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The high-flying Andean city of Cuzco (also Cusco, or Qosq’o in the Quechua language) is the uneasy bearer of many grand titles. It was once the foremost city of the Inca empire, and is now the undisputed archaeological capital of the Americas, as well as the continent’s oldest continuously inhabited city. Few travelers to Peru will skip visiting this premier South American destination, which is also the gateway to Machu Picchu.



Although Cuzco was long ruled by an inca (king) or a Spanish conquistador, there’s no question of who rules the roost in the 21st century: city life is almost totally at the whim of international tourists. These days nearly every building surrounding the historic Plaza de Armas seems to be a tourist hotel, restaurant, shop, travel agency or busy internet café.


While Cuzco has rapidly developed infrastructure to at least partly cope with the influx of tourism over the last few decades, its historical past retains a powerful grip on the present. Massive Inca-built walls line steep, narrow cobblestone streets and form the foundations of modern buildings. The plazas are thronged with Quechua-speaking descendants of the Incas, and ancient treasures are carefully guarded inside colonial mansions and churches.


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