The one-time capital of the mighty Inca Empire, Cusco’s biggest claim to fame is its impressively preserved Inca ruins, including the iconic Machu Picchu. Here are some of the most significant archaeological sites in the area worthy of a visit.
Machu Picchu, the Lost City of Incas, is perhaps the most famous archaeological site in all of South America. This UNESCO World Heritage Site encompasses a collection of temples, plazas, and terraced hills shrouded in mystery—nobody’s sure why they were built and eventually abandoned.
The ingenuity of the Inca civilization is on full display at this ancient fortress, built during the 15th century. Surrounded by terraced hills, the complex shows off classic Inca city planning, with fine examples of stonework. The fortress was the site of the Incas’ greatest victory against the Spanish during the wars of conquest.
While the ruins at Pisac were originally thought to be a fortress, archaeologists now think they were likely used as a religious site, observatory, and residential area. Often overlooked by visitors making a beeline for the Inca Trail and the area’s more popular ruins, travelers might find themselves practically alone among the ruins or taking in the sweeping views from the top of the archaeological site.
Nicknamed “the other Machu Picchu,” Choquequirao sits in the mountains outside of Peru, where it only receives a handful of visitors each day. Accessible via a strenuous 2-day hike, these Inca ruins, complete with carved terraces and intricate stonework, offer a sense of tranquility that’s difficult to experience at more accessible sites.
Sacsayhuaman represents one of the largest and most impressive ancient Inca sites on the outskirts of Cusco. This military stronghold was the site of a significant battle against the Spanish in 1536; many of its tiered, zigzag walls and a large ceremonial plaza remain.
The Incas were some of the most successful farmers in the Western Hemisphere at the height of their civilization, and at Moray, it’s easy to see why. What looks at first to be a giant crater is in fact a series of circular agricultural terraces linked by staircases. Each ring has its own microclimate, which allowed crops to be rotated throughout to test which temperature yielded the best results.