We arrived in Cusco city with much enthusiasm, there we were in one of the most ancient, intriguing and historic regions of Peru, full of ancient ruins.
A outstandingly beautiful but bustling city tucked snuggly inbetween the Andes, Cusco was once a place where millions of Incans called ‘the capital’.
A title that prompted the very intelligent race to construct the hundreds, if not thousands, of old Incan temples, buildings and religious sites found scattered across the city, and the nearby Sacred Valley. Of course, let’s not forget the pinnacle of South America, the world wonder, Machu Picchu.
Every year, millions of tourists arrive from around the world, to takeover the stoney streets and indulge in its ancient history. It’s no surprise that one of Cusco city’s main revenue is tourism, and with that comes an onverwheming amount of tours, attractions, sites and “must sees”, all of which are overpriced.
It’s hard to avoid the ‘gringo prices’, such as the train to Machu Picchu, for example. The main transport link from the city to the site, with a €40 entry fee alone, the train costs foreigners anything from €120 whereas locals pay €5 return. And with this costly trip comes an unwanted sense of pressure. Way out of our budget, Macchu Picchu is that one thing we cannot miss. It’s seen a blasphemy, a ridiculous thought, but as travellers (and writers) we couldn’t fathom the idea of coming all the way here and not seeing the wonder, or so so many have told us.
Another example is the ‘boleto turistico’ a one-for-all ticket at the price of €35, that allows you access to up to 16 Incan ruins across 10 days, including Saqsaywaman, Pisaq and Ollantaytambo. Something that’s not impossible but considering not all listed ruins are worth it, neither is the price. For us, anyway.
It’s a pity we cannot pay per attraction, coughing up for only what we want to see rather than feeling the pressure to visit as much as possible, ensuring you get your monies worth.
Then there is the partial ‘boleto turistico’. Valid for 1 day, this allows you to visit Saqsaywaman, Q’enqo, Pukapukara and Tambomachay, all within walking distance from Cusco city, for €19.
Don’t get me wrong, we are happy to pay, but to fully enjoy everything Cusco has to offer, you’re looking at taking a major hammering to the bank account. It put us budget backpackers on high alert, penny-watching even more so which is never enjoyable. We also had to pick and choose carefully what we wanted to see, no way could we afford it all.
So with that, inspired by previous visitors and our favourite travel blogs, we looked at triumphing as much of the Cusco Region as we could, spending as little as possible while doing so.
To achieve this, we had to research exactly “how” Cusco worked. With an overwhelming amount of information available online, at first we found it hard to wrap our head around the sacred valley, the Inca trail, the route to Machu Picchu and the city itself. What was based where? We are 99.9% sure we have it sussed, and have gathered everything we learned to hopefully make this less painful for you as it was for us.
To give you an idea of our itinerary, we started our Sacred Valley explorations in Cusco city. There we spent a number of nights before making our way to The Sacred Valley’s tiny town, Ollantaytambo.
We then based ourselves in Ollantaytambo, and used the ancient village as our hiking start point to Machu Picchu. After a thrilling 24 hours, where we hiked to Aguas Calientes, spent the night and hiked to Machu Picchu, to return back to Ollantaytambo.
From Ollantaytambo, we town-hopped through the Valley of the Incas to Urubamba. It was here we enjoyed the day at the Maras Salt Mines. It was then onto Pisac, the home to our second favourite Inca ruins and the most chilled town in the Valley. We then wrapped up our ventures with a bus back to Cusco city to straight away jump on a bus towards Puno and the Bolivian border.
So without further babblings, let’s take a look at exactly what the Cusco region has to offer and how we managed to visit and experience it all, without leaving ourselves (too) broke.
The usual starting point for us excited explorers, whether you set up base here to explore the surroundings, or take a quick stop to adjust to the altitude; a night stay in the city should happen.If you would like to take a few minutes to read our quick guide to the city of Cusco, including accomodation and some free things to do – here you go.
Cusco City Ruins:
A nickname we use for the number of ruins located just 5km from the city.
It includes Tambomachay, Pukapukara, The Temple of the Moon, The Temple of the Monkey, Q’enqo and Saqsaywaman.
As mentioned above, to visit any of these, you need to purchase the partial ‘boleto touristico’ for 70sol (€19).
We avoided this cost and had too as much fun playing ninjas.
For a detailed guide on how we hiked 5km from Cusco’s hillside back towards the city, visiting… OK… sneaking into, 6 out 8 ruins along the way – click here.
The Sacred Valley:
Here you can find picturesque towns such as Ollantaytambo, Urubamba and Pisac; each town offering a unique look at Andean life, as well as their own specific Incan ruins and attractions. The Sacred Valley covers a mass area, and rightly deserves as much attention as Machu Picchu.
Here is our guide to the Sacred Valley that includes our starting point for Machu Picchu, details on the towns and Inca sites we vistied, with a breakdown of transport costs and the route we took for each one – click here.
This one more obvious, we all know about the world famous attraction, but preparing said trip can cause a slight headache or two.
We put together a guide on how to avoid the hefty transport costs, our own experience hiking 28km to Machu Picchu and enjoying the ancient Incan hotspot on a budget – click here.
As always, if you have any feedback let us know and please do share your Cusco adventures with us!