East of Cuzco

Along or near the main road from Cuzco to Lake Titicaca and Peru's major southern city, Arequipa, are archaeological sites, fascinating colonial churches, beautiful lakes and the majestic Ausangate massif, where you can do some serious high-altitude trekking. Off this route is also the gateway to Peru's southeastern jungle in the Department of Madre de Dios.

Ins and outs

A paved road runs southeast from Cuzco to Sicuani, at the southeastern edge of the Department of Cuzco. It continues to Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, then on to the border with Bolivia. Combis run every 15 to 20 minutes between Cuzco and Sicuani, and more frequently to the villages and towns in between.

To Huambutío and Paucartambo

, irrigation systems and a temple complex, accessible from a path leading from just above the last terrace, all in a fine setting. From Tipón village it's an hour's climb to the ruins; or take a taxi. At the Tipón ruins, if you head to the left at the back, there is a trail round to where you will see more small ruins. From there you will find an amazing Inca road with a deep irrigation channel, which can be followed to Cerro Pachatusan. Nearby,
is known as the national capital of bread; try the delicious circular loaves.

, north of Huacarpay, the road divides: northwest to Pisac and north to Paucartambo, on the eastern slope of the Andes. The road from Huambutío northwest to Pisac (about 20 km) is unpaved and poor. This is an access road for the first river-rafting section on the Río Urubamba, which also connects with another rafting route from Piñipampa. In the rainy season, and for less experienced rafters, the Huambutío (Piñipampa) to Pisac river section is safer to run. The rafting trip is 30 to 35 km long with spectacular views of the Urubamba valley that are not seen in a conventional valley tour. This part of the river offers views of the
Sanctuary of El Señor de Huanca
, an image painted on a rock around which the church has been built. The rock and surroundings date back to pre-Inca times as a
, or sacred place. The month of pilgrimage to El Señor de Huanca is September, with the 14th being the main day.


This once remote town, 80 km east of Cuzco, is on the road to Pilcopata, Atalaya and Shintuya. This is now the overland route used by tour companies from Cuzco into Manu Biosphere Reserve . It has a famous 17th-century stone bridge, built on the orders of King Carlos III of Spain. From Paucartambo, in the dry season, you can go 44 km to
Tres Cruces
, along the Pilcopata road, turning left after 25 km. Tres Cruces gives a wonderful view of the sunrise in June and July: peculiar climactic conditions make it appear as if three suns are rising.

Piquillacta Archaeological Park

The Piquillacta Archaeological Park is 30 km southeast of Cuzco, with an area of 3421 ha. Its nucleus is the remains of a lake, the Laguna de Huacarpay, around which are many pre-Columbian archaeological remains, the principal of which are Piquillacta and Rumicolca. The lake is a favourite birdwatching destination and it's good to hike or cycle round it. The Huari ruins of
(which translates as the City of Fleas) are large, with some reconstruction in progress. It was an administrative centre at the southern end of the Huari Empire. The whole site is surrounded by a wall, encompassing many enclosed compounds with buildings of over one storey; it appears that the walls were plastered and finished with a layer of lime.

The huge gateway of
is on the right of the main road to Sicuani, shortly after the turn-off to Piquillacta. You can walk around it for free. This was a Huari aqueduct, built across this narrow stretch of the valley, which the Incas clad in fine stonework to create this gateway. If you look at the top you can see the original walls, four tiers high.


Continuing southeast towards Urcos you reach Andahuaylillas, 32 km from Cuzco, with a fascinating 17th-century church. This is a simple structure, but it has been referred to as the Andean Sistine Chapel because of its beautiful frescoes, and internal architecture. Go in and wait for your eyes to adjust to the darkness, in order to see, on the right of the splendid door, the path to heaven, which is narrow and thorny, and, on the left, the way to hell, which is wide and littered with flowers. Above is the high choir, built in local wood, where there are two organs. The main altar is gilded in 24-carat gold leaf and has symbols from both the Quechua and Christian religions. Sr Eulogio is a good guide, but speaks Spanish only.

Huaro and Urcos

At the quiet village of Huaro, the church on the ugly plaza is stunning inside. The walls are plastered with frescoes. Grinning skeletons compete with dragons and devils ushering the living into the afterlife and punishing them thereafter. They are now mostly in a sad state of repair. Beyond Huaro is
. There are lodgings here, but they're basic. A spectacular road from Urcos crosses the Eastern Cordillera to Puerto Maldonado in the jungle.

Cordillera Vilcanota

East of Cuzco lies the Cordillera Vilcanota, the greatest concentration of mountains and glaciers in southern Peru. With at least four great peaks towering above 6000 m in densely packed icy masses, this area is reminiscent of the Cordillera Huayhuash further to the north. Viewed from the ruins of Sacsayhuaman above Cuzco,
, at 6384 m the range's loftiest member, is impressive even from a distance of nearly 100 km, but in the Vilcanota mountains Ausangate is just the beginning. Unlike both the Cordilleras of Vilcabamba and Urubamba, which plunge precipitously from sheer glaciers into lush subtropical valleys, the Vilcanota rises from the northern
; treks into the region rarely, if ever, drop below 4000 m. Life is harsh for the communities who live in the shadow of these great peaks. Knowledge of Spanish is often limited or non-existent and the people's respect for ancient ways and the power of the
(mountain spirits), runs strong. Survival is eked from a meagre diet of potatoes,
(guinea pig) and the meat and wool of the large herds of domesticated llamas and alpacas that roam the valleys.

The road to Puerto Maldonado

Some 82 km from Urcos, at the base of Nevado Ausangate, is the town of
, which has two hotels on the Plaza de Armas. The small town of
, further east, is the traditional starting point for treks into the region and is a good place to find local guides and
(mule drivers). Forty-seven kilometers after passing the snow-line
Hualla-Hualla pass
, at 4820 m, the super-hot thermal baths of
, provide a relaxing break. Beyond this point, what is arguably the most spectacular road in Peru descends the eastern flank of the Andes towards Puerto Maldonado .

Ausangate circuit

This is the most popular trekking route and involves four to six days of fairly tough hiking around the peak itself, featuring icy mountain vistas, high passes (including two over 5000 m) and some beautiful turquoise lakes. As an added bonus, there are two geothermal springs,
, to thaw out in at the beginning and end! In addition to 'The Circuit' there is a great variety of other options, including treks around the range's northern peaks and routes to the magnificent
Laguna Sibinacocha
, a stunning 15-km long lake set at 4800 m in remote territory to the east of Ausangate.

An alternative to the classic circuit is a new five-day trek that includes four mountain lodges for each night. The start of the Camino del Apu Ausangate is reached from Checacupe, where a side road goes to Pitumarca and the start of the trail near Chillca. Two indigenous communities of llama and alpaca herders have helped design the route with Auqui Mountain Spirit tour operator.

Acomayo and the Inca bridge

Between Cusipata and
a road branches west, soon becoming a dirt road. At the first fork, just before a beautiful mountain lake,
Lago Pomancanchi
, turn right to travel past a small community and on to
, a pretty village that has a chapel with mural paintings of the 14 Incas. From Acomayo, you can walk to the canyons of the upper Apurímac, vast beyond imagination, and to Inca ruins in astonishing locations.

If you turn left at Lago Pomancanchi the road passes three more beautiful lakes. Stop a while by the fourth. Set against the pale green grass banks, serene waters reflect the red soil of the hills behind. The only sound is the occasional splash and hoot of a white-beaked Andean coot. The air is thin, clear and crisp.

The road continues to
, where you'll find basic accommodation and restaurants. From here it is possible to continue on to Sicuani, but a side trip to
and the grass Inca bridge 30 km away is well worth the effort. Turn right just before you leave the village to join a road which, at times, is very rough. The way is marked with kilometre signs and you must turn right just after Km 22 where another road begins, marked with a Km 0. You will find steps down to the bridge shortly before Km 31, two bends from the bright orange road bridge. The footbridge has been rebuilt every year for the past 400 years during a three-day festival. This starts on 10 June and is celebrated by the three communities who use the bridge. It is built entirely of
grass, woven and spliced to make six sturdy cables which are strung across the 15-m chasm. The work lasts five months, after which the fibres deteriorate and you should not attempt to cross.


About 120 km southeast of Cuzco, in a fertile tributary valley of the Vilcanota, is the colonial village of
San Pedro de Cacha
, which stands within one of the most important archaeological sites in Peru, Raqchi. A few hundred metres beyond the village are the principal remains, the once great
Temple of Viracocha
, the pan-Andean creator of all living creatures. This is one of the only remaining examples of a two-storey building of Inca architecture. It was 90 m long and 15 m high and was probably the largest roofed building ever built by the Incas. Above walls of finely dressed masonry 3-4 m high rise the remains of another 5-6 m high wall of adobe brickwork of which only isolated sections remain. Similarly, of the 22 outer columns, which supported great sloping roofs, just one or two remain complete, the others being in various states of preservation. There are numerous other constructions, including
(houses of chosen women), granaries, reservoirs, baths and fountains. The burial site includes round
tombs of the sort found around Lake Titicaca. Much of it was damaged and demolished in search of treasure during or after the Spanish conquest.


Sicuani is an important agricultural centre and an excellent place for items of llama and alpaca wool and skins. They are sold at the railway station and at the excellent Sunday morning market. Around the plaza are several shops selling local hats.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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