After our six weeks in the jungle, a quick border hop for a new visa and a revisit to the lovely Arequipa, we arrived in Cusco, one of the most visited cities in Peru.
When you arrive in Cusco it will quickly become apparent that everyone is trying to get you to go to Machu Picchu. Why else would you be in Cusco after all? Whilst Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail were definitely a highlight of our trip, you might be wondering how you can occupy the rest of your time in the city. If like us you plan on spending more than a few days in the Cusco, the city has plenty of charms to offer.
Hike between the Inca Sights in the Cusco Hills
Next to the Inca Trail this in our opinion is the next best thing to do in Cusco. If you like hiking and want an easy trail to break you into the altitude then this is definitely a good way to spend a morning. So here are a few directions to help you out.
We started by taking a taxi to Tambomachay, the furthest Inca ruin. Admittedly it is probably the least impressive sight of the day but still worth a look.
Across the road is Pukapukara. You really can’t miss this Inca ruin if you stand with your back to the Tambomachay car park. Cue a few more touristy poses…
Now with your back to thePukapukararuins, turn left and walk along the road. You will pass a row of eucalyptus trees and just beyond these is the start of the trail back to Cusco. Looks a bit like this…
The turning for the trail is just before this lake…
With the lake on your right hand side, follow the trail and after 15 minutes or so you will reach a field in a little valley. Follow the field to the furthest corner (it slopes downwards slightly) and on the right hand side you will see a little trail alongside a small forest. Within a few minutes of walking along the hillside you’ll see these ruins…
Either view from above or descend to take a closer look like we did.
Then simply follow the valley down to the Moon Temple.
And from here it’s a fairly straightforward walk to Q’enqo. If in any doubt ask a few locals to point you in the right direction. The path is sign posted but can be missed if you, like us, decide to follow the mountain bike track instead. Whoops.
Once you’ve explored Q’enqo it’s a further short stroll along the road to the impressive Sacsaywaman. By far the highlight of the day.
All these sights are included in the BoletoTuristico. It’s definitely worth buying this combined ticket if you plan to stay a few days and see all the ruins around Cusco. It should be purchased in advance from the COSITUC office on Avenida Sol 103, in the centre of Cusco just a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas.
Take a Tour of the Sacred Valley
Some choose to take a few days to explore, perhaps spending a night in Ollantaytambo, but we chose to do a day tour of the Sacred Valley. The ruins were busy, as being on a tour we arrived at the same time as every other tour group, but the sights were impressive nonetheless. Our tour visited Ollantaytambo and Pisac, but be sure to check which sites your tour visits as each tour is slightly different.
And at the end of our tour we were treated to a demonstration of wool dying, spinning and weaving, which despite the expected pressure to buy something this was a nice way to end the day.
Again the BoletoTuristico is a worthwhile purchase for any of the Sacred Valley tours.
Admire the Architecture and Visit Q’orikancha
Maybe we are just easily pleased but with a few sunny days during our visit to Cusco we were quite happy strolling around the city’s streets and admiring the people and the architecture.
We also stumbled across Q’orikancha. Certainly worth a few hours of your time thisseventeenth century church is impressive andguidebook recommended.
With the huge numbers of international tourists that visit Cusco everyday it is not surprising that the city has an equally impressive supply of international cuisine. Glossing over the McDonalds, the Starbucks and the KFH some of our favourites were Jack’s Café, a “gringo” restaurant with fantastic food, and Papachos, a gourmet burger restaurant with 5 or 6 veggie options to keep us happy.
Unfortunately you wont be able to explore the streets of Cusco long without being offered about a million massages. In fact “Massage, Lady?” pretty much followed me around the streets. Having ignored the offers for the best part of a week and after our 4 day Inca Trail, I couldn’t resist trying one. On the recommendation of a fellow backpacker I treated myself to a massage and pedicure at Andina Spa. I second the recommendation, especially after a hike.
But if all this isn’t enough to convince you to visit Cusco then look out for our next blog on the long awaited Inca Trail. Booked six months in advance we were naturally anxious to see if this experience would live up to the hype…