Cusco & Machu Picchu Vacation Travel Guide | Expedia

In the southeast of Peru, at more than eleven thousand feet above sea
level, lies the city of Cusco. The former capital of the Empire of the Sun is the gateway to the Sacred Valley and the
long-lost city of Machu Picchu. Follow in the footsteps of the Incas and venture
deep into the mystical Andes to see one of the most glorious places on
earth: Machu Picchu, the city in the clouds. The rise of the Inca empire is shrouded in
myth. According to local legend, the children of
Inti the sun god, arose from Lake Titicaca. One of these sons,
the first Inca ruler, founded the sacred city of Cusco. Visit the cradle of one of the greatest civilizations
in history and explore the awe-inspiring legacy of the
Incas. Their magnificent ruins lie hidden among the
city’s 16th-century Spanish colonial buildings. Cusco was originally laid out in the shape
of a puma, with the Sacsayhuaman fortress for its head. This archeological site offers beautiful vistas
and makes a great playground. The present-day Plaza de Armas was the puma’s
beating heart, Huacaypata. The Spanish destroyed the Inca
palace of Wiracocha and replaced it with a cathedral. Opposite it, on the foundations of yet another
Inca palace, they built La Compañia church. The tail of the puma was represented by Qorikancha, the Temple of the Sun’s fabled courtyard.
It was the most important Inca temple of all, but the Spanish feared its pagan symbolism
and demolished it to make room for Peru’s first Dominican
convent. Discover Cusco’s captivating layers of history
as you climb the winding cobblestone streets. Slow your pace to adjust to the thin air and
to the Peruvian way of life. Venture into Hatunrumiyoc Street, which illustrates the astonishing masonry
techniques of the Incas. These pre-Columbian masons used interlocking patterns
instead of mortar, and stacked the heavy stones with a precision
that still baffles engineers today. More than seven centuries, and several earthquakes
later, you still can’t get a fingernail in between
the cracks. Take a bus trip to the Urubamba Valley, better
know as the Sacred Valley, to see how the descendants of the Incas maintain
a living presence in Peru. At Urubamba’s colorful market, livestock and crops change hands while mischievous
dogs run off with the merchandise. Look out over Peru’s fertile plains and
snowcapped mountains during a visit to Chinchero, the mythical birthplace of the rainbow god. From this sleepy Andean village it’s not
far to the mysterious Moray Terraces. These structures have great acoustics and
natural irrigation and cooling, but their purpose remains unknown. Nearby, the Salt Mines of Maras predate the
Inca dynasty by about a thousand years. The hundreds of terraced ponds are part of
an intricate evaporation system constructed during the time of the Chanapata,
one of Peru’s earliest civilizations. The former nomads established the first farms
of the region. In the far corners of the Sacred Valley lies
Ollantaytambo. This living Inca city has been inhabited since
the 13th century. Climb its towering staircases to a ceremonial
temple set in the mountain face. These ruins mark the start of the 4-day Inca
Trail to Machu Picchu, one of the world’s most rewarding treks. A quicker way to reach the remote Inca city
is catching the train to the riverside town of Aguas Calientes and
then jumping on a bus, into the misty mountains. Once the clouds evaporate from the mountain
ridge above the Sacred Valley, the true splendor of Machu Picchu is finally
revealed. It’s a humbling experience to stand at an
altitude of nearly 8,000 feet and gaze down at the Inca city below you.
Overlooking the glorious ruins, it’s easy to imagine the hive of activity
this peak must have been almost 600 years ago. It’s one of the worlds’ greatest mysteries
what became of the Incas who inhabited Machu Picchu. What was once a major bastion in the largest
empire on Earth, was slowly swallowed by the jungle, only to
be uncovered a century ago. The Inca dynasty has come and gone, but Incan descendants still survive in the
highlands. These modern-day Children of the Sun still
speak Quechua and continue to live off the land, although many come to Cusco to sell their
crops and alpaca-woolen textiles. After dusk, when the story of the Incas becomes
a whisper in the night, Cusco is covered under a starry blanket. A backdrop so gorgeous that it deserves to
be preserved for eternity.

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