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Spanish in Cusco

How to Spend Your Downtime in Cusco

Cuzco may be best known as the starting point for expeditions along the Inca Trail and visits to Machu Picchu, but there is so much more to this cheerful and atmospheric city than its Inca legacy, although it does have a large part to play. The city is said to form the shape of a puma, with the most spiritual and important buildings located in its body. In between its legs you will find the social hub of the city, the Plaza de Armas, buzzing with life and energy.

Getting Your Bearings

Túpac

The Plaza de Armas was constructed during the Inca period and was originally twice the size that it is now. It was the site of the death of the last ever Inca monarch, Túpac Amaru, in 1572 and the declaration of occupation by the Spanish. It is right in the centre of the city, a common meeting and orientation point and a great place to start your exploration of Cusco. Forming the outline of the Plaza you will find the Cathedral and the Compaia Church and following the south-east exit you will find the Church of the Merced. The Cathedral was constructed in the shape of a cross and is in the Baroque style. Construction began in 1550 and and inside you can see a Peruvian version of the Last Supper amongst may other shining examples of the Cusquea school of painting. On the right hand side of the Plaza, when facing the Cathedral, you will find La Compaia Church. It is also built in the Baroque style by the Jesuits and finally finished around 1668 after it was severely damaged in the 1650 earthquake. The Church of Merced (Mercy) is a mixture of Baroque and Renaissance styles and was also rebuilt following damage by the earthquake. Inside is a small art museum with paintings and religious artifacts and outside there are murals depicting the history of the religious order that founded the church, the order of Merced.

The Plaza itself is a wonderful place to watch the world go by and there are plenty of restaurants and tourist shops to pick up snacks and souvenirs. A lot of the surrounding streets still have Inca constructed walls, one of the most notable being found on Calle Loreto. Exiting the Plaza at the south-east side you will come across the Santa Catalina Convent, a pretty building that contains a Museum of Art. To this day there are nuns inside that have no contact with the outside world. Moving further south, you will see the Santo Domingo Church. Inside it is what remains of an Inca Temple of the Sun where the Inca leaders would come to worship the sun. The Spanish demolished it when they took control of the city and used the Inca walls to construct the Santo Domingo church. Recent excavations have uncovered some of the Inca craft work and it is on display today. Another neighbourhood worth exploring is cobble-stoned San Blas, as the streets begin to climb the hill away from the central Plaza. It is artsy, quirky and full of hidden gems. In its plaza you will find a little white temple, said to be the oldest parish in Cusco, with an intricately carved churrigueresque cedar pulpit. Nearby you will also find the Archbishop's Palace, with decorated tiles amongst which you will find what is now better known as the logo for Cusquea beer.

Inca Legacy

Possessing the historic legacy that it does, it is little wonder that Cusco is home to a plethora of interesting and varied museums.The Museo Muncipal is housed within the Municipal Palace and contains a host of contemporary art. You can enter the museum using the "Boleto Turistico" or Choco museo tourist ticket, available form the tourist office and allowing entry to a number of the ruins and historical sites and centres in Cusco and the surrounding area all for a reduced price. Also worth a look is the Museo del Centro de Textiles Tradicionales de Cuzco. It is free and displays a whole range of authentic pieces, allowing your to buy similar items at the end. The Art Museum of Andean Children displays the creations of Andean children who have expressed their emotions through art. Finally, for those of you with a taste for all things chocolate, then you shouldn't miss the ChocoMuseo where you can learn about the history of cacao production in Peru and, of course, taste some of the delights on offer.

Whilst in Cusco, a great way to get in amongst the locals and to put your Spanish language skills to good use is to visit one of the city's markets. San Pedro is a non-touristy and authentic food market where you can buy everything from papayas to tripe. Whilst out and a bout in the city be sure to try some Chicha, the popular fermented corn drink, and "cuy" or guinea pig (they are a delicacy in Peru). There are also several markets selling Artesenal goods where you can barter for textiles and woolly jumpers to keep you warm at the high altitude.

Other possible activities include taking advantage of one of the massages being offered to you as you walk the streets of Cusco. These could come in particularly handy following a strenuous walk to some of the ruins or even after four hard days trekking to Machu Picchu. There are plenty of opportunities to get out and about and explore the wonderful scenery and surroundings around Cusco. Trekking in the Sacred Valley in between Cusco and Machu Picchu is a great experience and leads you through a picturesque valley where the Wilka Mayu River transforms into the gushing Urubamba. Also nearby to Cusco, you can easily take a trip to Quenco to see the carved limestone rock there or to Tambomachay to take a dip in the Inca baths. In the head of the puma shape of Cusco lie the ruins of Sacsayhuaman which consist of immaculately laid slabs of stone. It is thought to once have been a Temple of the Sun.

Machu Picchu

Whilst almost all of the historic sites and ruins in and around Cusco have their own unique appeal, there are none perhaps that can be compared to the ultimate Inca sit, Machu Picchu. It was thought to have been an Inca city, hidden in the mountains, a secure home for the Inca Emperor Pachacuti, however archaeologists have since revealed it was more likely to have been a type of country estate. Whatever it may be, it is a true Inca gem and a must see if you are spending some time in Cusco.

Cusco is a city that is always on the go, whether you prefer to go by foot, on horseback or in a water raft, you will find your preferred activity here. Learning Spanish has never seemed more appealing when you know that you can combine it with easily organised trips, spectacular sightseeing opportunities and plenty of good food and nightlife.