Everyone comes to Cusco because they plan to hike, or train, to Machu Pichu. It is, without a doubt, an over touristed destination, meaning that it has been loved to death. So many tourists, everywhere you look. But, thankfully, there are a few escapes to avoid the crowds and get out into nature. They are also easily accessed from the center of Cusco.
If you’re thinking of visiting Machu Picchu though, check out these helpful blog posts:
Salkantay Trail: Trail Logistics
Salkantay Trail: Day by Day
Salkantay Trail: What to Pack
Okay, yes, I know, this stop is not totally tourist free. But there is a nice, yet steep, hike up to it, and the view of the city is fantastic. You’ll find the typical sellers that you’ll find all over Cusco- selling sweaters, hats, photos with alpaca, tours, etc. The White Jesus (Cristo Blanco) was quite a bit smaller than I had expected, but it was still definitely interesting to see. On Google maps, you can find it as “Mirador desde el Cristo Blanco.”
How to get to Cristo Blanco:
It’s not exactly complicated, you just have to get yourself on the right path. The easiest way to explain would be to put in ‘Acueducto de Sapantiana’ into Google Maps. Once you get there (worth a quick stop to see the aquaduct as well), you’ll see signs for Cristo Blanco. Keep following them up.
If you prefer more analogue instructions, try this:
Face the cathedral in the Plaza de Armas. Just to the left, there is a small street. Follow that street up and you’ll hit a fork. Take the small alleyway to the right. Follow that alley all the way until you hit a dead end at Calle Choqechaka. Turn left and walk up the street until you reach a staircase. At the top of the stairs to the right, you’ll find the aquaduct. To the left, you’ll see a sign for the Cristo Blanco. Follow that arrow, which will lead you up a beautiful staircase alleyway full of plants and flowers. Once you reach the top of the stairs, turn right. Then just keep walking up until you reach the highway. There will be a few shops on the right. Walk past the shops and underneath the big sign that is the entrance to the park. Walk up.
You’ll reach another fork. To the right you’ll see a hill. Straight ahead you’ll see what looks like a small ticket booth. You also have the option to go straight ahead to purchase your ticket to see the Saqsaywaman Archeological site, which is just on your left. I believe it is 130 soles.
But if you just want to see White Jesus, head right, cross the small bridge, and follow the path up the hill. It takes about 10 minutes walking up. Make sure to bring water as the heat and altitude may get to you.
TEMPLO DE LA LUNA:
I had actually hoped to find a more direct route from the Cristo Blanco to El Templo de la Luna, though I wasn’t able to. I asked a couple local girls once I came back down the hill from Cristo Blanco, and they said it was on the other side of the hill (that I had just come down from). Meaning I would have to go back up and over the White Jesus hill, and continue along the highway. That didn’t sound ideal, so I decided to head back down to the aquaduct, through the San Blas neighborhood, and then back up where there were much more clearly marked paths to get there.
The Templo de la Luna is technically an Incan archaeological site, with carvings in the side of the rock. It really isn’t that big, and to be honest, doesn’t give a ‘wow this is an important place,’ kind of vibe. Though the surrounding area really is beautiful. Standing on top of the rock, you have a 360 degree changing view. On one side green hills and mountains, and on the other an open green space with the city and more mountains in the distance.
How to get to Templo de la Luna?
You can put easily find ‘Templo de la Luna’ on Google Maps, though getting there is not as easy as it might seem. I followed the recommended path by Google, but that is not the path I want to suggest to you. Google shows you walk up some small roads in Cusco until you reach the highway, shown in yellow on the map. Then you cross the highway, and continue to walk straight up the road along the pavement, walking through a small neighborhood with a few shops, and old men sitting outside of them until you reach the opening of the green space that holds the temple. Don’t go this way. It’s very steep, with very few shadows.
Do this instead: Follow Google’s steps up to the highway. Cross the highway. Then about 1minute later, you’ll see a structure to your right. A square with chainlink fence walls, and green painted poles, most likely protecting something electrical inside. Next to that green chainlink square you’ll see a path. Get on that path and keep following it up. It will eventually lead you to a part of the Incan trail leading to the Templo de la Luna. You’ll walk on a grass path with stone walls on either side. This trail is much more pleasant than the road.
LA ZONA X:
Zona X is not promoted anywhere that I have seen. I only knew about it because a friend of mine used to live in Cusco for a year, and he told me to go. It’s only a 30-minute walk from Templo de la Luna, along a mainly flat dirt road, with incredible views of green hills to the right, the eucalyptus forest to the left, and the occasional alpaca having lunch.
Zona X was explained to me as having magical energies. It expands much further than I went, but the area is covered with tunnels that go into the Earth. Just before I was to cross the highway to enter Zona X, I stopped to chat with one of the horse guides who told me a few tales about the area, which I’m not fully keen to believe. He said the area is called Zona X because the tunnels in the area make one giant X (this I do believe), which several smaller tunnels jutting out from the main X. He recommended that I do not enter the tunnels because it can be difficult to get out again.
He told me how the tunnels lead to several parts of Peru; one leads down to the Plaza de Armas in the center of Cusco, and another leads all the way to Machu Picchu. He told me a story about how three university students once entered the tunnel in their early 20’s and got lost. Two never made it out and died in the tunnels, but one finally emerged 40 years later, a skinny, old man with malnutrition (this is a story I don’t believe).
I did explore around the area for about 45 minutes. There are several rock formations, which reminded me somewhat of hiking in Cappadoccia, Turkey. I did see entrances to several tunnels, though they didn’t seem to go very far, nor that deep. Several had such small openings that I wouldn’t expect a human to fit through. However, I think there are likely several more tunnels that I missed. However, the area is incredibly beautiful, and I was completely alone. Not a single other tourist. Just me, the breeze, and a couple dozen sheep in the distance.
How to get to Zona X?
This is also easily found on Google Maps by typing in “zona x.” From Templo de la Luna, just walk in the opposite direction of how you arrived. You’ll see a path going down the rock. Eucalyptus forest to the left, green hills to the right. There is a small fence all along the path. Just follow that path, and within 30 minutes you’ll come to the highway (and all the horses just before it). As soon as cross the highway, you’re in Zona X. There are small paths you can follow around and just keep going as long as you want.
If you are not planning to see the Templo de La Luna, and prefer to drive, just follow the highway up until you come to the spot marked on Google maps. There is a small gravel shoulder where you can park, just next to the horses.
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