Remote mountains of rainbow colors, high altitude lakes age-old Inca secrets, ancient hidden archaeological wonders and steamy jungles teeming with life are just some of the amazing sights outside of Cusco. I traveled this region for over a month in search of some of Peru’s most off the beaten track sights which are all still close to Cusco the capital of the Inca Empire. What I discovered was a culturally rich region with a plethora of amazing archaeological sights and climate zones that can change in the blink of an eye. This is the real Peru! The one we all dream of.
Pilgrimage Trail to Humantay Lake
One of the most popular places to visit as a day trip from Cusco is Humantay Lake. It’s a steep 2 – 3 hour climb to the alluring blue water shores of this high altitude and stunningly beautiful place. The Inca used to make a pilgrimage here as the waters are considered sacred.
It’s peaceful, beautiful, and you can feel the spirituality of this place. I am not one for saying “man the energy here is blissful”, but truly I can tell you this, it is very special.
Leaving Cusco early and hiking fast is essential if you want to enjoy this place. Most don’t make it here until late in the morning meaning if you make the effort to get here early you can enjoy the tranquility of this place all alone.
Humantay Lake beauty is no secret anymore and due to its popularity hordes of Instagrammer wannabe’s arrive throwing rocks into the lake, flying drones above your head and ruining quite possibly every single enjoyable moment here. Best advice get here early!
Rainbow Mountain at Sunrise
Walk the streets of Cusco and you will see countless advertisements plastered everywhere from tour agencies to visit Peru’s fabled Rainbow Mountain. Rainbow Mountain is quite possibly the most touristed sight next to Machu Picchu in Peru and for good reason! It’s a spectacular, bedazzling display of colors seemingly layered over a mountain range.
Every single day Rainbow Mountain sees upwards of 1500 – 2000 tourists. Luckily to get to Rainbow Mountain you must drive 3 hours up rough rode’s and then hike for 2 hours in 5000m high altitude trails.
Many opt to skip Rainbow Mountain as its so popular, but if you follow these steps as I did you will not only enjoy Rainbow Mountain all to yourself, you will also witness the sunrise over one of the most beautiful sights in Peru.
First, hire a private car and leave at 3 am, this will ensure you get there early enough. Second, you must hike fast, it’s painful due to the altitude but do it! And aim straight for the viewpoint. That’s it! You will now get to see Rainbow Mountain as the first travelers did!
After Rainbow Mountain follow the trail to the Red Valley, well worth the extra struggle to the summit.
Palcoyo, the Secret Rainbow Mountain
Many don’t realize that Rainbow Mountain is part of a mountain chain full of colorful mountains! Palcoyo, which is accessed from another remote dirt road south of Rainbow Mountain is a largely unknown and equally as beautiful series of Rainbow Mountains.
Palcoyo is a large region with multiple sights, unlike Rainbow Mountain which is just one mountain. Hiking the area, you will discover plenty of fascinating geological wonders like, massive red valleys, dazzling rainbow mountains, jagged pinnacle mountain peaks and you’ll see herds of lamas as many locals still call this area home.
I loved hiking here and I spent most of the day exploring this massive area. Most of the time we were completely alone and there are still many sections of Palcoyo that are untouched completely.
Leaving Palcoyo the first town you drive through you there is a potato museum. I highly recommend this strange little museum as the shaman owner is very passionate about his potatoes and take you through the history of potatoes in the area… trust me its quirky!
Hiking to Waqrapukara, Peru
This is one of Guiding Peru’s top adventure tours. The trip begins by camping atop a high-altitude lookout East of Palcoyo. The stars are so amazing here and they reflect over the nearby lake. While camping some local potato farmers approached us and sold us numerous kinds of potatoes that we cooked up!
In the morning you begin the first 10km of the hike towards the ancient temple of Waqrapukara. It’s a slight downhill decent and you pass by many pristine lakes and we saw herds of wild Vicuna.
Nearing Waqrapukara the vegetation becomes much greener as you enter a whole new climate zone. You can see Waqrapukara temple perched atop a stunning cliff in the distance for many kilometers. The climb up to the temple is steep, but the Inca’s crafted some amazing steps that you still use today.
The summit of Waqrapukara provides amazing views over the valley and incredible insights of why the Inca built this temple in such an incredible place.
The walk back to town you will see ancient hieroglyphics before ending the trek with a traditional underground Inca style cookout. We had guinea pig and potatoes!
Peru’s Manu National Park
Manu National park often dubbed as the “Inca Amazon” is a wild place. Here there are still uncontacted tribes and rich wildlife that live in the deep dark jungles of the Amazon. Getting here is quite difficult and there are many tour operators who offer trips into the jungle.
We traveled to Manu with Manu Adventures. The trip starts with a long 10-hour drive from Cusco to the steamy jungles of Manu. Manu National park is split into a “living area”, “National Reserve”, and finally a “national park”. Manu Adventures took us to the living area, which is still interesting, but if you really want to see wildlife you must dig deeper into the Reserve area. This is your best chance is to see wildlife.
Queshuachaca Bridge might be located a bit far from everything else, but it’s worth the trip out here. In Incan times the people here built bridges made of a fibrous rope. They could construct them across massive valleys connecting small communities with ease.
As with much of the Inca Empire not much of these bridges have survived the tests of time. There is one bridge left however and this is due to the resilience of the local population who every year re-enact the ceremonies that took place to ensure the bridges were in tip-top shape all. All this knowledge has been passed down since Inca times!
Visiting Queshuachaca was great, there are no crowds at all, and the bridge is a fascinating piece of work. It’s a bit sketchy feeling crossing it, but it makes you feel as if you have stepped into the shoes of Indiana Jones himself!
Peru is a big place with a lot of adventure opening. Getting to these remote area’s can be extremely difficult on your own. We traveled the Andes with Guiding Peru, they helped us discover amazing places like Waqrapucara which companies in Cusco are not even advertising! I highly recommend this company for any of their tours! Thanks for the ceremonial underground Guinea pig cookout Guiding Peru! Check out Guiding Peru’s Tours Here