In 2007 the incredible archaeological site of Machu Picchu was voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. This was unsurprising for anyone who has ever experienced the wonders of this magical site or for anyone who has long dreamed of visiting and ticking it off their bucket list. A lot of visitors to Peru aren’t aware of the countless other incredible Incan Ruins in Peru, many of which can be combined with a visit to Machu Picchu and most of which are within a few hours of Cusco! Peru is brimming with ancient ruins which detail the lives of the incredible Incan civilisation which thrived for over a century and are well worth visiting on your travels around Peru. I have been fascinated with the Incas and ever since I studied art at school and we spent a whole term on this ancient civilisation, along with the Mayan civilisation. To visit Peru and actually explore some of these incredible sites in person was an experience I’ll never forget.
Located just outside of Cusco is the ruins of the massive fortress of Sacsayhuaman. The original city of Cusco was said to have been built in the shape of a jaguar and the three large terraced walls of Sacsayhuaman are believed to have represented the jaguar’s teeth. This magnificent Inca fortress overlooks the city of Cusco and visitors are impressed with its beauty and the immense scale of this Incan site. The fortress consists of multiple layered walls which saw many major battles during its time. Sacsayhuaman was constructed with huge stone blocks and is famous for the exceptional architectural and engineering skills that would have been required for its creation.
Intipata is another Incan ruin which you will see on the third day of the Inca Trail hike. Intipata is one of the newest discovered sites in the region and the name translates to ‘Sunny Slope’. The absence of buildings, fortifications and plazas leads to the conclusion that Intipata was primarily an agricultural settlement. The extensive terraces are incredible and some of the largest we saw in all of Peru! The site also offers breathtaking views down to the Urubamba river and valley below. Our guide advised us that in addition to its archaeological uses it was likely the site was also used as for strategic reasons due to its lookout position across the whole valley.
The Winay Wayna Inca ruins are some of the best preserved Incan ruins in Peru and can only be seen if you are hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. For those undertaking the pilgrimage to Machu Picchu you will be rewarded with the incredible site of Winay Wayna at the end of the third and last full day of hiking the trail. They are only a short distance from the campsite and as tempting as it may be to rest your tired legs, it is well worth making the effort to visit Winay Wayna as they are not only some of the most well-preserved ruins in Peru but also the most extensive. Winay Wayna is built into a steep hillside and consists of upper and lower houses and extensive agricultural terraces which overlook the Urubamba River and beautiful scenery of the Andean Mountains.
Ollantaytambo is both a town and an Incan archaeological site in the Sacred Valley. The town is located at the foot of spectacular Inca ruins which provided strategic protection to the lower part of the Urubamba Valley and served as both a temple and a fortress. In 1536 it was the site of the Inca’s greatest military victory over the invading Spaniards! Today it is one of the only towns in all of Peru which has retained its original Inca walls and street grid. Ollantaytambo is one of the most incredible Incan ruins in all of Peru and is a marvel of engineering and architecture. There are a lot of questions about how the Incas would have been able to build such a structure without modern tools but however they did it, it truly is a marvellous site and is best visited with a guide to fully appreciate the entire site and its history.
One of the very first Incan sites you will see on the Inca Trail is Willkarakay, which is a beautiful site and offers stunning views of both the mountains and valleys. Even though Willkarakay looks very important it was actually just used as storage for food! As it was one of the first Incan ruins I saw in Peru, I still think of it whenever I think back to Peru, the Incas and our Inca Trail experience.
The Coricancha, also known as the Golden Enclosure was an important Inca temple located in the sacred city of Cusco. It was a very important religious complex which contained the Temple of the Sun and was considered the most sacred site in the Incan world. Today there is mostly only sections of the stone walls of the temple left which allow you to imagine just how big the site was. It is said that in its prime the site was decorated with enormous quantities of gold. Its location in central Cusco makes it an Incan site that is very easy to visit during your travels in Peru!
Pisac is a bustling and fast-growing colonial village located at the base of an incredible Inca fortress which lie atop a hill. Pisac served a number of purposes which are demonstrated through its military, religious and agricultural structures and it is believed that Pisac defended the southern entrance to the Sacred Valley. Pisac is an incredible site which incorporates stone work, the finest water ducts, religious buildings which rival those at Machu Picchu and extensive agricultural terraces which are still in use today.
Moray is a unique archaeological site which is known for its extreme landscaping! The Incas have constructed a number of large circular terraced pits. Researchers have been puzzled as to the reason for the construction of Moray but have theorised that these ancient amphitheatre like structures were agricultural sites where the Incas conducted experiments on their crops.
Sayaqmarka is a site which sits on a ridge about 12,000 feet above sea level and is surrounded on three sides by sheer cliffs and the name of the site translates to ‘Inaccessible Town’. It is believed that it was built as a military control site as it blocks all pathways to Machu Picchu with the exception of the Inca Trail. The stone work ensures the site blends in with the natural landscape and it would have been built in order to keep enemies and unwanted trespassers out of Machu Picchu.
Last but not least is the most famous of all Inca sites, Machu Picchu. It was built in 1450 but abandoned just a century later during the Spanish Conquest. Machu Picchu remained hidden and unknown to the outside world until 1911 when American historian Hiram Bingham discovered the site thanks to the directions of a young Inca boy. Seeing Machu Picchu for the first time is a surreal dream like experience and it is every bit as wonderful as you’d hope or imagine. Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was also voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a 2007 Machu Picchu Worldwide Internet Poll. The site was built in the classical Inca style using polished dry stone walls and is without a doubt one of the most majestic and grand of all Incan sites and it is amazing to think that the ancient city was never revealed to the conquering Spaniards and was basically forgotten about until the early part of the 20th century. Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu has always been at the very top of my bucket list and after three days of blood, sweat & tears I cried happy tears to see this incredible site in real life and to finally tick off the number one item on my bucket list!