speaks a thousand words. I have always loved the display of color in Peru. Will have to get there some day. Looks like a wonderful place to explore.

  3. Did you fly directly to Cusco and stay there? How was it with altitude sickness? Did you take any pills to help with the altitude etc?

    1. Good questions. We flew in from Bogota, which is actually higher than Cusco so that’s where we acclimated. There, we took it easy for a day, no drinking etc. None of us got altitude sickness but I was taking altitude pills and I got sick from the pills! I went to a local doctor — those pills can lower your blood pressure too much so be careful if you decide to take them.

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