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One of the most renowned and spectacular architectural sites on the planet, Machu Picchu is simply awe-inspiring. This incredible ancient Incan city perches atop the Andes at 2430 metres above sea level. A UNESCO World Heritage Site in the sky, what’s often called ‘The Lost City of the Incas’ is an absolute must for all visitors to Peru. If you’re planning an extended stay in the area, then the nearby city of Cusco is the perfect spot to set up camp between this towering world of the ancients and the here and now .
Cusco — As well as being a UNESCO World Heritage site itself, Cusco was once also the capital of the Inca Empire. Still a thriving hub today, Cusco is a blaze of colourful traditional crafts and textiles, and a wonderful place to stay in its own right. Cusco delivers all this and the Sacred Valley of the Incas right on your doorstep.
Wayna Picchu — This imposingly steep mountain may already be familiar to you from pictures of Machu Picchu. Towering over the ruins, the mountain might seem almost insurmountable from the base, but a narrow set of stone stairs will take those daring enough to the top. The walk itself is a beautiful trek, but the view once you reach the summit is simply out of this world, with its bird’s eye view down on to Machu Picchu and the endless mountainscape beyond.
Inti Punku, the Sun Gate — If you head in to Machu Picchu along the Inca Trail your arrival at the Sun Gate marks the threshold of the ancient city. As well as affording fabulous views into the valleys, for those of you up early enough and able to hike fast enough, you might even make it in time for sunrise. If so you will witness a truly splendid scene as the sun rises over the mountain to shine through the gate.
Temple of the Sun — This incredible centrepiece of the city is a true wonder. Unlike the rest of the city’s stonework, which is functional but unspectacular in itself, the detailed masonry at the Temple of the Sun is incredible. Meticulously cut bricks fit together perfectly demonstrating the staggering technical prowess of the ancient masons.
Machu Picchu is itself one endless sight to behold, and having made it this far you’ll not want to miss a thing. But as you head away, don’t overlook the many sights to take in back at Cusco. This beautiful city boasts incredible colonial architecture that frequently sits atop walls that have stood since the time of the Inca Empire. What’s more, Cusco is a lively city, with a thriving nightlife buzzing along the ancient city streets.
If you’re keen to sift through an array of traditional crafts and produce, the main market in Cusco is a colourful swirl of stalls and traders. Once you’ve exhausted yourself there, then perhaps head next door to the Plaza de San Francisco, where you can set yourself up with a great cup of local coffee at one of the many cafes there. If you’re a runner and you’re really keen to test your mettle then you should certainly see how you get on south or east of the plaza. These are great running routes, and the thin air at high altitude will really put you through your paces.