There are three ways to get from Puno to Cusco: rail, local bus, or tourist bus. Rail is outrageously expensive, local bus leaves Puno at 9 pm and arrives around 5 am, and the tourist bus is around 50 USD a person. We weren’t a fan of any of the options, but we decided to splurge and buy a trip on the tourist bus. It is about three time the prices of a local bus, but it stops at archeological sites along the way, includes lunch, and is a much nicer bus. So we found the cheapest option we could (46 USD per person) with WonderPeru.
The trip between Puno and Cusco runs through a long valley and is called the Route of the Sun. It is growing in popularity because of the archeological sites and the beautiful valley we travel through.
This is La Raya pass, a lookout point along the way and the highest point of the ten-hour trip.
Our guide, fluent in English and Spanish, talked about the history of the valley and what different people groups lived there over the last two thousand years. Our first stop was Pukara, the place of an ancient temple site just a few miles away from Lake Titikaka. There is a small museum there with stone statues and pottery from the pre-Incan period. The first people group there were the Tiwanakus, who also lived near La Paz. They built a temple and important religious center near the base of a mountain, and when they were conquered by the Aymaras people (around 1000 AD) the stone structures were repurposed and used again. When the Aymaras civilization disintegrated, some people left and went through the sun valley, closer to Cusco, and established the Incan civilization. Inka in Quechua means “lord” or “ruling class,” and the Spanish took that word to mean the entire civilization and ethnic group.
We hopped back on the bus and went on to the next archeological site, which was a little more impressive, called Raqch’i, or “Temple of Wiracocha.” The ruins are holding up pretty well here, where we could walk under doorways, through gates, and look up at the remaining temple walls.
An Incan settlement from around 1400, Raqch’i guarded part of the Incan trail with high walls on the hills surrounding it and the population within the town. The temple, pictured above, and the town was dedicated to Wiracocha, their creator deity.
The Incan trail stretches from Colombia all the way to the beginning of Argentina–much larger than the two- or three-day trek people hike to get to Machu Picchu. We were able to walk along the reinforced area within the ruins, so now we can say we’ve hiked the Incan trail! Although the Incan civilization was short (because of the abrupt end brought on by Spanish conquistadors), it was mighty. A large part of the reason it expanded so quickly was the genius of the road, which helped trade, military movement, and flow of culture between other people groups.
We stopped for lunch next at a touristy restaurant off the main road. Two or three other buses had stopped there also. When Jordan and I walked in, we were greeted by a sea of very pale faces. It was really weird to see so many gringos at one time. And to hear so much English. We were both kind of uncomfortable with the demographic–we had gotten so used to being the only gringos around. It all felt a little fake to us. But the food was good, so we didn’t complain too much!
Our guide took us on a short detour off the normal tourist drive to go through a small Peruvian pueblo to look at a colonial bridge. Built in the 1500s or 1600s, it is still in use today. “You can go across it,” our guide assured us.
I thought, well, here’s a chance to be brave and daring. I know how to swim, so it can’t be too dangerous. So I was the first to cross the bridge. I grasped the rope handles tightly and tried not to focus on how the bridge swung. I crossed to the other side intact, quite proud of myself, when I looked down and saw that the rope handles were actually steel cables with ropes and leather strips wrapped around them. So…not quite so daring or brave as I thought. Though the floor was just sticks tied together. And part of the railing was broken in the middle….
We ended our tour near the bus terminal of Cusco and got a taxi to our hostel for 10 soles. In a couple of days our friend Sarah Ann will join us and we will go on to Machu Picchu!