Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo, Pisac. There are a myriad of fantastic archeological wonders to explore in the Sacred Valley, but don’t forget the incredible ruins in and around Cusco.
Saqsayhuamán, Q’enqo, Puka pukara, Tambomachay are all on the boleto turistico (otherwise known as the Cusco Tourist ticket), and, more importantly, can all be explored in a single day - and without a tour.
For those that love nothing more than strapping on a pair of hiking boots, this wonderful walk through the Andean countryside will visit the most important Incan ruins in the greater Cusco region, and - for those who have just arrived at altitude - will provide an excellent opportunity to acclimatise.
Before we get started, if you’re not sure what a boleto turistico is, then see this post - and come back here when you’re done!
Take a Taxi to Tambomachay
From anywhere in Cusco flag down a taxi. There are a number of 'fake' taxis operating in town so be sure to check that yours has a licence displayed in the front window as well their registration number on the rear doors (inside and out).
The going rate for this twenty-minute journey is around 20 soles. Don't be surprised if the driver initially quotes you more - we had to hail at least five before we found one that wouldn't rip us off.
Explore Tambomachay and Pukapukara
If you arrive at Tambomachay before 6.30 a.m. (when it officially opens) you many be able to enter without a boleto turistico, otherwise there will be guards checking tickets at the entrance.
This particular ruin shouldn’t require longer than 20-30 minutes, and when you’re done head back on to the main road and turn right, walking around 300m and check out Pukapukara. The site was once a military base, and its position atop a hill makes it a great spot for overseeing the area; you'll enjoy beautiful views over the valley.
Onwards to the Temple of the Moon
When you're done exploring Pukapukara, go back on the the main road and continue walking in the direction of Cusco for around 600m. At this point, just before the village of Huayllarocha, you will notice a track heading left - follow it. Shortly after, it will lead you past a football pitch and then drop down into a valley flanked by eucalyptus trees (hint: don't know what a eucalyptus tree looks like? Just rely on your nose!).
The path continues for another 1 km before taking a bend to the left and entering a marshy area.
Step carefully here as Andrew ended up knee deep in wet mud! From here you will see a set of ruins straight ahead and to the left which are in the process of being restored - instead of heading towards them (there is no solid footpath at present), walk across the marshy area and continue to follow the path.
As the path opens up onto a large grassy area you will be able to make out the 'Temple of the Moon' in the distance on the left atop a rocky hill (it's pretty obvious). Continue along the path across another marshy area until you reach a vehicle track where you should turn left.
This track will lead you to the temple - a site that does not require the ticket.
Here, take a rest at the top of the ruins then explore the cave beneath before continuing on with your trek.
Cusilluchayoc - The Temple of the Monkey
Keeping the Temple of the Moon on your right hand side, follow the path towards the houses about 200m away where the path opens up on to the wide grassy Inca Trail.
Not long after you will reach Cusilluchayoc.
We quite enjoyed the Temple of the Monkey for it's maze like construction although, despite having four pairs of eyes searching, simply could not find any carvings of monkeys for which the ruin was named. Maybe you'll have better luck!
Prepare to be Impressed at Q'enqo
Heading back on to the Inca trail, follow the path for around 20 minutes, all the way to the main road.
From here you should be able to see the rocky outcrop of Q'enqo, but instead of continuing along the main road toward it, you're going to walk straight across the road to the large grassy hill and follow the path that leads to the left.
You will pass a small stone construction on your left (there may be some kids hanging around outside it) as you follow the path around the other side of the hill. Now comes the slightly more tricky part - you need to ascend the hill. It's quite steep but shouldn't be difficult for anyone in good health.
Once you reach the top of the hill, you will see Q'enqo in all its glory!
Full of cool little caves, it's well worth a little exploration - especially in the afternoon when its beautifully illuminated by the changing light. For us, it was definitely one of the more impressive sites on the hike.
When you're done, simply head out of the front exit (the guards might ask to see your ticket here).
The final finish at Saqsaywaman
Continue along the main road from Q'enqo for around another 20 minutes, after which time you will see a turning to your right with a sign for Saqsaywaman (hilariously pronounced 'sexy woman'). There are a number of small shops here to get a cold drink or small snack.
After you’ve rehydrated yourself, continue past the shops, and you’ll a path heading off to the left clearly leading to the ruins. Take it, and continue all the way to the site entrance.
Saqsaywaman is by far the largest archeological site, so you need to make sure that you’ve timed your hike to allow maximum time here. We arrived during golden hour, and it was just spectacular!
Getting back to Cusco…
…is very simple!
When you exit Saqsaywaman, turn right and you’ll find a staircase leading all the way back to Plaza de las Armas.