Tipon: Garden of Kings and Land of the Cuy

February 2nd, 2012

By Maureen Santucci (Photos by James Preston)

Tipon is an Inca site about 20 km outside of Cusco. It will take 40 minutes to get there if you go on the local bus, a bit shorter if you choose to go in a taxi. I thought it would be more fun to go the local way. The first time I did this was on a Sunday. It will be the last time I do that on the weekend. I spent the entire trip standing hunched over. (A side word about local buses/combis or, as I like to call them, clown cars. Do not ever think it is full. It’s never full. I never cease to be amazed at how many people can fit in them.)

The next time I went, it was on a weekday. This time I got a seat… both ways. The advantage to the bus is that it is only 1 sol 20 each way. A taxi going back from Tipon to Cusco is 20 soles. Going there will probably cost a bit more as you will have to negotiate with the driver.

The downside to going on the weekday is apparent once you arrive. There isn’t as much chance of sharing a taxi up to the archaeological site. There were only a couple of local women waiting who wanted to go just partway up so I ended up paying 8 soles… I think the normal collectivo price is 5 but the driver may have been figuring he wouldn’t get a fare back.

You can walk up to the site… it’s only about 3 km or 5 miles from where the bus will drop you off on the main road. Unless you’re sure that you are up for it, you may want to opt for the taxi. You’ll do a lot of walking around the site and you may have to walk back if it’s as quiet as when I went.

To enter, will cost you 10 soles if you don’t have a Boleto Turistico (Tourist Ticket). If you are doing the Cusco City Tour and/or Sacred Valley Tour,  you’ll need to buy one. If you’re going to be around for a while, it’s worth getting the 10 day pass that covers Cusco and the Valley as well as Tipon.

As I went to the site on a rainy day in low tourist season, there were very few people there. It’s a real treat to walk around such an extensive site with so little company and no one getting in the way of my photo taking. On the other hand, this also meant there were not the usual guides hanging around out front waiting for work so I was completely left to my own advices.

This actually isn’t all bad… the quality of guides varies greatly and I have heard more than one make things up that I knew weren’t true. Since the language of the Incas was not a written one, there is a lot that isn’t known for sure. In some cases, this is taken advantage of and explanations are given purely for the sake of having an answer to a question.

Instead, I was able to wander around by myself for a couple of hours and make up my own stories about what the different areas signified and what their uses may have been. Most accounts say that it was a royal garden. Given that there are many agricultural terraces and abundant canals for irrigation, this would seem to be a good possibility. It’s an ideal place for getting a better idea of the hydraulic engineering for which the Incas are famous.

Up above, is a place called Intihuatana. The name means The Hitching Post of the Sun. The sun was the most important deity in the Incan cosmology but I didn’t see anything clearly pertaining to it. As with elsewhere in the site, there seemed to me to be more of a focus on honoring water.

Although I had no idea about the exact history, it was still a really cool place to hang out. If it had been a nicer day, I could have spent way more time there. And, like many other places in Peru, just walking around it allows you insights into, or at least a feeling for, the ancient culture at some level.

When I was done poking around, I started on my walk down and was lucky enough to get picked up by a taxi about half-way. Even luckier, I made a surprise visit to local friends who were just sitting down to lunch. Fortified by some tasty soup, beef, rice and potatoes… and really spicy aji… I was ready to make my way back to Cusco. Their restaurant, La Nusta, is due to open in March 2012 and will be serving (among other things), cuy or guinea pig, the other thing that this town is famous for.


A visit to Tipon makes a perfect accompaniment to a Machu Picchu trip. You can visit Tipon independently or as part of a guided tour organized by a Peru travel agency.

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