Tips from the Publisher: Visit Cusco
By Michael Spring
A visit to Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas, high up in the Peruvian Andes, is an unforgettable experience. And it's sooo accessible today! Fly nonstop to Lima, catch a connecting flight to Cusco, take a scenic train ride--one of the most spectacular I've ever taken--to the base of the mountain, hop a bus waiting for you, and you're there. But I want to talk today about Cusco, which is itself as wonderful a destination as Machu Picchu, and definitely worth a few days of your time. The new Frommer's Peru guide gives Cusco three stars (out of three) and calls it "the storied capital of the Inca dynasty and gateway to the imperial city of Machu Picchu." I hate travel hyperbole, but I've been to Cusco, and it really is one of the most extraordinary cities on the planet. It's one of those rare places--like Bali or Kathmandu--that seems able to preserve its unique character and enduring appeal despite its prominence on the international tourism scene. Stately and historic, it's built up on stone streets and foundations laid by the Incas more than five centuries ago. It's also the handicraft center of Peru, its streets teeming with merchants and their extraordinary hand-woven textiles. And an interesting note: Cusco is actually higher than Machu Picchu, though most think otherwise. It sits at a daunting altitude of 3,400m (11,000 ft), and the air is noticeably thinner than in almost any South American city. It's best to arrive and spend 1-3 days here getting used to the thin air before tackling Machu Picchu itself. More on that, soon enough.