When planning my first trip to Peru, I didn’t imagine the magnitude of what I was about to see. I knew the cultural and historical weight that Peru represents for the world and especially for South America.
When we think about Inca Ruins, the first thing that comes to our mind is Machu Picchu, fair enough, it is definitely the most impressive Inca ruin in Peru, however, there are many ruins in the Sacred Valley, including some Inca ruins in Cusco itself.
Most of the Inca ruins in Peru are located in the Sacred Valley and a great part of them can be visited leaving from Cusco, although there are many other ruins hidden in this region.
The ones listed below are the most important and relevant ones. So if you are planning a trip to Machu Picchu and Sacred Valley, don’t miss the chance to visit these Inca ruins near Cusco.
Machu Picchu and Sacred Valley: The Best Inca Ruins to visit near Cusco
The Peruvian history illustrates South America history itself: all the struggles the natives faced, who had their people violated, culture destroyed, riches stolen, and all that was left behind was the shadow of successful civilizations, whose walls stand until our days, to tell us silently their history.
Despite the desperate attempt from the Spanish conquerors to destroy and erase everything that could link us to the past, their hard work, fortunately, was not so successful, and the world can still admire what was once the biggest empire in the world.
Tawantisuyo, commonly known to us as the Inca Empire, was the strongest and most organized Empire in the Americas before the invasion and conquest by the Spaniards in the 16th century.
With an impressive knowledge of agriculture, architecture, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, and other sciences, they were able to do, with no technology, what we struggle to achieve nowadays.
Their aqueducts and canals were never seen in any other ancient civilization, their skull surgery with impressive 80% -90% successful rate, their stone buildings so stable it survived for centuries despite earthquakes, while colonial and modern buildings built in the same area need to be constantly rebuilt.
This was the original capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco is the city where the 12 Incas (the governors of the people), including the Inca Sapa (the highest authority of the Inca Empire), used to live back in the time of glory.
Cusco was almost entirely destroyed and replaced by the Spaniards in colonial style, but many of the original architecture bases still remain from the Inca time.
It is still possible to see remainings of Inca palaces, as it is the case of the Inca Museum building, the Cathedral, and the La Campania, the current buildings were all built by the Spaniards using the remaining base of the old palaces built by the Incas back in their time.
Analyzing their walls, you will notice that part of it is made of stone, clearly made by the Incas using their technic of fitting the stones. While the other part of the buildings were made using the normal European technics.
Another building where it is possible to notice the difference is clearly the famous temple called Qorikancha in Quechua (native language), meaning Temple of the Sun, it was considered the most important temple of the region.
Part of the temple was destroyed by the conquerors and turned into a church. Their famous gold walls and statues that used to adorn their yard were given to the Spaniards as a ransom for the life of Atahualpa, who was kidnapped and later killed by his captors.
Surprisingly, due to the Inca architecture, it was only part of the building that never suffered from earthquakes.
In the outskirts of Cusco, there are also other Inca ruins, some of them can even be visited by foot leaving from the city center, as it is the case of Sacsahuaman, the fortress of Cusco. You can also visit Qenko, Tambomachay, and Pucapukara, however, to visit all these four Inca ruins near Cusco and others, it is necessary to buy the Tourist Boleto.
To learn more about each Inca ruin near Cusco that I mentioned above, check the things to do in Cusco, where I explain each one of them.
Inca ruins near Cusco you shouldn’t miss
Different from most of the people believe, Machu Picchu was never discovered nor invaded by the Spanish conquerors, rather, they never had a clue of its existence, this is one of the reasons that the city received the title “The Sacred City of the Incas” because it was as if Machu Picchu was protected by the gods of the mountain, so loved and worshiped by the Inca population.
Another reason for the title, and also curiosity, is that Machu Picchu was not a city like the others, it was not habituated by normal civilians. The Sacred City was only accessed by high classes which included priests, ministers and the Inca himself, the rest of the Inca population was totally unaware of the Sacred City.
To reach Machu Picchu you can choose between one of the trails, being the Inca Trail the most famous and recreating the original Trail used by the Incas, or day trips from Cusco or Aguas Calientes.
Ollantaytambo was conquered by Pachacuti and became a Royal Estate, the city worked as a stronghold and served as a temporary capital for Manco Inca Yupanqui, leader of the Inca resistance when Cusco was conquered by the Spanish and the Inca and his people were forced to live in exile.
Ollantaytambo is located close to Cusco and can be reached by car, van or bus. It is an obligatory stop if you are heading to Aguas Calientes to visit Machu Picchu.
The bad can be easily accessed since it is close to the main square of the town and can be seen from there, there are many options for restaurants and hotels here and many tourists prefer to spend at least one night in Ollantaytambo before heading to Aguas Calientes.
Pisac was erected by Pachacuti after his victory over the Cuyos, a tribe that used to inhabit the region. Pisac served as a fortress to protect Cusco the capital from attacks coming from other tribes
In Pisac, it is possible to see the ruins of the Temple of the Sun, Inca baths, ceremonial altars, and water fountains. It is located close to Cusco and can be reached by bus or car. Nowadays the city is famous for its market selling cheap souvenirs.
After fleeing Cusco and then Ollantaytambo, Manco Inca moved his court and people to Vitcos turned it into a new Inca capital for the people in exile. This is the site where Manco Inca was later murdered by the Spanish he accepted was refugees.
It is possible to visit Vitcos from Aguas Calientes, where you can take a bus or rent a car. Close to Vitcos besides the bad, there is the Chuquipalta, or the White Rock, a giant sculptured rock that some believe to be made by a pre-Inca civilization as a site mix different architectures, one of them being of flat rocks.
The “Cradle of Gold”, as its name means in Quechua, Choquequirao is considered the young sister of Machu Picchu, Choquequirao is a city located on the top of a mountain overlooking the Apurímac River.
Choquequirao was an administrative and religious hub, believed to be one of the entrance checkpoints to the Vilcabamba.
Although the city was as important as Machu Picchu and discovered before its famous sister, little attention is given to Choquequirao, which makes it less touristy than Machu Picchu. From all the 1,800 hectares of the site, only 40% is excavated, which can make it even bigger than Machu Picchu!
To visit Choquequirao it is necessary to take 2 or 3 days to trail leaving from Cachora, a city located 165kms away from Cusco’s, or if you are a fancy human being you can go for the helicopter trip.
One of the advantages of visiting Choquequirao is the fact that the city is very similar to Machu Picchu, however, because of the difficulty in getting there, it is less visited than Machu Picchu. The Peruvian government is studying ways to make it easier and available to people soon, though.
Considered the real Lost City of the Incas and their last refuge, it was built in 1539 far into the forest dense by Manco Inca as the last capital of the Incas. It was then raided by the Spaniards in 1572 and destroyed.
It is possible to visit the Vilcabamba site today, however, due to its extremely remote location, the trails can be of hard access and only recommended to experienced hikers.
Where to stay in Cusco