We had breakfast in the hotel before walking across the street to the airport (another Lima Tours representative with us!) to catch our flight to Cusco, Peru. This time we flew Lan Airlines – another nice airliner, for the hour plus flight to Cusco.
Upon our arrival, we were met once again by a tour representative who took us to our hotel in the town of Cusco. We would be based here for the next three nights. The hotel was La Casona Hotel by Inkaterra. It is a small, boutique hotel with only 11 rooms. Upon arriving, from the exterior, it looks like a plain, white wall with a big wooden door. There is no handle on the outside, so you must knock upon arrival. The doorman instantly opens the door and you step over a raised threshold into what could only be described as an amazing sanctuary.
We were led to one of the sitting rooms where we were served cocoa leaf tea (to help with the high altitude) and met my the hotel staff who gave us our key and told us about the hotel. It was the first time we had ever signed in to a hotel where the “front desk” came to us. The public rooms were mainly decorated to look old. All eleven guest rooms faced into an open square courtyard. In the center of the courtyard was a circle defined by stones where each night sweet smelling leaves of some kind were burned so that the fragrance could be smelled from anywhere in the hotel.
We were then taken to our room (#9) which was a 2nd floor balcony suite (there were only two levels.) We have never stayed in a hotel like this before. It was pure indulgence. The floors were a combination of stone and wood (that was heated since it gets cool at that altitude.) The ceilings were vaulted. The bedroom had the bed, a fireplace, a couch, an armoire that included a refrigerator filled with soft drinks and snacks, and a small table and two chairs in front of the wooden window that when opened looked upon the narrow cobblestone street below. The bathroom was all marble with double sinks, a huge tub, and a separate room for the toilet with a large glass door, and a similar area for the large shower. They even had heated towel racks on the wall. Our room was so nice, it was hard to leave it to go sightseeing! We understood why last year Mic Jagger (Rolling Stones) chose to stay at this same hotel.
Since we only had an hour before we were to meet our tour guide, we decided to have lunch in the hotel restaurant – another amazing place! One side is a glass wall that looks out into a garden area. It is all very formal – classical music playing in the background, attentive wait staff, and beautifully presented food. Since you are supposed to eat light meals at this high altitude, we opted for the quinoa salad. It was delicious and the presentation was stunning.
After lunch, we met Miguel Masias, our guide for the next three days. He was a delightful young man of Inca descent who had a wealth of information about the Incas – their culture, beliefs, and the areas in which they lived. In 1438, the Inca Empire began its expansion with four large regions. Cusco was the capital and considered to be the center (or navel) of the world. This lasted until the Spaniards arrived in 1532, marking the end of the Inca age and the beginning of Spanish colonization.
Our first stop was to see the Coricancha, considered to be the most sacred spot in all the Inca Empire. It is sometimes now called the Temple of the Sun. However, Miguel explained how it was more than a temple of the sun – that was only one component of this complex. There were many smaller temples inside, only one being the temple of the sun. More accurately, it would be the Golden Palace as it was once covered in sheets of gold while its courtyards were filled with life size statues of people and animals of gold. It was built by Pachacutec, the supreme Inca leader who defended the sacred city of Cusco from invading warriors. It was built as a display of the finest and most harmonious architecture. It was simple, solid, and symmetric. Besides the temple room dedicated to the sun, the other temple rooms were dedicated to the Moon, the stars, Lightning and the Rainbow. All these enclosures surrounded a large, central courtyard.
It is the architecture itself that is most amazing. The walls were built of different kinds of stone which had to be cut precisely, polished and then fit together perfectly without mortar. How they did this without sophisticated tools is a mystery. In addition, the walls, windows, and niches inside were trapezoidal in shape to make them stronger. Also the windows were perfectly aligned so that as you looked through one, you could see all the way through the rest of the windows inside the different temple rooms. The trapezoid became the signature form of Inca architecture.
There were many other things we saw here that explained more about the Incas and their world, but in this Blog I can only highlight some of the things that most impressed us.
Our next stop was the Cathedral, which is the most impressive building in the Plaza de Armas – the center square of the old part of Cusco. We were not allowed to take pictures inside, so you can only see it from the outside. Its construction began in 1560 and took almost a century to complete. On the inside, it is most ornate and actually consists of three churches together – the main Cathedral plus the Holy Family Temple and the smaller Triumph Temple.
Our last stop of the day was to visit the Sacsayhuaman Fortress. It is just outside of the city of Cusco on top of a mountain. It was built during the 15th century. The three parallel walls are in a zigzag pattern and are thought to be the shape of the head of the puma. But what is most impressive walking along these walls are the sheer size of the stone blocks making up this complex. Thousands of men working over fifty years supplied the labor force that the Inca state required as tribute. Enormous blocks of limestone came from nearby quarries – some weighing more than one hundred tons. After being roughly shaped, they were transported on wooden rollers and inclined planes to the site, where they were then finished, shaped and joined to build these impressive walls.
On the way back into Cusco, we stopped at a little shop with a great view of Cusco. Doug also bought me a piece of jewelry that represents ancient Cusco as the center of the original four regions of the Inca Empire and the three worlds the Incas believed existed (the world of the gods, the earthly world of humans, and the underworld of non-conforming beings.) It will be a wonderful reminder of this special part of our trip.
We ended a long day by having a wonderful bowl of Andean soup at the hotel restaurant. We were too weary to go down into the square to one of the restaurants there. When we returned to our room, the beds were turned down with a hot water bottle tucked in, plus a small box of three chocolate mints on the pillow.
The whole day felt magical.