Peru's inhabitants are mostly of Andean heritage in the highlands and mixed-blood "mestizos" on the coast, blended with a hefty influx of European blood, largely Spanish. A country dotted with vast and varied geography, Peru features 28 types of climates and contains 84 of the 103 ecological zones existing on Earth. Its territory is split into three natural regions running from north to south: the Coast, a narrow swathe of desert coastline, which is home to Lima and most of Peru's main cities; the Highlands, which feature breath-taking mountain landscapes and picturesque villages; and the exuberant Amazon jungle, teeming with a dizzying variety of animals and plants.
Cusco is known as the ‘ archaeological capital of the Americas ’ (Lonely Planet). Nowhere else do you have such easy access to old Inca ruins and the impressive culture of the Incas, as well in the city centre as in the wide surroundings of Cusco. The exciting and dynamic city centre was built by the Spaniards and rests on Incan temples and palaces and is nowadays still as crowded and lively as it was in the heyday of the Inca empire. Relax and enjoy the ambiance at one of the many beautiful squares of Cusco. Visit the traditional Peruvian markets or walk around in the picturesque San Blas district. Furthermore there are several museums telling the history of the Inca culture.
The Sacred Valley, or Vilcamayo to the Incas, traces its astonishingly beautiful course from Pisac down towards Urubamba, Ollantaytambo and eventually Machu Picchu. Located about 30km from Cusco, it is a steep-sided river valley that opens out into a very fertile but narrow alluvial plain. The Incas exploited the valley agriculturally well. The river itself starts in the high Andes south of Cusco and is called the Vilcanota, the same name as the mountain where the river emerges from. From here on down the river is known as the river ‘Río Urubamba’, an energetic and magnificent river which flows right down into the jungle where its merges with other major headwaters of the Amazon.
Machu Picchu is Peru’s most famous tourist attraction. You can’t visit Peru without going to Machu Picchu! This ‘hidden city’ of the Incas, located on a mountain, was explored just in 1911. Machu Picchu is located at 2,430 meters (8,000 ft) and is an UNESCO World Heritage site. The Peruvian state set apart an area of more than 32,000 hectares to protect its ecological niches from 6271m at the high Andean glacial peak of Nevado Salcantay down to the Amazon cloud forest in Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu at less than 2000m. Acting as a bio-corridor between the Andes in the Cusco area, the Sacred Valley and the lowland Amazon forest, the sanctuary possesses over 370 species of birds, 47 mammal species and over 700 butterfly species. Walk the most famous trail of South America to Machu Picchu: the Inca trail!
The surroundings of Cusco offer incredible trekking possibilities. Of course there is the famous Inca trail to Machu Picchu. But there are more trekkings near Cusco: the Salkantay trek and the Inca jungle trek also lead to Machu Picchu. There is a demanding trekking to the ruins of Choquequirao and a beautiful trail around the mountain Ausangate.
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