Qantas (qantas.com.au) code-shares flights with LAN Airlines (lan.com) to Santiago from Sydney. LAN Airlines flies on to Lima, then Cusco.
Where to stay
For ultimate luxury, try the Palacio Nazarenas. Every suite features top-of-the-line amenities and oxygen can be piped in to gently acclimatise guests to the altitude; palacionazarenas.com.
Hotel Monasterio is a former monastery dating from the 1590s. All 126 rooms are sumptuous; monasteriohotel.com.
Palacio del Inka recently joined Starwood's Luxury Collection portfolio following a big refurbish; luxurycollection.com/palaciodelinka.
In the mid-range, Novotel Cusco is ideal; novotel.com.
What to wear
Dress for comfort: good walking shoes, cargo pants or jeans, and a warm sweater for when it gets cold.
What to drink
A pisco sour – a cocktail made using pisco, a local liquor, with lime or lemon juice, sugar syrup, egg whites and Angostura bitters. Visit the Museo Del Pisco (museodelpisco.org).
Getting to Macchu Pichu
If you want to trek the Inca Trail, you'll need to do so as part of a tour. Peru's government puts a cap on Inca Trail permits each year, and these can only be obtained when trekking as part of a guided group, such as those from Peru Land.
Thank you. Gracias.
Where's the loo? Dónde está el baño?
I don't understand. No entiendo.
Life affirming experience
Machu Picchu itself. It doesn't matter how you get there, it's magnificent.
The Last Days of the Incas by Kim MacQuarrie.
As the plane draws closer to Cusco and slowly starts descending through the thick clouds, I get a sudden burst of excitement. I've been anticipating this moment for a while now. Like most avid travellers, Machu Picchu has been on my bucket list since I knew it existed – and Cusco is the gateway city to this magnificent and mysterious wonder of the world.
I do get to Machu Picchu, and it as mesmerising as all the guidebooks say – a once-was city that's so deeply steeped in an incredibly rich history it's beyond amazing. But more on that later. First I make another significant discovery. Cusco is not just the gateway to one of the world's most majestic sights, the colonial town is a delight in itself. Each nook and every corner brings a new discovery, each ancient building offers another glimpse into a world that once was. Who knew history could be so intoxicating!
In Cusco I learn to breathe deeper – not because I'm struggling with the high altitude, but because I yearn for more. Here I lose my care for top-notch food paired with fantastic wine, and instead find myself hungry for history and thirsty for facts.
Cusco, given UNESCO World Heritage status in 1983, is home to several unrivalled archaeological wonders. There's the walled complex of Sacsayhuaman, an Incan masterpiece located on the peak of a hill just three kilometres from Cusco's main square. Its sheer magnitude – the walls are made of stones, some of which stand as high as nine metres – is its main attraction; no cement was used, yet the large congregation of rocks (the biggest is estimated to weigh more than 125 tonnes) sit side by side in a perfect assembly.
Not far from Sacsayhuaman is the equally impressive Quenco, a ceremonial site dedicated to the worship of animals. It includes a huge, six-metre-high stone that resembles a puma; sophisticated and suave, it is at the same time completely bizarre.
Cusco was once an Incan town with stone buildings, big squares and large and elaborate temples and palaces – all decorated with lavish gold. Much of the Incan architecture was destroyed by the Spanish colonialists after their arrival in the 16th century, leaving
Cusco to be rebuilt with wide plazas, elaborate colonial mansions and stone churches. Today, the miscellany of the two styles is what characterises the eclectic town. The colossal, meticulously cut Incan-built walls that remain line the narrow, weaving cobblestone streets. Grand churches and manors, built on a foundation of intricately carved stone, are found on almost every street corner. Nowhere else does the architecture of the Incas and the Spanish intertwine in such a spectacular way.