San Blas in Cusco
San Blas is one of the most popular neighborhoods in Cusco. It is famous for its narrow and picturesque streets. Also for its handicraft shops where the best master craftsmen in the city were established. And finally for something mysterious that attracts the ‘backpackers’, tourists who are looking for some tranquility and positive energy. You get to this place by walking 5 minutes from the Main Square.
All about San Blas in Cusco
What is San Blas?
San Blas is a neighborhood in Cusco famous for its handicraft shops and picturesque streets. In Inca times, the main Inca palaces and temples were located there. During the colony, these buildings were replaced by Christian churches and colonial houses. A few years ago, the best artisans in the city settled there, such as the Olave, Mérida, Hilaria Mendivil families and more. Today, this neighborhood is a kind of ‘bohemian place’ where artists, ‘backpackers’ and people looking to relax and get to know the city a little more meet.
The San Blas neighborhood is located less than 1 kilometer from the main square of Cusco. You get there by following a slope that crosses Hatun Rumiyoc Street (walk of only 10 minutes, approximately).
Map to get to San Blas
During Inca times, the set of palaces and temples in the San Blas neighborhood had the name of T’oqokachi, which means ‘Salt Cave’. The place was of the esteem of the Inca because from there you had a privileged view of the city. Also because, due to its location on a slope, spring water was abundant in that place. That is why the emperor Pachacutec (1418 – 1471) had a temple built there in honor of the lightning (the temple of Illapa). In addition, he requested that his mortal remains be mummified and kept in that place.
When the Spanish arrived in Cusco and subdued the Incas (mid-16th century), the Inca palaces and temples were destroyed to impose the Christian churches and colonial houses. The neighborhood was renamed ‘San Blas’ in honor of the Christian martyr Blas de Sebate (¿? – 316 AD) executed by the Roman Empire. Then, the temple of ‘Illapa’ became the ‘Church of San Blas’. On the foundations of the Sinchi Roca palace they built the archiepiscopal palace (where currently the famous ‘Stone of the 12 angles’ stands out).
During the Republic of Peru, in the San Blas neighborhood the workshops of different skilled artisans in painting, sculpture, ceramics and more settled. The years reserved a prestige for the Mérida, Olave and Mendivil families of artisans. Currently, this neighborhood is a place where adventurous tourists and ‘backpackers’ meet and where it is possible to buy good quality crafts. It is known as the ‘bohemian neighborhood of Cusco’, where you can visit the ‘Temple of San Blas’, the ‘Stone of the 12 angles’ and other tourist attractions.
The 12 angle stone
The 12-angle stone is part of the solid walls of the ancient palace of the Inca Sinchi Roca (today on its walls is the Archbishop’s Palace and the Museum of Religious Art). Its popularity is due to its immense size and polished shape at twelve angles that fit perfectly with the surrounding stones. It is located on Hatun Rumiyoc Street, which leads directly to San Blas square. In Peru it is considered as Cultural Heritage of the Nation. Many tourists come there and take pictures for free.
The slope of San Blas
This slope is a famous street in Cusco, which leads to the square and church of San Blas. It is popular for its narrow and stone stairways, which resembles the Inca style. You get there by going straight down Hatun Rumiyoc Street. Craft shops, restaurants, cafes and lodges abound on both sides of the street. Due to its steep elevation, to cross this street, it is necessary to advance slowly. It is an ideal place to take good pictures of the city.
Gallery of the Hilario Mendivil family
Hilario Mendívil Velasco (1927 – 1977) was a craftsman from Cusco recognized for the manufacture of saints and virgins with elongated necks. His gallery and museum workshop is located right in the square of San Blas. There the tourist will be able to appreciate a sample with his works as well as pictures of the history of this family dedicated to crafts. For his work of imagery he received the National Cultural Award as well as the National Craft Award. Today, his children continue his legacy.
Workshop and gallery of the Mérida family
Edilberto Mérida Rodríguez (1927 – 2009) was an outstanding Cusco artist, renowned sculptor and carver whose grotesque figures (with huge hands and feet) received several national and international awards. His workshop and gallery are located a few steps from the square of San Blas. There it is possible to appreciate some of his works, which mainly cover the religious theme. Some of his works are also exhibited in the Congress of the Republic of Peru. Currently her daughter continues the tradition inherited by her family.
Olave Family Crafts
Antonio Olave (1928 – 2016) was one of the most important Cusco artisans of the 20th century. Some of his most important works are the so-called “Niños manuelitos”, which are ceramic representations of the baby Jesus whose tender faces adorn the births of Cusco families. His workshop and museum is near the San Blas square. There it is also possible to see his most representative work: ‘El niño de la espina’, which is also made with glass eyes, mirror peeling, condor feather teeth, natural hair, glass tears and more details.
The square of San Blas
The main center of the San Blas neighborhood is its square, which was built during the colony on the ruins of the ‘ Arrayan-pata ‘, which delimited the ancient Inca city. On one side is the church. To another, it is full of handicraft shops where the workshops of the Olave, Mérida and Hilario Mendívil family stand out. In front, there is the ‘paqcha’ or pool of water. In this square tourists, Cusco citizens and, above all, ‘backpackers’ visitors of different nationalities meet.
The church of San Blas
The church of San Blas is famous for being the first Catholic temple built in the Inca city of Cusco. It was built on the ruins of the Inca temple dedicated to lightning, the ‘Temple of Illapa’ (the god of thunder). Unlike other churches in the city, this one is simple, made of adobe and reinforced with stone after the 1650 earthquake. Its main attraction is its pulpit, which is carved from high-quality cedar. The church also features paintings from the famous ‘Cusco School’. It is one of the most historic temples in the city.
San Blas in pictures
In the tourist field, the San Blas neighborhood is known as ‘The balcony of Cusco’, due to its location at the top of the city center. From there you have a privileged view of the ancient Inca capital.
There are not many tours that include a tour of this neighborhood. One option is to hire a private guide and suggest visiting San Blas. However, the way most visitors get to know its streets is by walking on their own.
According to some chronicles, the mummy of the famous emperor Pachacutec was buried in the temple of San Blas. Later it is presumed that she was taken to the city of Lima and remains buried under the San Andrés hospital. However, other researchers suggest that the mummy of the greatest Inca emperor would be hidden in Machu Picchu.
Tips for your visit
San Blas are not only narrow streets where you can find famous crafts. There are also restaurants and hotels of great prestige there. For example, the‘Restaurant Pachapapa’, the ‘Chakruna Native Burgers’, the ‘Granja Heidi’ or the ‘Green Point Restaurants’. The most famous lodgings of the place are: the ‘Hotel Ruinas’, the ‘Casa San Blas Hotel Boutique’, the ‘Antigua Casona San Blas’ and others.
The San Blas neighborhood has a similar climate to that of the city of Cusco, with sunny days (with maximum temperatures of 23ºC.) And cold nights (with minimum temperatures of 4ºC.). If you go in the morning, bring only a jacket as well as a hat, sunscreen and comfortable shoes. At night, don’t forget to bring a sweater, gloves or a scarf with you.
Altitude sickness is a natural disease when visiting Cusco. This is due to the mountainous geography where the oxygen level is low. Do not worry that the symptoms (generally fatigue and nausea) tend to disappear on their own within a few days of adapting to the city. A good alternative to reduce symptoms is to drink ‘mate de coca’ (an infusion made from the coca leaf, the sacred plant of the Incas).