Location: Southeast of Perú.
Area: 72 104 km2.
Capital: Cusco (3399 masl)
Altitude: Minimum: 532 masl (Pilcopata)
Maximum: 4801 masl (Suyckutambi)
Inca walls, colorful costumes, churches built on top of palaces, citadels lost in the Andean heights, legendary roads -all the beauty of a glorious past that enfolds the visitor who arrives in Cuzco, the sacred city of the Incas and archaeological capital of the Americas. Ever since US archaeologist Hiram Bingham discovered the citadel of Machu Pichu for the world, Cuzco has fired the imagination of thousands of travelers from all over the world who venture down the Inca Trail every year headed for the summit of one of the world's most extraordinary monuments.
The city of Cuzco, however, features many other attractions which by themselves would be enough to attract visitors: the main square, which the Incas called Huacaypata, the artisans quarter of San Blas, the Convent of Santo Domingo, built on top of the Temple of the Sun or Korikancha, the palaces of the Inca and his court, part of a long list of archaeological wonders.
There are also several circuits on the outskirts of town, which usually include the imposing ruins of Sacsayhuaman or Tambomachay. Visitors can also take part in all kinds of adventure sports and participate in the most spectacular religious festivals on the continent. Celebrations include Qoyllur Rit´i, which is held at 4,000 meters, the Corpus Christi procession and the famous Inti Raymi spectacle.
With its bustling nightlife, Cuzco is also a magical city of dizzying excitement. Together with its rich archaeological legacy which is to be found on practically every street corner, its cultural scene makes the sacred city of the Incas the most spectacular destination in the Americas.
Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu
Historical Sanctuary of Machu Picchu
People arrive at the Sanctuary either by train or helicopter and then take the buses that leave every 30 minutes from Aguas Calientes, travelling 5 miles (8 km.) (about 30 minutes), up a steep road with many switchbacks. For those who can spend more time and would like to visit first the Sacred Valley, they can travel from Cusco to Ollantaytambo by road (via Pisac or Chinchero) and later on by train up to the station of Puente Ruinas.
Regarding trekking, there is an important Inca Trail in South America that allows people to walk along portions of the Inca road network, passing through several archaeological sites. Furthermore, people have the chance to enjoy excellent landscapes and observe a large variety of flora and fauna. All this before they arrive to the spectacular citadel of Machu Picchu.
This is an approximately 25-mile (40 km.) walk. The climbing starts at kilometer 88, where people arrive from Cusco by train. It is advisable to do the walk in 4 days and 3 nights and preferably in the company of other people; people should not leave the marked routes. There are special camping zones.
Flora and Fauna
The original builders of Machu Picchu worked hard to obtain an architectural balance in a special and difficult place. They even used materials found nearby to adapt the buildings to several levels. There are two large sections: the agricultural sector on the south and the urban sector on the north. Both have been constructed on top of a natural division, taking advantage of the existence of a dry pit, the result of a geologic fault.
The Inca Trail leads to the south section and divides it in two before arriving at the main entrance of the citadel. On one side of the mountain there are irrigation terraces of different types and sizes stretching horizontally along the mountain. Those on the upper zones of the entrance road were for agricultural purposes because they had flying stairs and were wider, compared to the lower terraces that prevented erosions caused by rain. There is only one water channel that goes to the section; apparently some straw-roofed rooms found there were used as storehouses (collpas).
This tower can be found before the main gate and consists of a building with three walls and windows. From this place, one can see the urban and agricultural sectors as well as the surroundings, an ideal spot for picture taking.
Upper cemetery and ritual rock
Archaeologists have found burials containing human remains around the area. They also found stones drilled from the upper part possibly used for ceremonial offerings. There is a granite ritual rock, carved with steps.
This is a whole "U"-shaped citadel. It has two series of buildings next to each side of the square or Chaupipata, which lies on a north-south axis. In the urban sector there are lots of temples, groups of rooms and workshops. The most remarkable buildings are described as follows.
Temple of the Sun
Formed by a series of buildings dominating the whole citadel, the temple has a semicircular shape and is located on top of a solid rock with a natural curve 34.4-ft.(10.5 m.) long. Blocks of finely worked stone have been used for this wall. In this building there are two trapezoidal windows with bulges on the corners. Towards the north wing, there is a door with perforated jambs. To the west of the temple, there is a rectangular patio with 9 vaulted niches intercalated by stone nails.
There are 78 steps to climb to the open-air patio of the carved walls. On the terrace you will see three carved steps in granite rock. In the central area, there is a kind of monolith sculpted and polished on several sides, ending in a quadrangular prism 14 inches (0.36 m) tall and pointing towards the northwest and southeast. Vertices are facing the four cardinal points. It seems that the Intihuatana was used as a solar clock and ritual altar.
Group of the Sacred Rock
Found in a square area next to two rooms, the scared rock is 9.8 ft. (3.0 m.) long, has a base of 23 ft. (7.0 m.) and a pedestal of 11.8 inches (0.30 m.). The shape is one of a feline. It was used in rituals.
Temple of the Three Windows
The temple is located at the western side of the main square and has a rectangular shape. The name comes from the typical trapezoidal windows.
Located north of the Sacred Square, near the Temple of the Three Windows. It is 36 ft. (11.0 m.)long and 26.2 ft. (8.0 m.) wide.
Doors with different features may be seen, varying in size, style and decoration, though most of them have a trapezoidal shape.
The Street of the Fountains
This street is located towards the south, between the Temple of the Sun and the Royal Palace. There are water springs known in the region as "Paqchas". This group of fountains or ponds contains water from a spring located 0.6 mile (1 km.) away and keeps the water flowing through different levels.
Enormous stone block bearing part of the Temple of the Sun. In this place, the Incas worshipped and gave ceremonial offerings to the mummies of the main officers.
There are four squares located in different levels. Embedded steps interconnect these. In these squares social and religious activities took place. Irrigation terraces flank one of them.
This is the mountain located in front of Machu Picchu and whose name in Quechua means "Young Mountain". The climb from Machu Picchu takes almost one hour through a switchback trail of vertical steps next to vertiginous cliffs. On the mountaintop, the trail leads to a concentrated group of terraces on the edge of the abyss that were used to cultivate plant species that were probably considered as sacred. There are also remains of a temple; we do not know if it was an unfinished building or if it was partially destroyed. To the north, there is the Temple of the Moon, built over a geologic fault.