Visit Cusco’s Inca Ruins In One Day

Tom Malone/Adventure Tribune
Cusco, the former capital city of the Inca people, contains easily accessible ruins that any adventurer can see in one day. If you know where to look.

CUSCO, Peru - Strolling through downtown Cusco, you’ll walk by dozens of Incan ruins, and you probably won’t even realize it. In fact, many modern building were almost seamlessly integrated with the foundations of centuries-old Incan buildings.

Cusco is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Americas. When the Spanish conquistadors invaded the Inca capital city of Cusco in 1533, they demolished sacred temples, people’s homesteads, and functional buildings in order to force the Inca people into submission. The Spanish proceeded to build their own Catholic churches on top of the most sacred Inca sites that they had mostly destroyed. These churches still stand, as do the Inca ruins underneath them.

The Andes Mountains are notorious for earthquakes, many of which have plagued Cusco over the last 500 years. Many Spanish colonial buildings have crumbled, revealing the still-standing Inca foundations. The Inca buildings were constructed without mortar; each rock was sanded to fit perfectly with the surrounding ones to create a seamless-yet-flexible building. And it’s the Inca buildings that still stand today.

Underneath some of Cusco’s main churches, you can visit Inca ruins that look brand new. While you walk along modern streets, you’re likely walking along Inca-built walls. Just look for the lack of mortar.

Looking for some specific ruins to visit in Cusco? Here are some of the city’s highlights.

Tom Malone/Adventure Tribune
1. Sacsayhuaman
Sitting above Cusco’s main square, the ancient city of Sacsayhuaman spans dozens of acres. The walls of sacred temples and other buildings still stand; their seamless stone architecture amazes those who know nothing about architecture. The Spanish destroyed the complex when they took Cusco because the place held major religious significance to the Inca people. The Spanish then used the rocks from the site to build their own churches in downtown Cusco. Follow the Spanish path up the hill for about 20 minutes and you’ll reach the ruins. You can walk alongside the walls for free until you reach the gate, where you’ll have to pay about 120 soles to continue to explore the complex.

2. Coricancha (Qorikancha)
Once the most sacred site in the entire Inca territory, and considered the center of the world, Coricancha was the Temple of the Sun, the worshipping place of the most sacred god in the Inca universe. The Spanish destroyed it and built Santo Domingo church on top of it. During recent earthquakes, part of the colonial church has crumbled, revealing much more sections of the Inca temple.

3. Twelve-Angle Stone
Strolling along the streets of Cusco, you’ll see plenty of stone walls built without mortar: those are all Inca-built. You’ll notice that most of the stones are not perfectly 90 degrees, as they were sanded down into different angles to fit perfectly with the adjoining stones. One such stone features 12 angles. Legend has it that the entire palace above would crumble without this feat of engineering.

4. Museo Casa Concha
When Hiram Bingham rediscovered Machu Picchu, he took many artifacts back to Yale in order to research them. For 100 years, Yale and the Peruvian government have debated who has the rights to these artifacts. Many have been returned to Peru and reside in the Museo Casa Concha for all to see.

5. Museo de Arte Precolombino
Another museum dedicated to those who lived in Peru before Columbus’ arrival to the New World. This museum features artifacts, statues, paintings, and sculptures crafted by the Inca, and the cultures that predated them.

6. Ancient Streets
Cusco’s cobblestone streets were built by the Spanish in the 1500s. Recently, Cusco’s municipal government has dug up some of these streets to run internet and cable lines to different buildings. During these excavations, they’ve discovered roads and buildings that predate the Inca. So, the street you’re walking one may very well cover a street that’s 1800 years old. Some of these excavations are still underway and can still be seen. You might even find a chance to explore a 1000-year-old tunnel underneath the modern city.

7. Q’enqo
Near the ruins of Sacsayhuaman, you’ll find the ruins of another major Inca complex: Q’enqo. Here, you can visit a subterranean hall that was carved completely out of rock. You can see ruins of Inca aqueducts that brought fresh water to the city. And, you can see the remains of an observatory. The stonework will seem massive here, as the remaining stones are the ones that the Spanish conquistadors couldn’t remove or carry.

8. Machu Picchu
Though the ancient city of Machu Picchu is technically not in Cusco (about a four-hour one-way journey by train and bus), it’s completely worth the trip. This Wonder of the World will fill you with adventure and historical perspective. You get to walk through the entire city, hike above it to Huayna Picchu, and explore the refuge that was lost to the world for centuries. If you’re already in Cusco, you need to take the extra effort to see Machu Picchu. Even better: take a five-day trek through the Andes Mountains, where you’ll see more Inca ruins before you arrive at Machu Picchu.


Tom Malone is the Editor-In-Chief of The Adventure Tribune and author of adventure novels, like Across Americana. He is based in Denver, Colorado, where he adventures through the Rocky Mountains while not traveling abroad.
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