There’s plenty to do and see in Cuzco, Peru but just above town, there’s a cluster of four Incan archaeological sites that can be explored in a day trip from the city. You can organize a guided day trip tour from agencies in Cuzco (spelled Cusco locally), hire a private taxi to take you around to the sites, or you can do it as a long walk from the city to see the Sacsayhuamán, Q’enko, Tambomachay, and Puca Pucara sites.
Incan archaeological sites around Cuzco, Peru
If you decide to do this circuit on foot, set aside a full day, don’t forget water and sunscreen, and plan to walk about 10 miles (16 km) to do the whole route from the city all the way to Tambomachay, the furthest site, and back. Alternatively, you can take a bus to Tambomachay and return to the city walking downhill passing all of the sites. Walking is an especially good idea if you’re in Cuzco to acclimatize to the altitude before a trek or other adventures in the area.
Sacsayhuamán Incan archaeological site
We’ve been told that the word Sacsayhuamán means “satisfied falcon” in Quechua. We’ve also been told it means “royal eagle”. We’ve also been told that Sacsayhuamán formed the head of a puma attached to its body represented by the city of Cuzco. Mostly we’ve been told (in jest) that it means “sexy woman” which is what the names sounds like when you say it out loud.
What we can confirm is that it will take you about 30 minutes to walk moderately slowly about a mile (1.6 km) uphill from Cuzco to this site perched above the city at 12,142 feet (3700 meters). Here you’ll find the largest construction in the entire Incan empire (though sections of it were built by the pre-Incan Killke people) and it was built using some of the largest stones–some are 12 feet (4 meters) high and weigh hundreds of tons.
Experts say the place was likely a fort, which helps explain the 17,771 foot (540 meter) stretch of stone wall made in a zig-zag. After the Spanish conquistador defeated the Inca they pillaged the site for building materials and destroyed much of the site in the process. Every June the annual Inti Raymi celebration culminates at Sacsayhuamán. Allow at least an hour to wander around and don’t miss the Incan slide which you can still use.
Q’enqo Incan archaeological site
The Q’enqo archaeological site was likely a temple and the centerpiece is a large boulder with channels and characters carved into the top. You used to be able to walk on the top of the boulder in order to see the carvings, which include condors and llamas, but no one is allowed up there anymore.
Tambomachay Incan archaeological site
The Tambomachay site, sometimes call the Incan Baths, is all about water. There’s a natural spring here and the Incas created an artful network of canals, channels, aqueducts, and spouts which still move the water around today.
Puca Pucara Incan archaeological site
Right across the road from Tambomachay is Puca Pucara which was a small fortress (the name means Red Fortress in Quechua), so it’s located on an outcropping with a good vantage point. However, you can’t see Cuzco from here as advertised.
Entry to all four of these sites is included in the Boleta Turistica which costs 130 soles per person (about US$39) and is valid for 10 days. All four sites are also covered in the more limited Boleto Parcial 1 which covers just these four sites, is valid for one day, and costs 70 soles per person (about US$21). However, if you plan to visit the major sites in the Sacred Valley and churches and museums in the city, the complete Boloeto is a better value.
Complete your Cuzco, Peru trip planning with our city travel guide to restaurants in Cuzco, and our city travel guide to hotels in Cuzco. And if Machu Picchu is also on your itinerary, don’t miss our 3-part series of posts about travel to Machu Picchu.
Here’s more about travel in Peru