This colorful, bustling city is the starting point for most Machu Picchu adventures. The narrow cobbled streets and ancient buildings offer numerous sightseeing opportunities, and the many bars and restaurants offer a wide variety of food and drink. Some of the restaurants include dinner theater type venues that are highly recommended. The local performers are dressed in their finest native apparel and entertain the diners with a wide array of dancing and local music. The nearby ruin of Sacsayhuaman is a pleasant hike or short taxi ride from the town square. This ancient fortress was constructed with gigantic boulders that were chiseled by hand, and the perfect joinery has survived centuries of earthquakes and severe weather. The Spaniards added their own style when they conquered the Incas, and a grand old Catholic church dominates the town square. Cusco is also the home of many adventure travel companies, and is a great place to book a whitewater, mountain biking, trekking or climbing adventure.
The Sacred Valley
The great valley of the Urubamba lies between Cusco and Machu Picchu, and can be easily visited on the way, or as a day trip from Cusco. The mighty river has carved a deep gorge near Machu Picchu, but the open valley upstream is filled with ancient ruins and interesting villages. The ruins of Pisac and Ollantaytambo are magnificent, and not nearly as crowded as Machu Picchu, and the Quechua village of Chinchero is also very interesting. Pisac has a splendid weekly market, and is a pleasant place to spend a day. Market days may vary, so check before you go.
Aquas Calientes and Machu Picchu
Aquas Calientes is Spanish for hot waters, and a pleasant hot spring is one of the main attractions of this remote village that lies in the bottom of a very deep canyon. It is the base camp for Machu Picchu, and is a bustling resort with a large variety of cheap to luxury hotels and dozens of bars and restaurants. There is also a pleasant campground about a mile downstream. The great ruins are about 1.5 hours away for a strong hiker, and bus service is very frequent. The main attraction is very popular in high season, so it is good to arrive early. Rushing to Huayna Picchu first, and then hiking slowly back can be a very good tactic to avoid crowds. The narrow canyon does not have a road, so it is necessary to take the train at least part of the way. The train is slow but very scenic, and one good choice is to take the train from Cusco on the way in, and then stop at Ollantaytambo on the way back. This will allow a visit to the Sacred Valley, and road travel back to Cusco is easily obtained. Train reservations should be made in advance. Trekking the Inca trail is a fabulous way to see the great ruins, but guides and permits are necessary.
The Rest of the Country
Peru is an incredible destination for adventure travelers. The Cordillera Blanca and Huayhuash are among the most spectacular mountain ranges in the world, and the deep canyons of the Colca and Cotahuasi offer fabulous whitewater or trekking experiences. The miles of rugged coast will challenge any surfer, and the Amazon jungle is a world of its own.