A woman wear traditional clothing in Cusco poses with her llama, Peru

Inca Ruins in & around Cusco

Many visitors travel to Cusco en route to Machu Picchu, but Cusco has fascinating attractions of its own which should not be missed. It is also a good idea to spend an extra day or two in Cusco to acclimatize to the high altitudes of the Andes Mountains – especially if you plan on doing the Inca trail or similar trek. While adjusting, take some time to explore the Inca ruins in Cusco. Make sure you purchase your Boleto Turistico so you are guaranteed access to all of the sights and their museums.

 

Qorikancha and the Church of Santo Domingo

Open Monday through Saturday 8:30 am to 5 pm, Sunday 2 pm to 5 pm – Entry permitted to the museum with Boleto Turistico

The ruins of Qorikanch and the historical monument of Church of San Domingo in Cusco, Peru

Part of the Church of San Domingo is built on top of the ruins of Qorikancha just outside of the Plaza de Armas in Cusco.

Located about two blocks from the Plaza de Armas lie the ruins of Qorikancha, which was once the most iconic temple of the Inca. It was originally built around 1200 A.D. by Manco Capac as tribute to the Sun God, Inti. Like other religious constructions of the Inca, Qorikancha was built in such a way as to serve as a connector between spiritual energies. The temple was positioned in a manner so as to align precisely with the celestial bodies, allowing daylight to pass through its windows during the winter solstice of the Southern Hemisphere, coinciding with the festival of Inti Raymi.

Before the Spanish Conquest of Peru, Qorikancha was adorned with gold trim as well as gold and silver statues representing sacred objects, such as llamas and corn stalks, were positioned throughout its surrounding gardens. After the invasion, the precious metals were stripped and the carved stone blocks were used to make the Church of Santo Domingo situated adjacent to the foundation of the temple.

Today, the two historical structures lay side by side to represent the two influencing religions impacting the culture and livelihood of the people of the Andes.

Sacsayhuaman

Open daily 7 am to 5:30 pm – Entry permitted with Boleto Turistico

The ruins at Sacsayhuaman outside of Cusco, Peru

The ruins of Sacsayhuaman just outside of Cusco are what is left of an important Inca fortress which was destroyed in the 16th century during a bloody battle between the Spanish and the Inca.

Located on a high hill above Cusco city on a 31-square kilometer (12-square mile) area of land are the ruins of Sacsayhuaman, an ancient ceremonial center and/or a strategically-placed fortress constructed during the reign of the Inca. Archaeologists estimate that it took nearly a century to build and the labor of about 20,000 men. One of the most fascinating characteristics of Sacsayhauman is the unique craftsmanship of the stonework. The stones used to construct the outer walls weigh several hundred tons and were cut from limestone excavated nearly in the town of Yucay nearly 15 kilometers (more than 9 miles) from the ruins. The huge stones were cut, polished, and positioned into terraces of zigzagged walls that extend hundreds of feet. Although only a small portion of the original site remains, the sheer size of the outer walls, towering 20 meters (more than 65 feet) overhead, strikes visitors with a sense of awe and wonderment.

Inside the massive walls is the original site of the “inner fort”, which was a labyrinth of narrow streets accentuated by three large towers. The interior section of Sacsayhuaman has since been destroyed leaving behind scattered remnants of structural foundation, but it once had the capacity to house nearly 10,000 people during a potential siege.

Sacsayhuaman was ultimately destroyed and conquered by the Spanish in 1536. The fortress was taken by force and many Inca and Spanish militia died. After the Spanish victory, the interior of the fortress was dismantled in order to build Spanish Cusco.

Qenqo

Open daily 7 am to 5:30 pm – Entry permitted with Boleto Turistico

The ruins at Qenqo outside of Cusco, Peru

Qenqo was a sacred place for the Inca. It is thought to be an ancient ceremonial temple.

Qenqo is a large rock formation located a short distance from Sacsayhuaman. It is known as a huaca, or a natural structure given spiritual meaning by the Inca. However, Qenqo’s actual purpose and function is still left to the speculation of experts. Archaeological evidence suggests that it was most likely a temple of sorts used for celestial observation and ceremonial rituals.

The original Spanish conquistadors gave the structure the name of Qenqo, which is Quechua for labyrinth, due to the maze of zigzagging canals and stone steps on the outside of the rock. Qenqo is also comprised of a series of tunnels and caves, which display carvings and niches underground. Experts postulate that the caves and niches might have been used to prepare and store mummies of the lesser noble members of Inca society.

Above the ground, actually situated at the top end of the rock formation is an amphitheater with a large rock centerpiece rising from the ground. From some angles, the rock resembles a frog, which was a symbol of rain to nourish life on Earth. But from other angles the rock appears to take the form of a puma, which also has deeply-rooted mythical significance in Inca culture as well.

Pucapucara

Open daily 7 am to 5:30 pm – Entry permitted with Boleto Turistico

The ruins at Pucapucara outside of Cusco, Peru

Pucapucara is located between Qenqo and Tambomachay. It was most likely a hunting lodge for the Inca Emperor.

Located about 11 kilometers (less than 7 miles) from Cusco city are the remnants of Pucapucara, which more than likely was used as the Emperor’s hunting lodge or a strategic lookout post between Cusco and the Sacred Valley. The semicircular outer wall with a wide esplanade on top resembles something like that of a European castle, but it is unlikely it served primarily as a defense fortress due to the fact that it seems to have had a relatively small garrison. It is also speculated that the site might have served as surveillance of transportation routes from Cusco to the Sacred Valley.

Tambomachay

The ruins at Tambomachay outside of Cusco, Peru

The ruins of Tambomachay were most likely a ritual bathing site for the Inca elite.

A short distance from Pucapucara is the site of Tambomachay, which has been nicknamed, “Bath of the Inca” due to thermal waters which are channeled through a series of intricately designed stone aqueducts and canals. The site is unique in that it is different than most other Inca aqueducts. Instead of being used for agricultural purposes, the remains of the structure indicate that it was most likely used as a place for ritual bathing of Inca elite. The water flows over the polished stones from an unknown source and the site itself covers an area of about 5000 square feet (more than 460 square meters), making it a truly impressive testament to the level of craftsmanship and understanding of hydrology possessed by the Inca.

Map of Ruins Around Cusco

Categories: Attractions