The Magic of Inca Stones: A Walking Tour 

Dominating the ancient streets of Cusco are dramatic Inca walls, constructed of mammoth granite blocks so exquisitely carved that they fit together without mortar, like jigsaw-puzzle pieces. The Spaniards razed many Inca constructions but built others right on top of the original foundations. (Even hell-bent on destruction, they recognized the value of good engineering.) In many cases, colonial architecture has not stood up nearly as well as the Incas' bold structures, which were designed to withstand the immensity of seismic shifts common in this part of Peru.

Apart from the main attractions detailed in this section, a brief walking tour will take you past some of the finest Inca constructions that remain in the city. East of the Plaza de Armas, Calle Loreto is one of the best-known Inca thoroughfares. The massive wall on the left side, composed of meticulously cut rectangular stones, was once part of the Accllahuasi, or the "House of the Chosen Maidens," the Inca emperor's Virgins of the Sun. This is the oldest surviving Inca wall in Cusco and one of the most distinguished. Northeast of the Plaza de Armas, off Calle Palacio, is Hatunrumiyoc, a cobblestone street lined with impressive walls of polygonal stones. Past the Archbishop's Palace on the right side is the famed 12-angled stone (now appropriated as the symbol of Cuzqueña beer), which is magnificently fitted into the wall. Originally, this wall belonged to the palace of the Inca Roca. This large stone is impressively cut; the Incas almost routinely fitted many-cornered stones (with as many as 32, as seen at Machu Picchu, or even 44 angles) into structures. From Hatunrumiyoc, make your first right down another pedestrian alleyway, Inca Roca; about halfway down on the right side is a series of stones said to form the shape of a puma, including the head, large paws, and tail. It's not all that obvious, so if you see someone else studying the wall, ask him to point out the figure. Siete Culebras (Seven Snakes), the alleyway connecting Plaza Nazarenas to Choquechaca, contains Inca stones that form the foundation of the chapel within the Hotel Monasterio. Other streets with notable Inca foundations are Herrajes, Pasaje Arequipa, and Santa Catalina Angosta. Only a couple genuine Inca portals remain. One is at Choquechaca 339 (the doorway to a recommended hostal, Rumi Punku), and another is at Romeritos 402, near Qoricancha.

Not every impressive stone wall in Cusco is Incan in origin, however. Many are transitional period (post-Conquest) constructions, built by local masons in the service of Spanish bosses. Peter Frost's Exploring Cusco (available in local bookstores) has a good explanation of what to look for to distinguish an original from what amounts to a copy.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.