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Cuzco & the Sacred Valley/Peru

Introducing Cuzco & the Sacred Valley

As the heart of the once mighty Inca empire, the magnetic city of Cuzco heads the list of many a traveler’s itinerary. Each year it draws hundreds of thousands of tourists to its cobbled streets, lured by the city’s unique combination of colonial and religious splendors built on the hefty stone foundations of the Incas. And lying within easy hopping distance of the city is the country’s biggest drawcard of all, the ‘lost’ city of the Incas, Machu Picchu, a lofty Inca citadel perched high on an isolated mountaintop.

The department of Cuzco boasts a long list of flamboyant fiestas and carnivals in which the nation’s proud pagan past collides colorfully with solemn Catholic rituals and modern Latin American mayhem. And in no other place in Peru can you descend from the breath­taking altitudes of Andean peaks down through cloud forests painted with rare orchids to the lush lowlands of the Amazon jungle so quickly – and you can do it while trekking on foot, mountain biking, river running (white-water rafting) or simply hopping on local buses and trucks, which bravely drive into remote corners of the far-reaching department.

Yet you don’t have to go to the ends of the Amazon or the Andes to discover some of South America’s most fascinating archaeological sites, not least of which are those to be found in the Inca’s ancestral homeland in the Sacred Valley of the Río Urubamba, where quaint colonial towns, hectic artisan markets and head-spinning trekking routes also await. Just remember not to overexert yourself during your first few days if you’ve flown in from low altitudes.