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Sacred Valley

: South East of the Country.

Extension: 72,104 km2.

Minimum: 532 m.a.s.l (Pilcopata)
Maximum: 4,801 m.a.s.l. (Suyckutambi)

The department of Cusco is bordered on the north side by the departments of Ucayali, on the south side by Arequipa and Puno, on the east side by Madre de Dios and on the west side by Apurímac, Ayacucho and Junín.

At present, after the redistribution of the regions in 1988, it forms, together with the departments of Madre de Dios and a part of Apurímac, the region of the Incas. Cusco, consist of 105 districts and 13 provinces, Acomayo, Anta, Calca, Canas, Espinar, Canchis, La Convención, Cusco, Chumbivilcas, Paruro, Paucartambo, Quispicanchis, and Urubamba.

Cusco orographically is crossed by two enormous chains of mountains that form the Vilcanota Knot. This mountain system is prolonged by the Vilcanota chain, refuge of the last rebellious Incas, that penetrates the jungle and constitutes one of the most unexplored and magnificent zones of Peru, separating the mountains from the amazonic tropics.

Cusco could be compared to a door between the mountains, the Amazon jungle, and the vast Andean Plateau. This condition results in a landscape of big contrasts, and an enormous biodiversity that have been the support for the development of important cultures as that of the Incas. Cusco and Its high mountains combine with deep valleys, savannas, great plains and Amazonic tropics.

Today as in the past Cusco is still an important regional center with a great potential that shows the great amount of natural resources. Somebody wrote: Cusco was destined by nature to serve as a warm nest for a culture, a crossing of roads, an Indian acropolis and a quadrant of solar history. Today Cusco thrives as one of the most vibrant expressions of Amerindian and mestizo culture anywhere in the Americas. Every June, the city is packed during Inti Raymi, the celebration of the winter solstice and the sun god, a deeply religious festival that is also a magical display of pre-Columbian music and dance. Thousands trek out to Paucartambo for the riveting Qoyllur Riti festival in mid-July. Other traditional arts also flourish. Cusco is the handicrafts center of Peru, and its streets teem with merchants and their extraordinary textiles, many hand-woven using the exact techniques of their ancestors.

Spectacularly cradled by the bold southeastern Andes mountains that were so fundamental to the Inca belief system, Cusco sits at a daunting altitude of 3,400m (11,000 ft.). The air is noticeably thinner here than in almost any city in South America, and the city, best explored on foot, demands arduous hiking up precipitous stone steps, leaving even the fittest of travelers gasping for breath and saddled with headaches and nausea. It usually takes a couple of days to get acclimatized before moving on from Cusco to explore the mountain villages of the Urubamba Valley (also known as the Sacred Valley), the Amazon basin, and, of course, Machu Picchu, but many visitors find Cusco so seductive that they either delay their plans to explore the surrounding region or add a few days to their trip to allow more time in the city or the hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Increasingly, travelers are basing themselves in one of the lower-altitude villages of the Sacred Valley, but there is so much to see and do in Cusco that an overnight stay is pretty much required of anyone who hasn't previously spent time in the area.

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