Peru by photographer J.R. Duran:

an excursion to Cusco and Arequipa


Used to shooting models and celebrities, the Catalan photographer who resides in Brazil changes focus and guides us on a poetic trip through the history-filled streets in these two Peruvian cities. The video above was based on his trip


Standing over what’s left of the Temple of the Sun (or Qorikancha, in Quechua), in Cusco, I stroke the smooth and curvy surface of the dark stones that insist on resisting. The black granite, which was once covered in gold, is evocative of an empire that spread through the Andes, from Chile to Colombia, and lasted for centuries. And it also calls up the day when, legend has it, the empire succumbed to the troops led by Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, who had a force of just 168 men, a cannon and 27 horses.

Little is left of the temple, whose walls Pizarro ordered torn down. The church and monastery of Santo Domingo were built over their ruins. Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire and, at the time of the Spanish colonization, it was the biggest city in Latin America. Hiram Bingham, the man who discovered Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas, in the 20th century, believed it was one of the most interesting places in the world.



Stones of Cusco

Almost all the streets in Cusco lead to Plaza de Armas, located in the city center. The cathedral and the church of Compañía de Jesús stand out in the locale. The façade of the latter is so elaborate that, even though it’s smaller, it’s more imposing than the other. But it’s the structure of Sacsayhuaman, located atop a hill, that dominates the city. Here, like on Easter Island and at the pyramids in Egypt, you ask yourself: how did they move stones this size? And, while the question is obvious, there’s no correct answer. Because no one knows how it was possible, just like no one knows exactly what this place was.

The Spanish thought it was a fortress. One of the guides says it was a temple dedicated to the Sun. The Incas were obsessed with the star: they were afraid it would disappear, harming the prosperity of their agricultural system. For this reason, Machu Picchu had a stone, intihuatana, that tied the Sun to the Earth. To this day, on the summer solstice, a party is held in the locale. Standing there are several terraces in a zigzag, built on giant stones. These days, tourists are dwarfed by the size of the structure.



The house owned by celebrated chef Gastón Acurio offers a contemporary rereading of classic Peruvian cuisine.
Plaza Regocijo, 261

Belmond Hotel Monasterio
This luxurious hotel is installed in a building dating from 1592 which was once a monastery and today is a national monument.
Calle Palacio, 140

Templo del Sol 
A site that’s home to Inca ruins.
Plazoleta de Santo Domingo s/n

Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesus
Built by Jesuit priests in the 16th century, it’s a lovely example of Baroque architecture.
Plaza de Armas

Located on the outskirts of Cusco, this fortress is one of the most important archaeological sites in the region.

Mountains in Arequipa

Three volcanoes surround the city: Chachani, Pichu Pichu and Misti. The latter can be seen from Plaza de Armas on sunny days with blue skies (something that requires a certain benevolence from fate). The stones that were used to build the city come from there, the foot of the volcanoes. The solidified lava is known as sillar, an easy-to-cut stone that supports the region’s oldest structures.

The Santa Catalina Monastery is one of them. It’s a city inside Arequipa. Its 65,600-foot [20,000 m] structure is surrounded by a 13-foot [4 m] tall wall, containing streets, houses, small plazas, trees and fountains. Located outside the city center, Casa Museo Mario Vargas Llosa is the house where the winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature was born.

The restaurant Zig Zag is another place where tradition, comfort and Andean cuisine come together. There you can try a delicious dish of fresh asparagus au gratin with Parmesan cheese. The surrounding streets, straight, flat, with 90-degree corners, reflect the Spanish colonial architecture. The house façades are bright-colored, due to the sillar, but the street stones are dark, creating a surprising contrast. Here, life goes by holding hands with the past.



Zig Zag
Installed in a colonial house with a tavern atmosphere, this restaurant has good meat options served on a volcanic stone platter.
Calle Zela 210-212

Casa Andina Private Collection
This picturesque mansion, a few blocks from Plaza de Armas, has rooms that boast a view of a charming internal patio.
Plazoleta Limacpampa Chico, 473

Monasterio de Santa Catalina
Visitors can explore this convent and its “citadel” on their own.
Santa Catalina, 301

Casa Museo Mario Vargas Llosa
The life and work of the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature are registered at the house where he was born.
Avenida Parra, 101


J.R. Duran

One of the main names in fashion photography in Brazil, J.R. Duran (Barcelona, 1952) has been living in the country since the 1970s. He works for the magazine Vogue; has been a contributor for Playboy, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle, among other publications; is editor at Rev.Nacional; and has published six photography books, in addition to three novels: Lisboa (2002), Santos (2006) and Cidades sem Sombras (2013).


Photos: J.R. Duran