Our first full day in Cusco began with a hearty breakfast in our Hotel Las Ruinas in the heart of the original Cusco, once the capital of the Inca Empire. Victoria led the group on a several hour journey, first high up to the lookout point at San Blas to see the once compact and now sprawling city arrayed before us.
Cusco does not lack for steep paths and stray dogs:
Cusco sprawling up the valley walls:
Victoria pointing out distant landmarks:
More strolling eventually dropped us in the Plaza de Armas, ringed on all sides by centuries-old Catholic churches built from and on the foundations of Incan buildings. Filled with locals and tourists, the square was this morning the site of parades of military, police, firefighters, and other government groups.
Food markets and vendors abounded as we made our way to Qoricancha (the Temple of the Sun), the most important Incan holy site. Stripped of gold and silver by the Spaniards, it was eventually partly destroyed, with Catholic Churches and monasteries placed on its substantial and still-imposing foundations. A tour of the inside revealed even more Inca stone work incongruously buttressing the Spanish constructions.
Catholic church on Qoricancha:
Incan wall and Catholic church:
Full view of Qoricancha:
Admiring the mortarless, perfectly built and preserved Incan walls:
Spanish-style courtyard on Qoricancha:
More strolling brought us back to the Plaza de Armas for lunch in a restaurant overlooking the square. After lunch, we climbed to the top to look over the square to see last-minute preparations and growing crowds for the last day of the Corpus Christi Festival, where parishes throughout the region bring highly decorated saints into the town center for several days. We arrived at the end of the celebrations and thus saw the saints paraded around the square, carried by large groups and accompanied by marching bands and the exceptionally devout, before being marched back to their home churches.
Moving down to the square itself, we found comfortable seats to watch the upcoming parade. An hour passed easily, as we watched the groups piling in to the square, the many dogs roaming free, and the amazing array of street vendors selling everything from popcorn to dried banana chips to artwork to tiny knitted llamas to actual chairs.
A couple of hours of pageantry later, the group returned to the hotel for rest before being given the night free to have dinner and roam the historic part of town.