Cosmopolitan Inca capital, Cuzco (also Cusco, or Qosq’o in Quechua) today thrives with a measure of contradiction. Ornate cathedrals squat over Inca temples, massage hawkers ply the narrow cobblestone streets, a woman in traditional skirt and bowler offers bottled water to a pet llama while the finest boutiques sell alpaca knits for small fortunes. The foremost city of the Inca Empire is now the undisputed archaeological capital of the Americas, as well as the continent’s oldest continuously inhabited city. Few travelers to Peru will skip visiting this premier South American destination, also the gateway to Machu Picchu.
Visitors to Cuzco get a glimpse of the richest heritage of any South American city. Married to 21st century hustle, at times it’s a bit disconcerting (note the KFC and McDonald's behind the Inca stones). As rent soars on the Plaza de Armas and in trendy San Blas, locals are increasingly pushed 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.