We had 3 days in Cusco, during our short time in Peru. The city was the capital of the Inca Empire and is rich in cultural history and natural beauty. The area deserves more than 3 days of exploration, but if you have limited vacation days here are some ideas for your time in Cusco.
See the Ruins:
There are a number of tours that will take you to the various ruins in the surrounding area. But if you plan on going it alone, I suggest purchasing the ‘Boleto Turistico Del Cusco’. It’s valid for 10 consecutive days and allows you entry to 16 different sites. We bought our tickets at the gates in Sacsayhuaman for the price of $130 soles ($52 cad). Make sure to bring your passport and cash.
Sacsayhuaman is located close to the city. Its just a 20 minute walk from our hotel, El Andariego Hostal. At such a high elevation it was a struggle hiking up to the site. But it was well worth it. During early Spanish rule the site was actually used by the Inca as a fortress. It was where they planned a large revolt against the Spanish.
There is no room for mediocrity in Inca architecture. All the carved stones were fitted with such precision that you can’t even slide a piece of paper between the joints. If you have limited time in Cusco, squeeze in a quick visit to Sacsayhuaman. Most of the buildings in Cusco still have old stone base from Inca times. But the large scale of the structures in Sacsayhuaman will give you a more complete image of the Inca Empire.
Q’enqo is a 15 min. walk from the ruins of Sacsayhuaman. I downloaded the map of the area on google maps, and we were able to find the site quite easily.
The highlight of Q’enqo is a large carved rock. Due to a large amount of natural rock formations, it was considered a Holy Place by the Incas. During our visit there were a lot of kids walking around the site and other people having picnics. It’s a great way to enjoy these remnants from the past.
Puka Pukara is located further down the road from Q’enqo. Lucky for us the locals were very helpful to clueless tourists. They assisted us in taking the local bus to the ruins. It took us 15 min. to reach the site and only cost us 1 soles each.
The view was stunning. The ruins looked out onto a never ending sea of mountains. Puka Pukara stands for Red Fortress and was used for administrative and military purposes.
Tambomachay is located across Puka Pukara. It’s known as the Temple of Water. It’s amazing to see the waters still running through the fountains and canals in the ruins.
From here it’s easy to catch one of the white minivan bus back to Cusco. It stops at the entrance of the site, and has a sign ‘Cusco’. I highly recommend taking one of these buses, it only cost us 2 soles each. We weren’t quite sure where we were going but everyone on the bus helped us find our way back into the city.
Visit Ccochahuasi Animal Sanctuary:
The animal sanctuary is located between Cusco and Pisac. The admission fee includes a guided tour. They take in injured animals, victims of poaching, and house pets that are not receiving proper care. The animals looked happy, and we were lucky to see a couple of condors, one of which was ready to be released into the wild. There were also adorable llamas, alpacas and vicunas. I just can’t get enough of those guys.
There is a gift shop with real baby alpaca knitted items. The items were not cheap, but they were authentic and the funds raised were used to maintain the sanctuary. You can visit their website at www.santuariocochahuasi.com
Day Trip to Pisac:
Once we returned from our Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu we decided to take a day trip to Pisac. There are blue passenger vans in Calle puputi that go straight to Pisac, make sure to confirm the destination with the driver. The ride cost us 4 soles per person.
Pisac is a great little town in the Sacred Valley. It’s just a one hour drive from Cusco. There are plenty of ruins to hike in, and the entrance fee is covered in the ‘Boleto Turistico Del Cusco’. We did not have time to walk around the ruins, but from a distance they looked very impressive.
There are a number of accommodation and shops in town. If you are suffering from altitude sickness in Cusco (3,399 m above sea level), consider staying a couple of nights in Pisac (2,972 m above sea level). I definitely felt a difference in my breathing.
Visit Paru Paru:
Paru Paru is a Quechuan community located between 3000 – 4000 m above sea level. It’s only about half an hour drive from Pisac. We were lucky to have our friend show us around his home town.
We got to see for ourselves the day to day life of the community. There were ladies carrying large bales of leaves that were sometimes used for traditional bedding. We tried some delicious local potatoes. Soaked in the views of the mountains, and also visited a high lake.
Most importantly we got to experience the incredible hospitality of the Quechuan community. We practically invited ourselves over to our friend’s home, and he not only served us food but drove us around Paru Paru. The mountains were beautiful, the food was delicious, but the kindness that we received from the people we met in our 3 days in Cusco is what made the trip so special.