Cusco – Been There

Old meets new in the Inca’s holy city

The center of Cusco is now a Unesco World Heritage Site dominated by the Plaza de Armas. The square was built by the Incas as the cultural heart of their empire but halved in size by the Spanish, who built two churches on it.

Photo by Yadid Levy / Alamy

Cusco – Been There

Old meets new in the Inca’s holy city

At 3,400 meters, walking a few steps uphill in Cusco tires me immediately. But it's worth getting lost in its maze of streets to stumble on treasures both old and new.

Kiki Deere
Kiki Deere Travel Writer

Architectural treasures built out of stone and temples formerly studded with gold line narrow alleys that burst open onto graceful squares and colonial plazas. Men and women wear traditional eye-catching garb; women wrap their babies in brightly colored blankets and carry them around on their backs, their little heads lolling back and forth as their mothers sprint up steep staircases, unaffected by the altitude. I envy their relaxed demeanour and their speed.

I turn onto a small cobbled street and soon find myself in what is today the new town, where smoke-ridden cars choke and splutter along the main thoroughfare, lined with banks and high street shops. The hubbub and smog contrast sharply with the colonial core, which retains a quiet sober elegance. A woman strolls past in traditional dress, holding a llama by its lead. A crowd of tourists surrounds her, eager to take selfies to send to their friends back home. Here modernity and indigenous culture and traditions coexist – and thrive – side by side.

The inca Empire, depicted at its height in this mural in Cusco, arose in the Peruvian Andean region...

The inca Empire, depicted at its height in this mural in Cusco, arose in the Peruvian Andean region around the early 13th century. At one time, it stretched over most of what is now Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and northern Chile. Photo by Hervé Hughes

Hervé Hughes

Hervé Hughes

Nikon D4

Aperture
ƒ/8
Exposure
1/1250
ISO
320
Focal
95 mm

The inca Empire, depicted at its height in this mural in Cusco, arose in the Peruvian Andean region around the early 13th century. At one time, it stretched over most of what is now Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and northern Chile.