Historic Site in Central Highlands

The ruins of Inca-Rakay, in the Serranía de Tarhuani, are the most readily accessible ruins in the Cochabamba Valley, but they are mostly crumbling stone walls these days and you’ll need some imagination to conjure up their former glory. It has been postulated that Inca-Rakay served as an Incan administrative outpost and storage facility for the largest corn deposits of South America; from here, they were transported all over the Inca empire, including up to Ecuador.

The rare Spanish-language book Inkallajta & Inkaraqay, by Jesús Lara, contains good site maps and theories about its origins and purposes. The site includes the remains of several hefty buildings and a large open plaza overlooking the valley. One odd rock outcrop resembles the head of a condor, with a natural passageway inside leading to the top. Just off the plaza area is a cave that may be explored with a flashlight. Legend has it that this cave is the remnant of another of those apocryphal Inca tunnels – this one linking Inca-Rakay with faraway Cuzco.

If you’re there on a smog-free day, the plaza affords spectacular views over the valley. Camping at the unattended ruins is not recommended as violent incidents have been reported in the past. The access town for the ruins is the quiet and friendly village of Sipe Sipe, 27km west of Cochabamba. If you’re in Sipe Sipe on a Sunday between February and May, try to sample the local specialty – a sweet grape liquor known as guarapo.

From Cochabamba take a micro from Av Aroma to Plaza Bolívar in Quillacollo and from there take a trufi (shared car or minibus) or micro to Sipe Sipe. Inca-Rakay is accessed on foot from Sipe Sipe. Since staying overnight is not really an option, you need to get an early start out of Cochabamba; the trip takes the better part of a day and you’ll need some time to explore the ruins themselves.

It’s a 5km, 2½-hour cross-country (but well-signed) walk up a steep hill from Sipe Sipe to the site. Begin at the southwest corner of Sipe Sipe’s main plaza and follow the road past the secondary school.