Cusco, Peru: The Heart of the Inca Empire

Cusco, Peru: The Heart of the Inca EmpireI’ve been to many “gateway” cities that practically wrote the definition of the word “tacky.” Cusco, Peru, is a city with the very real opportunity to turn into a kitschy, touristy city, but I was pleasantly surprised to find the traditional and the trendy blend together on Cusco’s cobblestone streets. Old women with long, dark braids spilling down their backs held hands with their young children, who also dressed in traditional Peruvian clothing. They walked side-by-side with visitors to the city, who walked the streets with backpacks in tow.

Cusco is a city where old traditions still reign. We visited the week before Easter, and the streets came alive with parades and dancing. Men and women of all ages dressed in costume and acted out parts of old folklore, dancing in time to the music played by the street side drummers. We sipped fresh fruit juice on the Plaza de Armas but stepped a few blocks out of the standard tourist areas and were treated to delicious local meals served up for mere pennies.

Thousands of people pass through Cusco each year, and the city offers more than enough history and beauty to share with anyone willing to take the time to slow down and enjoy it.

I wrote a piece about the dichotomy found on the streets of Cusco, Peru, as well as information for the first-time visitor as my entry for the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association 2010 Conference Scholarship, which was chosen as the winner from a host of applicants. You can read my full piece on Cusco in IFWTWA’s publication, Global Writes. Feel free to leave comments here if you have any thoughts to share.

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Cusco, Peru: The Heart of the Inca Empire
JoAnna is a globe-trotting, idea-inventing, culture-collecting creativity connoisseur with big dreams and a desire to touch all seven continents. You can also find JoAnna at and at The 52 Letters Project.
Cusco, Peru: The Heart of the Inca Empire

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7 Responses

  1. Nancy says:

    Love the Cusco article. I’m so happy to hear that it’s an authentic, artistic city. (I’ve always wanted to go there on route to Macchu Piccu!) I’ll try and stay in the San Blas district…

  2. Audrey says:

    Great timing for me to read this —  we are in Cusco right now :) When we first arrived, I have to admit I was a bit shocked by the influence of tourism and all the people hawking massages and discos on the main square and everyone speaking English.This reaction was also related to the fact that we’ve spent the last month in Peru in relatively non-touristy places.

    However, after three days of exploring the city I’ve come to a similar conclusion the as you — Cusco as a real, cultural city is stronger than the tourism influences. Yesterday, we arrived early to the Plaza de Armas and discovered an artisans market (1st Sunday of each month) and vendors dressed in traditional outfits. When I started asking the vendors about their work and where they were from, I found they were more than happy to share their trade, talk about their families and wanted to learn about me beyond trying to sell me something. Later in the day, we (and other tourists) sat side by side with local families on the main square watching a parade of school children, military, teachers and hospital personnel.

    As you wrote, that the high altitude makes you slow down helps visitors take in the city beyond the tourist industry.

  3. Gray says:

    Your Cusco article is wonderful, JoAnna. You have a real gift for painting pictures with words. I had never heard of Cusco, and now I feel it’s a place I would want to visit someday. I can see why it won.

  4. nomadic matt says:

    looks like you had a wonderful!

  5. Akila says:

    Congratulations! That’s so well deserved. I love that last paragraph where you write that physical factors force people to slow down in a good way. I love places like that too. I can’t wait to go there.

  6. I’m really interested in all Perú has to offer. Thanks for your insights on Peruvian culture, I’ll be reading your referenced article. My wife and I are journeying to S. America next year and we can’t wait!

    Keep it real.

    Blakesjourney / TBD

  7. Nico says:

    Love to see different takes on Cusco. I loved to, and it’s hard not to. I think any town that has a draw for visitors will have your standard tourist-hawkers. Fortunately, and you’re right, Cusco has so much more to offer.

    I was fortunate to be there for their Incan Sun Festival (June 16th) which definitely brought out the local color. With dancing and great traditional Incan costumes.

    There’s also a big backpacking community there (hello Inca Trail) so there’s lots of travelers to talk to, not to mention party with at night.

    I wrote a blog post about Cusco myself. I hope it’s not to forward of me to share it:

    Thanks for the article, Joanna!

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