Guide to Exploring the Cusco City Ruins

Country Peru | Dates June 22 – 24 | Accommodation Kokopelli Hostel (Cusco)

Although most people go to Cusco for Machu Picchu, there are many other ruins around the city to explore. My goal was to visit all the Cusco ruins (let’s just say I became a bit obsessed with getting my tourist ticket punched). I failed, but my route of the city ruins was as follows: Walk to Saqsaywaman -> walk from Saqsaywaman to Qenqo -> take local bus from Qenqo to Puka Pukara -> walk from Puka Pukara to Tambomachay -> take local bus back down to Cusco

Cusco Ruins: Saqsaywaman

One of the 4 “city ruins” within close proximity to Cusco (walking distance). I started my day here as it was the largest and best-looking one, plus it was closest to downtown so I figured I’d work my way up. A steep uphill lead me to the lower entrance gate, where i bought my boleto turistico and entered. More steep stone stairs until the ruins came into view at left! Cristo Blanco | I wanted to see it all so I went right first, finding myself ascending a hill opening up to the view of the Cristo Blanco on a hill. There were tour buses there, but I was excited I mistakenly arrived alone. At top, a local man struck up a conversation about Obama and Trump. 

Saqsaywaman | Back down to the ruins I went, walking through the entire complex and seeing each part. Saqsaywaman, or “satisfied falcon,” was the site of a major battle during the Spanish conquest. The site is known for its intricate stonework, with each block fitting near perfectly with the next, despite the fact they are irregular. Also in the complex were less-put-together ruins at top, a circular area, and a mirador with an amazing view of the city.

Cusco Ruins: Qenqo

I believed Qenqo was at the very top of Saqsaywaman. However, when I got to the top I was told it was in fact back down by the second entrance. And so, I walked 20 minutes back down the steep, winding road with occasional tour buses dangerously passing by seeing zero other people walking on the road. Seems to happen a lot. I then turned up the correct road and walked another 15 minutes to Qenqo, passing a small road with shops at the left.  Qenqo was less exciting on initial look; caves carved out of a giant megalith you could walk through. The history is a bit  more interesting, as the canals in the site indicate it was used for death rituals, sacrifice or embalming! Without guide, only about 15 minutes to walk through it all. At the exit, a man was selling his personal CDs of local music.

Cusco Ruins: Puka Pukara

I planned to walk the hour from Qenqo to Puka Pukara, but several people told me it was very steep and better to take the bus for 1 sole (30 cents). Feeling a bit tired after aggressive walking and not having slept on the night bus, I begrudgingly took the bus, flagging it down on the side of the road outside Quenqo. Thank god I did; the roundup was SUPER steep and winding and I probably wouldn’t have made it. It dropped me off right in front of Puka Pukara, the “red fortress” or “red fort,” which was pretty cool! Believed to be a military base, also boasting great views of the surrounding hills and road, likely used as part of military lookouts, it includes rectangle ruins with a path around and up through them so you could get close to the stones. Again, not too long (15-20 minutes) to explore the entire thing. 

Cusco Ruins: Tambomachay

I walked the 3 minutes to Tambomachay, taking a path through the grass I saw some locals crossing on. You can see Tambomachay from Puka Pukara; it really isn’t far. This one was much more crowded, with tourist buses en mass (might have been my timing but seemed more popular). A short walk up the stoned path lead to the ruins, which are a ceremonial stone bath which still has some water coming of the mountain. Before this, people aggressively selling tourist goods and street corn which I bought and as delicious albeit overpriced (almost 1USD!). 

Most people turned back at this point, but I am not most people. I spotted a small path to what looked like a cave uphill to the left of the ruins. Turns out the cave was lame, and I wound up on some secluded back path high above the ruins, passing small villages. Eventually I saw steps going down and took them, winding up in the wrong spot in a field. I found a dirt path and took it, eventually returning to the entryway. How I always manage to get off route/walk alone on secluded paths is beyond me.

In Conclusion | All 4 of these ruins were easily done in a half day. I left around 8:30, returning to Cusco by 1:30 to enjoy some lunch. All 4 were included with the boleto touristica. No additional money spent except for 2soles for the bus (65 cents).

Related Posts: Sacred Valley | Tipón | Cusco Downtown

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