Gateway to Machu Picchu, Cusco was the ancient centre of the Inca civilisation

Written By Charukesi Ramadurai

The word “navel-gazing” takes on a new meaning in the small town of Cusco in Peru. The town’s name Qosq’o in the local Quechua language means “navel of the world”. To the ancient Inca civilisation, this was indeed the centre of their universe, their political and administrative hub for over two centuries from the 13th century on.

It is also the oldest continuously inhabited city in South America. According to a UNESCO World Heritage report on Cusco, it represents the sum of 3,000 years of indigenous and autonomous cultural development in the Peruvian southern Andes. As I explore Cusco on foot, this much is evident. And I could understand why a few days earlier, a contact at the local tourism board in Lima had said, “Cusco has a special energy, you will feel it as soon as you walk in the city.”

Cusco is popular among tourists as the main gateway city to Machu Picchu, but in my eyes, it has enough to recommend it as a destination in itself. It has a languid European charm about it, with its cobblestone lanes, baroque cathedrals and, above all, open-air plazas buzzing with activity through the day and late into the night.

Yet, it is undoubtedly Andean in its culture, visible mainly in the Quechua women in their traditional costume of colourful skirts and bowling hats on the streets. Some of the younger ones have babies tucked inside colourful, handwoven shawls tied to their backs. They lead llamas on a rope, with baby lambs tucked under their arms, posing for photos for tourists in exchange of tips.

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