Is it Cusco or Cuzco?

Monday April 24, 2023 | Destinations | Posted by Team About Cusco

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Is it Cusco or Cuzco?

When travelling in Peru and in Cusco, you might have noticed that sometimes people write ‘Cusco’ with an ‘s’ and other times with a ‘z’ (Cuzco). Where does this difference come from Well, let me tell you a little bit about the history and culture behind the difference so we can see if it is Cusco or Cuzco.

Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire, which was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. The Incas called the city Qusqu (or: Qosqo), which means “navel of the world” in Quechua, the language of the Incas. When they Spanish arrived in the 16th century and they conquered the Inca Empire, they renamed the city: Cuzco (with a “z”).



Now, why the spelling difference? It actually has to do with the Spanish language. In Spanish, the letter ‘z’ is used more frequently than ‘s’ in certain situations. When the letter ‘c’ is followed by the vowels ‘e’ or ‘i’, it sounds like the ‘s’ in ‘sun’, but when it is followed by ‘a’, ‘o’, or ‘u’, it sounds like the ‘k’ in ‘kite’. To represent the ‘s’ sound before ‘e’ or ‘i’, the Spanish language uses the letter ‘z’ instead of ‘s’. That’s why, for the Spaniard, ‘Cuzco” seemed the better option.

Inti Raymi Cusco PeruHowever, the spelling ‘Cusco’ is actually the original Quechua name of the city, and most people in Cusco prefer to use it to honor the city’s indigenous roots. In a way, writing “Cuzco” is recognizing the new, Spanish way. Others use ‘Cuzco’ because it’s the more commonly used spelling in Spanish and reflects the way the city’s name has been spelled for centuries (by the Spaniards and the international community that followed the rules of ‘new world’.

Among academics the word “Cuzco” (with Z) is preferred, since it was the word used by the Spanish colonies, in their attempt for the indigenous people of the time to pronounce the name of the city in this way. Furthermore, many books about Cusco are based on “Cuzco” (with Z) and also the Lonely Planet, for instance, uses Cuzco. It seems that English uses the word “Cuzco” (with Z) more frequently. However, the Google AdWords tool (search tool) makes it clear that “Cusco” with an s is used more often than “Cusco”, not only in the United States but globally.

Cuzco means dogIn terms of who says ‘Cusco’ versus ‘Cuzco’, it really depends on the person and their background. People who are more connected to the city’s Quechua heritage tend to use ‘Cusco’, while those who are more connected to the Spanish-speaking world tend to use ‘Cuzco’. Finally, another reason why the locals don’t prefer Cuzco, because it is known that in the Quechua culture and also in countries like Argentina and Uruguay, the word “Cuzco” means small dog. But ultimately, it’s a matter of personal preference and there’s no right or wrong way to spell it, both are accepted.

So, there you have it! The mystery behind the ‘s’ versus ‘z’ spelling of Cusco/Cuzco. Next time you’re chatting with a local or planning a trip to this amazing city, you can impress everyone with your newfound knowledge.

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