INCA'S CAPITAL AT 3400 METERS
Unless you are coming to Cusco by car or a train, you will be shocked once you get out of the airplane of how difficult is just to move around because of the high altitude (11,200 feet). This old capital of Inca Empire, taken by conquistadores led by Francisco Pizzaro in the XVI century, is even higher Machu Pichu.
We stayed in a small and cute Casa Andina Standard Cusco Plaza hotel that offered free coca tea in the lobby all day long. Drink the tea- and lots of it- even going up few steps up the hill forced us to stop and recover before moving on. We used the first afternoon to try to acclimate to the elevation, second day to visit Machu Pichu, and the third day to explore Cusco with Rene, a great local guide we found. When walking around the city, you will see many indigenous people dressed in national outfits. Don't just take a photo of them without giving them a tip. This is their livelihood.
The city tour starts with the visit to Plaza de Armas and the Cathedral that hosts a wooden crucifix that allegedly stopped the devastating 1650 earthquake when was taken out of the Cathedral. The crucifix, since then named Señor de los Temblores (Lord of Earthquake), has since turned black from centuries of smoke and dust, hence earning the name "Black Jesus". It is taken outdoor each year during the Easter Holly week in commemoration of the 1650 earthquake. Also worth seeing is the oldest surviving painting in Cusco depicting how the city looked like at the time of the 1650 earthquake.
The second stop was Coricancha and the Temple of Santo Domingo. This extremely important temple dedicated to the Sun God is said to have featured a large solid golden disc that was studded with precious stones and represented the Inca Sun God. Needless to say, the gold quickly disappeared as the temple was destroyed by its Spanish invaders who, as they plundered, were determined to rid the city of its wealth, idolaters and shrines. Nowadays, only a curved outer wall and partial ruins of the inner temple remain at the site. On the foundation of it is a beautiful Convent of Santo Domingo. Major earthquakes have severely damaged the church, but the Inca stone walls, built out of huge, tightly-interlocking blocks of stone, still stand as a testimony to their superb architectural skills and sophisticated stone masonry.
The last stop was the Saksaywaman, a remnants of a fortress built by cultures preceding Incas, and expanded and added to by the Incas in the XIII century. The built dry stone walls constructed of huge stones- the boulders were cut carefully to fit them together tightly without mortar. This site is even higher than Cusco, it is at 3,700 m (12,200 feet), so unless you drink plenty, plenty coca tea, you will develop altitude sickness. Trust me- been there, done that. Fortunately, we left the next morning for the sea-level Lima.