By Chere Di Boscio
Stepping back in time in Cusco is easy. After all, it is the oldest living city in the Americas – in fact, Cusco has been inhabited for over 3,000 years. And it’s been through a lot.
Once the seat of power for the Inca Empire (from the 13th-16th centuries), it was famously conquered by the Spanish in the 16th century and is now a top tourist destination, mainly due to the fact that it’s packed with historical treasures, from the colonial Plaza de Armas to ancient ruins such as those at Saksaywaman.
No one is quite sure just how old those ruins are, but there seems to be some question as to whether these huge, precisely carved, super smooth stones that formed an important temple were created by the Inca, as many tour guides say, or (more likely) the Killke people, who inhabited Cusco from 900-1200 A.D. In 2008, archaeologists discovered the ruins of another ancient temple, roadway, and irrigation systems at Saksaywaman – yet no one is sure who created these. In any case, the huge boulders that form the jigsaw-like masonry of the site raise several important questions: How did people move such large rocks, though there is no evidence they used the wheel? Why did they create structures that way? How old are those structures, exactly?
The Temple of the Moon, also located on the outskirts of Cusco, is another fascinating and mysterious site. Located between Qenko and Puku Pukara, it’s off the paved road and doesn’t fit conveniently into the Cusco city tours. It’s basically a large hill with two caves which contain altars (which may have contained mummies), and cracks in the walls let in sunlight or more significantly, moonlight, that strikes the altars on certain nights. There are some mysterious carvings in the caves, too: a snake, a puma and what looks like an elephant, or a mammoth – odd, because such creatures haven’t existed in the Western Hemisphere for over twelve thousand years. Hmm….
In addition to mysterious ruins, you’ll find plenty of art and cultural museums to visit here, including the Museo Inka, the Coca Museum, the Museo de Arte Religioso and the Museum of Chocolate.
Even the hotels are infused with a fascinating history. I was lucky enough to stay at the fabulous eco hotel, Inkaterra la Casona, which was once home to many historically important figures, ranging from fierce Inca warriors and Spanish Conquistadores such as Diego de Almagro to South American liberator Simon Bolivar. Situated in the Plaza Nazarenas in the picturesque neighbourhood of San Blas, the hotel is elegantly decorated with a plethora of remarkable Spanish antiques, Peruvian rugs and artisanal accents.
This is a discreet hotel, with no external sign announcing it; there’s just a doorman that allows those with reservations into the thick wooden door; a portal to a sumptuous world that fuses the rustic with the luxurious. This is a quiet and cosy hotel, perfect for more sophisticated and mature travellers to Peru. Expect to find personal touches here, such as water poured from real antique silver jugs, hot water bottles in your bed, and homemade, all-natural amenities dispensed from brown glass bottles.
Despite the hotel’s focus on antiques, you’ll also find all modern necessities, including an iPod dock, free WiFi, flat screen TVs and a CD/DVD player in each room. The best spots in the hotel are possibly the Balcon suites, which overlook the wonderfully quaint courtyard. One even includes an original frieze painting dating back almost half a century. But all rooms are kitted out with open fireplaces, underfloor heating, and triple glazing, as well as colourfully woven textiles and perfect, wide beds.
There are only 11 rooms here, making this an incredibly intimate venue. There’s a small dining room offering Peruvian specialities like crispy cuy and Andrean trout encrusted in Brazil nut tempera for dinner, and fresh fruits, eggs and pastries for breakfast. Every afternoon, a complimentary tea is offered featuring sweets served with local tea and plant infusions created from the Inkaterra property closer to Machu Picchu. After a long day of sightseeing, it was an absolute delight to indulge in these, curled up on the sofa with one of the many colourful coffee table books on offer.
All Inkaterra properties are dedicated to maintaining Peru’s heritage and environment – this particular hotel uses organic insulation, and participates in several local conservation programs. The entire Inkaterra hotel group is also carbon neutral, making it the perfect choice for the conscious traveller who wants to explore all the mysteries that Peru has been holding for centuries.
Address: 211 Plaza Nazarenas, Cusco
Telephone: +51 (0)84 245 314
E-mail: [email protected] (reservations)