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This is such a well-worn route it's hardly worth mentioning, but then again I'm surprised at the number of travelers who take it direct without considering all the lifetime experiences they pass up before they get to Cusco.

For hikers of any ability, the town of Chivay should be your first point of order, because from here you can head out to the unforgettable Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world. You don't have to go down to appreciate its splendor. On the way there you'll skirt the Aguada Blanca National Reserve, inhabited by herds of vicuñas and alpacas. One of the best hikes is at the top of the steepest side of Colca Canyon where you come to Condor's Cross (El Mirador), where the biggest flying bird in the world can usually be seen soaring amongst the peaks. There are also some picturesque colonial town around the rim of the canyon, like Yanque, Coporaque, Achoma and Maca.

Continuing northeast, you come into the Caylloma province, that possesses some of the highest satin-sheen lakes in South America like Lago Condoroma. As you come toward Espinar, no doubt you will think you are immersed in scenes of Lord of the Rings with the vast plains and swamps and mystic mountains in the hazy horizon.

You meet up with the Cusco-Puno highway at Combapata, where you will want to get off if you want to head to the beautiful city of Puno and Lake Titicaca in the south.  I discuss stops on this highway in my route description Cusco - Puno, so I won't repeat it here, and instead I'll focus on Cusco itself, the capitol of the Inca Empire!

Beside Machu Picchu, there are other really interesting Inca archaeological sites immediately around Cusco.  Q'inqu is one of them, and is the largest of the holy places in the region. Tambomachay is another, which is a terraced complex of aqueducts and canals and baths that were either for the Incan military or the elite. And then there's the piece-de-resistance, the massive Fortress of Sacsayhuaman that domineers over the city of Cusco from an overlooking hill, and has gigantic carved stones, some over 30ft high. The Inca Palace, Qurikancha, was sacked by the conquistadors, but the ruins of it are still there in the city and can be visited.

Beyond Inca heritage, the great colonial-era sights to see are the immense Plaza de Armas where both the cathedral and the church of La Compañia stand, and then the artesanal neighborhood of San Blas.


Condor's Cross
  • On this route:
  • Chivay |
  • Colca Canyon |
  • Sibayo Rumillacta |
  • Espinar |
  • Yanaoca |
  • Mososqllacta |
  • Combapata |
  • Checacupe |
  • Cusipata |
  • Urcos |
  • Andahuaylillas |
  • Pikillacta |
  • Cusco!