Most come to Cusco (also spelled Cusco and Qosqo; population 350,000) en route to Machu Picchu, but to many it is Cusco that leaves them breathless, although maybe thatis from the altitude, which stands at 3,360m/11,000 feet above sea level.
It's a city shrounded in myths and legends, thiught even now to have elements of magic. At night the lights on thesurrounding hillsides resemble stars so much that it can be difficultto tell where the earth ends and the leavens start. It is oneof the most importan tourist destinationsd in the world. Most of Peru's two million annual visitors passs through here. The Incas considered it the navel of the world because it was once a transportation hub for the Incan Empire and connected much of the entire continentand much of modern day tourism revolves around it still. It is the backpacker hub of the Americas, one of the best locations for language schools, an excellent base for hiking,rafting, trips into the jungle, and other adventurous activities. There are a few incredible hotels, fine dining restaurants and charming café, a lively nightlife, immense Incan buit walls, an array of Pre Columbian ruins, and stuning churches built on ancient temples.
Some are turned off by the number of tourist here (particularly in the April-Sep high season), the sometimes aggressive children shining shoes or selling postcards, or the occasional undervalued tour or dinner. But these are minor inconveniences and should't ruin your visit toone of the most beautiful cities on earth.
Cusco temperatures range from 17ºC/69ºF to 2ºC/28ºF. The rainy season ruins from November to March.
(The Sacred Valley of the Incas) is where it all starded. Incan civilization began here when Manco Cápac, as the legend goes, came upon the valley from Lake Titicaca. One of the greatest civilizations the world shad ever seen grew from there. The Sacred Valley is dotted with spectacular Incan and pre-Incan ruins, not to mention the world-renowned site of Machu Picchu and several other lost cities. Other noteworthy archaeological sites are the Pisac terraces and stone structures that stand high on the mountain over looking the city, the colossal fortress at Ollantaytambo, a once-proud military facility, and the peaceful town of Chinchero. Some Incan relics are still in use, shuchas the salt mines at Maras and the many farming terraces that line the mountain sides.
The Rio Urubamba snakes its way through the fertile valley under the usual blue sies, snow-capped mountains, and passin small villages that have changed very little for centuries. The Inca heartland is densely populated. Small pueblos and farms are scattered every where, places where roads still don't reach. It is quiet and mystical. Almost like Tuscany before it went Hollywood.
You can make the valley home to a grueling trek or a rafting trip, or just relax at a spa in a sleepy town like Urubamba. A range of adventure activities are possible here. Each town seems to be a base for sometrek our tour. Hiking is one possibility, but you can also go rafting, fishing, paragliding, climbing, mountain biking, or horseback riding. Finally, at the west end, is cusco, once the Incan capital, and now the tourism capital of the continent. You will find an array of exellent museusm, dining, hoteles, nightlife, shoping,and historical sites. Almost every tourist that visits Peru comes here. In the high season (May-September) it can be crowded and overbooked. The best time to visit is in April/May or October/November.
The city it self, more than 11,000 feet above sea level, is beautiful it has a clean terra cotta quality reminiscent of Italian hill towns. But its essence lies less in its architecture thab in its setting in the valley, the cold mountain sun reflected from its Inca walls and Spanih steeples, in the mute Indians and haughty llamas, in the relentless bells.
Now practically overrun with tourists most of the year, it is still one of the most enchanting places you will see.
Most come for Machu Picchu, but it is this Incan capital and Colonial powerhouse that leaves them more impressed.