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Cuzco

morning in cuzco

Once known as Qosqo, the capital of the Inca empire, Cuzco is now the epicenter of Peru's tourist industry. It's the gateway city to Machu Picchu, the country's most spectacular site, but Cuzco itself is worth several days of exploration.

Start your visit at the pedestrian-only Plaza de Armas, the city's beating heart, where you can tour two major churches, browse souvenir shops or simply relax and take in the scene from the cathedral steps. Then wander through the inviting cobblestone lanes of Cuzco's historic center, passing gracious plazas, colonial balconies, brightly painted doors and market stalls full of colorful textiles. The city's architecture is a fascinating mishmash of Incan and Spanish influences, with Dominican convents built on Incan stone foundations and the ruins of Sacsayhuaman just a short walk from the city's colonial center.

Cradled by the Andes Mountains at an elevation of more than 11,000 feet, Cuzco might literally leave you breathless. Many visitors experience headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, trouble sleeping or other symptoms of altitude sickness (known locally as soroche).

Milder cases often resolve themselves after a few days, especially with some extra rest and hydration. While the locals swear by coca tea (or simply chewing coca leaves), and many hotels offer oxygen for guests who are suffering, we recommend visiting a doctor before your trip to discuss prescription-strength remedies. To make sure you see everything you're interested in, you might want to schedule yourself an extra day in Cuzco in case you're not able to explore as efficiently as you do in other cities.

--written by Sarah Schlichter

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