Over 500 years ago, the Inca Empire built a road system that consisted of 40,000 kilometres (25,000 miles) of trail spanning north to south through Chile, Ecuador and Peru. This Inca road system connected villages throughout the Andean mountains. 500 years later, we see a living testament to the engineering capabilities of the Incas, as we see perfectly preserved homes, farmhouses and fortresses throughout Peru. But not only have the buildings stood the test of time, but so has the Inca road system… commonly known today as the Inca Trail network.
Machu Picchu – the most famous Inca Ruin in Peru
Happy hikers enjoying a sunny day at Machu Picchu after hiking the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Without a doubt, the most famous of Peru’s ancient Inca Ruins is Machu Picchu. Hiram Bingham’s discovery of the ruins in 1911 shot it to fame and in 2007 Machu Picchu became one of the new Seven Wonders of the World… while hiking the Inca Trail or Lares Inca Trail has become one of the greatest hiking experiences in the world.
The lesser-known ruins of Peru:
Cuzco’s Sacsayhuaman Fortress
Translated to 'House of the Sun', the Sacsayhuaman Fortress is situated on the hillside overlooking Cuzco’s main Plaza and Cuzco Valley. This magnificent archaeological site represents a set of jaguar’s teeth with massive, perfectly fitted stones weighing up to 130 tons each, and was the place where the Incas made their final stand against the Spanish conquistadores. No one really knows what the Incas used Sacsayhuaman for – some say it was a sanctuary and temple of the sun, others say it was a granary. No matter who’s right, you’ll have a lot of fun hearing all the stories this amazing area inspires. Visit it on our 'Jaguar' and 'Iguana' trips.
Sacsayhuaman Fortress, Cuzco.
Formerly the royal palace of Emperor Pachacuti, this palace and fortress also served as an Incan stronghold as they resisted the Spanish conquistadors. Remnants of storehouses, quarries, terraces, and temples are still incredibly well preserved today. It’s arguably among the most impressive ruins in the Sacred Valley and it's situated near the starting point of the Classic Inca Trail.
Ollantaytambo Ruins, Peru
Pisac is a village situated in the Sacred Valley. The name Pisac (sometimes referred to as Pisaq) means partridge (a type of bird) in the local Quechua language. It was customary in Inca architecture to design cities in the shape of an animal, and in the case of Pisac, it’s built in the shape of a partridge!
The other main attraction for visiting Pisac is to hike to the Pisac Ruins, which sit high above the village on a triangular plateau – you can find the start of this trail near the church in town. It’s a steep 610 meter climb (2000 feet) but the views of the Urubamba Valley, the close up detail of the terraces, the ancient footpaths and tunnels make the climb well worthwhile. You can hike to the Pisac Ruins on our Ultimate Peru Adventure 'Jaguar' and 'Iguana' trips.
Beautiful Pisac Ruins, Peru
This unique oval structure is sometimes colloquially known as the “Egg Hut”. It’s believed to have been a kind of rest stop for Incan travelers (called a Tambo) providing them with a place to spend the night and rest their animals. You’ll discover the Runkuracay ruins on the Classic Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu; it is the perfect place to enjoy a mid-hike break and marvel at the beauty of Incan architecture.
Dubbed “La Ciudad entre la Niebla” (“The City above the Clouds”), this major archeological site is situated a staggering 3,720 meters above sea level. Contrary to its nickname, Phuyupatamarca is often surrounded by dense, white clouds. The ruins, dramatically constructed into a steep cliff-side, contain five stone baths that fill up with freshwater during the rainy season. It’s believed that these baths were used for religious ceremonies back in the Inca times.
Visitors can also check out the site’s elaborate hydraulic system, a true testament to impressive capabilities of Incan engineering. Of all of the Incan ruins in the region, Phuyupatamarca is arguably the most intact and therefore a truly spectacular site for trekkers passing through.
First discovered by Hiram Bingham (Bingham also discovered Machu Picchu) when he wandered along a road extending from Machu Picchu, the dramatic Sayacmarca is situated at a fork in an old Incan road, in a dense subtropical forest full of butterflies and hummingbirds. Quechua for “Dominant Town,” these unique ruins have a mystical air about them and are among the most impressive along the Classic Inca Trail (except for Machu Picchu itself, of course!). It’s believed that Sayacmarca was actually built by the Colla, a major enemy of the Incas, and that the Incas took over the site following their conquest of the group.
Sayacmarca Ruins, on Peru's Classic Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu
Huiñay Huayna (Wiñay Wayna)
Huiñay Huayna (traditionally spelled Wiñay Wayna in Quechua, the language of the Incas) was constructed into a steep hillside overlooking the Urubamba River. In addition to the site’s ancient houses and temples, it also boasts an incredibly complex system of Incan terraces, formerly used for agriculture. The name of the site roughly translates to “Forever Young,” and many trekkers report that these ruins are the most beautiful found along the Classic Inca Trail.
Winay Wayna Ruins, Peru
The endpoint of the first day’s trek along the Classic Inca Trail, Wayllabamba (which means “grassy plain” in Quechua) is the perfect spot to watch the sunset behind the dramatic Andean peaks. This grassy plain overlooks stunning Andean scenery, with centuries-old Incan terraces winding through the surrounding mountainsides. There is even a village nearby where travellers can mingle with local villagers.
Wayllabamba Ruins, Peru