About Cusco – Machu Picchu!
Lush beauty and rich culture—the Inca Empire thrived here in Peru, and remnants of its past can be found throughout the mountains as houses, agricultural terraces, and temples. The knowledge and precision of the Incas still baffles historians and engineers today. How they constructed their buildings without draft animals, iron or steel tools, or the wheel is a mystery for the ages—a mystery in which Peru invites you entangle yourself.
Through these jagged, verdant mountains wanders the Inca Trail and rests Peru’s most famous attraction: Machu Picchu. Meaning “Old Mountain” in Quechua, the Inca site is impossible to see from below, which kept it from prying eyes for nearly 400 years. Hidden on a mountain ridge above The Sacred Valley, the ruins are often blanketed by morning clouds until the sun lifts them for another day. Sometimes, these cloud forests remain all day, the mist in the canopy creating a refuge for a diversity of Peruvian wildlife. Hummingbirds, orchids, and mountain toucans might be glimpsed along the trails near Machu Picchu. With stones carved and placed so precisely that even a knife blade cannot fit between them, the structures of Machu Picchu have withstood the test of time and still baffle the minds of everyone who encounters them. Nestled on two fault lines, even earthquakes have been unable to shake the Inca’s white granite walls, which stand proudly between two mountain peaks.
The UNESCO World Heritage site’s original use is still unclear, which lends the craggy city an air of mystery and wonder. Visitors step through the mist and meander through different city sections, which include a residential district, an agricultural area, a royal zone, and a spiritual area. With the thick growth of the cloud forest enshrouding the city, the ancient trails leading to Machu Picchu have been veiled, but every now and then, guests glimpse paths that disappear into the growth, leading to places still possibly undiscovered. The remoteness and mystery of this magical city always seem to ask, “Are you coming?”
At the base of Machu Picchu sits the small town of Aguas Calientes. Built into the hillside and surrounded by trees, the rest stop is perfect for travelers returning from Machu Picchu and offers an abundance of food to satisfy bellies that are hungry after a day of exploring. The town is colorful and bustling with alleys that wind in and out, but visitors looking for a chance to unwind are invited to the hot springs which gave the town its name. The naturally cloudy waters warm tired muscles before their guests meander back to the city and continue exploring, or turn in for a night of well-earned, restful sleep.
Southern Peru’s beauty certainly doesn’t stop there. Send your gaze to the sky and hope to spot the massive shadow of an Andean Condor. Believed by the Incas to be messengers from heaven, the spotting of the dark bird against an azure sky is now a sign of good fortune for travelers. The Inca Trail is no stranger to wildlife, and visitors may spot anything from a native, endangered bird to the famous Andean alpacas as the trail wanders back toward the historic Inca capital of Cusco. Whether catching a scenic train through the Andes at Ollantaytambo, or stopping in Urubamba for some adventure, there is always something more to intrigue.
With the beautiful, snow-capped mountain of Ch’iqun as its backdrop, Urubamba offers journeyers the chance to explore Peru in a completely different way. Vistas from this city overlook The Sacred Valley, where the foothills of the mountains twine together. Vibrant markets boast fresh, local produce and handmade artisanal crafts. Agricultural terraces, where Incas researched and developed breeds of plants that could thrive in different locations of their empire are sculpted out of the hillsides. Meandering around waterfalls, across ridges, and through the valley floor are many equestrian trails, but visitors are often also seen zipping above the valley for a bird’s-eye view of the lush, fertile land below.
Not far from Urubamba is Pisac, a village that historians believe was built to defend the southern entrance to The Sacred Valley. Home to four areas of Inca ruins, Pisac’s hillsides served agricultural, military, and even spiritual purposes. The Temple of the Sun in Pisac is also near several altars, fountains, baths and platforms. Also calling the spiritual area home is the famous Intihuatana rock, which many believe the Incas used to mark the change of the seasons. In the modern part of the village is an open-air market with stalls spilling down into the streets and offering the best local handiwork you can find alongside the top-tier ceramic work for which Pisac is famous. The markets are full of cultural intrigue as even the indigenous peoples bring their colorful work to display.
While scenic train rides through the Andes eventually lead you to Peru’s La Valle Sagrada — The Sacred Valley — and all the beauty within, a city lies not far from la valle, and was once an Inca metropolis. In the historic capital of the Inca Empire is now modern Cusco, where a Sun Temple, glittering and completely covered in gold, once stood. The puma in Inca mythology was an animal representing power, and Cusco, the old capital, was the heart of the empire’s strength. Now a sprawling city, the old walls of Cusco formed the shape of a puma, and though the shape has been lost, intact Inca walls dazzle visitors with the magic of what once was.
The city is now a bustling, eclectic mixture of Spanish and Inca architecture, while many nearby historic areas, such as Sacsayhuaman, wow guests with famous Inca walls. The massive stone walls of Sacsayhuaman form the head of the puma of Cusco, the only part of the impressive outline that clearly remains. From the hill where these stones sit is the most impressive view of Cusco, which slopes into a small valley, fertile, green, and teeming with life and excitement.
The Inca Trail through La Valle Sagrada is beautiful, breathtaking, and unforgettable. Lose yourself in the magic of Peru.