Welcome to the belly button of the world. The undisputed archaeological capital of the Americas, Cuzco is the continent’s oldest continuously inhabited city and the gateway to Machu Picchu. Cosmopolitan Cuzco (also Cusco, or Qosq’o in Quechua) thrives with a measure of contradiction. Ornate cathedrals squat over Inca temples, massage hawkers ply the narrow cobblestone passages, a rural Andean woman feeds bottled water to her pet llama while the finest boutiques sell pricey alpaca knits.
Visitors to the Inca capital get a glimpse of the richest heritage of any South American city. Married to 21st-century hustle, Cuzco can be a bit disconcerting (note the McDonald's set in Inca stones). Soaring rents on the Plaza de Armas and in trendy San Blas are increasingly pushing locals to the margins. Foreign guests undoubtedly have the run of the roost, so showing respect toward today’s incarnation of this powerhouse culture is imperative.