Cusco

Exploring the Top of the World: 10 Incredible Ancient Inca Sites

Stephanie Barnaba is a student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and an ISA Featured Photo Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Cusco, Peru.

The Incan Empire was a fascinating society that conquered much of the Andes Mountains between the 13th and 16th centuries. Most people have heard of the famous site of Machu Picchu, the breath-taking Inca city that lies high in the Andes Mountains.  This huge ancient structure still remains a mystery; no one is quite certain what its former use was. Today, it’s visited by almost 1 million people annually.  After living for 3 months in Cusco, the capital of the Incan empire, I have compiled a list of 10 incredible, lesser-known ancient Inca sites (in no particular order) that I have had fun exploring. These would make great day trips for anyone who is interested in history and visiting Cusco.

1. Moray

Moray is the site of some very interesting Incan ruins.  It consists of several sites of terraced circles in the ground, which are all equipped with an irrigation system.  These were most likely used by the Incas for agricultural purposes.

One of the terraced circles

One of the terraced circles

View of renovated terraces

View of renovated terraces

2. Chinchero

Located in the Sacred Valley, it is thought that Chinchero was once a country resort for an important Incan ruler.  The soil is very fertile and is still used for agriculture today.  It also offers breath-taking views of the Sacred Valley, and boasts a colonial church dating back to the 17th century.

View of part of the Sacred Valley

View of part of the Sacred Valley

17th Century Church

17th Century Church

3. Sacsayhuaman

Although much of Sacsayhuaman has been destroyed, many of its towering stone walls remain.  Some believe it was used as a military fortress and for ceremonial or ritualistic activities.

Part of the giant stone wall at Sacsayhuaman

Part of the giant stone wall at Sacsayhuaman

4. Ollantaytambo

Once the royal estate of an Incan emperor, Ollantaytambo is now a popular tourist attraction and is a starting point for many backpackers attempting the Inca Trail hike.  At the top of these ruins stands The Temple of the Sun, which the Incas used as a calendar.  The Incas also built storehouses on the sides of the surrounding mountains, possibly for storing grain at lower temperatures.

View from Ollantaytambo, a storehouse can be seen on the left mountain

View from Ollantaytambo, a storehouse can be seen on the left mountain

5. Q’eswachaka

The site of the last remaining Incan rope bridge is a perfect place for anyone seeking a little scare.

Rope bridge above the river

Rope bridge above the river

Crossing the bridge

Crossing the bridge

6. Raqch’i

Raqch’i is the ancient site of the Temple of Viracocha, the creator god in Incan mythology.

Part of the temple still stands

Part of the temple still stands

7. Puka Pukara

This fortress is an ancient site of military ruins and has a gorgeous view of the neighboring valley.

Puka Pukara ruins and view of mountains

Puka Pukara ruins and view of mountains

8. Qenqo

One of my favorite sites to visit was Qenqo, a site believed to be used by the Incas to mummify their dead.

Part of Qenqo temple

Part of Qenqo temple

Icy cold stone where the mummification process took place

Icy cold stone where the mummification process took place

9. Tipón

Great place for a rigorous day hike and beautiful sights. Tipón also has many terraces that probably served agricultural purposes for the Incas.

Beautiful view while hiking at Tipón

Beautiful view while hiking at Tipón

Ruins on top of the mountain

Ruins on top of the mountain

10. Písaq

The ruins of Písaq lie at the top of a mountain overlooking the Sacred Valley.  The site is thought to have served military, agricultural, and religious purposes for the Incas.

Ruins at Pisaq overlooking the Sacred Valley

Ruins at Pisaq overlooking the Sacred Valley

Anyone visiting Cusco should definitely check out these ancient sites that are all rich with ancient history.

The world awaits…discover it.

1 reply »

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