Cuzco is the beautiful, historic and pretty much mandatory hub for travelers en route to Machu Picchu - a fact that has seen its population grow rapidly over the past few decades. Once the capital of the Inca empire, this Andean city situated at a height of 3,400 meters (11,200 ft) offers much more than just picturesque, traditional beauty and access to one of the world's greatest cultural landmarks. Between its undeniably friendly inhabitants, quaint architectural charm and palpable atmosphere of novelty and excitement (due in no small part to the constant influx of travelers), it's a city ripe for incredible experiences on all fronts.
First timers won't need to do much more than walk the Plaza de Armas or the nearby San Blas Quarter for easy access to impressive churches, tasty restaurants and hopping nightlife. These two areas host the bulk of the social action in Cuzco, though should you choose to meander down the side streets you'll undoubtedly discover cool shops, museums and local markets that offer a more unique and low-key feel. Interested in something even more cultural? Then take a trip (literally and metaphorically) to the Sacred Valley, where you can indulge in amazing scenery and, should you so desire, a traditional hallucinogenic herb designed to purge the body of illness and reveal spiritual insight (hey, we don't judge cultural norms - we're just here to inform).
Adventure seekers breath easy, we haven't forgotten about you. It's no exaggeration to say that Cuzco is an outdoor lover's dream destination, considering all the perks that come with being located smack dab in the middle of both a jungle and a mountain range. Those unsatisfied with the Inca Trail can opt instead for the dizzying heights of nearby Ausangate and Salkantay Mountains, each breaking the 20,000 ft. mark. Feel like getting out on the water? Then test your resolve on the rapids of Rio Apurimac, or take a scenic ride down the absolutely beautiful Rio Urubamba. So much more than just a stop on the way to the Lost City, it's safe to say that Cuzco is a true adventure to experience all by itself.