Cusco’s famous “artisan neighborhood”. In accordance to the Colonial urban plan, it became the Mestee area of the city, thanks to the presence of hundreds of Spaniards that arrived to live here with the Natives. This coexistence and the whimsical geography of the place derived into the curious architecture of San Blas, which is different to the rest of the city: narrow streets on crooked slopes where the snow-white adobe houses decorated by bright blue doors, windows and balconies stand out. The Church of San Blas is the oldest in the city and was founded in 1562 on top of an Inca shrine dedicated to Illapa, the God of Thunder. The main attraction of the church is its pulpit, carved from one piece of Central American cedar in a Churriguersque style. Its profusion and detail contrast sharply with the simplicity of the temple.
The streets of San Blas keep small surprises for the traveler: dream-like facades, Inca walls composed by elaborately carved stones and some of the oldest temples of the city. San Blas is also home to some of the most famous artisans of Cusco. Here, houses have become workshops, schools and stores where all sorts of virgins and saints are produced, each with a unique style that has traveled around the globe. A visit you mustn’t miss.
This religious complex was built over the Coricancha, or the “golden chamber” of the Incas, where the Sun was venerated. It’s said that this was the richest sanctuary in Cusco; that its walls were plated in gold and its gardens full of phytomorphic and zoomorphic figures also made from this precious metal. Two minor temples, located next to the Coricancha, shelter the mummies of the coyas, or the Inca Princesses, as well as the Gods of the Rainbow and Thunder, respectively. It was here where Francisco Pizarro kept the so-called Pennon of the Conquest-given to him by Phillip II so he could act on behalf of the Spanish Kingdom.
This grandiose Inca edification was designed between the XIV and XV century by Inca Tupac Yupanqui and it’s estimated that its construction required the strength of twenty thousand men during seventy years. Its strategic location on top of a hill offers an unparalleled view of the city. The complex is composed by gigantic walls of carved stone that form three superimposed platforms, which conclude in a zigzagged rampart. Many of its stones measure over eight meters in height and weigh more than thirty-six tons. The platforms are connected by openings and staircases, the most popular one being the so-called Puerta del Sol (Doorway of the Sun). Religious ceremonies were celebrated in the main plaza, called Patio of the Spears, where the ñustas would worship the sun every dawn. This is also the spot where the Inti Raymi, or Festival of the Sun, is commemorated every year.PIKILLAQTA AND HUACARPAY LAGOON
Pikillaqta or “city of the fleas” is the main construction left by the Wari in Cusco’s surroundings. It’s conformed by seven hundred structures, with walls that measure up to twelve meters in height and have been erected following a rigorous pattern of right angles. Studies conducted in this site have determined that many of the walls were covered in plaster and painted in bright red. The nearby Huacarpay Lagoon is an important destination for those interested in bird-watching. In the town of Lucre, close to the lagoon, you’ll find the first Peruvian textile factory, opened in 1861, and right next to it the ruins of Rumicolca, an ancient Wari aqueduct that chronicles mistakenly regarded as the gateway to the Inca Capital.ANDAHUAYLILLAS
This peaceful and isolated town preserves a jewel of religious architecture belonging to the colonial period: the Temple of San Pedro de Andahuaylillas, edified in the XVII century. Due to the profusion of its interior decoration it’s been called the Sistine Chapel of the Andes. The church owns a polychrome suspended ceiling decorated in the Mudejar Style and its walls are covered with paintings that narrate diverse religious scenes and whose frames are richly coated in gold leaf. The most notable paintings are two grand scenic murals that portray the path to heaven and the path to hell, attributed to Luis Riaño (1626-1628). The temple also keeps and old organ with six bellows fabricated in Spain and recently restored.PAUCARTAMBO
This colonial town, edified on the path towards Cusco’s rainforest, still preserves many of its houses and original monuments, spread out among its narrow, stone-paved streets. Village of dancers and artisans, in Paucartambo the colorful festivity in honor of the Virgin of El Carmen is celebrated between the 15 and 17 of June; one of the most captivating and massive celebrations in the region. From here you can visit Tres Cruces and Acjanaco, located on the southern edge of the Manu National Park, where you can witness a breathtaking sunrise.ABRA MALAGA
Abra Malaga (in Spanish abra menas “water gap”) is located in the middle of the route that connects Ollantaytambo, in the lower part of the Inca’s Sacred Valley, with Quillabamba and La Convencion, in Cusco’s tropical rainforest. In the ascent to the gap you’ll find a glacial valley where herds of llamas graze calmly. The highest point, at 4,230 masl, is marked by a small chapel built in honor of the Lord of Torrechayoc and allows the highway to cross the Vilcanota Mountain Range and enter the Amazon Plateau. From this spot, the view of the Veronica Snow Peak (5,350 masl) is overwhelming. Its name in Quechua, weqey wilka, means “tears of the warrior” and alludes to a legend that narrates how Inca Manco Capac cried when he saw the sun rise over these lands.
Abra Malaga is also an international attention center for bird watchers due to the existence of the most accessible Polylepis forest in the Andes, where two unique and endangered species of this region can be observed: the Royal Cinclodes (Cinclodes aricomae) and the Tit-Spinetail (Lepthastenura sp.), which can only be seen in Malaga and is one of the ten most endangered bird species in the world.
A route that combines traditional villages cradled in agricultural valleys of overwhelming beauty and numerous lagoons that bestow the landscape with a unique charm. The circuit initiates in Combapata, locality that owns a highly interesting temple dedicated to Saint Nicholas. A path begins at the town’s plaza, which crosses the Vilcanota River and ascends to the village of Chosica Canas, from where you can view Salcca Valley located on the other side of the river. A fork in the path will lead you to Acopia, surrounded by fields of barley that border the first lagoon: Asnacocha. In Acopia, there’s a church dedicated to Our Lady of Hope (Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza) and a small lagoon that carries the same name. Further ahead you’ll arrive to the village of Pomacanchi and its ample lagoon, the largest of the circuit, which you can navigate by boat. The path circles Pomacanchi and returns through Acopia and Asnacocha to the village of Mosoqllacta, emplaced high atop a hill that dominates the lake. Nearby you’ll locate Thumi, a small village on the shores of Pampamarca Lake. The adobe houses here own curious reed rooftops. Surrounded by lagoons, you’ll arrive to the village of Tungasuca, where in 1781 the rebellion of Tupac Amaru II broke out.
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