We took a day trip from Cusco to explore the ruins north of Cusco one morning, catching a taxi to Tambomachay and hiking mostly downhill back to Cusco. The ruins became progressively more impressive as we approached Cusco, and we saw some nice views of Cusco and the countryside on the walk, as well.
From Tambomachay, Pukapukara is a short walk back on the road in the direction of Cusco. Pukapukara was the first set of ruins that we were able to walk around in instead of just seeing from the outside or a vantage point. A note: I’m showing the Pukapukara entrance sign first, but we actually passed it as we were leaving, as it’s on the side of the ruins coming from Cusco.
Hike Between Pukapukara and Saqsayhuamán
The hike to Saqsayhuamán was a bit longer and a little less straightforward in some respects. We continued to hike back along the road we came from, walking through a small town along the way.
Somewhere around a third of the way there, we noticed the sky had transitioned from the gorgeous no-rain-in-sight sky we’d seen at Tambomachay to dark rain clouds quickly gaining on us from behind.
As it turned out, those clouds weren’t quite as close as they looked, as we walked for a while longer before the rain reached us. When we reached this point along the road, we thought we might have reached Saqsayhuamán, but it didn’t look quite like what we expected (none of our maps extended very far beyond Cusco, so we were going mostly on what we remembered of having looked at maps online the last time we had wifi–in retrospect, we should have taken a couple of screenshots of maps to take with us).
We ended up talking with a couple of people who were on a horseback tour to Saqsayhuamán and discovered there would be a turnoff just a little beyond where we saw this sign.
Shortly after we took the turnoff, the rain set in in full force, oddly accompanied by pebble-sized pieces of hail. Thank goodness for rain gear!
I was surprised to run across a plant that reminded me of Texas Bluebonnets. I know it’s not quite the same, but I suspect they might be related.
Saqsayhuamán has some nice vantage points for getting a bird’s eye view of Cusco.
A short walk from Saqsayhuamán is Cristo Blanco, the iconic white Christ statue overlooking Cusco. After you’ve walked the length of Saqsayhuamán, continue along the stone path until you reach a wooden bridge leading to a path to the top of the Cristo Blanco hill.
Hike from Cristo Blanco Back to Cusco
Hiking back to Cusco, we took what looked like the primary road back toward Cusco. I’m sure it would have eventually led us down to a point within the bounds of our map where we could have navigated further, but we ran across a steep stairway shortcut into the city that ended up delivering us directly to Calle Tandapata.
And on Calle Tandapata we came across Siete & Siete, a cute cafeteria with a lovely view of Cusco and delicious ice cream. I had the Copa 7&7, containing balls of chocolate, vanilla, and lucuma ice cream bathed in Baileys and espresso and topped with whipped cream.
As you can see, I was so excited for ice cream that I could hardly contain myself.
Tips for your visit:
- Logistics: Catch a taxi to Tambomachay, then hike (mostly downhill) back to Cusco along the main road, taking the turn-off for Saqsayhuamán. In the process you’ll pass the Pukapukara ruins and the Saqsayhuamán ruins (and you’ll miss the Qénqo ruins). Take time to explore both thoroughly. After you take the Saqsayhuamán turnoff, you’ll see a split in the road at a sharp turn. We weren’t sure which way to go and just picked one, so it’s possible that both might work. We took the right side of the fork and it took us right to an entrance to the ruins.
- Qénqo Ruins: If you still want to see the Qénqo ruins that you skipped for Saqsayhuamán, catch a taxi to them on another day and hike back to Cusco. We opted to not do this since we saw a good amount of ruins throughout the rest of our trip.
- Saqsayhuamán/Cristo Blanco to Cusco Shortcut: When walking back to Cusco from Saqsayhuamán, continue along the same road you took to get to Saqsayhuamán. Partway down this road you’ll see a steep flight of stairs labeled Municipalidad Provincial del Cusco. This is a shortcut to the tourist district and deposits you at Calle Tandapata and Atoqsaykuchi (west of Plaza San Blas). Just keep in mind if you take this route that it’s relatively isolated, so you might not want to take it if you’re traveling alone.