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Cusco (also spelled Cuzco) is one of the undisputed highlights of South America. Stately and historic, with stone streets and building foundations laid by the Incas more than 5 centuries ago, the town is much more than a mere history lesson; it is also surprisingly dynamic, enlivened by throngs of travellers who have transformed the historic center around the Plaza de Armas into a mecca of sorts for South American adventurers. Yet for all its popularity, Cusco is one of those rare places that maintains a fascinating blend of pre-Columbian and colonial history. Cusco's highlights include both Inca ruins -- such as Sacsayhuamán, a seemingly impregnable fortress on a hill overlooking the city, and Qoricancha, the Temple of the Sun -- and colonial-era baroque and Renaissance churches and mansions. 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 Virgen del Carmen festival in mid-July. Other traditional arts also flourish. Cusco is the handicrafts center of Peru, and its streets and markets teem with merchants and their extraordinary textiles, many hand-woven using the exact´techniques´of´their´ancestors.

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