Destination: Peru: Sacred Valley
Machu Picchu may be the country’s greatest draw, but you must also visit the Sacred Valley, which surrounds Machu Picchu and Cusco, to understand the land that inspired awe in the Incas and the conquistadores and amazes the worldliest travelers today. With the dramatic Andean range as a backdrop, you will find lush valleys that lead to cloud forests laced with raftable rivers and trails on which hikers pass Inca ruins and rare orchids. In a dusty square, you may enter a primitive-looking church only to discover that its walls are crammed with museum-worthy paintings of the Cusco school. Machu Picchu and Sacsayhuamán draw crowds of tourists from dawn to dusk, but in Ollantaytambo you can climb the vast temple or hike to the Inca quarry and pass fewer than a dozen other people on the way. Cusco has become cosmopolitan, with its steady stream of sightseers, so it’s essential that you step off the beaten path by touring the Sacred Valley.
Whether you hike, bike, raft or drive, you will be stunned by the beauty of the landscape and the traditional way of life, which still thrives, centering on weekly markets and sacred festivals. A bit like Bali or Thailand thirty years ago, Peru still feels raw and undiscovered despite its incredible historical and geographical treasures. Come now, when it has all the creature comforts and an adventurous traveler need sacrifice nothing in the way of good food and shopping, but before the crowds arrive and find out about its yet unspoiled corners.
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