Cusco is seen as the archaeological capital of the Americas and is the oldest continuously inhabited city on the continent. UNESCO named it a Cultural Treasure of Humanity. It is located in the Valley of the Huatanay River in Peru's south eastern Andes, in the province and department of Cusco. It stands 3,310m high above sea level and its more than 150,000 inhabitants are mainly Ouechua-speaking Indian.
The climate is generally mild, cold and dry, with an average annual temperature of 11°C. The rainy season runs from November to March. Visitors are advised to bring along warm cloth and raincoats during the rainy season.
Because of the altitude, visitors may initially feel some discomfort and should slow their pace the first 24 hours. If you fly into Cusco try not to drink alcohol and smoke too much the first evening after arrival. You will adjust much faster.
Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire, one of the greatest planned societies the world has known. It is an important link in the South American travel network.
Most of the city streets are lined with Inca-built stonewalls and the city is remarkable for its many colonial churches. The Inca stonework is serving now also as foundation for more modern buildings. The stonework is tapered upwards and every wall has a perfect line of inclination towards the centre. The individual stones are battered with each edge and corner rounded.
The Santo Domingo Church was built in 17th century on the walls of the Temple of Qorincancha – The Temple of the Sun - the most magnificent complex in Cusco. Its walls were covered in gold, and windows were constructed, so the sun would cast a near-blinding reflection of golden light off the precious metals inside. Current excavation is revealing more and more of the five chambers of the Temple of the Sun, which shows the best Inca stonework to be seen in Cusco.
More very good impression of Inca stonework you get, if you go to Callejón Loreto. There you have on one side the walls of the House of the Women of the Sun and on the other the walls of the Palace of the Serpents. The Temples of the Stars and of the Moon are still intact.
The heart of the city is and always was the Plaza de Armas, which is particularly beautiful. Colonial arcades and four churches, one of them the Cathedral, surround it. There are three outstanding churches in Cusco: La Merced, San Francisco, and Belén de los Reyes. All of them in walking distance. Churches are full of marvellous works from the Cusco school of painting, distinguished by its mix of Catholic and pagan imagery.
There are numerous exquisite museums in the city! The Museum of Archaeology is only one of them.
From Cusco as a base you can visit many ancient Inca settlements and fortresses in the most beautiful surrounding area and adjoining valleys.
The best known of these fortresses is Sacsayhuamán, a bold example of Inca architectural skills. Constructed from massive stone – including one that weights 125 tons in one piece – this military complex is overlooking the city of Cusco. Inti Raymi, the Inca feast of the winter solstice, is celebrated every year on 24. June.
You can carry on 7km from Sacsayhuamán to Qenko, an Inca shrine with architectural features that include a 5-meter (18ft) high stone block that looks like a puma.
Further along the road to Pisac is a smaller fortress, Puca Pucara, believed to have guarded the road and the Sacred Valley. From there the road drops down on a curvy road into the Sacred Valley of the Urubamba River and to Pisac.
Pisac is a friendly fishing village known for its fishing, Sunday market and the ruins above the town. The stones in Pisac´s ruins are smaller than the ones in Sacsayhuamán, but the precision with which they are cut and fit, will amaze you, as well the beautiful view.
Ollantaytambo is the great fortress 72 km (45 miles) from Cusco.
What is a must at your stay in the Cusco and Sacred Valley area is Machu Picchu, about 42km by train from Ollantaytambo or 112km from Cusco.