Plaza de Armas (The Heart of Cusco)Resting in the highlands and fed by two rivers, Cusco Peru is known as the ancient capital of the Incas. Walking through the city streets, it's as if you've traveled back through time to a place much different than anything you can remember. But there isn’t a place in the city quite so historical and mesmerizing as the main square. Known as the heart of Cusco, the bustling Plaza de Armas is the epicenter that we will be examining in more detail.
The location of Plaza de Armas correlates roughly to the ceremonial Huacapata, or the Incas central plaza. It is an ideal location to go to get your bearings in Cusco. A highlight in every city tour, any local will be able to point you in the right direction. If you opt out of a tour, it's also easy to find on any tourist map. Furthermore, even if it wasn’t the easiest place to find in town, this historic spot would be worth quite a long journey to see.
When you arrive you can take a walk under the Portal de Panes, the covered brick pavement that goes all the way around the square. It is a beautiful spot, many of the restaurants having a second story all supported by pillars. You can take you time, walking around the plaza under the safety of the old columned roofs, and peruse the menus for dining options. It is an ideal place to go if you are hungry. In fact, there are many bars and restaurant to choose from, so many that it could at first be overwhelming. However, there are always servers standing outside with a smile, eager to tell you all about their options. In fact, if they could drag you into their respective restaurants, they probably would. While Plaza de Armas isn’t the cheapest place to eat in the city, you will definitely have your pick of exquisite meals and decadent local cocktails.
Aside from the modern amenities you can enjoy, there are of course the historic draws of the Plaza. A main attraction for tourists is the old Cathedral, located in the Plaza on the foundations of the Inca Viracocha Palace. The cathedral is massive, but beautiful rather than intimidating. Anywhere you sit in the Plaza, you can see this grand old building towering over you like a monument from the past. Built in the shape of a Latin cross back in 1560, the Spanish and Peruvian influence is striking. There are two entrances to the Church, the grand main doors on the front. The second and more commonly used is through the Triunfo Chapel, the very first church to be built by the Spanish in Cusco.
Another similar draw of the Plaza is the Temple de la Compania de Jesus. If you are standing in the center of the Plaza and looking downwards, it takes up much of the skyline. The building was first constructed over the foundations of Huayna Capac’s Palace of the serpents, in the late 1570’s. However, it was mostly destroyed by an Earthquake in 1650 and was rebuilt about 15 years later. When you enter, you can see the gold leaf altar, and as you further explore you will see wonderful oil paintings, guilded altarpieces, and majestic towers. The cool dim interior of the church is definitely worth a visit.
Aside from the attractions in the main square itself, there are many things to see and do just outside of the Plaza. If you look up, you will see the ruins of Sacsayhuaman, and the commanding Christo Blanco. An amazing sight from the plaza, it’s even more magnificent close up. Any traveler will surely want to get pictures of it from far off, as well as from within.
The outskirts and side-streets surrounding the Plaza are also full of shops, locals peddling their wares, restaurants, and museums. For example, the Museo Inka North of the cathedral, located just a bit uphill. Or the Museo de Historia natural, next to La compania. These are ideal locations to stop and learn some more in depth history after you have visited Plaza de Armas, and a great place to pick up some souvenirs.
The main square really is the historical lifeblood of the city, a beautiful fusion of past and present. At the moment dressed up in glowing blue lights for Christmas, Plaza de Armas is a must see for every traveler visiting Cusco.