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Amazon Adventures, Day 1 – Exploring Cusco
by -- March 4th, 2011

After flying all night, we arrived in Cusco this morning around 9. The mountains surrounding the airport provided a striking view.

Downtown Cusco

Downtown Cusco

We boarded the bus and entered the urban jungle of Cusco en route the hostel. The city has heavy traffic and bad drivers, and streets are lined with small establishments, each boasting the best dollars-to-soles exchange rates and vendors urging you to purchase paintings, jewelry, arts and crafts, and other goods.

After the group settled into the hotel, it was time to explore. We discovered La Plaza Mayor, also known as La Plaza De Armas, one of the main tourist attractions in Cusco. According to VirtualTourist.com, Plaza de Armas…was originally much bigger than today and was surrounded by beautiful Inca palaces and temples. At that time, Plaza de Armas was the scene of offerings, the ‘Inti Raymi’ (the Sun Festival), and other important ceremonies. Many historic events took place on Plaza de Armas during the Spanish Empire. Francisco Pizarro proclaimed the conquest of Cusco, and later several famous people (for example Tupac Amaru I and Tupac Amaru II) were executed on the square.

Church of La Compania, Plaza de Armas

Church of La Compania, Plaza de Armas

Today, the square is surrounded by a Jesuit church, ancient monasteries, and a natural history museum. The fountain at the center of the square is turned off during the winter months, but the flowers are starting to bloom, and school children, young couples, and tourists mingle together. Merchant stands in small alleyways were bursting with colors and treasures as we hunted and bartered for deals on wool sweaters, hats, scarves, and other souvenirs. We found small, family-owned restaurants and coffee shops, and had a great time observing daily life in Cusco among the cosmopolitan and ancient flavors of the city.

Merchant stand in Cusco

Merchant stand in Cusco

After growing weary of shopping and walking (at 12,000 ft above sea level, some of us were prone to altitude sickness), we came back to the hostel and napped. We were then briefed about the upcoming adventure and safety precautions for the journey ahead, such as maintaining awareness of our surroundings and not drinking local tap water. We are aware of the dangers of the trip, and none of us want to ruin the experience by being careless or overzealous. We then ate dinner went to bed early, anticipating a long, challenging hike in the morning.

Cusco at dusk

Cusco at dusk

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