Referred to by the Incas as the “The Navel of the World,” Cusco, the Imperial city of the Incas was developed as a complex urban center and served as the capital of the vast Incan Empire. The historic religious and government buildings were surrounded by the exclusive homes for royal families, centers for favoured artisans, numerous and spacious plazas and graceful fountains.

The capital of the Incas astonished the Spanish invaders by the beauty of its buidings and the length and regularity of its streets. The great square, now the Plaza d’Armas, was surrounded by several palaces, since each Incan king built a new palace for himself. However, their admiration did not keep the Spanish from sacking much of the Inca city in 1535. Pizarro’s troops lost no time in plundering the Incan palaces of their contents, as well as destroying the religious artifacts. That turmoil is ancient history now, and Cusco became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, its remaining historic buildings now designated as having enduring architectural value.

On our return from Machu Picchu, we had a leisurely two days in Cusco just enjoying the sights, sounds and foods of Peru and even did a bit of shopping in the bright, colourful San Pedro market. We stayed at a little hotel on Calle Neuva Alta in the historic district, and were able to walk everywhere we wanted to with little trouble. The streets were lined with little shops with quaint cul-de-sacs leading to market squares lining both sides of the streets.

Declared by the constitution as the historical capital of Peru, Cusco has become a major tourist destination in its own right, hosting nearly 2 million visitors a year. Coffee shops, many with balconies overlooking the squares or plazas were everywhere, and the vibe was pleasant and friendly with none of the frantic aggression that you sometimes encounter in the East. The air was cool and required a jacket, but that just seemed to make the city more cosy. It was the perfect place to finish our first trip to South America. We promised ourselves that this would not be the last.