Culturally and historically, Cusco is one of the most impressive cities in the Americas. Inca walls merge distinctively with Spanish architecture. Glorious, towering churches share real estate with fine restaurants. Foreign travelers mix with local residents in an international mélange of people. And a dash of cosmopolitanism brings it all together, enchanting millions of visitors every year.
Many centuries ago, Cusco was the heart of the Inca Empire, the most powerful civilization on the South American continent. At its height, the mighty empire stretched over present-day Peru, reaching into Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, and southern Colombia. Spanish conquistadores arrived in 1534. They destroyed much of what they found, including ornate palaces and temples, and they established their own settlement upon the ruins. Today, these hundreds of years of history are on display in the outdoor museum that is Cusco.
A journey through the “Heart of the Inca” traces the rise and fall of the Inca civilization, culminating with a visit to Machu Picchu. By way of introduction, a Cusco City tour familiarizes travelers with the pre- and post-Conquest history of the Inca Empire. The adventure continues through the Sacred Valley, the spiritual homeland of the Inca and the setting for sites such as the famous Pisac Market and the spectacular ruins of Ollantaytambo.
The last leg, by train, follows the path of the Urubamba River, taking travelers from the mountain landscapes of Cusco and the Sacred Valley to the Andean cloud forests that surround the Machu Picchu citadel. Shrouded in clouds of mist and perched high atop a mountain, this mysterious site was never found by gold-hungry Spaniards. Its remote location saved Machu Picchu from destruction and today is a paramount example of Inca architectural ingenuity, earning the citadel designation as one of the New Seven World Wonders. Alive with ancient mysteries, Machu Picchu, Cusco, and the Sacred Valley are magical destinations for a Peru vacation.