Walking in the Cuzco region

Walking in the Cuzco region

Cuzco was, of course, the capital of the Inca, and then the Spanish capital for a substantial period after the conquest. (You can access the detailed guide to the town here.) The town is full of fascinating buildings, and the immediate area scattered with more or less spectacular ruins. The valley around Cuzco is traversed by roads and trails, such that anyone with a detailed map can plot out an afternoon’s walk or a two-day stroll. Most of the villages have accommodation, ranging from lodges to hotels. Prices reflect the fact that Cuzco is the major popular attraction in Peru.

The town itself has many agencies, which can arrange all manner of trips. Some of these have been discussed under sport, wild-life and the like. For example, however, Cuzco is the usual jumping off point for trips down to the lodges in Madre de Dios, with its spectacular wild life. We describe aspects of all of this where we discuss the circuits that pass through the region. Comments on the cost of guides, motorised treks and specialised features such as rafting and bicycling are discussed in these sections. Here, we focus on walking.

There are three multi-day walks that set off from Cuzco. The most famous is the Inca trail to Machu Piccu. There are two other trails which reach a similar destination, following a less frequented route. You can also follow a high route from Mollepata to this same destination. Finally, the Cordillera Vilcanota offers a number of treks, the chief of which is the Ausangate circuit.

This region is the wettest of the trekking regions which we describe in detail. The dry season is also Winter, running from May to September. The land is heavily forested where it is not cultivated. Bromeliads and orchids abound, as do birds of all descriptions. Local people pursue the farming practices and traditions of the Aymara, inevitably altered and commercialised by the number of tourists who come looking. Insect life is also well represented, from butterflies by day to less welcome visitors by night. You do not need to take precautions against malaria in the highlands, but you must do so if you intend to progress below Quillabamba or to go to Madre de Dios.

There are a myriad of trekking organisations in Cuzco. There are also shops which sell basic equipment and an unpredictable range of second-hand gear. The oldest and best-founded companies tend to be in or near the plaza de armas, and the least credible in the entertainment district. Those with international connections, web sites, credit card accreditation and multilingual staff are the most likely to be reliable, and also costly. In the world of travel you usually get exactly what you do (or do not) pay for.

Cuzco has a low-level but continual level of crime aimed at foreigners. The chief perpetrators are other foreigners, particularly backpackers with a drug problem. Be careful of hustlers who direct you to this or that trekking company when you arrive at the bus terminal or train station. The same people may also offer drugs, raves, sexual adventures and so forth. Few of them have simple motives and none of them have your best interests at heart. Street sellers of drugs, in particular, are often setting their customers up for the police, or breaking in a potential courier to ‘fry in a larger saucepan’. Trekking around Cuzco is generally safe, ever providing that you have been wise in your choice of guide.

The Inca Trail

This trail is extremely popular, and so susceptible to all of the pressures that this brings. The author sponsored a clean-up in 1983, where around five tonnes of non-inflammable rubbish were extracted. It was sorted into three piles: of local origin, of overseas origin and French. The three heaps were of equal size. Please take your junk out with you.

The number of people on the trail at any one time is limited to 500 (including guides and porters) and this is assigned on a first come, first served basis. You can, however, book ahead and many trekking companies do this, on a speculative basis. Latin queues are always shorter for people with the right connections.

You must buy a pass for each person in your group, which costs a varying amount for each. The basic rate for foreign adults is US$50, half for students. Guides and porters must each pay around UD$ 10. It takes around five days to get a pass, during which your passport is held by the issuing department. Local trekking companies can assist in this process. The pass is valid for three days (that is, three nights spent) on the trail, and it offers free entrance into Machu Picchu. That means that you can take only three days to cover this path.

You must travel with an accredited guide, although groups of six or more backpackers can hire a single guide for all. Horses and mules are banned from the trail for anything but exceptional circumstances. This is due to the erosion which they cause and their affect on the local plant life. Porters are used instead, and whilst their wages are low, they nevertheless cost in excess of USD 7-10 a day. (Note that the trail goes over a 4200m pass, which makes carrying for yourself a tiring options. However, note too that such altitudes require adequate provision for the porters. Food, blankets and rain protection add to the weight to be carried.) It may well be that a single person ends up in a four person group comprising the trekker, their guide and two porters. Guides are currently paid around US$ 50 per day, so this team will cost anything up to US$ 100 per day simply for wages, tips and permits. This is an expensive trail to follow, although costs naturally dilute as number increase, flattening out at around four trekkers in a group.

If this seems onerous, choose one of the other routes, or go to Machu Picchu by train or road. Trains oriented around foreigners come in two classes: an expensive one that leaves in the mid-afternoon and cheaper ones that go in the evening, missing much of the view. “Local” trains are restricted to Peruvians, and foreigners are not permitted to buy tickets on them without exceptional reasons. (For example, aid workers going half way on the route.)

You can camp in the area or stay in one of the many hostels in dislikeable Aguas Calientes, just below Machu Picchu. There are many short trails that you can follow: to the hot springs which give the town its name, to the Poques ruins, to a peak facing the ruin across the valley and down along the railway line. The way downstream – via Quillabamba and out along the Rio Ucayali has great romance to it. Equally, other routes (including the one from Mollepata, which we describe below) are not hedged about with regulation in this way.

Estacion Km 84 (‘ochenta y cuatro’ - also annoyingly know as ‘ochenta y dos’ or 82, a cartographic fault) is a bus- and train-stop, where the official Inca trail begins. You can walk to this point along the Urubamba valley without showing a pass, and your three days do not begin until you are checked in at this point. You can take one of many means of transport to the spectacular ruins at Ollantaytambo, and then walk the 20 or so kilometres along the pretty valley floor to the start of the trail. There are many hostals and hotels in the town. The spectacular road to Quilabamba also runs up from the town, offering jumping off points to short or more extensive mountain walks. Nevado Veronica (5680m) is little trekked.

Day 1: The trail starts from Km 84 (or 82, see above) near the Salapunku ruin. The Urubamba is bridged, and the path follows the South bank before contouring to meet the Rio Cusichaca, which it follows up out of the valley. Cultivation gives rise to livestock rearing and you may see alpacas. The Nevado Veronica can be seen back across the Urubamba. A tributary to the Cusichaca arrives from the North, and the trail follows the Quebrada Llulluchapampa steeply upwards. Mist forest begins to develop, with moss and epiphyte-shrouded miniature trees closing over the trail. The camp site is highly developed, and found after a climb of around 1000m. It has good views as well as modern sanitary facilities.

Day 2: The tral rises to the Abra Warmiwanusqa (‘Dead Woman’s Pass (4250m), a reference to the shape of the Cerro Casamientuyoc ridge that lies on the right. This involves a climb of around 800m. The Rio Paqaymayo drains Laguna Soqtacocha across this trail, and the path drops down to this, at around 3600m. Most will camp here, where modern facilities and ample water are available.

Day 3: The trail climbs away from the river towards the ruined way-station, or tambo called Runcuracay. This was probably the last step for runners on their way to Machu Picchu. It is a circular fort, with two inner buildings. The views over the valley are very fine. It is possible to camp here, although water supply is usually poor in the dry season.

The path contours along the ridge, meeting a 3960m pass close to some dark little alpine lakes. It is possible to camp here, although the site is rather exposed. Views extend to the Cordillera Vilcambamba. Continuing down the trail, however, finds the ruined city of Sayacmarca (3600m). This is thought to have been a ceremonial site, but for which ceremonies, nobody knows. The baths in the centre of the ruin are of classical Inca design, and of great size for the community that they served. Perhaps travellers cleaned themselves before approaching Machu Picchu.

The path is now once again forested with small trees, and the educated eye willsee orchids everywhere. The genera Epidendron and Masdevallia are particularly prominent. The former offer panicles of yellow-green or purple flowers, the latter trumpets of striking scarlet. Humming birds are common, often heard more than seen. Inca workmanship is commonplace, ranging from the paving of the pass to a tunnel cut by them. There are a scattering of ruins - Samana - near the tunnel. After contouring at around 3700m, the path drops to the ruin of Phuyupatamarca. This camp site lacks the amenities of the previous nights, but has good views.

You should note that a much rougher trail rises from this camp site and offers a high altitude route to Machu Picchu. This misses some of the interesting ruins of Day 4, but also its knee-jarring descent.

Day 4: Inca-built stairs drop hard to officialdom. This is heralded by a small youth hostal, which also offers an unattractive camp site. The main attraction of the site is the nearby ruins of Huiñay Huayna (2700m), which are chiefly another set of ceremonial baths. The views are fine, however, and a furth half hour of ascent brings the waterfalls of the Putopaya ruins. This trail leads to a stopping point on the bus and railway service Estacion 104 km about a day further down the Urubamba valley and is normally seen as the “short” Inca trail.

Returning to officialdom, however, the gates to the Zona Arqueologica are encountered ten or so minutes away from the youth hostal, heading North to Machu Picchu. Permits have to be shown. Note that the gates are open only between 05.00 and 14.30, where the early closing is intended to stop trekkers from arriving after the site is locked and the trail barred. The trail beyond is much as comic books educated you to think of the Andes: sheer up and down on both sides, with vast views forward. The first site of Machu Picchu appears at the ruin of Intipunco (2750m), which has the famous “sun gate”. If you count your night, camp at the youth hostal and leave at 05.00, you can catch the dawn rising over the valley and the Huana Picchu spire behind the grand ruin ahead. (You can also catch the often-dense cloud and fog, so choose your season if you are going to do this.)

Walk forward to the site in 60-90 minutes, and either enter it or descend to Aguas Calientes to arrange your sleeping arrangements. Take advice about your permits from your guide, as the waiver to the US$ 20 entry fee is a one-off matter. Buses back up to the ruin are also expensive. The hotel on site as international prices but, if this is not an issue, will give you several hours of effectively private access to the site in the early morning, before the gates open and trekkers arrive.

The site can be explored in a few hours, if your enthusiasm for archaeology is limited to general prospects and sweeping views. It is well worth ascending the spire about the ruin as the views are spectacular. This takes around an hour, but many will linger at the top. Seekers after cosmic wisdom are often found at the summit, chanting into metaphorical megaphones, and this selfishness may shorten your stay.

Machu Picchu has many guides and many guidebooks. Factually, we know next to nothing about the historical use of site, and the names such as the ‘temple of the three windows’ notes a building with three such apertures, but with no viable evidence that it was or was not a temple. The famous ‘hitching post of the Sun’ Intihuatana is a roughly squared rock pillar, which has been supposed to be connected with astronomy and the prediction of eclipses. It could as well have been used for husking maize or as a pedestal for a carving: we really have absolutely no idea.

We can guess that purification was of great importance to the people who used the site, as a consequence of the many baths that it and its surrounding ruins support. We can also guess at the role of the sun, both from its importance to the Incas in general and from the exposure of the site at dawn. Nature, in the sense of the Pachamama or bounteous mother Earth, is plainly important both historically – as the pre-Inca religion – but also as every view cries out to a love of the natural world, and the site has nothing to commend itself except its location in the green hum of the high jungle.

More than this, we cannot say. Perhaps this was a retreat for the Cuzco Kings, long before there were Incas. Perhaps it was their remote centre of wisdom, from which judgements emerged and oracular statements were made. We simply do not know. In many ways, our ignorance is much of its charm: green mysteries and silent dawn mists stealthily bearing off primeval insights into the human condition.

Mollepata to Machu Picchu.

This is a longer and much less frequented trek than the Inca trail. It is also less restricted by permits and other regulation. The trail dips lower and tropical flora is encountered. Take anti-malarials if you are trekking in the wet season, but also note that the higher stretches may be blocked by snow. (Please see above for a map.)

This trail goes to 4700m, and high altitude protection for all – porters and trekkers – is essential. Mollepata (2800m) is a remote arid village around 10 km off the Cuzco-Abancay road. It has a direct bus service to and from Cuzco. However, whilst the village can hire mules and muleteers (arrieros) trekking service is not organised and you will need to give it a day if you have not contracted with a company to organise matters for you. If your Spanish is weak, hire a guide in Cuzco. Bring all needed equipment and food. Excluding the guide, a mule and arriero will cost you something under US$ 20 per day.

Day 1: Rough farm paths climb up the Quebrada Pumachupan to the Cruz Pata (‘foot cross’) at 3500m. This road-head does indeed have a number of crosses. It has good views of the 5900m massif called Humantay, and the land drops away steeply to afford a panorama of the arid, eroded landscape around. This is a prudent camp site, although dog-infested.

Day 2: The little used dirt road climbs North, and then levels off at around 3600m and deteriorates further into an animal-only track. A few scattered settlements eventually lead to Amparay, where it is possible to camp. (Indeed, a more adventurous Day 1 could bring you here in about 7 hours.)

The river that was on the right from Mollepata has forked and one branch has come up below the trail, in a steep ravine. Higher, it divides again and the trail crosses both branches on very rough paths before finding a flat and lonely camping site.

Day 3: The peak of Salcantay (6260M) lies ahead. It has dumped a moraine heap in front of the trail, which it reaches and then skirts, climbing up a cliff in what are known locally as the ‘seven snakes’, or siete culebras. Dramatic cliffs and stark rockfields lead up to the Salcantay pass (4700m). Views are not particularly good, and it is best to drop quickly into the Quebrada Humantay, where the river offers a fine camp site. This pas can be blocked by snow. Views at the camp are good, and you may see children tending alpacas and cattle on the stony alpine turf.

Day 4: The valley drops down to permanent habitation, marked with Eucalyptus trees. Further down, the trail arrives at the village of Colcapampa, where it is possible to camp after what has been a very easy day. Alternatively, you can forge ahead to a steep drop following the Rio Totora,which eventually offers another small site near a settlement in the Totora bridge.

Day 5: The path follow the river down, climbing up and around incoming streams and waterfalls. Habitation follows after 4-5 hours and at 2300m, with no particular centre. The various rivers which have been flowing together during the walk are now consolidated in the Rio Santa Teresa, which it has been possible to see ahead for some days. The climate is subtropical and the rainfall relatively high, and the characteristic elfin cloud-forest of the high ceja de selva appears in ravines and gullies. Orchids appear, including some extremely pretty yellow Oncidiums, with flowers like little dancing girls. Tropical fruits such as guavas and bananas are grown in the villages. High altitude potatoes give way to maize and barley in the fields.

This area is known as La Playa, the beach, perhaps in view of its relative flatness. However, a road head ends here, and civilisation is marked with a large school, shops and – for those wanting a shorter trek – way of joining the trail at this point. Transport is, of course, much easier out than in, unless you know exactly when and where lorries and buses set off.

Day 6: It is necessary to cross the Rio Santa and follow the road down for a while, before fording the rough river and picking up the trail on the East bank. This is initially an agricultural network, and subsequently indistinct. If nowhere else, a guide earns his money here. A sparsely forested ridge pass at about 2800m takes the trail over a low flank of Tahuarcay and the its then drops gradually through scrubby trees. Gaps in these offer views forward and, if you are fortunate, you may catch a glimpse of Machu Piccu, only around 7 km away. You can see it much better from the campsite at Llactapata. The view commends this site, but not its poor water supply. Parrots are, however, good.

Day 7: The path down to the valley is steep, passing through rather neglected coffee plantations, citrus and other crops. A tributary of the Urubamba, which is curling around Machu Picchu to your left and heading tumultuously down to Santa Teresa in front of you is called the Aobamba. You hit this around half of the way down to the main river. It is crossed on a metal bridge, and the path drops into damp tropical splendour. The path skirts a major torrent, which results from a hydroelectricity project. This, to the indignation of some, cuts directly under the Machu Picchu site. Natural events destroyed it in 1998, but the tunnel continues to discharge.

The trail hereafter is somewhat scrappy, and you descend as you may to the main river, passing the new power station and encountering the railway, which switchbacks up from the river. A trip along the track will take you around the base of the Machu Picchu site, through very beautiful high jungle scenery. The walk to Aguas Calientes takes around 3 hours. There is also a train that travels from the power station to Aguas Calientes in the mid-afternoon. It is possible (but not permitted) to enter the Zona arqueologica from this direction and you will be caught on exit because you will not have a permit.


Ausangate circuit

The Cordillera Vilcanota is an island of peaks in the golden puna, South East of Cuzco. Ausangagte (6370m) is the highest peak on the ridge. This trek circles the cordillera. This can be done from a distance, on horseback, or forging up every valley on foot and puffing over every ridge. The trek described here is moderately strenuous, giving good views of the mountain scenery.

Radar image showing Ausangate from 2 km above Cuzco.

The ecological situation and physical geography could not stand at more of a contrast from the mist-curled, sometimes arid and sometimes inundated trails which we have described above. This is classical puna, high and cold amidst its golden ichu grass. Like the Huaraz region which it resembles, poorly drained impoverished soil give rise to alpine lakes, populated by geese and ducks, giant frogs and edible alga.

Ausangate is of religious significance to the Aymara people. Most major mountains are thought to be the seats of power of apus, vital spirits rather than gods, which have areas of responsibility in daily life. The apu of Ausangate has responsibility for alpacas, llamas, vicuñas and related breeds. Prodigious herds of these graze in the area. Mountains with powerful apus also constitute a sort of serano Hades, where the souls of dead without virtue are blown about, battered on the rock and frozen, like kites. One does not affront the guardians of such places.

This said, the route which we describe is a straightforward one, if a high and challenging one. It is neither for the unfit nor the beginner.

The little town of Tinqui is located at 3800m off the road from Urcos to Puerto Maldonaldo, itself a fascinating descent. It brings you to the North-East face of Ausangate. The route crosses the Cordillera and thus involves a number of high passes. It is important to be properly equipped – for the whole party to be properly equipped and to be acclimatised to altitude.

You can, in fact, access the general Cordillera by road. A 4x4 road penetrates from the Cuzco-Puno highway from the regional centre of Sicuani. This goes right up to Finaya near Laguna Sibinicocha. There are no jumping-off facilities here, but a park-camp-wander approach offers excellent access to the snowfields. Ausangate is, however, hidden by a shoulder. You can exit here from Laguna Jatan Pucacocha on the trail which we describe in detail. (This will require a guide who knows this route, of course.)

This point also offers a means to explore the Southern Vilcanota, but to do this it would be necessary to organise a team to meet you there – or to spend at least a day assembling such a team – as the facilities for arrive-and-go are simply not available.

Returning to Tinqui, the town is accessible by a regular bus service. Cuzco tour operators will arrange private transport, or you can hire a taxi. The main market, serving the entire region, is on Sunday. There are basic hostals in the town and you can camp outside of it. Security considerations apply.

Costs are far lower in Tinqui than Cuzco. Mules (“mulo(s)”) and muleteers (“arriero(s)”) can be hired locally, and both cost about the same per day. A matched pair would probably cost US$ 10-15 per day. If you want to ride the route, use a horse rather than a mule and ensure that it is broken to your standard of horsemanship – locals often ride semi-wild animals - and that the saddle is bearable. The serrano rear is an enigma that expresses itself in saddles crafted for torture or the more ample Western butt.

Other equipment must be brought in or bought from Cuzco. You can arrange the trip entirely from Cuzco – people in the Plaza de Armas will throw themselves at you asking for the privilege – but this convenience will reflect Cuzco prices.

You will have to organise your trek entirely in Spanish if you do this in Tinqui. Buying a set trip off a menu will undoubtedly do the job in Tinqui, in much the manner of buying an airline ticket, but you may wish to tailor the experience. Arrieros may speak only Aymara. If this is the case with your guide, it is wise to make sure that the nature of the contract is understood before you set out: how the arriero is to eat, who will cook, where the arriero expects to sleep, what to do in the event of an emergency and so forth.

Day 1: The livestock of the region dominate the first hours of an easy walk across rolling golden puna, with the ice peaks of the Cordillera looming ahead. This is a striking route on market day, when the higher altitude animals – such as llamas - are being brought down. After a climb to around 4400m, a settlement marks the descent into an area of cultivation. This is the Quebrada Upismayo, and the scattered houses are collectively known as Upis. There are hot springs and a good view of Ausangate, and most camp here. If you use the springs, you will do so in front of an audience of children from the settlement and – unhappily – you should keep a good eye on your clothes and other belongings.

Day 2: The trail rises up along the valley to rise through rocky landscape to the 4760m Arapa pass. This is a dour location, lacking in any visible plant life, with soil stained the strange colours – orange, purple, green – that characterise the rocks of the Andes when they decay. Black spires frame the snowfields of Ausangate. The trail wanders through this moonscape to small black, icy lakes. Here, the view opens forward to show the major lakes that lie ahead. The weird landscape colours persist, often favouring a pallet of violet and mauve. It is worth exploring, as strange perspectives make themselves available after a few minutes of exploration.

The drop quickens and plant life returns, as mossy alpine meadows. The trail may divert to avoid these, as they can be boggy. Laguna Yunacocha lies to the right of one of these, and the main cluster of Laguna Uchuy Pucacocha to the left of subsequent moraine. The spectacular ice fall-glacier from Ausangate discharges into the milky-blue waters of this. A climb brings a green alpine valley above the lake, further scrambles and then a view down to Laguna Jatan Pucacocha. This, too, has a header ice-fall. A decent to the shore of this offers a spectacular camp site at around 4580m, with the moonlit glacier reflecting in the dark still waters of the lake. The settlement of Pucapata is seasonally occupied, but there is plenty of flat space.

Day 3: Climb past ochre Andesite cliffs, enjoying the vast vistas ahead and behind. Lakes of emerald, milky turquoise, all shades of blue and black appear and disappear. The trail climbs through desolate country to the Apacheta pass at 4860m. The view ahead is fine, taking in the Laguna Ausangatecocha which is the object of the day’s walk. You can also see the trail that you will have to take the following day, up to the 5170m base camp.

A steep descent reaches the lake and the green pasture that surrounds it. High altitude stock (alpacas and others) are frequent presences. It is advisable to take make this pretty spot a resting point after a short day, as the Palomani pass is extremely high.

Day 4: The trail rises extremely steeply to the Palomani pass. This is as high as the trail goes on this circuit. You cannot see Ausangate here, but the other mountain scenery is impressive. Nevado Santa Catalina is close to hand and the general panorama, South to North, is impressive. The Cordillera Vilcabamba is visible to the North, with the 6270 peak of Salcantay standing proud. The 450m descent into a dark valley brings the Ausangate base camp, which more a series of gritty flat areas near the river than a single site. You can camp here, or descend to Pampachanca. This is a collection of houses, some abandoned and others used seasonally, near to the Rio Chilcamaya. In the trekking season, this is a grazing centre and the grass is green. Expect llamas, and intrusive children who demand sweets. Backpackers should be particularly careful of their belongings.

Day 5: This is an easy day, which is welcome after the strenuous ascents of the past two days. The trail follows the river branch called the Rio Jampamayo. This crashes along to your right as you ascend the valley. Startling views of the 6100m Nevado Picos Tres (‘three peaked snow field’) appear at th ehead of this as you walk. The village of Jampa appears at 4650m, and heralds a rise to an open bowl, the Jampamayo pampa, where camping is easy. There is a collection of small lakes (‘Tillacocha’) at the head of the valley, and these are often the focus for the day’s walk. General mountain views are good, but perhaps lacking the punch of some recent sights.

Vicuñas graze in this area, but they are extremely timid and are not easily approached. Despite their charming appearance, these animals will assault people who they believe are hemming them in, so beware of groups of them close to cliffs, corrals or other enclosure that might trigger this. “Assault” takes the form of a mass charge to the exit, kicking forward at whatever is in their way with extremely sharp hooves. Vicuña cries at night are comparable to those of Indian jackals.

Day 6: The trail rises to the high Campo pass (5070m).The lowest part of the pass is glaciated and otherwise difficult, and it is necessary to contour above this. The trail stumbles across moraine and scree to offer a view down to green Lago Caycocha far below. Rocks give way to grass, and the descent is pleasantly steady until habitation appears. A series of sharp drops brings the marshy shores of Laguna Comercocha.

Tinqui is now a day away, and you may wish to spend some more time in the area. There are lakes to the North West, reached from higher up the trail which you have followed. You can exit directly from these to Tinqui. (Naturally, you would not come to Comercocha if you wished to explore these.) Lagunas Puracocha and Ulurungococha (around 4580m) offer fine views of the North-east peaks, notably Parcocaya.

Day 7: This is a day of gradual descent, nonetheless adding to over 8000m, which passes through scattered settlements that specialise in livestock-rearing. The two chief villages are Pacchanta and Calachaca, where there are hot springs. Calachaca is also the road head, and the walk back to Tinqui follows this across the puna, passing through other settlements. Views of the Cordillera are fine.

Other areas of interest

The region around Cuzco is extraordinarily rich in interesting potential. The area is crammed with archaeological remains, and the possibility of new discoveries is always there. Snow peaks are crammed next to mist forest, crashing mountain stream descend to slow, deep jungle rivers. Very little of this has been exploited for tourism, and the ambitious traveller can make their own unique expeditions. Some companies offer llama-based tours, and other have specialised short trips around Cuzco – for example, focused on archaeology.

The town of Abancay is of interest in its own right, as it has charm and offers many relicts of past history. However, it is also the jumping off point for many potential treks (for example, the Mollepata trek described above.)

One extremely important archaeological site, located on the Rio Apurimac, is Choquequirao. This is located in a remarkable jungle setting, and whilst it cannot be equated with Machu Picchu, offers much the same experience. However, it does so without any organised tourism, and you may well be alone with the stones. There are various ways in: from Curahuasi, on the main road and the river, from Huanipaca, about 45 km from Abancay, or from Cachora, also on the road from Cuzco to Abancay. This last is th emost scenric, following the Cerro Rumihuasi above the river before dropping to the ruins. You can even connect via Santa Teresa with Machu Picchu, although this requires you to cross the cordillera in between..

The Cordillera Urubamba is bracketed by two roads that offer all manner of jumping off points, and the remote settlement of Koshireni skirts the Apurimac nature reserve, and heads a trail that goes down to the vast gas-field of Camisea and the jungle town of Sepahua, which has it own airstrip. The trail follows the Urubamba, which is navigable below Quillabamba.

There are established tours which travel down the Ithahuania road to Madre de Dios and the Manu reserve. Very little has been done in respect of travel in the intervening areas, which have extraordinary biological richness.

It is worth noting that Cordillera Vilcabamba is also under-trekked. A road from near Quillabamba gives access to Lucma, which has major Inca ruins, sits below a 6200m peak and is entirely ignored by the travel industry.