Destination guide: Cuzco, Peru
In the Andean area of Peru is the city of Cuzco, also known as the Archaelogical Capital of America or the “Center of the World” (according to its name in Quechua).
Cuzco is a living museum of Inca history and one of the most fascinating cities in the Peruvian mountains, as seen in its outstanding architecture, which reflects the stunning past of the Inca Empire.
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Legend tells that in the 12th century, the sun god Inti looked down on the earth and decided that the people needed organizing, so he created the first Inca, Manco Cápac, and his sister-wife, Mama Ocllo. They came to life on Isla del Sol (Sun Island), way over in Lake Titicaca, with a long walk ahead of them. Inti gave Manco Cápac a golden rod and told him to settle in the spot where he could plunge it into the ground until it disappeared: this would be the navel of the earth (qosq’o in the Quechua language). And so Cuzco got its name. Locals can point out the place where the rod allegedly went in – it’s on a hill overlooking the bus terminal.
When Manco discovered the place, he quickly subdued the natives and founded the city that was to become the center of one of the Americas’ greatest empires. And people have been here ever since: Cuzco is the oldest continuously inhabited city in South America, and the continent’s undisputed archaeological capital.
Despite its wealth of ruins, museums and churches, Cuzco is aptly described by the belly-button analogy, but engagingly, unselfconsciously bursting with life. It’s a place that inspires strong feelings. There’s a lot of mystical talk in Cuzco, about energy lines and cosmic confluences, and even the most hardened skeptics notice a certain something about the place.
Most South American cities have a merry, hectic street energy; in Cuzco it’s overwhelming. Walk through the Plaza de Armas and you’ll see people hawking massages, finger puppets, paintings, CDs and tattoos – it’s not for the fainthearted. This is one of the most relentlessly tourism-dominated towns on the face of the earth.
Cuzco is a safe place with honorable infrastructure and a lovable population of entrepreneurs ranging from singing shoeshiners to flamboyant nightclub magnates.
Hushed museums and churches. Animal organs on skewers and high-art haute cuisine. . History forces itself on your attention at every corner. Cuzco is a diverse, gritty, irresistibly vital madhouse. However long you plan to spend here, it won’t be enough.
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