Cusco is the gateway to the famous Inca Ruins lining the Sacred Valley.
Just a few stats to grasp the altitude. Cusco sits at approximately 3,300 m and the Sacred Valley´s elevation is approx 2,500 m. General advise to combat SOROCHE or altitude sickness is time, lots of water, less alcohol and eat regularly as you can lose your appetite.
The Inca Civilization began around 1200AD and Cusco became its political and religious capital until the Spanish arrived in 1533. The Incas laid out the city in the shape of a Puma, their sacred animal.
I guess the closest ruins to the city is Sacsayhuaman, lying on the hillsides rising above Cusco. What astounds most tourists is the impressive stone work which fits together perfectly without mortar. Also, it´s a great opportunity to get your cameras our for fabulous views over Cusco city with the mountains as a backdrop.
Further a field, but en route on the city tour, lie more ruins of Puca Pucara, the Red Fort, and Tambo Machay which bear examples of Inca baths.
A local bus ride away, costing just 2 sols, sits Pisac, the famous handicraft market town, which appears to cater to truck loads of tourists, but worth the visit for the atmosphere and a glimpse of local women in their gorgeous traditional attire. Yes....and there are more ruins here... gradually getting stoned out...hehhee..
I vividly remember being perched on a balcony, sipping limonada to cool ourselves down, resembling CIA New York, as we sneakily grab photos of the locals...hehehe
The train from Aguas Calientes, the town closes to Machu Picchu, stops at Ollantaytambo, another town boasting Inca Ruins. Here we hail a taxi for our 90 minute journey, spoilt for spectacular views of the valley and mountains, to head back to Cusco. An extra tip was required for our patient taxi driver...not for constantly stopping for photos...but for us singing out loud to UB40...heheheh....
However, the ultimate ruins are of course Machu Picchu. Hence, it´s probably advisable to check out the Sacred Valley before you start your pilgrimage to incredible Machu Picchu...