Next to the world famous Machu Picchu, there are a lot more archeological sites to visit in and around Cusco.
You can buy the Boleto Turístico at the entrance of any of these sites. You can get to all places by public transport, buses and combi-vans go regularly all day long, however there’s always a certain distance to cover, so there’s only so many sites you can do in one single day. For that reason we’ve made you an overview of the most time-efficient combinations of places.
Next to taking public transport there’s also the option of renting a private taxi for the day. This is clearly more expensive, but it will save you time and we can arrange for an English speaking driver who we trust to get you where you want to go safely. On top of that he can tell you everything you’d like to know about Peru and the surroundings of the day!
CUSCO & PISAC
A truly awesome site with relatively few tourists, this hilltop Inca citadel lies high above the village on a triangular plateau with a plunging gorge on either side. The most impressive feature is the agricultural terracing, which sweeps around the south and east flanks of the mountain in huge and graceful curves, almost entirely unbroken by steps. Above the terraces are cliff-hugging footpaths, watched over by caracara falcons and well defended by massive stone doorways, steep stairs and a short tunnel carved out of the rock. This dominating site guards not only the Urubamba Valley below, but also a pass leading into the jungle to the northeast.
Spectacular fortress built with huge carved rocks jointed with absolute accuracy, this astounding sample of the Incan military architecture is, undoubtedly, the greatest work of the Tahuantinsuyo. Its construction took over seven decades and required the work of 20,000 men approximately, both for the foundations and hewn stone works, the transportation of materials, carving and stones setting. Some of its external walls exceed the 9 meters of height and 350 tons of weight. Today, Peruvians celebrate Inti Raymi, the Incan festival of winter solstice at Saqsayhuaman the 24th of June.
Q’enqo exists of two separate sites, both of which served as worship places whose nature has not been deciphered yet. Its Quechua name means zigzag, probably due to the labyrinthine underground galleries, or due to the small channels carved on rocks with that shape. It is one of the largest wak’as (holy places) in the Cusco Region. Many wak’as were based on naturally occurring rock formations. It was believed to be a place where sacrifices and mummification took place.
This fort, an example of military architecture that also functioned as an administrative center, is made of large walls, terraces, and staircases. The name probably comes from the red color of the rocks at dusk. It is located on high ground overlooking the Cusco valley and Tambomachay, creating a beautiful – and useful – view. The stones used to build most of the walls are very irregularly shaped, stacked together in kind of a here-and-there manner to create walls that are functional, but lacking very much beauty. This is in contrast to a lot of other sites in the area, suggesting the possibility that the buildings were built in somewhat of a rush because the military headquarters that it became was thought to be needed very quickly.
The name derives from two Quechua words: Tampu, which means collective lodging, and Mach’ay, which means resting place. Apparently, it served as a spa for the Incas. At the same time, it was one of the pillars of the defense system of the Cusco Valley. It is composed of a set of finely carved stone structures, aqueducts and waterfalls originating from near springs and thermal sources. People therefore think it was related to the worship of water, one of the pillars of the Andean conception of the world.
Known to the Incas as the birthplace of the rainbow, this typical Andean village combines Inca ruins with a colonial church, some wonderful mountain views and a colorful Sunday market. It is thought that Inca Tupac Yupanqui used Chinchero as a sort of country resort. He ordered the construction of many aqueducts and terraces, many of them still in use today. The soil of Chinchero is some of the most rich and fertile in the Sacred Valley and used to produce excellent potatoes, quinoa and fava beans. You can see what was once a stone throne, decorated with carving. Stone walls built by the Incas spill down the hillside from the church.
Since pre-Inca times, salt has been obtained in Maras by evaporating salty water from a local subterranean stream. The highly salty water emerges at a spring, a natural outlet of the underground stream. The flow is directed into an intricate system of tiny channels constructed so that the water runs gradually down onto the several hundred ancient terraced ponds. As water evaporates from the sun-warmed ponds, it becomes supersaturated and salt precipitates as various size crystals onto the inner surfaces of the ponds. Within a few days the salt can be harvested. The color varies from white to a light reddish or brownish tan. (Entrance to Maras is an extra 10 Soles)
This site contains unusual Inca ruins, mostly consisting of several enormous terraced circular depressions, the largest of which is approximately 30m deep. As with many other Inca sites, it also has a sophisticated irrigation system. The purpose of these depressions is uncertain, but their depth, design and orientation with respect to wind and sun creates a temperature difference of as much as 15 degrees Celsius between the top and the bottom. It is possible that this was used by the Inca to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops.
During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of emperor Pachacuti, who conquered the region and rebuilt the town, constructing terraces for farming and an irrigation system. These huge terraces make up what is called the Fortress or Temple Hill. The town itself became home to Inca nobility and is one of the few cities that still maintain the urban-Incan planning. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru this fortress was the site of a major battle, one of the only successful ones. From high above in the terraces of Ollantaytambo, the Incas managed to hold back and defeat the Spanish, forcing them to withdraw.
Tipón is a beautiful sight of well-preserved Inca terracing, fountains and finely designed water channels. Even today water rushes through the channels, and the wide terraces are in perfect condition. Again it is clear that the terraces were constructed for agricultural purposes. The channels feed the whole site with fresh water, from a natural spring near the top of the site. The Inca citadel is well hidden in the mountains above the valley and town below. On further exploration of the site you will come across more aqueducts, a small reservoir and traditional Inca stonework. These ruins are heavily water based and display how advanced the Incas were architecturally.
Also known as Flea City is a large site from the Wari culture. The site was occupied from about 550 to 1100 AD. It exists of more than 700 structures: houses, storages and other buildings that should have sheltered a population of about ten thousand people. Its main use was for ceremonies. The city was displayed in a harmonious and symmetric way, in blocks with straight streets that embraced many sectors such as the administrative, ceremonial, urban, defensive and road system. The site was not completed yet when it was abandoned.
Iglesia de Andahuaylillas
The church of Andahuaylillas, built at the beginning of the 7th century, is nicknamed ‘the Sistine Chapel of America’ because of the magnificent frescos, covering the walls and ceiling with geometric models and decorated flowers, and murals representing the path to glory and the path to hell. The church also holds a majestic piano, numerous canvases of the Academy of Cusco, silverwork and baroque altars. Inside are some remains of Inca buildings and a grate of architecture of transition – from Inca to Colonial architecture.