10 Extraordinary Facts About Cuzco, Peru You Probably Didn’t Know
Cuzco is one of the most important cities in Peru. Not only is Cuzco closely related to the Inca empire—one of the most important pre-Columbian civilizations in the Americas alongside the Maya and the Aztecs—but it is also the oldest city on the entire American continent.
The Inca founded the city in the 13th century, and Spanish conqueror Francisco Pizarro re-founded it on March 23rd, 1534—making the city almost 5 centuries old.
Keep reading ahead and join me as I explore 10 of the most interesting facts about the city of Cuzco.
FUN FACT: La Real Academia Española (The Royal Spanish Academy) RAE admits writing Cuzco and Cusco. Peruvians prefer to write Cusco, while the rest of the Spanish speakers prefer to write Cuzco.
Where Is Cuzco?
The city of Cuzco is in the middle of the department of the same name. Located in Southeastern Peru, it is 685 miles away from Peru’s capital Lima. To get from Lima to the department of Cuzco you can either take a 1-hour plane ride or a 19-hour car drive.
The colonial city of Cuzco has an area of 148 sq mi (385 sq km), which Peruvian authorities foresee that by the end of the year it will be home to 512,000 inhabitants
Cuzco’s weather is cold, ranging from 32°F (0°C) to 66°F (19°C) all year round. This is because of Cuzco’s altitude of 11,151 feet (3,399 meters) above sea level.
1. Cuzco “The Belly Button of the World”
Peru is in the middle of the world, south to Ecuador and south to the Equator, where the Southern hemisphere begins. Cuzco is more or less located in the middle of Peru, so you would think that’s why the city acquired its nickname, “The belly button of the world” (El ombligo del mundo), but there’s more to that story.
According to an Inca legend, the first Inca was born in the Titicaca lake, in a place called the Island of the Sun between Peru and Bolivia. The god of the Sun guided them to establish a civilization which they called Qosqo in Quechua, meaning “The belly button of the world.”
2. Cuzco Resembles a Cougar
However, the Inca didn’t get this by chance as they designed Cuzco carefully. The head and heart of the animal are key points of the city because cougars were supreme animals for the Inca.
The head is on a hill where you can see the rest of Cuzco, and also where the Inca built Sacsayhuamán—a fortress or citadel in the outskirts of Cuzco.
In the cougar’s heart, the Inca built the Kiswar Kancha (place of Kiswars, Kiswar is a local bush). Spaniards built the main square (La plaza de armas) and you can see the Cathedral of Cuzco (La Basílica Catedral de Cuzco) and the sacred Family’s temple (El templo de la Sagrada Familia).
3. Cuzqueños Have Bulls on Top of Their Houses
Cuzqueños (people from Cuzco) seem to be superstitious people. When visiting the city, you will come across houses with little ornaments on top of them. The ones that they repeat the most are two bulls and a cross.
Peruvians call these the Pucará bulls (Los toros de Pucará) because craftsmen in Pucará craft the little animals. Cuzqueños and Peruvians in general, place the Pucará bulls on top of their houses because they want to attract good luck and prosperity for the inhabitants of the house.
4. Cuzco Is Close to the Peruvian ”Capital of Bread”
Did you know that the Inca used to eat potatoes, fruit, and fish? Europeans were responsible for introducing wheat (and the bread culture) into the Americas.
15 miles (25 km) away from Cuzco lies Oropesa, a town that owes its name to a Spanish viceroy who established it. Oropesa is the Peruvian capital of bread because more than 80% of its inhabitants are bakers! In Oropesa you’ll be able to try hurones, chutas, molletes and rejillas, a part of the Peruvian bakery.
If you want to get to Oropesa from Cuzco you can take a public bus which should charge you around 1 USD (3 soles) for the 45-minute trip.
5. Cuzco Has a Black Christ and a White Christ
Spaniards took Catholicism to the Americas when they discovered them, no wonder why you can find so many Cathedrals and churches in Latin American cities. Philip II of Spain ordered the building of a Christ with more indigenous features to convert the Inca into Christianity, so they would feel more identified with Him.
Peruvians called the black Christ “the Lord of the good death” (El Señor de la buena muerte) but in 1650 an earthquake in Cuzco killed more than 5,000 people, and when Cuzqueños made a procession with the black Christ the replicas of the earthquake stopped, giving Him the nickname of “the Lord of the earthquakes” (El Señor de los temblores).
Cuzqueños make a procession with the black Christ every Holy Monday. They put a local red flower called ñucchu, because its center has the shape of a cross, which represents the Passion of Christ. Some Cuzqueños throw ñucchu as the procession goes by in front of them.
On the other hand, 3 miles away (5 km) from Cuzco, you can spot the image of the white Christ (El Cristo blanco). Francisco Olazo Allende built the statue, which is 26-foot (8-meter) tall, in 1945, and resembles Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro.
FUN FACT: Esquipulas, a town in Guatemala, also has a black Christ.
6. Bus Lines in Cuzco Have Peculiar Names
Cuzco has 27 bus lines for public transportation, however, unlike many cities, they are not numbered, but have very peculiar names instead. Some of the best ones are:
|Illary Qosqo||Illary Qosqo|
|Inka Express||El inka express|
|Road Runner||El correcaminos|
|The Fox Express||El expreso el Zorro|
|Tupac Amaru||Tupac Amaru|
Imagine cuzqueños saying: Sí, yo me voy en el batman al trabajo (Yes, I ride the batman to work).
FUN FACT: Tupac Amaru was the last emperor of the Inca empire.
7. The Mystical Number 7 in Cuzco
Cuzco has 7 streets that start with the number seven:
|Seven figureheads||Siete mascarones|
|Seven little angels||Siete angelitos|
|Seven little devils||Siete diablitos|
|Seven little lambs||Siete borreguitos|
|Seven paddocks||Siete cuartones|
|Seven snakes||Siete culebras|
|Seven windows||Siete ventanas|
While it isn’t clear if this happened with the Spanish influence or because of the Inca, the number 7 is very important in the Quechua culture because of the seven metaphysical beings.
|Apu Inti||the Sun|
|Apus||hills and mountains|
|Chakana||the constellation of the Southern Cross|
|Illa Teqsi Wiraqocha||the creator of the universe|
|Mama Killa||the Moon|
|Pachakamaq||the creator of the energy|
8. Cuzco’s Flag Has 7 Colors
Up until June 9th 1978 Cuzco had a maroon flag with a coat of arms in front. However that day things changed when the City of Cuzco accepted the new flag. Mario Cutimbo Hinojosa submitted the idea and they accepted it, after 5 years before a radio show had hosted a competition to design a flag.
Cuzco’s flag has 7 colors: red, orange, yellow, green, light blue, blue, and purple. Some people claimed that it was the flag of the Inca empire, but the Inca did not wave flags. However, Cusco’s flag is related to wiphalas (which means banner in Aymara) and they have seven colors.
In 2021 the City of Cuzco added the coat of arms of cuzco (El Sol de Echenique) in front of the flag.
9. Cuzco Is the Archaeological Capital of the Americas
To be fair, maybe you did know this fact. But do you know why they call Cuzco the archaeological capital of the Americas? Hint: it’s not only because of Machu Picchu.
In Cuzco you can find amazing things that the Inca empire left, starting with Qorikancha, a temple that Inca dedicated to the Sun and Spanish conquerors turned into a convent. Qorikancha is two blocks away from the main square.
Afterward, you can visit the legendary Sacsayhuamán, the Inca fortress that they built with 10-ton stones, 1 mile away (2 km) of Cuzco.
If you travel around 24 miles (40 km) off Cuzco you can find Moray. In this archaeological site, you can see an experimentation zone that Inca used to make experiments with different microclimates in crops. They were able to simulate up to 20 different microclimates. If you visit Moray in October you can witness the Moray Raymi, a fest dedicated to the Sun.
10. Cuzco Has (At Least) 10 Traditional Dishes
Peruvian cuisine has expanded rapidly all over the world in the last 20 years. Peruvian ceviche is one of the best things that there are, but in Cuzco, cuzqueños prefer to prepare ten different dishes that they consider their own.
|Baked guinea pig||Cuy horneado|
|Bramble legs||Zarza de patitas|
|Chairo||Choclo con queso|
|Chiri Uchu||Chiri Uchu|
|Corn with cheese||Choclo con queso|
|Fried trout||Trucha frita|
|Mushroom kapchi||Kapchi de setas|
|Pork rind||Chicharrón cuzqueño|
|Quinoa soup||Sopa de quinua|
|Roasted pig||Lechón al horno|
Chiri Uchu is the most traditional plate of Cuzco. Cuzqueños use white corn, cheese, guinea pig, hen, dried meat, jerky, cochayuyo, fish eggs and rocoto. However, any of the other dishes are very cuzqueños as well, and when visiting Cuzco, you should give (at least) one of them a try!
Visit Cuzco Speaking Spanish
Cuzco is a beautiful place and, hopefully, visiting it turned into a must for you. Checking out Rainbow Mountain, the Nazca lines or the Huacachina desert are also great ideas if you’re strolling through Peru.
Not all Peruvians speak English, though, and that’s why you can benefit from learning Spanish before your travels to any other country in Latin America.
After your free class, you can also get the package that best fits your needs, with flexible schedules, live instruction, and earned high school credit!
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