I can clearly remember the moment I fell in love with Cusco. I was exploring the narrow back lanes with my camera, focusing on a building where the original 600-year-old Inca footings became the foundations of a 400-year-old Spanish colonial casa, when I felt I was being watched.
I turned to see a little girl of maybe two or three years watching me intently from the doorway of a local shop. I winked, and the little girl giggled and hid her face in the folds of her mother's colourful campesino skirt, of a type the locals have been wearing since the time of the Incas. It occurred to me that this was a scene that has been acted out here for centuries.
In fact, very little of downtown Cusco has changed to accommodate modern times and the many visitors it receives. The Plaza de Armas is the centre of town, lined by a couple of grand colonial churches. Away from the plaza, in every direction, run a number of streets and cobbled laneways, and in these backstreets you'll find shops, markets and ancient neighbourhoods with locals in indigenous costume that combine to make this the most fascinating of South American towns. The surrounding valleys are full of pretty villages and Inca ruins, and you may glimpse the odd shepherd watching over their llamas. And, of course, Cusco is the gateway for any visit to Machu Picchu, four hours away by train in the Andes.
Cusco's tourist markets, colonial architecture and its many bars and cafes give the town a vibrant feel that has seen it evolve from the original capital of the Incas to be the tourist capital of South America.
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