Cusco, Cuzco, Qosqo
Cusco is the gateway city for those visiting Machu Picchu. The city is the most important tourist destination in Peru. Cusco is located in southeastern Peru at an elevation of around 3400 meters. It is reached by a short flight from Lima. Cusco was the site of the historic capital of the Inca Empire and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. The new settlers destroyed many Inca buildings, temples and palaces and used the remaining walls and stones as bases for the construction of the new city. This historic city has a spiritual aura about itself and is worth exploring for a couple of full days.
It is important to take it easy at first when you arrive here. You must give your body time to acclimate to the altitude and the lack of oxygen. It is advised to drink lots of water, avoid alcoholic drinks and heavy meals. Hotels and restaurants will offer you some Coca tea. It is good for you and will help you fight any Soroche (altitude sickness). Raw Coca leaves, chewed or consumed as tea, are rich in nutritional properties and have many traditional medical uses in the Andes. Coca also plays a vital role in the religious vision of the Andean peoples. Chewing the leaves or drinking Coca tea does not produce the same effects that people experience with cocaine. I took a flight to Cusco from Arequipa where I had a chance to acclimate for several days at a lower elevation of about 2,335 meters. In addition to visiting Machu Picchu, I would recommend signing up for a day tour of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. That day trip will take you to some other towns suchs as Pisac and Ollantaytambo. It will give you a well rounded perspective of life in the Andes.
Sacsahuayman – Inca engineering at its finest
The Sacsahuayman ruins sit on a hill above the city of Cusco at an altitude of 3701 meters. The complex is believed to have played a religious as well as a military role. The stones are so closely spaced that a single piece of paper will not fit between many of the stones. The interlocking stones and the way the walls lean inward, have helped the ruins survive earthquakes in Cusco. The Spanish settlers used Sacsayhuaman as a source of stones for building the new city. The site was destroyed block-by-block to build new government and religious buildings in the city. Only the largest stones that were too difficult to move remain. Pope John Paul II visited the site in 1985. Today, Cusqueños celebrate Inti Raymi, the annual Inca festival of the winter solstice in the month of June.
Machu Picchu – the Lost City of the Incas
The Perurail Vistadome train is the most convenient way to reach Machu Picchu. The train cars have large glass panoramic windows which offer amazing scenic views. The train ride crosses the Sacred Valley and sometimes runs parallel to the Urubamba river. You will be able to see the Nevado de Salkantay which is one of the highest peaks in the region with elevation of 6,271 meters. You will need to make the train reservations online and pick up the tickets in person in Cusco. You can find more information here PeruRail.
Machu Picchu sits on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru. The ruins are located 80 kilometers northwest of Cusco. The purpose of the complex has been researched extensively. Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor around the year 1450. Machu Picchu was unknown to the outside world before being announced in 1911 by the American historian Hiram Bingham. The ruins were known locally before then and many others have come forward claiming to have discovered the city first. In 2007 Machu Picchu was designated as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. The site suffers from the pressures of too many tourists. UNESCO is considering putting Machu Picchu on its List of World Heritage in Danger.