This is my first full year living in Cusco. In that time I’ve explored many incredible places in this area, yet I haven’t even begun to touch all that is here. Here is a list of my favorite hikes taken this year.
Be sure to click on the links to get detailed descriptions of the hikes including tons of photos and some videos.
# 10 – An Inca Road from Chinchero to Urquillos
I only recently took this trail popular among visitors to Cusco. It’s a fairly easy hike descending from the ruins at Chinchero through the canyon passing through some beautiful countryside and providing spectacular views of the valley below and the mountains on the other side. (Be sure to check out the trail to the waterfall.)
You can read about my hike down the canyon here: Hiking an Inca Road from Chinchero to the Sacred Valley.
Last week I also a short video of the first part of the hike with my new camera that will give you an idea of how beautiful it is: Hiking Down an Inca Road.
# 9 – El Camino al Antisuyo to Yucaypata
This was the first real hike I took out of Cusco along the main Inca road out of Cusco heading to the Antisuyo region to the north. Almost every tourist walks along part of this road as it begins in the Plaza de Armas next to the main Cathedral, but none realize the significance or have any idea where it leads.
Much of the road has been reconstructed as it climbs up into the mountains above the city past the Templo de los Monos and Templo de la Luna. Those two spots get a fair share of visitors, but almost no one continues on up the road towards the village of Yucaypata where it disappears soon after when it meets up with the Pisac Highway.
Don’t expect to see any people once you pass the Templo de la Luna, but do expect to see some beautiful scenery. Keep an eye for the ruins of Inkilltambo on the right as you head away from Cusco.
You can see a short hyperlapse video of the first part of the road leading out from the Plaza de Armas here: Inca Trail in Cusco? Of Course!
# 8 – Ccorca
My friends Jhedi and Fania have been telling me about this beautiful place for over a year and recently I finally took a trip to explore the magnificent canyon west of Cusco.
It was certainly as unique a place as any I’ve experienced. The solitude in the canyon as I passed beside the (at the time) dry river bed with only the sound of birds and the wind to keep me company.
It’s the only place I know where ancient tombs still exist containing the bones of people who once occupied the region.
I wrote about my September trip to Ccorca here: Find Yourself Alone in Ccorca’s Tecsecocha Canyon.
# 7 – Yucay to San Juan Bautista
If you want to see how people of the Sacred Valley still utilize the agricultural structures that were built over 500 years ago by the Incas, then Yucay is the place to go. The extensive complex is probably the largest surviving set of andenes (agricultural terraces) that are still in use today.
There are a number of trails passing up from the small town towards the canyon leading to the tiny community of San Juan Bautista high in the mountains below the majestic peak of Chicon. It’s impossible to get lost and the rewards are indescribable.
Catch a glimpse of people farming very much like they did long ago. Depending on the season, keep an eye out for farmers using oxen to pull enormous wooden plows. Flowers bloom in the spring and the colors are spectacular in the summer months, though watch out for storm clouds appearing rapidly over the mountains. (Trust me, I’ve been caught in the rain here before!)
As you go up the canyon, you’ll follow along side the stream and discover the ruins of the old hydroelectric plant, a roaring waterfall, and you might even spot the ancient Inca cemetery high on the cliff above the valley.
Check out the my pics and the story of this lovely area here: Yucay — Exploring Ancient Trails in a World Standing Still.
# 6 – Above Tambomachay
For simply breathtaking vistas, this is probably my favorite hike. I’ve done it several times and each time I discover something new. It was the first place I ever hiked where my jaw literally dropped when I saw the canyon view for the first time.
This is another of those “don’t expect to see another person except the occasional shepherd” hikes, though you are likely to see plenty of sheep and llamas.
I wrote this the first time I explored up the canyon: Hiking Above Tambomachay.
A couple of weeks ago while climbing farther than I have ever gone before, I stumbled across what appeared to be a significant ruin site. You can read about it and see the video I did on these two blog posts:
Exploring More (almost) Unknown Ancient Ruins
Exploring More (almost) Unknown Ancient Ruins – Video
Last fall I put together this little video on some of the ruins just a short distance from Tambomachay: Ruins Above Tambomachay.
# 5 – The Inca Road from Pachar to Ollantaytambo
Thousands of tourists every year pay hundreds of dollars each to hike along what’s commonly known as “the Inca Trail”. Despite being only a tiny part of the actual Inca road system, it’s considered one of the world’s greatest treks.
Needless to say, if you want to say you walked along that very same road, it’s possible to do so absolutely free. Along the way you may get to interact with local farmers and you’ll avoid the crowds along the way. Indeed, the only people you may see are farm family and an occasional campesino leading a string of horses along the trail.
Along the way as you approach Ollantaytambo, you’ll come upon the ruins of Choqana. I can’t really explain why, but this is one of my favorite places. I wrote about it here: Choqana — Ancient Fort or Inca Tambo?
You can read more about this hike here: Hiking THE Inca Trail for Free in the Sacred Valley.
# 4 – Kinsa Cocha to Pisac
If you want to see breathtaking high altiplano scenery with not a soul around, then the Kinsa Cocha area about 25 km. above Pisac is the place to go. I’ve never seen another person there except a couple of shepherds watching over sheep and llamas grazing in the remote mountains.
A taxi can take you from Pisac and they will gladly wait for you, but I strongly recommend walking back down to Pisac. While it’s a very long hike, it is downhill and the opportunity to walk along Inca roads and interact with the many villagers you’ll pass is worth every moment.
This area gets few visitors so people tend to friendlier and less jaded about tourists invading their pueblos.
You can read about my last trip and the hike down at Hiking Back in Time at Kinsa Cocha
# 3 – Palccoyo – the “Alternative” Rainbow Mountain
If high altitude hiking among the remote Andes Mountains with breathtaking scenery in every direction sounds intriguing, then the place to go is Palccoyo, also known as the “alternative” Rainbow Mountain.
Hiking at well over 5000m/16,400′ above sea level can be pretty daunting for most, but Palccoyo is a great spot to visit because you are dropped off near the top and there is relatively little climbing involved. As long as you aren’t bothered by high altitude and go at a reasonable pace, this is an easy hike.
Make sure you take a camera as this is one of the most photogenic places in all of South America.
(I’ve been there three times and heartily recommend my friend Roger Mamani and Rainbow Mountain Expeditions if you want to go. Roger is from the area, speaks excellent English, and specializes in trips to Palccoyo.)
Please check out all my photos and a description of this fantastic place at Palccoyo – The Alternative Rainbow Mountain.
# 2 – Aguas Calientes to the River Intihuatana
Easily one of the most important sites in the Machu Picchu region, the river Intihuatana remains the least visited as it is hidden in the jungle. It’s a very small site only a few meters from the route taken by thousands of visitors to Machu Picchu who hike to Aguas Calientes from the hidroelectrica along the Rio Urubamba, yet it is virtually unknown.
This was my first experience in searching for ruins hidden in the jungle. While most of the local people are familiar with it, I found that some parts were unknown even to long time residents. Indeed, I was able to discover some nearby Inca walls that were apparently undiscovered by previous archaeological explorations.
The beautiful hike along the Rio Urubamba from Aguas Calientes is worthy of a day by itself. I’ve seen all kinds of rainforest animals including agoutis, oropendulas, and even a river otter. Be aware that stepping off the trail into the jungle can be risky as extremely poinsonous and agressive bushmaster snakes (known locally as “shushupe”) are known to inhabit the area.
You can read about this incredible hike at Searching for the River Intihuatana.
I also did this video a few weeks later (including some ruins that I was unable to find on my earlier explorations) that will give you an idea of what a special place this is: Searching for the River Intihuatana near Machu Picchu.
# 1 – Waqrapukara
While there are some world-class places to visit in the Cusco area, I think my favorite are the incredible ruins of Waqrapukara perched high above the remote Apurimac canyon.
The challenging hike to the ruins along provides scenery that rivals almost anything I’ve ever seen, but the nothing tops the fortress of Waqrapukara itself.
It’s hard to put into words just how spectacular this hike really is, but hopefully you can get a idea by checking out my pics and description of this magnificent place here: Waqrapukara – Peru’s Most Breathtaking Ruins?
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