Travelers to Peru are often overwhelmed by the sheer number and diversity of things to see and places to visit. Often, due to time or money restrictions, it’s necessary to limit the things you can do. However, it is possible to visit a wide range of sites in a short time without having to travel too far. By using the city of Cusco as a home base, you can have access to a diverse choice of spots to visit.
While Cusco doesn’t have any international air traffic to speak of, there are plenty of affordable flights into town from Lima’s Jorge Chavez Airport. StarPeru Airlines has daily flights, and much more affordable rates than some of the other larger airlines. If you’re flying into Cusco, it is recommended that you prepare by taking medicine to prevent altitude sickness. It also helps to drink mate de coca – a coca leaf infusion – once you arrive.
Of course, the most popular site near Cusco is the Incan fortress of Machu Picchu. While flooding from heavy rains in early 2010 washed out parts of the train track between Cusco and Aguas Calientes (also known as Machu Picchu City), the country has worked quickly to get things back up and running, and are expecting things to be back to normal by June of 2010.
Sacsayhuaman is another impressive archeological site near Cusco. It was used as a fortress, guarding the Incan capital. Many travelers feel that its impressive stone work rivals that of Machu Picchu. Puca Pucara, about 15 minutes outside of Cusco was also part of the city’s defenses, while nearby Qenko is believed to have been a place of mysticism and worship. Qenko features a limestone rock formation with intricate carvings of mythical creatures.
The Sacred Valley, carved over centuries by the Urubamba River, is another popular site near Cusco. Ollantaytambo is one of the more popular sites to visit in the valley, as it is possible to catch the train to Machu Picchu from the station here, and it’s also a common starting place for those hiking the Inca trail. The Sacred Valley features a plethora of activities, from horseback riding and mountain biking to river rafting.
But the area isn’t all about archeology. About 6 hours in car from Cusco, you’ll find the Manu Biosphere Reserve, home to hundreds of species of mammals, reptiles and amphibians. It also houses literally thousands of uncounted species of insects, and over 1000 different species of birds, including Peru’s national bird, the cock-of-the-rock. While the park itself is not open to tourism, there are many lodges that provide all sorts of guided activities in the protected lands around its borders.
If you only have a short time to visit Peru, it’s quite possible to spend a few days at a jungle lodge in Manu and then spend the rest of a week visiting the archeological sites around Cusco. Because you can visit the jungle and the mountains from this one city, you’ll save time and airfare, allowing you to get more out of your trip to Peru.