The Incas referred to Cusco as the ‘Navel of the World’, as it was one of the most important centres of their empire, and still today is the key gateway to the numerous Inca sites leading towards the spectacular Machu Picchu. Whilst it remains Peru’s starting point for visitors who wish to discover more of Peru’s rich highland culture and archaeological history, the city itself is a charming network of narrow streets that is wonderfully relaxing to spend a few days exploring at your own pace. Colonial mansions with their intricate courtyards and balconies now house pretty boutique hotels or museums, many of which were built on the foundations of former Inca palaces and temples. Take any street fanning out from the central Plaza de Armas and this will lead you into smaller squares and streets lined with artisan shops and galleries. And if you are travelling as a family, instead of traipsing around temples and churches, head instead to a wonderful Chocolate Museum to learn more about Peru’s excellent quality cacao beans and make some chocolates of your own to take home - if they last that long!
Heading only a short drive outside of the city brings you to some incredible Inca sites such as the fortress of Sacsayhuaman, with its towering vast blocks of stone, perfectly interlocking and also the site of the summer solstice festival of Inti Raymi in late June, a spectacle of colour that brings huge crowds to Cusco. As you follow the Urubamba River slowly downhill towards the lower altitudes of the sub-tropical zone that leads to Machu Picchu, you arrive in the Sacred Valley.
The fact that this area is lower than Cusco makes it a perfect first stop in the region, as well as being a touch closer to the stunning citadel of Machu Picchu, one of those famous sites that you simply can’t miss – trust us, it is worth it, even when its busy! As you acclimatise to the altitude more gently here in the Sacred Valley, you have a choice of some really delightful country style lodges, private villas and hotels to choose from for a wonderful start to your journey in southern Peru. Haggle for multicoloured textile cloths and the softest alpaca wool garments at Pisac and Chinchero, and explore small rural communities and farms on foot or on horseback – or even by bicycle. Families looking for thrills and spills to keep everyone entertained should try white-water-rafting, lake kayaking, para-gliding or tours by ATV and everyone will enjoy haggling for vivid coloured textiles and souvenirs or checking out the exotic local produce being bartered for by the locals and one of the small markets here.
Cusco and the Sacred Valley are simply not to be missed from your fantastic discovery of Peru, so call us to discuss a bespoke itinerary designed exactly around your personal requirements, selecting just the right places to stay.