Cuzco and the Sacred Valley

Shutterstock/24717739/modestlifeCuzco stands at the head of the Sacred Valley of the Incas and is the jumping-off point for the Inca Trail and famous Inca city of Machu Picchu. It's not surprising, therefore, that this is the prime destination for the vast majority of Peru's visitors. In fact, what was once an ancient Inca capital is now the 'gringo' capital of the entire continent. And it's easy to see why. There are Inca ruins aplenty, as well as fabulous colonial architecture, stunning scenery, great trekking, river rafting and mountain biking, beautiful textiles and other traditional handicrafts - all within easy reach of the nearest cappuccino or comfy hotel room.

The Spaniards transformed the centre of a magnificent Inca civilization into a jewel of colonial achievement. Yet the city today is not some dead monument; its history breathes through the stones. The Quechua people bring the city to life, with a combination of pre-Hispanic and Christian beliefs, and every visitor is made welcome.

Starting your visit to the Cuzco region outside the city has many advantages. Staying a day or two in the valley of the Urubamba river will give you time to acclimatize to the shortage of oxygen at these altitudes. And, as nowhere is very far from the city, you can easily nip into town for any necessities. At Ollantaytambo and Pisac you will see Inca ruins and terraced hillsides without the overlay of the Spanish conquest. Then, when you are fit and ready, you can make your own assault on Cuzco and all its churches, museums, pubs, clubs and shops, not to mention the many festivals that are held throughout the year. If city life is not for you, there is no shortage of adventure. The huge influx of visitors has encouraged the opening of new trails, some for walking, some for biking, the latest hot spot being the 'lost city' of Choquequirao.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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