Excerpts from the Lonely Planet – Peru:
The rickety railway and the paved road to Lake Titicaca shadow each other as they both head southeast from Cuzco. En route you can investigate ancient ruins and pastoral Andean towns that are great detours for intrepid travelers. The most enjoyable way to get to Puno is with Inka Express, which runs luxury buses every morning. The service includes lunch and an English-speaking tour guide, who talks about the four sites that are briefly visited along the way: Andahuaylillas, Raqchi, Abra la Raya and Pucará.
This pretty Andean village is most famous for its lavishly decorated Jesuit church which is almost oppressive in its baroque embellishments. The church dates from the 17th century and houses many carvings and paintings, including a canvas of the Immaculate Conception attributed to Esteban Murillo. There are reportedly many gold and silver treasures locked in the church, and the villagers are all involved in taking turns guarding it 24 hours a day. Is the rumor true or not? All we can tell you is that the guards take their job very seriously.
The little village of Raqchi, 125km southeast of Cuzco, is wrapped around an Inca ruin that looks from the road like a strange alien aqueduct. These are the remains of the Temple of Viracocha, which was once one of the holiest shrines in the Inca Empire.
Twenty-two columns made of stone blocks helped support the largest-known Inca roof; most were destroyed by the Spanish, but their foundations are clearly seen. The remains of many houses and storage buildings are also visible, and reconstruction is an ongoing process.
The people of Raqchi are charming, kind and witty. They’re also environmentally conscious: at time of research their latest project was trying to become plastic-bag free. And they are famous potters – many of the ceramics on sale in the markets of Pisac and Chinchero come from here.
About 25km past Raqchi is bustling Sicuani, a market town of 12,000 people, halfway from Cuzco to Puno. There’s no real reason to stop here except to break the journey. (And that’s exactly what the Inka Express bus did in order to provide us with an attractive and tasty buffet lunch at a lovely wayside restaurant).
Twenty minutes past Sicuani – just before Abra la Raya, the high pass that marks the boundary between the Cuzco and Puno departments – are the Aguas Calientes de Marangani. This complex of five fabulously hot thermal pools, linked by rustic bridges over unfenced, boiling tributaries, is quite a sight in it- self. The added spectacle of locals washing themselves, their kids and their clothes in the pools makes this an excellent, accessible yet off-the-beaten-track experience.