Most tourists come to Cusco, Peru with the intent to trek to the famous Machu Picchu. As this is definitely a must see, it is not the only kind of adventure you can have in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the great Inca Empire, especially if all you have is a pair of hiking boots or a rental bike. As I have recently discovered, Cusco has some amazing and fairly unexplored adventures immediately surrounding the city. Due to its location at over 11,000 feet, Cusco is home to infinite adventures up remote mountainous canyons and to the peaks of its surrounding Andean mountain range. The adventure I am featuring is neither the typical Machu Picchu trek, City or Sacred Valley Tours of the late Inca Empire, yet it has important significance in Inca history and more importantly it represents what I like to call a true adventure. This was an adventure simple because no one I know of has previously thought of it as a touring option, and that in my mind is what makes a true adventure come to life.
At 8:30 am, Timothy Marti, who runs Ascend Adventure Travel, and I (his intern) head out the door in the Cusco district of Wanchaq for what we expected to be about a 5 hour mountain bike ride. Heading up the Camino a Huillcarpay path, we began our adventure with a bag of peanuts, some apples, and jam sandwiches we had made during breakfast. After passing through the quaint Inca village of Huillcarpay, avoiding multiple packs of ravenous dogs, and two grueling hours of climbing up the canyon pass, we reached our first summit at 13,000 feet, the “Abra de Punacancha.” As storm clouds began to surround us, we were forced with a difficult decision. Turn back now and enjoy the comforts of some nice hot coffee back in Cusco, or push on to the next pass and continue our backdoor adventure (one that would take a 4X4 truck over 2 hours to drive)? We look each other over. “Hungry? No. Cold? Not yet. Ok let’s go!” The next section was an amazing 500-foot descent into the village of Punacancha, which featured only a few farmers working in their fields. However, Punacancha is also the site of the little known yet famous Wanakauri Inca Ruins. A place of mystical legend where Wiracocha, the Inca God who banished darkness and was known as their creator, send his children from the sun to plunge his golden cane into the Earth, signifying the capital of the Inca Empire as the city of Cusco. As we passed through the village of Punacancha and the nearby ruins of Wanakauri where the children of the sun had emerged, the clouds began to lift and with gratitude we continued to ride on. From this sacred yet remote village we embarked on a second climb of 3,000 feet to our final pass at 14,000 feet overlooking San Jerónimo. Six hours into the adventure and we had made it to the final summit; now the only thing left to do was descend, and what an epic descent it was! Over 3,000 feet straight down through winding switchbacks, lush agricultural fields, and a total descending time of one hour without a single stoke of the pedal, this was a thrilling culmination to an epic Andean adventure! Shooting out in the Southeast end of Cusco we meandered the city streets back to our home (which took two tries after missing the turn due to pure exhaustion), arriving exactly seven and a half hours after we left our backdoor. Without a word we headed straight to the local polleria for some hot soup, ¼ of a chicken each, a semi-healthy salad and topped it off with a liter of Coca-Cola and a huge plate of fresh Peruvian fries (the only way to gut this meal is after a true Peruvian adventure)!
Cusco has 12 sacred Apus, or mountains that are home to Inca ancestors. Some of these less touristy Apus include Wanakauri, Pikol, Pachatusan and Mama Simona; all accessible single day trips from Cusco, and all relatively off the beaten path. Our Peruvian biking adventure was truly memorable because it took us to Andean villages that most people would never think to visit, but are definitely worth the trip. It pushed us both physically and mentally, but allowed us to soak in the utter serenity of the Andes. Our biking adventure by Apu Wanakauri was one of many Peruvian adventures that were waiting to be explored right out of our backdoor in Cusco, and yet one of many still to come.