For most visitors Peru’s main attractions are Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley (Valle Sagrado de los Incas), and Cusco. Machu Picchu is the most popular tourist destination in all of South America. Visitors come to witness the archeological record at Machu Picchu, at the fortress of Ollantaytambo, in the Incan metropolis of Cusco, and at hundreds of other sites. The image of Machu Picchu is inseparable from the name Peru. Most visitors carry this icon in their imaginations, and arrive to compare and confront the reality. It is an anticipation that never disappoints.
Machu Picchu seemingly materialized from thin air in 1911 when Hiram Bingham “discovered” it hidden under densely overgrown jungle, abandoned and forgotten by its citizens. It is a tale of the adventure of exploration and discovery. The city’s mystique is tied to the sudden conquest of the vast Inca Empire by the invading Spanish Conquistadors. Today Machu Picchu’s history is being re-interpreted, and visitors can witness the past coming to light. Researchers including archeologists, anthropologists, historians, architects, and environmentalists are marveling at the city’s perfect integration of architecture with geography. The dramatic terrain and lush vegetation of the Sacred Valley is another attraction for the intrepid traveler, offering outdoor thrills and adventures. Hiking the Inca Trail into Machu Picchu is a most authentic way to arrive, and to explore the exotic landscape. It’s an experience that many hikers dream of. The towering Andes Mountains have an appeal beyond the archeological sites and ancient civilizations. The jungles, cloud forests and alpine ecologies attract adrenaline addicts looking for mountaineering experiences, white water rafting and kayaking thrills, and jungle tours. A tour through Cusco and the Sacred Valley is also a journey through a range of climates. At the heights along the plateau in Cusco it is a chilly, arid alpine desert. Travelling down from the Andes, and descending the Sacred Valley, is a trip into a moist tropical cloud forest. Most journeys into the Sacred Valley begin in Cusco. The Inca Empire grew to fullness once the capital was established at Cusco, and the city remains the most visual record of the empire’s downfall. The Conquistadors stripped the Inca palaces and temples of gold and then set to work eradicating the culture, demolishing the monumental buildings. This proved too big of a job even for these determined conquerors. Incan stone masonry defeated the invaders efforts, and the foundations of the major monumental buildings of Cusco were left standing to serve as the foundations of the new Spanish structures: the cathedral, the church, governor’s palace are all built on top of Inca stonework. Peru has many other attractions: Lima’s urban charms, and this guide covers Lima in detail, the great beaches, the Amazon jungle, etc, but Machu Picchu, the Scared Valley and Cusco outshine them all. Everything you need to know is here: how to get around, what to see and do, the history and culture, where to stay, where to eat, and more.