The archaeological capital and hub of Peru’s tourist industry is located in the southern Andes, in a fertile valley at an altitude of 3,400 meters [11,154 feet], a one-hour flight from the international airport in Lima.
Cusco’s population currently stands at around 300,000 and is mostly composed of mixed-race descendants of Spanish and indigenous descent, and the descendants of the Incas, many of whom continue to speak their native Quechua.
Cusco has been inhabited since pre-Inca times by a succession of cultures. The Quechua-speaking Inca ethnic group came to prominence in the early 15th century, and began its imperial expansionist phase under the great Inca leader Pachacutec, around 1438. As the Inca empire expanded, their capital was enlarged to reflect their growing might. Great temples and palaces were erected, and the vestiges of these magnificent edifices can be seen to this day, as they form the basis for the splendid colonial-era structures built by the Spanish from the third decade of the 16th century onwards.