After a week of Spanish Lessons and absorption of both the language and the environment, it was time to take the formal city tour. The plan was to meet at the door of my Spanish School at 1:45 pm. The tour took longer than I expected to get started, as with all things in Peru. After about 45 minutes, we were finally on our way. We were set to see Qoricancha, Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo, Tambomachay and PucaPucara. The name city tour is deceptive, because Qoricancha was the only site that was actually in the city.
It should really be called “The archeological sites near the city tour,” but I guess that would be a hard title to market here. Also the guides don’t like to call the sites ruins, because ruins implies that something is broken, when the sites are magnificent and not in decay. It is a funny little idiosyncrasy in their presentation. This opinion is consistent with each guide I have had, even my Spanish teacher says the same thing. So if you come to Cuzco, make sure you call them Archeological sites, because if you call them Incan ruins, you are bound to be cast out in rapid and harsh fashion, or at least will have some harsh looks cast at your rapidly.
Qorikancha- I walk past this magnificent structure every day on Avenida el Sol on the way to language classes. It is the sun temple. The Spaniards sacked the temple and took its gold back to Spain for the empire and the Dominicans built the church of Santa Domingo on top of it.
It is the prime example of the architectural oppression strategy of the Spanish. They cleared the many temples and buildings of the city and built Church after church on the foundations.
It makes for some intricate and varying archeological scenery for the modern day visitor to Cuzco. The lay out is often focused on constellations and their reverence for the stars can be seen in many of the sites including this one.
The foundations of the Incan buildings are everywhere and serve as a constant tribute to their lasting legacy and architectural prowess. While the Spanish Colonial Buildings are constantly being worked on and rebuilt.
Saqsayhuaman- The second stop on our City tour.
This was the stronghold of the Incas during the Spanish invasion.
It is a monstrous fortress with defensive walls standing as strong as ever today. Standing high above Cuzco, it is easy to see why this was their stronghold.
With expansive views of the city below and the mountains in the distance, it makes sense that the valley of Cuzco was a lake 16,000 years ago.
Tambomachay- Our third stop was the sacred baths of the Incas. This site still works today and demonstrates the Incan reverence for water.
The Incas directed a natural spring in the mountains above Cusco, through three waterfalls that continue to function today. You can see why they don’t like to call the sites ruins, since they still work today.
Pukapukara- The fourth stop. The name means red fort in Quechua, but our guide told us that this description is false. The site was more likely used as a temporary lodging house for people visiting the sacred baths at Tambomachay. We left this site just before dark, and headed to our final archeological site.
Q’engo- This was the final archeological stop on the tour. The name means “zigzag” in Quechua. The massive stone has a puma and a condor carved into the rock in the top. The carvings that zigzag down the rock were likely used for sacrificial rituals with chichi or llama blood.
There are caves underneath the site that were a grave for Incan mummies, though the graves have been looted and empty for a long time. We did not get to go down to the caves, because it was past dark. Indeed it took some negotiations and pleading from our guide to get us into the site at all. Our tour arrived past closing time.
Lessons from the Guided Tour
The tour was interesting and worth doing. If I had it to do again though, I would hire a taxi and take my time at each of the ruins (harsh looks cast rapidly). The Boleto Turistico of Cusco lasts ten days. I think that allowing a few hours at the Qorikoncha and Saqsayhuaman would have improved the experience. The guided tours are rushed and you often feel like you are missing a lot as you are herded from site to site. Save the Guided tours for The Sacred Valley. Those are also very rushed, but they cover a lot more territory and are more expensive to arrange individually.
The Boleto Turistico lasts ten days. A good option would be to tour the sites in the city at your leisure, spending ample time at Qorikancha, ten soles admission, and the other museums on the ticket. I would be sure to see Museo Histrico Regional, and spent at least an hour, this was one of my favorites. There will be more on this museum later.
Then set aside a full day to tour the sites on the outside of the city. I would keep in mind that you can only visit each site once, something I did not realize until too late. It is possible to arrange a cab for the day and if you get three other people you can keep the cost pretty low and still have the freedom to experience the sites on your own time. If you feel a guide is necessary, one can be hired for a small extra fee. I knew a group that did something similar for Tipon and other sites and their cost was about 35 soles a person including a guide. If it is done this way, I think it is best to save Sacsayhuaman for the end of the tour, that way you can see the sunset. Of course sunset times vary and the park closes at 6pm. But at the time of this writing, sunset in Cuzco is 5:47pm so it would work perfectly, you could even bring a picnic.