With flights to the high Andean city of Cusco, this Peruvian locale is not only a gateway to explore the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas, but is also a UNESCO World Heritage site in its own right. Considered the archaeological capital of the Americas, Cusco was also once the centre of the Incan empire.
Cusco is a city where the modern lifestyle is intertwined with its past. High Incan walls line cobblestone paths and modern foundations, and colonial edifices are juxtaposed against the indigenous Quechua population, descendants of the Incas, in colourful traditional dress. A must-see is Qorikancha at Plazoleta Santo Domingo. Translated as 'Court of Gold', the Incan stonework was a dazzling gold-plated temple built to honour the sun. The site is now a colonial church and museum with admission for 10 soles. A steep 25-minute walk from Plaza de Armas finds the Incan ruins of Sacsayhuamán with huge stone blocks that are masterful in their creation and astounding in size. Towering over Cusco, Sacsayhuamán is thought to have been a religious site.
Back in town, the Cathedral in Plaza de Armas is one of Cusco's grand colonial edifices built in 1550. Within the Cathedral, built with stone from Sacsayhuamán, is a solid silver altar and the largest bell in South America. The religious site is also renowned for its Christian and secular art dating from colonial times - entry is 25 soles. Also of note is the Museo de Arte Precolombino at Plazoleta Nazarenas. Admission is 25 soles to view pre-Colombian ceramics, carvings and jewellery in Casa Cabrera, a 16th-century former convent. The pieces date from the 13th to 16th centuries and are sourced from a variety of indigenous cultures.
With so much to see and explore in Cusco, it's recommended to stay at least four days to visit all the sights, or longer if you plan to combine the city with Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas and adjust to the altitude. Several airlines fly daily from Lima to Cusco, or it's a 17- to 23-hour bus ride from Lima.