A walk around some of the key Inca sites near Cusco

The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
67 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
South America
Length of time
1 day or less
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 20
Time of year visited
Primary Tags
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How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
152nd/372 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 40% SUMMARY RATING: Superb


Cusco has some great sites, such as those around the Plaza de Armas, the grand Christian Churches and generally walking through the narrow cobbled streets.  Plus there are obviously some of the more world-famous places to check out nearby such as the Sacred Valley (see Driving around the Sacred Valley), Hiking the 4 day / 3 night Inca Trail and Machu Picchu itself.  But I’d also really recommend taking half a day to see some of the smaller sites just to the North of Cusco, which come as a really pleasant surprise as they are walking distance from both Cusco and each other, and give you a bit of a mini adventure typically away from the crowds of the more famous spots


#1 Heading off on a bit of a mini adventure as you wander through the Peruvian countryside

#2 Seeing some of these really well preserved Inca ruins, often without the tourist hoards of the more famous sites

#3 Cracking views over Cusco from Saqsaywaman

#4 The distant and isolated Red Fort / Guard post of Pukapukara

#5 Wandering through the narrow Cusco streets on your way out of the city

Travel Tips

  • There are 4 spots to see (in order of walking from Cusco):
    • Saqsaywaman (said like “Sexywoman”) – the largest of the four and with the most religious and military significance.  Also with great views over Cusco and the surrounding valley
    • Q’engo – the zigzag ruin
    • Pukapukara – the Red Fort, or more likely a hunting lodge / guard post.  Great spot to walk around and see the views of the valley
    • Tambomachay – a channel for mountain streams to pass through, hence its name as “Bath of the Incas”
    • If pushed for time – I’d suggest in order of priority aim for Saqsaywaman for sure, Pukapukara next and then the remaining two
  • You can get to them simply by walking or by hiring a car.  The walk took us around 5 hours as we stopped for lunch and walked uphill from Cusco to Tambomachay (in hindsight it may have been easier getting a cab to Tambomachay and walking downhill); was around 8km in total and 18,000 steps according to my iPhone (and just grab a taxi back to Cusco).  If you hire a car, you’ll only need I think round 2.5 hours and should be around S70 / US$20.  The walk is probably the most fun as it becomes a bit of a mini adventure as you try short cuts through the Peruvian countryside and stop by in little restaurants for lunch or just a drink
  • For tickets, best just buy the Boleto Touristico which covers all the major sites around Cusco and the Sacred Valley (although not Machu Picchu).  S130 / US$37 and lasts 10 days
  • Accommodation – for Cusco itself, we stayed in Casa San Blas Hotel Cusco, which I would recommend based on its great location, nice layout / vibe, and the staff who are only too happy to help you
  • As with all things in this part of Peru, I’d give a couple of key tips:
    • Altitude – Cusco is 3,300m / 11,150 feet which is high enough to give you altitude sickness (generally feeling a bit like a bad hangover, which isn’t fun).  You can do various things to help, such as take pills (we took Acetazolamide and felt like it helped), drink coca tea, take pain killers to help with the headache etc, but the best way is simply to give your body time to get used to the altitude
    • History of the Inca – the area surrounding Cusco is all about the Inca as the real master builder civilisation so it adds a lot to the trip to know a bit about them.   I’d recommend Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams – an easy read as the author re-creates the rediscovery of Machu Picchu and gives enough detail that any first time visitor would need.  For the broader context on the Incas and the other pre-Columbus American civilisations, I’d highly recommend 1491 by Charles Mann which will, I think, open your eyes to just how sophisticated these civilisations were before the arrival, in particular, of Eurasian diseases
    • Local dogs! – when walking around on your own, just keep an eye out for local dogs.  We had a few run at us from a local farm on one of the roads we were walking along, which can be a little unnerving if not used to dogs.  Just remember not to panic, face them and back away slowly.  If they get super close and you feel like you need to defend yourself, give them a kick or see if you can pick up something nearby like a stick or rocks to scare them off.  I know, not fun – but unlikely they’ll be vicious and better to be prepared

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Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone