Photograph by Gonzalez, Laif/Redux
Not long ago, Machu Picchu was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, a result that will surprise none of the millions of people who’ve visited the spectacular stone citadel in the sky. What most visitors to Peru don’t know, however, is that the country is thick with ancient Inca wonders. Here are ten others worth checking out. Many are within a day’s journey of Cusco and can be combined with a visit to Machu Picchu.
The first is Sacsahuaman (pictured above). Arguably the greatest Inca ruin outside of Machu Picchu, this gargantuan complex overlooks the city of Cusco. (You can take a taxi or hike up in less than an hour.) Sacsahuaman is believed to have once been a royal retreat, a fortress, or both. Its zigzag walls are built with some of the largest stones to be found in Inca masonry; some are estimated to weigh as much as 300 tons, yet are fit together as tightly as the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
—Mark Adams, author of Turn Right at Machu Picchu
2. Vitcos/Yurak Rumi
Photograph by Mark Adams
When Hiram Bingham came to Peru in 1911 to search for the Lost City of the Inca, one of his top priorities was finding this former Inca settlement. The main palace here is enormous—its front wall measures more than 200 feet across—and its doorways feature some of the finest Inca stonework in existence. The real draw, though, is Yurak Rumi (pictured above)—“White Rock” in Quechua—an intricately carved granite boulder the size of a city bus, which was once one of the holiest shrines in the Inca Empire.
Photograph by Raach, laif/Redux
These ruins, overlooking the Urubamba River less than an hour northeast of Cusco, are notable for their Inca waterworks and beautiful, curving agricultural terraces, which offer excellent vistas of the Sacred Valley. The religious buildings in particular are as finely made as those at Machu Picchu, and the site features one of Peru’s only remaining intihuatanas, enigmatic carved rocks that were used for astronomical observation. The town of Pisac, located beneath the ruins, also hosts a popular local crafts market.
Photograph by Paul Spierenburg, Laif/Redux
In 1536, this settlement was the site of the Inca's greatest military victory over the invading Spaniards. Today, it is one of the only towns in Peru that retains its original Inca walls and street grid, dominated by long, ancient stone walls that once divided groups of homes around communal courtyards. An imposing set of stone terraces (from which the Inca assaulted their Spanish invaders with slingshots and arrows), capped by six enigmatic slabs of pink granite, looms above the town. Most trains to and from Machu Picchu stop at Ollantaytambo, making it an ideal overnight stop.
5. Cusco and the Koricancha
Photograph by Vassil Donev, EPA/Corbis
The name Cusco can be translated as “navel of the world,” and this holy city was once the nexus of the Inca Empire; four roads led out from its central plaza in the cardinal directions, toward the empire’s four quarters. Cusco was also home to the palaces of its rulers. Most of the original Inca buildings were destroyed by the conquistadors, but some walls—famous for masonry so precise that a knife blade cannot be wedged between stones—were incorporated into new structures. The walls were so well made that they’ve withstood major earthquakes and can still be seen in Cusco’s tight alleyways. The holiest site of all was the Koricancha, or sun temple, which at the time of the Spanish invasion was covered in sheets of gold. The precious metals have long since departed, but much of the original temple still stands beneath the veneer of a Spanish monastery.
Moray Photograph by Ian Wood, Alamy