Cuzco was once the mountain capital of the Incas. Today it is the tourism capital of Peru, an excellent base from which to explore sites located in the Sacred Valley of the Inca heartland, including Machu Picchu, the “city in the clouds.” The city’s churches and ruins are not to be missed, in particular the ruins of Qorikancha and Sacsaywamán, and the outstanding treasure trove of colonial art that is on display at the Iglesia de San Francisco.
Just east of Cuzco in the sedentary little town of Andahuaylilas lies the Iglesia de San Pedro which contains some of the finest representations of Andean baroque design in the world. Although currently in a state of renovation with extensive scaffolding, the church features amazing frescoes of a blended Catholic and native population, as was true in Lima, where there were pregnant nuns and so forth depicted. The ceiling has an elaborate arrangement of indigenous-influenced motifs that have led this church to be dubbed the “Sistine Chapel of Latin America.”
The Incas developed an extensive network of roads covering about 15,550-18,650 miles (25,000-30,000 km) to connect their wide-ranging empire and send messages across the kingdom. The famous ancient Inca Trail, linking Machu Picchu with the Sacred Valley, is the best-preserved of these roads. It winds through a sumptuous cloud forest, remote Inca ruins and astonishing passes with exuberant views. All hikers must go as part of a group with an agency, accompanied by a licensed guide. The present day trail passes more than 30 Inca sites and takes four days to complete.