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Cusco and the Sacred Valley - a five-day itinerary for a first-time visitor

Cusco and the Sacred Valley - a five-day itinerary for a first-time visitor
Inti Raymi festival at Sacsayhuaman

Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, is Peru's top visitor destination. Around two million foreign visitors travel to this part of South America annually, with numbers steadily growing year on year. Aside from nearby Machu Picchu, the jewel in Peru's tourist crown by some considerable margin, there are enough historic and cultural attractions in the Cusco area to keep visitors occupied for weeks.

Cusco, with its colonial architecture set around characterful squares, warrants a whole trip in itself. The historic city is centred on the bustling Plaza de Armas. The imposing cathedral and its tiny neighbour, the Iglesia del Triunfo, face off against the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus, built by the Jesuits to rival their Catholic counterpart. The most important temple of the Inca Empire, Koricancha, occupies a prime location on Avenida El Sol, just a short walk from the plaza. Neighbourhoods such as San Blas, with steep cobbled streets packed with cafes, bars and galleries, have much to delight tourists. Higher still, exploring the Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman, with its enormous blocks of stone and impressive Inca engineering, is a must on every visitor's itinerary.

But that's not all. Cusco is a short drive away from the Sacred Valley, crammed full of Inca archaeological sites amidst stunning highland scenery. The agricultural terraces and storehouses of Ollantaytambo offer a fascinating glimpse into the everyday life of the Incas. The valley is settled and farmed to this day and the bustling markets at Pisac and Chinchero draw thousands seeking the perfect souvenir to take home.

Therein lies the problem: there's so much to see that careful planning is essential. Knowing what to leave out and what not to miss is crucial to making the best of your time here. Lesser known attractions such as the circular terraces of the Inca’s agricultural laboratory at Moray or the incredible salt pans, the Salineras de Maras, are often overlooked as the tour buses hurtle past on their way to the big attractions.

That's where this guide comes in. The author has visited Cusco and the Sacred Valley on numerous occasions spanning a period of twenty years. This tailor-made itinerary explains how to dodge the crowds and see the best of the area without relying on expensive tours. It offers recommendations for accommodation options to suit all tastes and budgets as well as detailing the best places to eat. Day by day plans with clear maps and photographs make navigating on foot and by public transport simple, giving you the confidence to step out on your own.

Julia Hammond's Travel Profile

Author: Julia Hammond

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This itinerary was last updated on:
29 Dec 2014


Related Cities: Cuzco

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