Plaza De Armas lies in the heart of the old city of Cusco, Peru. The architecture here is a wonderful mixture of Inca and Spanish Colonial. Most buildings have large stone bases, and stucco walls above. Everywhere, there is a reminder of Peru's past, and its culture. Even grand staircases, such as this one, mimic the terraces of many Incan sites, including Machu Picchu.
The Plaza is a hub of activity, with many people flocking to its fountain, or the two cathedrals facing it. There are also many restaurants that are located along the plaza, but most are over priced and not very authentic. Go a block or two back from the Plaza to find the real culinary delights! This is a good place to start on a visit to Cusco. Most of the main attractions can be accessed from here, and there are numerous taxis ready to take you anywhere you'd like to go! Cusco is a wonderful town, and very accomodating to tourists.
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Friends in far-off places
On a two-week expedition through Peru last April I spent a day in Cusco photographing and talking with the street vendors, who are in great supply here, competing for tourist dollars.
Venancia, a woman from the countryside selling handmade alpaca sweaters, was thrilled that I bought two of her pullovers for 50 soles (about $20) each—her first sale of the morning.
I made friends with one young sidewalk art vendor, who, contrary to most of his peers, didn’t claim to be named Michelangelo or Picasso. His name was Cesar Sotomayer, and he was intrigued that a U.S. Supreme Court Justice shared his surname.
The two charmers photographed—Frank and Luis—convinced me to accept a shoeshine by insisting in Spanish, "Only one minute!" "Pay what you want!" and "Everyone has to eat!"
Having once been married to a former shoeshine boy from the Dominican Republic who used the same truthful line about eating, I consented -- then protested when they tried to charge me twenty-five soles. We shared a laugh and I paid them five soles each. Not bad for a minute’s work.
Peru is rightfully known for Machu Picchu and other marvels of the Incan Empire, its Amazonian jungles, its multi-layered cuisine, and its colonial architecture. Yet it was through the street people of its cities, towns, and villages that I felt as if I had a knowledge of—and connection to—the heartbeat—of the place.
It's hard to predict the weather of Andean afternoons in Cusco, Peru. The skies were capable of rapid change- clouds suddenly split open to allow for cascading bursts of bright light, then just as quickly seal back together to encompass the Plaza de Armas in a somber shade.
This church, on the Southeastern side of the Plaza de Armas, Cusco's town square, is often mistaken for the city's main cathedral, due to its ornate architecture and twin bell towers. With the clouds encircling the spires, it can be a cause for pause for believers and non-believers alike, as it invites the curious traveler to enter. What awaits inside are layers of artistic and architectural influence left by the Spanish conquistadors and intertwined with the native Indo-Andean cultures, creating a unique religious decor as host to Catholic services.
Beware, by the time you re-enter the square the skies will surely have shifted.