Guide to Visiting Sacsayhuaman, Qenko, Puka Pukara and Tambomachay
A visit to the Sacsayhuaman ruins is a must from Cusco, and is a perfect short morning or afternoon trip. Sacsayhuaman, and their partner ruins of Qenko, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay, are the closest ruins to Cusco and easily accessible by taxi, bus, or even by foot from Plaza de Armas in Cusco’s city center.
How To Get There
By Taxi: the easiest way to get to Sacsayhuaman is to grab a taxi from Cusco. The drive is only about 10 minutes and should cost 10 soles or $3 usd. Many taxi drivers will try to convince you to hit all 4 ruins at once with them for a set price of 40 or 50 soles, or $13 to $16 usd. This can definitely be a good choice for convenience alone. Otherwise, it’s possible to visit them all for a much cheaper price by using separate taxis (all the ruins are situated along the main highway to Pisac so it’s easy to grab a new taxi each time you’re finished at a certain ruin.)
By Foot: You can walk from Plaza de Armas to the first ruin, Sacsayhuaman, by taking the road that runs along the right side of the Cathedral, and then turning left on Choqechaka road. Walk along the road and then take a right on the Atoc’sekuchi staircase. Climb the staircase until you reach a main road, where you will turn left. Walk along the road for a few minutes, and you’ll see the Cristo Rey statue. Turn left on the gravel road just past it and continue along it through a field to the entrance to Sacsayhuaman.
Read more about the hike to Sacsayhuaman and Cristo Blanco.
From Sacsayhuaman: By taxi to Qenko costs about 5 soles/ $1.50 usd. After exploring it, take another taxi to Puka Pukara for 8 soles/ $2.25 usd more. From Puka Pukara you can walk to Tambomachay. You can also rent a horse from vendors at the entrance to Sacsayhuaman to take you from Sacsayhuaman to the rest of the ruins.
Return to Cusco: Grab a taxi for the return or flag down the next bus passing by Tambomachay. Returning to Cusco by bus only costs one sole each.
The tourist ticket, or Boleto Touristico in Spanish, can be a little confusing. You can’t buy single entrances into Cusco’s ruins, you can only by the tourist ticket for one, two, or ten days that grants entrance to multiple popular ruins. Sacsayhuaman, Quenko, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay are among them. The ticket can be bought on site at Sacsayhuaman or any other ruin that requires it for entrance. Read this Guide to Cusco’s Tourist Ticket and make sure you know which one you want to purchase before you visit the ruins.
Sacsayhuaman is the first and largest of the four ruins. The Incan stone walls are massive and still well maintained, and walking among them leads to an amazing view of the city of Cusco.
Quenko is the smallest of the four ruins. It was built as a house and ceremonial site for an important Inca citizen. The home was built into a large rock, where you can still visit the cold ritual alter inside.
Puka Pukara, though small, also boasts beautiful panoramic views of the mountains surrounding Cusco.
The final stop of the four ruins, Tambomachay is set back into a quiet mountainside with bubbling streams, and is thought to have been built to worship the God of water. Running water still flows through the aquaducts in this ancient and peaceful Incan ruin.
Just across the street from Quenko is a beautiful fifth ruin that is free to access. Walk through a forest to check out the quiet but imposing ruin, the perfect place for a picnic on a budget.
Visiting Sacsayhuaman, Quenko, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay is a quick, easy, interesting, and beautiful half day trip from Cusco. Have you seen them all? Comment below and tell me which one was your favorite!
All my love,
Hike to Huchuy Qosqo
This weekend, Daniel and I tackled the little known 11 mile hike to the Huchuy Qosqo ruins. The trek follows the Imperial Inca trail and leads to ancient Huchuy Qosqo Incan ruins that were once the summer home of an important king who’s name I can’t remember, and definitely can’t spell. While they’re not on most tourist’s must do list, they’re certainly worth the picturesque trek to reach the remote outpost. The best part? You can absolutely do this hike on your own on a day trip from Cusco.
I could not find any information on the Huchuy Qosqo hike online, and when we went to tour operators in the city, they reluctantly offered it… for $170 per person! Yikes. Instead, we got a hold of our friend Diego, a Peruvian tour guide, who took us on the trek. With his expert guidance, I can now give you the exact directions to enjoy this hike on your own.
Starting from your hotel, take a taxi to the “Estacion Papitos”, Cusco’s small bus station – this should cost about 4 soles/$1.25 usd.
Once at the station, you’ll be bombarded with men to help you – just tell them you need to go to Laguna Piuray, and they’ll point you to the right van. The drive to the lake is about 45 minutes and cost us 6 soles/$2 usd each. Just make sure on the way you remind the driver once or twice where you want to get off, and they’ll make sure you end up in the right place.
You’ll get off on a dirt road in a small town – wave down a taxi (or any car really) and ask them to take you to the “Camino Inca Huchuy Qosqo”. Yep, just like the ancient royalty, you’re going to be doing the whole hike on the Imperial Inca Trail. This 20 minute drive should cost 10 soles/ $3usd.
Wohoo, you made it to the start of the Huchuy Qosqo trail!
My Tip: Even if this seems complicated (I promise it’s not) whatever you do, DO NOT start your trek in Lamay. DO NOT book with any tour operator who wants you to start your trek in Lamay. Doing this will take something beautiful and enjoyable and totally destroy it. You’ll go from about an hour of uphill hiking to six or more. Trust me, the route from Lake Piuray is the only way to go.
Once you’re on the Inca trail, the route will be very obvious. Although it was destroyed by the Spanish conquistadores, the wide and clear path remains. Start early (we left Cusco at 6:30am) and you won’t see another soul all day.
The hike begins with a meandering uphill walk through some mountain slopes, where you can see the remains of Incan terraces and aquaducts. As you climb, you’ll see beautiful cliffs and some lakes. A steep but short final push takes you over the mountain pass and on top of the world.
You’ll be rewarded for your hard work about 2 hours in with sweeping views of mountain tops and icy glaciers for miles. Continue on the path and you’ll soon begin your descent.
As we climbed down into the valley where the Huchuy Qosqo ruins remain, it was amazing to watch the climate change before our eyes. From dry and arid, the surroundings became more and more green and lush from the heat trapped in the valley, and it was easy to see why the warm mountainside was chosen as the Royal escape from Cusco’s cold winters.
Continue down the trail for 2 more hours and you’ll come across the ruins. On your way, keep an eye out for condors, giant hummingbirds, and pumas who like the roam the nearby brush.
My tip: Take a few minutes to stop hiking and just listen – the absolute silence and stillness on the roof of the world is a stunning experience.
The cost to enter the Huchuy Qosqo ruins is 22 soles/ $7 usd each. They are so remote (over an hour walking from the nearest towns) and rarely visited – but somehow a man appeared just as we did to collect our money and issue our tickets. He disappeared again, and we were left alone to wander the ancient ruins. For sure, the best part is the giant pool in the middle. I can only imagine the infinity pool with an amazing mountain view was the center of all the wild parties thrown in the estate.
If you’re a huge history buff, this place will be heaven. Not only will you have complete run of the entirely empty ruins, but you can also set up camp and spend the night in them for no extra cost. Although we opted not to, I’m sure the view of the stars and milky way from the sacred Incan spot is breathtaking.
Ok, this part is not great, and actually is what made me change the trek rating from easy to moderate. We left the ruins around 1 pm by passing through them and turning right on the path at the bottom. Soon, you’ll spot the colorful little lego town of Lamay, and quickly realize just how high you are. Yeah… the decent is over and hour and a half of switchbacks down a sheer. cliff. face. It’s extra fun because the path is extremely dusty and rocky so you’ll be slipping and sliding right up to the edge for extra fear! Really, it’s not so bad… as long as you don’t look down.
Once you reach the bottom, turn right to get to the bridge, and once you cross it you’ll come to a bus stop where you can wait and catch the next van back to Cusco. An hour later and you’ll be home! It’s totally exhausting but DEFINITELY worth it! If you find yourself with some extra time in Cusco, this hike is a perfect day trip from the city.
All my love,
Have you done the Huchuy Qosqo trek? Comment below with any tips I missed!
Mount Vinicunca – Peru’s Rainbow Mountain
This weekend, Daniel and I hiked to Mount Vinicunca, better known as Rainbow Mountain. We were fortunate to even be able to do the trek at all – it used to take tourists days of hiking to get a view of this surreal landscape. The new day trek was only discovered and opened for tourism in January 2015. Why? Because it was hidden under a large glacier, that has now melted due to climate change . Because of these rising temperatures, instead of a grueling trek through the mountains, we can enjoy the rainbow colored land in a one day trip from Cusco. It’s a sad fact undermining the beauty of the day, and caused me to vow to make sure I do more to protect our earth.
Altitude: begins at 14,000 ft, peaks at 17,000 ft.
Temperature: Varys from about 30 to 60 degrees throughout the day. I wore multiple jackets, gloves, and a scarf in the morning, but finished the trek in a tshirt. Come prepared with layers.
Cost: 70 soles / $22 usd
Hike: 5 hours
Distance: 6 miles
Time: 15 hours from Cusco to return
How To Book a Tour
Mount Vinicunca is is not an easy trek. It begins high in the Andes at 14,000 feet and peaks at almost 17,000! So even though it’s only 6 miles round trip, the thin air certainly makes them feel much longer. We made sure to drink plenty of Coca tea and eat coca toffees on our hike to combat the affects of high altitude and ward off any headaches or dizziness. That being said, the hike is still a must do while you’re in Cusco.
We booked our tour the night before we decided to do it. If you’re planning on visiting this and many of the other tourist sites in Cusco, you will get much cheaper prices by booking in person at the agencies in town rather than booking in advance online. There are hundreds of little tour shops and everything (except the Inca Trail) can be booked just a day or two before departure. Just like everything else in Cusco, prices are negotiable. Look for signs advertising Mount Vinicunca or Rainbow Mountain. We snagged a deal on the street on the right side of the Cathedral in Plaza de Armas for 60 soles each – less than $20 for the trek!
The price includes transport, breakfast and lunch, english speaking “guides”, and a doctor. The trail is well marked and pretty obvious – the guides didn’t stick with us on the walk or give us much information at all – this trip could easily be done on your own if you pack some food and rent a car. However, we liked the security of having a doctor to provide oxygen and care in case something went wrong at the high altitude. We also enjoyed having a hot meal provided after the 6 mile walk!
My tip: Wait a few days in Cusco to acclimate before you book the trek to Mount Vinicunca be better prepared for the high altitude and prevent altitude sickness.
The drive from Cusco began with a 3:30 am pick up at our apartment, followed by a 3 hour drive to the town near the trailhead. The last hour or so of the drive is on dirt roads winding along a sheer cliff face so… don’t take a window seat if you’re afraid of heights! Also, make sure you wear layers – the morning was freezing and I wore two jackets, gloves, and a scarf. Later on on the trek though, the sun was beating down and I did most of it in a t-shirt. Temperatures change quickly in the mountains so make sure you’re prepared for both extremes (a good tip for any treks you do from Cusco).
After we ate a quick breakfast, we drove another 20 minutes to the beginning of the trail. Just the views of the surrounding mountains from the parking lot are stunning! We began our tour in a large group – 5 buses worth – but quickly began to spread out along the path. Some people opted to pay another 60 soles ($20 usd) for a horse to take them up the impending 3 mile incline, but we decided to do it the old fashioned way. Don’t worry – if you get tired, or the altitude gets the best of you – you can rent a horse easily at any point on the trek to take you to the top.
We came to a gate and paid a 10 sole ($3usd) entrance fee, then we were on our way. The trek is 3 miles out and 3 miles back. On our way we passed (whats left of) the highest glacier in Peru. It was a stunning view, and not even the main attraction. The streaked and colored mountains also begin to come into view as you climb. The trek to Mount Vinicunca finished with a steep hike up the mountain side to view the famous “rainbow mountain” on the other side. Although it’s rarely shown, there’s also snow capped peaks, deep valleys, and gorgeous panorama views on all sides. It’s breathtaking!
The walk back was easier as it was mostly down hill, and the way the afternoon lights hit the mountains enhanced the colors streaking through them. The rainbow look isn’t confined just to Mount Vinicanca, but extends through the whole range, making for an extremely unique and picturesque walk. Finally, we reached our bus again at 1pm after 5 hours of walking. We returned to the same restaurant for a buffet lunch, and then made the long, but beautiful, drive home. After almost 15 hours total, we reached Cusco again at 6pm. Whew. It was an exhausting but unforgettable day.
If you are visiting Peru, this site certainly should not be missed!
All my love,
Day Hikes from Cusco
The best part about living in Cusco is that there are hikes you can do straight from Plaza de Armas in the city center. There’s no need to hire tours or take long drives up into the mountains for these hikes from Cusco to explore the nature surrounding the town.
The first hike from Cusco begins in the city center. This hike will take you to Chacan Cave, Balcon del Diablo, and the Temple of the Moon.
There are three different ways to do the hike.
Via Cristo Rey
Begin this hike from Cusco in Plaza de Armas. Take the road that runs along the right side of the Cathedral, and turn left on Choqechaka road. Walk along the road and then take a right on the Atoc’sekuchi staircase. Good luck. This staircase isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s actually the toughest part of the hike, and will definitely get your heart racing! If you brave it, though, you’ll be rewarded with increasingly amazing views of Cusco as you climb.
Keep trucking along until you reach a main road, where you will turn left. Walk along the road for a few minutes, and you’ll see the Cristo Rey statue. You can take a few different paths to check it out and enjoy the view from the mound.
Afterwards, walk back out to the main road and continue along it. You’ll pass entrances to Sacsayhuaman and eventually come to a crossroads. Take the sharp right, and continue up the road along the switchbacks.
After about 15 minutes, you’ll come to another crossroads, where your road dead ends. Turn left, and almost immediately on your right side you’ll see a large group of horses. From here you have two choices: walk or ride.
We chose to ride, and paid 35 soles each ($12 usd) for a 2.5 hour ride to the Chacan Cave and Temple of the Moon. I highly recommend this option. The horses were calm and looked well taken care of.
If you choose to walk, you can stop at the horses and ask for directions if your Spanish is good. Or, just continue up the road past the horses. On the left side, there is a sign with a beaten path right behind it where all the horses cross to begin the walk to the cave. Cross here and climb the hill to begin the trek.
The path is very obvious in some places, but in others, it seemed to disappear into a field or hillside, only to reappear again on the other side. I personally would not recommend walking if you have your heart set on reaching the cave, because it will be difficult to find. However, if you’re on a budget and don’t want to pay for the horses, this is still an awesome trek. Even if you don’t make it to the cave, the views are absolutely incredible, so it’s certainly worth the attempt. This blog and this write up both have some walking directions you can check out
If you hike, continue until you see a large rock face. Descend into the grassy field and the cave entrance to Balcon de Diablo, which has a view of Cusco, is directly across from the rock face. A river runs into the cave, so if it’s been raining, the water may be too high to enter it.
Once you hike to the cave, return the way you came back to the horses. Enter the large lot they are in the take the right hand dirt road to reach the Temple of the Moon. It’s only about a 10 minute walk from there, and it will be clear when you reach it – it’s a large pile of stones on the right side.
Afterwards, you can take the path through the field in front of the temple to the group of houses. The path ends at a fork at two roads. Take the left hand road going down, and follow it back to Plaza de Armas.
Via Temple of the Moon
Your second choice is to begin with the Temple of the Moon, and do the Chacan Cave hike second.
To do this hike from Cusco, begin in Plaza San Blas. Take the stairs on the right side of the church, and turn left at the top. Take the first right onto Suytuqhatu street, and continue up it until you reach the main road. If stairs are difficult for you, this choice may be the one for you – it’s still has plenty, but it’s nothing like the massive staircase you scale in the first option.
Once you reach the main road, simply cross it and continue climbing up on the stone paved road on the other side. This road eventually dead ends into a field – take the path that runs into it from the corner and follow it until you reach the Temple of the Moon.
After checking out the temple, climb down or circle around the back side to the dirt road. Go left on it, and continue walking until you reach the large group of horses. From there, you can either hire a horse to take you to the Chacan Cave, or continue walking to take the trail on foot. To do so, continue past the horses to the paved road and turn right. After a minute, on the left side, there is a sign with a beaten path right behind it where all the horses cross to begin the walk to the cave. Cross here and climb the hill to begin the trek. Again, you can find some walking directions here and here.
Once you return, you can hail a taxi on the main road, walk down the main road outside the horse pasture to the staircase that will lead you back to Cusco (you will only come to two forks – take a right at the first and a left at the second) or walk back to the Temple of the Moon and return the way you came up.
The final, and easiest, way to do this hike from Cusco is simply to take a taxi to the Temple of the Moon – all the drivers will know it, and it should cost somewhere between 15 to 30 soles ($5 to $10 usd) for the trip. Once you check out the Temple of the Moon, follow the directions above to hike or hire a horse to visit the cave.
These are my tips and directions for your first hikes from Cusco. I think the photos speak for themselves – the views are absolutely stunning and for a day trip it’s definitely worth your time. Over the next two months I hope to add a couple more hiking routes from Cusco so stay tuned!
All my love,
P.S. if you’ve done this hike or others from the city, comment below with your tips and routes! I’d love to hear from you!