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While the Incas used Cusco as the center of their empire, which stretched from Ecuador to Argentina, modern-day tourists now use this ancient city as a hub for excursions in and around the Sacred Valley. While there are many awe-inspiring destinations to visit around Cusco, you would be breaking an unsaid law if you came to Peru and didn’t make a quick stop at the astounding Machu Picchu. It’s a beautiful city located high up in the Andes with an interesting blend of indigenous and Spanish heritage, the true heartland of the Incas.
Cusco is the heart of the Sacred Valley of the Incas and the gateway to Machu Picchu, yet it has many contrasts: Spanish colonial buildings on Inca foundations or Quechua women in traditional attire standing next to high-end boutiques. So many tourists visit Cusco that you’re sure to find some creature comforts while still being immersed in Spanish and Inca culture. Cusco is South America’s oldest continually-inhabited city, being the seat of the Incan government and then used by the Spanish to help conquer the rest of its new empire. Machu Picchu is only 46 miles away, but Cusco deserves its own itinerary in order to understand more about one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Start your city tour at the Plaza de Armas, and explore the cathedral. From there, you can go down Loreto alleyway and see the Inca walls flanking the passage. Nearby Qorikancha shows off exquisite Inca stonework that makes up the base of Santo Domingo church and convent. Try some Peruvian chocolate at the Choco Museum and nearby shops or learn about the Incan worldview at the Cusco Planetarium. After dark, take another stroll around the Plaza de Armas to enjoy all the lights or get up close and personal with locals and tourists alike showing off their dance moves at Ukuku’s nightclub.
Of course, the top attraction around Cusco is Machu Picchu. There is no end to the tours and packages available to see this architectural wonder. Since popularity has gone up in recent years, it can be challenging to sift through the barrage of options. Be sure to shop around extensively to find an affordable excursion that also caters to your needs. You might want to spend more than one day going up and down these mountains, exploring more about these ancient ruins, especially with an average of 2,500 visitors from May to September. Though it might take some effort, it is definitely worth the trip to see these 200 structures up close and especially to see the view from one of the site’s neighboring peaks.
Despite the Spanish trying to completely conquer any remnant of Inca culture, the buildings and local Quechua (Inca) people not only have survived, but seem to defy the conquista. The Inca boulders under many colonial structures have stood the test of time, and Cusco offers a welcoming hand to any visitor wanting to understand and appreciate its rich culture and intricate history.