Stargazing with the Ancients
The Incas were the only culture in the world to define constellations of darkness as well as light. Astronomy wasn’t taken lightly: some of Cuzco’s main streets are designed to align with the stars at certain times of the year. Understanding their interest is a cool way to learn more about the Inca worldview. We recommend a visit to the Cuzco Planetarium before you head out trekking and watching the night sky on your own. Think of how clever you’ll feel pointing out the Black Llama to your fellow hikers. Reservations are essential. Price includes transfer from Plaza Regocijo.
Your Sacred Vision For Sale
Shamanic ceremonies may be native to the Amazon, but they have become a hot commodity in Cuzco and the Sacred Valley. The psychedelic properties of the San Pedro and ayahuasca plants have earned them fame and piqued public curiosity and the interest of psychonauts who travel in search of these experiences.
Extremely powerful drugs, they can be highly toxic in the wrong hands. In 2018 a Canadian man was lynched in the Amazon region by an angry mob who believed he had killed a Shipibo healer. In 2015 a tourist fatally stabbed another tourist while both were under the drug's influence. In some cases, female guests have been attacked while under the influence as well.
Yet the commercial industry is insatiable. In Cuzco, San Pedro is offered alongside massages by street hawkers; ayahuasca ceremonies are advertised in hostels. It’s important to note that these are not recreational drugs. A real shaman knows the long list of dos and don’ts for practitioners, and may screen participants. Ceremonies can require multiple days for preparation, fasting and extended rituals. Serious operations often use a medical questionnaire.
Many cuzqueños (inhabitants of Cuzco) believe that it’s a mockery to make these sacred ceremonies into moneymakers. While we don't recommend taking part, research your options and avoid casual opportunities if you do decide to participate.
Known as the artists’ neighborhood, San Blas is nestled on a steep hillside next to the center. With classic architecture, its signature blue doors and narrow passageways without cars, it has become a hip attraction full of restaurants, watering holes and shops.
More Ruins to Explore
The four ruins closest to Cuzco are Saqsaywamán, Q’enqo, Pukapukara and Tambomachay. They can all be visited in a day – far less if you’re whisked through on a guided tour. If you only have time to visit one site, Saqsaywamán is the most important, and less than a 2km trek uphill from the Plaza de Armas in central Cuzco. The cheapest way to visit the sites is to take a bus bound for Pisac and ask the driver to stop at Tambomachay, the furthest site from Cuzco (at 3700m, it’s also the highest). It’s an 8km walk back to Cuzco, visiting all four ruins along the way. Alternatively, a taxi will charge roughly S70 to visit all four sites. Each site can only be entered with the boleto turístico. Local guides hang around offering their services, sometimes quite persistently. Agree on a price before beginning any tour. Robberies at these sites are uncommon but not unheard of. Cuzco’s tourist police recommend visiting between 9am and 5pm.
The name of this small but fascinating ruin means ‘Zigzag.’ A large limestone rock, Q'enqo is riddled with niches, steps and extraordinary symbolic carvings, including the zigzagging channels that probably gave the site its name. Scramble up to the top to find a flat surface used for ceremonies: look carefully to see laboriously etched representations of a puma, a condor and a llama. Back below, you can explore a mysterious subterranean cave with altars hewn into the rock. Q’enqo is about 4km northeast of Cuzco, on the left of the road as you descend from Tambomachay.
Just across the main road from Tambomachay, this commanding structure looks down on the Cuzco valley. In some lights the rock looks pink, and the name literally means ‘Red Fort,’ though it is more likely to have been a hunting lodge, a guard post and a stopping point for travelers. It is composed of several lower residential chambers, storerooms and an upper esplanade with panoramic views.
In a sheltered spot about 300m from the main road, this site consists of a beautifully wrought ceremonial stone bath channeling crystalline spring water through fountains that still function today. It is thus popularly known as El Baño del Inca (Bath of the Inca), and theories connect the site to an Inca water cult. It's 8km northeast of Cuzco.