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The Secrets of Q'enqo: A Cusco Daytrip

Peru is a country with a rich history and fascinating culture, with no shortage of great sites to explore. Several Incan ruins are located in the Sacred Valley area surrounding Cusco. As a budget traveller, I am always looking for places that offer an authentic and inexpensive experience that won't break the bank. Q'enqo ruins fits the bill.


When travelling to Peru, it's important to be aware of some of the challenges. The altitude can be a real issue for many. Take activities slowly, give yourself a chance to adjust and drink plenty of water.

Peru is a wonderful destination to explore and learn about its long and deep history, stunning landscapes, and vibrant culture. Over the length of its history, several significant indigenous populations have risen to prominence but the best-studied and most widely known is the Inca Empire which left behind many grand structures and cities. Some of the most popular Inca sites are located in the Sacred Valley in Cusco province. Q'enqo is one of those found closest to the city of Cusco.

Q'enqo is a Inca complex of ruins, located just 5 km from Cusco. Once used for religious and ceremonial purposes by the Inca, it may have also been used as a place of pilgrimage. I took a local bus from the city center to get to Q'enqo. The journey took around 20 minutes and cost just a few soles. The bus I took was very crowded and noisy, so be prepared for a slightly uncomfortable ride. Visitors might choose to book one of the many day trips offered through the various travel agencies in Cusco. Most of these day trips include an early morning pickup from your hotel and an itinerary that covers several of the Sacred Valley sites. There are a lot of choices but I recommend using Amazon Wildlife Peru, located on Triunfo, about 5 minutes from Plaza de Armas in Cusco. Carmen can arrange any activity you can imagine from day trips to an amazing adventure in the Amazon staying in their own rainforest lodges.

I would recommend getting a guide as there is little signage and no audio guides available. Local guides gather at the entrance to the site near the ticket booth, so you will have no trouble finding a guide even if you choose to travel to Q'enqo independently. I thoroughly enjoyed the lively and informative narration from a very enthusiastic guide.


Even though I had already visited several Inca city complexes, I was once again struck by the sheer size of the site. The ruins cover a large area, and I found it very easy to fill several hours exploring them. The site has everal sections, including a main plaza, a series of terraces, and a number of smaller structures. Archeologists and scholars believe that it took several centuries to build Q'enqo, with different parts of the site added at different times.

In the typical Inca style, the walls and structures are built using large, finely carved blocks of stone, which fit together seamlessly without the use of mortar. Considering this is an area with a lot of seismic activity, it is very impressive that the Inca figured out building methods created to withstand earthquakes.


Q'enqo also features a number of intricate carvings and sculptures, including a large stone altar and a series of animal carvings that represent the gods of the Inca pantheon.

The temple area was used for ritual sacrifices. Visitors can see and wander through the niches and chambers that were used for these ceremonies.

The temple area is at the highest point of the site. It is clear that the temple was a central gathering area for the local people, even if scholars do not yet have a full understanding of all the ways that this site was used.

We do know that the Inca practiced a variety of sacrificial rituals, that used local animals such as llamas and guinea pigs. Human sacrifice was only used for the most important occasions, like the death of a ruler or to celebrate the opening of a new temple. The complex network of underground tunnels and chambers seems to have served a variety of functions beyond the rituals. Some areas were clearly used for storage with clay jars and shelving.

According to Inca beliefs, sacrifice was a way of communicating with the gods and to guarantee the empire's prosperity. The Inca believed that sacrificial blood would feed the earth and bring fertility to the land. Rituals were timed to coordinate with moon phases, the beginning/end of the growing season and significant meteorological events. Sacrifices were also seen as a way of maintaining a delicate balance between the human and the spiritual world. When faced with natural disasters such as flooding, drought, or crop failure sacrifices were performed in an effort to appease angry gods.

At Q'enqo, the sacrifices were performed by priests. Victims were given tranquillizing drugs to make them more compliant. The victims were then led to one of the niches or chambers in the temple area, where they would be killed and their blood offered to the gods. The practice of sacrifice seems particularly gruesome but my guide stressed that the sacrificial victims were often chosen from the most elite of families and therefore, were likely seen in a rather heroic light.


The current admission fee is 10 soles for adults, and 5 soles for students. The site is open daily from 08:00 to 17:00, and guided tours are available for an additional fee.

For more information about Q'enqo, including admission costs and hours of operation, be sure to visit the official website. The city of Cusco itself is a great base from which to explore the surrounding area, including other Inca ruins such as Sacsayhuaman, Ollantaytambo, and Chincero


Q'enqo gives a wee glimpse into the history and culture of the Inca Empire and is a great way to experience the country's rich heritage. With its impressive stonework, underground tunnels, and panoramic views, Q'enqo is a truly unique and unforgettable experience. So when in Cusco, be sure to add Q'enqo to your itinerary!

 

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