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The 4 Lakes Route : Ancomayo Cusco


107 km / 66 miles from Cusco (2 hours by car) to the town of Pomacanchi then drive 3 km / 1 mile father to lake Pomacanchi (10 minutes by car).

It is situated in the upper Vilcanota River. Lake Pomacanchi is the first on the circuit. Its maximum depth is 140 meters / 459 feet. Around the lake, you will find grassy plains, some medicinal plant species (totora, mirimi, etc.) and fish (trout’s, silver fish,huitas, ccarachis, ch’iñis and carps). The next lake, named Acopia, is small and is located close to the village of the same name. The flora and fauna are nearly identical to those of Pomacanchi. The third one is Asnaqocha, Quechua for “bad smelling lake” and possesses little vegetation and animal life. It is the highest on the circuit (3750 masl /23.303 fasl). The last lake of the route is lake Pampamarca, home to a large variety of wildlife like flamingos and ducks due to the amount of totora reeds around its shores. Sport fishing is especially popular there.
This is a circuit as rarely-visited as it is spectacular, featuring breath-taking scenery and picturesque villages which have inherited an age-old cultural and historic tradition. The circuit runs for around 58 km (36 mi.), and it takes three to four hours to cover, along partly-paved roads.

The journey starts out from the village of Combapata, 115 km (71 mi.)southeast of Cusco along the highway to Puno, and continues along a cobbled road that sets off from the main square, crosses the Vilcanota River and climbs up to the village of Chosica-Canas, from where one can get a superb view of the Salcca Valley on the other side of the river.

This is a circuit as rarely-visited as it is spectacular, featuring breath-taking scenery and picturesque villages which have inherited an age-old cultural and historic tradition. The circuit runs for around 58 km (36 mi.), and it takes three to four hours to cover, along partly-paved roads.

(3,600 m above sea level (11,800 ft.)), perched on top of a hill that affords a splendid view of the lake.

Just 2 km along the same route lays Thumit, a tiny village by the banks of Lake Tungasuca, with adobe mud-brick houses and totora reed roofs. From here, one has to retrace one's steps and head back on the paved road that leads to Pampamarca, the starting point for the route to the historic town of Tungasuca. The community of Yanaoca, at the end of the circuit, lies just 9 km (5.6 mi.) away.

The lost valleys of Paruro
This is a rarely-traveled circuit, even by the locals, but one which is extraordinary beauty and of exceptional cultural interest. The circuit takes an entire day, which means travelers should leave Cusco early. There are plenty of places to refuel along the way, as well as rustic restaurants.

The tour sets out from the city of Cusco itself, heading south through the Huancaro quarter (at the end of Avenida El Sol). The 264-kilometer (164 mi.) stretch of dirt road takes 8-10 hours. The route starts with a gentle climb to the villages of Chocopata and Pomate, livestock-herding communities located at the gateway to the highland plain. From here, the road descends to the town of Yaurisque, the site of a set of popular hot springs.

Yaurisque is also the starting point to visit the well-preserved ruins of Maukallaqta, a four-hour walk away, and Puma Orqo, a huge carved boulder or ceremonial shrine. Some authors claim that both places were the original location of Tamputocco, the mythical birthplace of the Inca empire.

From Yaurisque, another trail climbs up to Ranraccasa and the detour leading to the archaeological site of Paccaritambo (15 km heading right), climbing down through eucalyptus groves to the forest areas of Ccantu, Manqui and Maska).

Paruro (3,051 m (10,010 ft.)), the capital of the Paruro province, is the next stop along the way. The town features a comfortable Town Hall lodge and several recommendable restaurants. Paruro celebrates the festival of the Virgen de la Natividad with great pomp and splendor every September  8.

The route then leaves Paruro to head down to the village of Cusibamba, with the great Apurímac River swirling by at the bottom of the valley. After crossing the river over a venerable iron bridge, the trail sets off on a 1,500 meter climb, taking the visitor to an area of steep gorges and sheltered valleys. As the valley slopes open out, one comes across a millwheel by the side  of the road

This is the sign that marks the detour to the picturesque town of Ccolcha (2,465 m (8,087 ft.)), a hospitable community by the banks of the Apurímac River. Its benign climate and picturesque landscaped have given rise to its nickname "Paruro's breadbasket". Here there is a municipal lodge which can be reserved by simply calling the Town Hall.

Back on the upward trail, the traveler climbs up to the Ccaronca Pass (4,150 m (13,615 ft.)), running through the community of Ccorchihuay (home to the colonial church of Santa Rosa) and heading to the second highland pass of the day, Pucaccasa (4,120 m (13,517 ft.)). From here, the road plunges into the fertile Accha Valley.

The village, which features adobe mud-brick houses capped with red tile roofs, has conserved something of that air of Andean tradition that has been lost in much of the highlands. Its main square houses two colonial churches: Hurinsaya and Hanansaya, located in the upper and lower extremes of the square respectively, and which have clearly preserved the pre-Hispanic divisions of the villages. For three days, Accha celebrates the festival of the Virgen del Carmen (July 16). Don Abelardo's guesthouse is recommended, as the municipal hostelry is still under construction.

A fresh and abrupt descent takes us down through the Molinopampa gorge to the Apurímac Valley. The view from here is simply spectacular, with two villages nestling on the hillsides carved out into agricultural terracing. The first is Pillpinto, sitting on the banks of the Apurímac River. Its name in Quechua means "night butterfly", in a reference to the swarms of these insects. There are so many butterflies that the main square even features a statue in its honor.

On top of the white sandy beaches along the river, it is worth visiting the colonial church of the Virgen de la Asunción. Pillpinto also celebrates the festival of the Virgen del Carmen on July 16. The village features a municipal lodge, plus a guesthouse run by the Guzmán family.

The route continues on to the other side of the river and climbs up through a canyon that leads to Acos, a unique town featuring a pair of colonial churches: San Miguel Arcángel and the chapel of the Virgen de la Natividad (whose festival is celebrated September 8). We leave Acos behind and descend once more to the village of Acomayo, an interesting place to spend a few hours in. It is worth visiting the church and going to see the mural paintings of Rodolfo Escalante.

Back on the upward trail, which snakes up amongst retama flowers and capulí trees, the path then leads to the highland pass of Callacunca (3,800 m (12,467 ft.)). From here, the trail descends once more to the fields of ichu grass and the town of Sangarará, a historic land of cereals and prize herds of livestock. Its church, which was built in honor of the Virgen del Rosario (October 7), is majestic. One of the most important festivals in the town is the anniversary of the Battle of Sangarará (November 18), scene of a victory of the troops of indigenous rebel leader Túpac Amaru.

This marks the end of the dirt road. From here, the paved road takes us through the town of Marcaconga and the idyllic scenery of Lake Pomacanchis, heading to the lakeside villages of Chahuay and Yanampampa.

Here, the road forks: to the right it runs to Acopía (linking up with the circuit of the Four Lakes), while the road running left runs to Chuquicahuana (at kilometer 87, along the Cuzco-Puno road).

The road back to Cusco takes around two hours and runs through interesting towns such as Cusipata, Quiquijana (traditional towns in the Upper Vilcanota Valley), Urcos and Andahuaylillas. Remember to slow down when approaching town centres

The land of the K'anas: Yauri-K'anamarca-Languilayo

This is a brief circuit, but one which is doted with some of the most impressive landscapes in Cusco's southern region. Travelers would be advised to set off early from Yauri, as there are no real service stations along the way. The trip is ideal for four-wheel drive vehicles, running for 70 km (43.5 mi.), and taking three to four hours

The circuit starts out from the town of Yauri and crosses the bridge over the Janepia River. Shortly afterwards, the Ayaviri turn-off appears, and after that, the bridge over the pretty Salado River. A vast plain heralds the appearance of the archaeological site of K'anamarca, which lies 3.7 km from the road, down a dirt road. K'anamarca, a huge set of circular storerooms made of white stone, is worth a visit.

The route continues past the town of San Miguel and the village of Laramani, from where there is a stunning view of Mount Laramani, held to be an apu mountain spirit by the locals. The next stop along the way is El Descanso, a set of roadside restaurants which attend travelers in search of food or just some hot coffee.

Nearby is a spot called La Compuerta, from where the dirt track forks off to Yanaoca (left). The road then runs along a high stretch, mainly highland pastures, until one spots the scenic Lake Languilayo and the turn-off for the rustic villages of Langui and Layo, which are found by the banks of "the bluest lake in the Peruvian highlands", as the locals say.

From the turn-off, it is just 5 km to Langui (3,948 m (12,953 ft.)), located along a narrow stretch of lakeside terrain at the foot of Mount Yanahorco, and then another 9 km to Layo. The landscape here is truly spectacular, especially in the evenings. Layo features a restaurant and lodgings for visitors. Both are to be found in the main square. However, there is no guarantee one will find room or enough blankets. So if planning to stay the night, one should bring a sleeping bag. Near Layo are the marvelous hot springs of Exaltación.

The circuit continues around the lake on the far southwestern side, crossing through the villages of Hurinsaya, Cochapata and Hilatunga, where the trail peels away from the shore and climbs up the mountains: these are the lands of the community of Pacco, doted with a superb view. From here, the trail shifts away from the lake and climbs up into the highland plains, running through the alpaca herding region of Huarcachapi before linking up with the main road (Cusco-Arequipa). From here it is 17 km (10.5 mi.) to Yauri.

El Alto Apurimac: Yauri-Suykutambo

This place, known locally as Machu Puente ("old bridge" in Quechua, alluding to the colonial bridge that spans the Machu Puente River), was once part of the lands belonging to the Hacienda Arenas plantation, whose manor house is still in good condition. Machu Puente is also the setting-off point for a visit to a pretty colonial town of Apachaco, just 15 minutes away. From Puente Central it is just 2 km to get to the spectacular area of Puente Blanco, where the crystal-clear river waters tumble through narrow canyon walls of white granite, polished by centuries of water erosion

A hanging bridge, recently repaired, takes visitors to the archaeological site of Maucallaqta, an ancient cereal storage center made up of dozens of stone storerooms called colcas, with a central carved stone burial tower called a chullpa, the main attraction.

Further down the valley, which is studded with forests of queñual and flocks of llamas, the traveler will bump into the Inca ruins of María Fortaleza, a construction which was apparently also used for food storage.

The circuit ends in Virginniyoc (kilometer 40), a small village wedged in between towering rock cliffs, just a few meters from a pretty spot called Tres Cañones. The path continues on to Caylloma (two-and-a-half hours an alternative route to Cusco or the Colca Valley (note: there are no restaurants or gas stations along this route).

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