Cuzco

Machu Picchu © Brian Snelson
Cuzco is the sacred capital of the Inca Empire, known to the early Incas as the 'navel of the world'. It's the oldest continuously inhabited city in South America, and the gateway to the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu. The city is filled with the Inca legacy, evident in the straight cobbled streets lined with the remains of exquisite stone walls built by the Incas, examples of ancient stonework incorporated into the structure of colonial churches and buildings, and the Quechua-speaking descendants of the Incas that fill the streets with their bright dress and colourful handicrafts.

It is one of South America's biggest tourist destinations with a thriving traditional culture, ancient ruins, archaeological treasures, and magnificent colonial architecture. Chief among its attractions are the Inca Trail (culminating at the magnificent hidden city of Machu Picchu), the villages and archaeological ruins in the nearby Sacred Valley, and the Inca fortress of Sacsayhuamán overlooking the imperial city.

Despite its popularity, Cuzco remains relatively unspoiled and its beautiful setting in the Andean mountains, at an altitude of 11,000ft (3,400m), is guaranteed to leave visitors breathless. Cobbled streets run steeply up the hills and are lined with quaint whitewashed houses; steps are bordered by craft stalls watched over by traditionally dressed indigenous women; and elevated church bell towers offer fantastic views over the red-tiled roofs.

The heart of the city is the stately Plaza de Armas, dominated by the cathedral and framed by colonial arcades and wooden balconies that house souvenir shops, restaurants, bars and tour agencies. Flying over the Spanish colonial structures around the plaza is the Peruvian national flag together with the rainbow-coloured flag of the Inca Empire, emphasizing the unique blend of the ancient, colonial and modern that characterises the spectacular city of Cuzco.






Attractions

Coricancha Inca Ruins, Peru © Håkan Svensson

Coricancha Inca Ruins

Coricancha is a Quechua word meaning 'Golden Courtyard', but the Inca stonework is all that remains of the ancient Temple of the Sun, which was once the most important temple in the Inca Empire, dedicated primarily to Inti, the Sun God. The walls...  see full details



Church of la Compañía de Jesus, Cusco, Peru © D. Gordon E. Robertson

Plaza de Armas

The graceful main square of Cusco, the Plaza de Armas, is lined with colonial-style covered walkways and houses that contain souvenir shops, restaurants, bars, and travel agencies. The large cathedral is the most prominent structure overlooking the square and is adjoined to a church...  see full details



Sacsayhuaman, Peru © Leon Petrosyan

Sacsayhuamán

Of the four ruins near Cusco, Sacsayhuamán is the closest and the most remarkable. Its proximity to Cusco and the dimensions of its stones caused it to be used as a quarry by the Spanish conquistadors, providing building material for their colonial buildings in...  see full details



Excursions


Ayacucho

Located high in the mountains of the Southern Sierra, Ayacucho (also called Huamanga) has been closed off to the rest of the world for much of the last two decades. In the 1980s, a terrorist group known as Sendero Luminoso (The Shining Path)...  see full details

Machu Picchu

The ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is regarded as the most significant archaeological site in South America and one of the finest examples of landscape architecture in the world. Nestled high in the towering Andes, on a saddle between two peaks, is...  see full details

The Sacred Valley (Urubamba River Valley)

Known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas, this fertile valley of breathtaking beauty stretches between the villages of Pisac and Ollantaytambo. It is coursed by the winding Urubamba River, watched over by ancient Inca ruins perched high on the hilltops above, and sprinkled...  see full details