The two major places to visit northeast of Cusco are Paucartambo, 112km from Cusco, and Tres Cruces, another 50km beyond Paucartambo. The road between the two follows the Kosnipata Valley (“Valley of Smoke”), then continues through cloudy tropical mountain scenery to the mission of Shintuya on the edge of the Manu National Park. Legend has it that the Kosnipata enchants anyone who drinks from its waters at Paucartambo, drawing them to return again and again.
The area along the Río Urubamba from Machu Picchu onwards, to the north, is a quiet, relatively accessible corner of the Peruvian wilderness. As you descend from Ollantaytambo, the vegetation along the valley turns gradually into jungle, thickening and getting greener by the kilometre, as the air gets steadily warmer and more humid. Most people heading down here get as far as the town of Quillabamba, but the road continues deeper into the rainforest where it meets the navigable jungle river at Ivochote. Many come to this region to explore its mountains, cloud forest and rainforest areas, either to check out known Inca ruins or to search out some new ones. It’s relatively easy to visit the hilltop ruins of the palace at Vitcos, a site of Inca blood sacrifices, and possible – though an expedition of six days or more – to explore the more remote ruins at Espíritu Pampa, now thought to be the site of the legendary lost city of Vilcabamba.