A half day guided tour would be a perfect introduction to Cusco, running every day (Monday to Sunday). It includes all the main sites in the centre of town such as the main Cathedral and Qoricancha as well as the four main ruins on the outskirts of Cusco (Sacsayhuaman, Kenko, Tambomachay and Puka Pukara). This tour includes transportation.
The Cathedral was built between 1560 and 1664 out of large slabs of red granite taken from the Inca construction of Sacsayhuaman. It houses important collections of gold and silver work of the colonial period, elaborately engraved wooden altars and a beautiful collection of oil on canvas paintings from the Escuela Cusqueña.
Qoricancha and the Convent of Santo Domingo
The convent was built on the spectacular Qoricancha ‘site of gold’. This was the most important temple dedicated to the worship of the Sun and whose walls were lined with solid sheets of gold. All that remains now is the fine stonework, the conquistadors took the rest. Qoricancha was also an observatory, where priests kept track of major celestial events. Today it houses an impressive collection of canvas paintings from the Escuela Cusqueña.
Sacsayhuaman is one of the most impressive sites built by the Incas. It is generally referred to as a fortress, however it is not certain what its main function was. Current research suggests that it was more likely to be used as a temple, as Inca tombs have been discovered in the area.
The site is a marvellous archaeological feat, even now after it was destroyed, one can only imagine its greatness when it stood in full glory. The stones in the wall are incredible and the largest weighs in at over 300 tonnes.The grounds surrounding Sacsayhuaman are still used today for the colourful festival of Inti Raymi which is held on the 24th June every year.
The site of Q’enqo contains the most impressive carved rocks in the Cusco area. There are carvings everywhere, although some are a little indistinct: a llama, a condor and snakes have been identified. There are many zigzag channels on top of the rock, probably used for pouring sacrificial chicha (a local wine made from maize). Inside the rock there are a number of caves and passageways and an alter which was used for the sacrifices of llamas.
Puka Pukara translates to ‘the red fortress’. This is a small site and although the name suggests that it was a fortress, it does not appear to have any defensive purpose.
This site was thought to have been used as a Temple to the Water. There are some very impressive aqueducts, canals and cascades carved in stone, designed to channel water flowing from a nearby stream.