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  • In the southeast of Peru, at more than eleven thousand feet above sea level, lies the city of Cusco.

  • The former capital of the Empire of the Sun is the gateway to the Sacred Valley and the long-lost city of Machu Picchu.

  • Follow in the footsteps of the Incas and venture deep into the mystical Andes to see one of the most glorious places on earth:

  • Machu Picchu, the city in the clouds.

  • The rise of the Inca empire is shrouded in myth.

  • According to local legend, the children of Inti, the sun god, arose from Lake Titicaca.

  • One of these sons, the first Inca ruler founded the sacred city of Cusco.

  • Visit the cradle of one of the greatest civilizations in history and explore the awe-inspiring legacy of the Incas.

  • Their magnificent ruins lie hidden among the city’s 16th-century Spanish colonial buildings.

  • Cusco was originally laid out in the shape of a puma with the Sacsayhuaman fortress for its head.

  • This archeological site offers beautiful vistas and makes a great playground.

  • The present-day Plaza de Armas was the puma’s beating heart, Huacaypata.

  • The Spanish destroyed the Inca palace of Wiracocha and replaced it with a cathedral.

  • Opposite it, on the foundations of yet another Inca palace, they built La Compañia church.

  • The tail of the puma was represented by Qorikancha, the Temple of the Sun’s fabled courtyard.

  • It was the most important Inca temple of all, but the Spanish feared its pagan symbolism and demolished it to make room for Peru’s first Dominican convent.

  • Discover Cusco's captivating layers of history as you climb the winding cobblestone streets.

  • Slow your pace to adjust to the thin air and to the Peruvian way of life.

  • Venture into Hatunrumiyoc Street, which illustrates the astonishing masonry techniques of the Incas.

  • These pre-Columbian masons used interlocking patterns instead of mortar, and stacked the heavy stones with a precision that still baffles engineers today.

  • More than seven centuries, and several earthquakes later, you still can’t get a fingernail in between the cracks.

  • Take a bus trip to the Urubamba Valley, better know as the Sacred Valley, to see how the descendants of the Incas maintain a living presence in Peru.

  • At Urubamba’s colorful market, livestock and crops change hands while mischievous dogs run off with the merchandise.

  • Look out over Peru’s fertile plains and snowcapped mountains during a visit to Chinchero, the mythical birthplace of the rainbow god.

  • From this sleepy Andean village it’s not far to the mysterious Moray Terraces.

  • These structures have great acoustics and natural irrigation and cooling,

  • but their purpose remains unknown.

  • Nearby, the Salt Mines of Maras predate the Inca dynasty by about a thousand years.

  • The hundreds of terraced ponds are part of an intricate evaporation system

  • constructed during the time of the Chanapata, one of Peru’s earliest civilizations.

  • The former nomads established the first farms of the region.

  • In the far corners of the Sacred Valley lies Ollantaytambo.

  • This living Inca city has been inhabited since the 13th century.

  • Climb its towering staircases to a ceremonial temple set in the mountain face.

  • These ruins mark the start of the 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, one of the world’s most rewarding treks.

  • A quicker way to reach the remote Inca city is catching the train to the riverside town of Aguas Calientes and then jumping on a bus, into the misty mountains.

  • Once the clouds evaporate from the mountain ridge above the Sacred Valley, the true splendor of Machu Picchu is finally revealed.

  • It’s a humbling experience to stand at an altitude of nearly 8,000 feet and gaze down at the Inca city below you.

  • Overlooking the glorious ruins, it’s easy to imagine the hive of activity this peak must have been almost 600 years ago.

  • It’s one of the worldsgreatest mysteries what became of the Incas who inhabited Machu Picchu.

  • What was once a major bastion in the largest empire on Earth, was slowly swallowed by the jungle, only to be uncovered a century ago.

  • The Inca dynasty has come and gone, but Incan descendants still survive in the highlands.

  • These modern-day Children of the Sun still speak Quechua and continue to live off the land, although many come to Cusco to sell their crops and alpaca-woolen textiles.

  • After dusk, when the story of the Incas becomes a whisper in the night, Cusco is covered under a starry blanket.

  • A backdrop so gorgeous that it deserves to be preserved for eternity.

In the southeast of Peru, at more than eleven thousand feet above sea level, lies the city of Cusco.

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