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5. Cusco & the Sacred Valley
Find Your Comfort Zone

The base camp for Machu Picchu and one-time capital of the Inca Empire is today’s Kathmandu of Peru—a nexus of outfitters packed with great cheap eateries, five-star hotels, and open-air vendors crowding the narrow cobbled lanes (hawking alpaca sweaters instead of prayer flags). The altitude here (11,500 feet) dictates a go-slow strategy for gradual acclimation, so take a few days to explore locally. Just above the city sits the Inca fortress of Sacsahuaman, an eerie architectural wonder built with stones weighing hundreds of thousands of pounds each. About 11 miles northeast of Cusco, the terraced village of Pisac becomes a vast indigenous market on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, where Quechua-speaking locals sell woven hats to the tune of panpipe music. The Sacred Valley of the Inca merits a day to ogle more mind-blowing ruins, notably the massive pink granite complex at Ollantaytambo, and is just 32 miles away, accessible by train, bus, or cab.

Vitals: Cusco is reachable by daily flights from Lima. Overnight at the budget Amazon Hostal (doubles from $36; or relax at the comfortable Midori Hotel (doubles from $90, including airport transfer;

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  • The World Heritage sites of Caral, near Lima and Chan Chan near Trujillo, are likely to be accompani…
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  • I would like to remind readers that rapid ascend can lead to altitude sickness. Taking diamox (usual…
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