Cusco on the cheap: Tambomachay to Cusco Walk
Updated April 2020, Cusco on the Cheap: Tambomachay to Cusco Walk was originally written in April 2017.
In May 2016, my best friend Tay and I set out our first time to South America for a trip that would take us through Bolivia and Peru. The Tambomachay to Cusco walk was the first day trip we did while staying in Cusco.
Cusco: Peru’s biggest tourist trap
And I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way: Cusco is your jumping-off point for your Sacred Valley adventures.
All over Cusco, you’ll see tour operators selling ‘Cusco City Tours’ that include stops at Tambomachay, Pukapukara, Q’enqo, and Sacsayhuaman. But did you know you can do this tour on your own for next to nothing (aside from the cost of your Boleto Touristico, of course).
Heading to Machu Picchu too? Don’t miss my guide to the wonder of the world
First things first: you need a Boleto Touristico (Cusco Tourist Card) to enter the sites. There are reports online of travelers visiting the four archeological sites before 6:30 am and entering without it… I’m not a morning person, so I opted to pay for it. Not to mention, you need this card to get into 16 sites around the Sacred Valley including:
- Museo Siteo Qoricancha
- Museo de Arte Contemporaneo
- Museo de Arte Popular
- Museo Historico Regional
- Monumento Pachacutec
- Centro Cusco de Arte Nativo
The Boleto Touristico will set you back S/130 (~$40USD). Yeah, I know it’s spendy, but this gets you into 16 sites and is good for 10 days… Your only other option is to pick up a partial ticket, each one of these will cost you S/70. So if you plan to see more than one group of these sites it makes sense to just purchase the full ticket.
Partial Boleto Touristico Cards
- Sacsayhuaman, Q’enqo, Tambomachay, and Pukapukara. Valid for 1 day.
- Museo Historico Regional, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, Museo Siteo Qoricancha, Centro Cusco de Arte Nativo, Monumento Pachacutec, Pikillacta & Tipon. Valid for 2 days.
- Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero & Moray. Valid for 2 days.
Where to buy a Boleto Touristico
You may purchase your Boleto Touristico at COSITUC office on 103 Avenida del Sol in the center of Cusco, or at any of the sites listed on the ticket.
Exchange rate: S/3.44 Peruvian Soles to $1 US Dollar as of April 2020
Don’t want the hassle of doing it yourself? Book this Tambomachay to Cusco city tour for $54 USD!
The Tambomachay to Cusco walk
How to get to Tambomachay
Tambomachay is the furthest site from Cusco- it sits 8 kilometers (~5 miles) from Plaza de Armes in Cusco, mostly uphill.
Option 1: Take the bus (Cheap)
Take ‘Servicio Rapido‘ Bus from the city center to university- Cost: S/.70.
From the University: Take ‘Señor Del Huerta‘ Collectivo from the university to Tambomachay- Cost: S/2.
Grand Total? Less than $1 USD
Option 2: Take a taxi (Expensive)
Taking a taxi from Cusco’s city center to Tambomachay should set you back about S/20 (with some strong haggling).
Option 3: Walk (Free)
If you’re bound and determined, want some exercise, or just too flat broke for the S/2.70 for the buses, you could realistically lace up them shoebaru’s and march your happy ass up the 8k to Tambomachay and then walk the 8k more to get back to Cusco.
Wanna hike the Rainbow Mountain? Check out this post for all my tips and tricks
Stop #1: Tambomachay
In Quechua Tambomachay means ‘guesthouse cave’. Archeologists are still a little stumped as to what the purpose of this site was exactly. Three theories are that it was a temple for water, a spa for Incan politics or a defensive outpost. Whatever its original purpose was, have a look around at its intricate canals, aqueducts, and waterfalls that run through its terraced rock.
Once you are finished taking a gander at Tambomachay walk back out towards the road, hang a right when you get back to the main road and walk about 300 meters give or take and you’ll arrive at Pukapukara. It will be on the opposite side of the road.
Stop #2: Pukapukara
Pukapukara’s stones you will notice have a reddish color to them. As such, the Quechua decided to derive its name from its red color particularly at sunset, Pukapukara means ‘red fortress’. This is yet another Incan archeological site that doesn’t have a clear answer as to its original purpose. The likely theory is that it was built during the reign of Pachacutec as a military headquarters. From Pukapukara make sure to take some time to look at the views down into the surrounding jungle.
After you’ve finished taking in the views from Pukapukara, it’s time to move on down the hill to Q’enqo. It’s a nice gradual walk downhill to Qenqo from Pukapukara, although it’s a somewhat long one at 4.7k or 3 miles. If you aren’t feeling up to walking, or it’s pissing down rain on you, you can always opt to take the Señor Del Huerta Collectivo down to Q’enqo. It shouldn’t set you back much more than S/1, from reports online (I opted to walk as it was a very nice warm day.) You can expect one of the collectivos to pass in that direction roughy in 10-minute intervals.
Exploring further in the Sacred Valley? Don’t miss the Maras Salt Mines
Stop #3: Q’enqo
Q’enqo is one of the largest wak’as (holy place) around the region of Cusco. Its name means ‘labyrinth’ in Quechua, although it is unknown what Q’enqo’s original name was. Archeologists believe this was a site where death rituals took place.
After Q’enqo you will go back out to the main road and continue on down back toward Cusco for roughly 1.7k (about 1 mile). Your next stop will be quite obvious to spot.
Stop #4: Christo Blanco
Not an Incan site per se, but you have to go past it to get to Sacsayhuaman. Christo Blanco in Spanish means- you guessed it: White Jesus. This of course is the big landmark you can see looming over Cusco on the nearby hill when you’re down in town. The Christo Blanco was a gift given to Peru by Palestinian refugees. From Christo Blanco you’ll have great views of Cusco.
When you’ve finished up peering down into Cusco just walk around front the statue and over a little hill and Sacsayhuaman will be in your view. It’s about another 1k walk, you can do it!
Stop #5: Sacsayhuaman
*Yes, Sacsayhuaman is pronounced like sexy-woman.
You’ve made it to the massive complex of Sacsayhuaman! Make sure and take the time to really observe the structure of the walls. These boulders all seem to be jigsawed together without mortar and so tightly together that you can’t even slide a piece of paper between them. Sacsayhuaman actually pre-dates the Incas. Its believed to have been built by the Killke who were in the area prior to the Incas between 900 and 1200 AD. However, the Incas did continue to build onto the site well into the 1300s. It is disputed as to whether Sacsayhuaman was a fortress or a sun temple.
Inca’ed out yet for one day? Continue along the steep path back down towards the city, yay stairs!
Check out these 13 photos of Rainbow Mountain
Stop #6: Back to Cusco
Congrats, you’ve made it! Now get off those feet and go celebrate with a cerveza, cheers!
How much time do I need for the Tambomachay to Cusco Walk?
Well, this depends. While someone who is fascinated by archeology and the detail in Inca sites may need more than a day to see all these sites, someone who is more casually checking out the ancient sites may do this walk in 3 hours. Personally we did this trek in about 6 hours on our self-guided tour.
Tips for the Tambomachay to Cusco walk
- Bring water, duh. But also water helps with altitude, Cusco sits at about 11,000 feet.
- Bring layers- Cusco can range from nice and warm to downright cold.
- Bring a snack/lunch- don’t worry if you forget, there are a couple of places to grab a bite to eat on the way down.
- Bring/wear sunscreen- With that thin O2 at these altitudes, sunburn can happen.
- A guidebook- You’ll see plenty of copies of Lonely Planet Peru being lugged around. My personal go-to is Bradt’s guidebooks, they make a guidebook specifically on Cusco, Machu Picchu, and the Sacred Valley which can prove immensely helpful here. Another great is Exploring Cusco by Peter Frost (you can also pick one up in Cusco bookstores).
- Small change- to pay for the bus and the whatnot.