Q’eswachaka Grass Bridge, Peru
Walk across the last grass bridge of the Inca empire?
They say it’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey. That’s good, because the journey to Q’eswachaka is long, and it’s not easy. There is only one tour company in Cusco that runs trips to the last remaining grass bridge of the Inca empire, and they only run the tour if there are four people or more interested. Unlike some of the other tours from Cusco, there are usually only two or three a week rather than daily departures. Because I visited Peru in the low season, I had two tours canceled. But, not one to be defeated, I decided to make my own way to Q’eswachaka.
The journey took a long time, but it was relaxing. The green valleys, lakes, and remains of Pikillaqta Inca Ruins that you pass on the way are mesmerizing. I’d say it’s a good idea to have some podcasts or music downloaded or carry a book with you. I had hurriedly planned the trip last minute and went the way that looked shortest according to the Maps app on my phone. This involved going to Yanaoca, which doesn’t look far away, but that’s where the public transportation stopped. Luckily, there are taxis in the village; I had a 30km bone-jerking ride in an old Toyota with utterly ruined suspension, on a road made up more of potholes than tarmac.
Yanacocha is a Quechua-speaking village; it was interesting to learn some words in Quechua on the way, and discover that the Q in Q’eswachaka is not pronounced as a Q, but a click. It’s actually pronounced as two separate words with a break between the click and the rest of the name. The driver had never met an English person before and asked me a lot of questions about my home country. He was surprised to find that the Incas were never there.
The last village before the rope bridge is Quehue. For some reason, the road that snakes down the hill from there is well maintained. You just have to watch out for sheep and alpacas running across it.
On the last stretch, the Apurimac valley comes into view, and it’s stunning, though the bridge is still hidden – rolling hills, cliffs, and a thunderous river. You eventually see the bridge only moments before stopping, and it’s an impressive sight. It looks like something completely out of the past.
A little walk down some steep steps from the entrance and it’s right in front of you. There’s something ominous about the way it’s held to the cliffside with thick ropes, which are almost flooded with water. Then, it’s time to step on. Wow. If you’re afraid of heights, water, or anything that doesn’t feel stable, don’t bother. However, for me, it was exhilarating. I didn’t feel in control as the bridge swayed from side to side, and although I wanted to get some good pictures of the valley, I didn’t trust it enough to lean back against the side. The fact that some of the sticks that make the bridge were sticking out made me think it needed to be replaced before the annual festival – where the bridge is rebuilt – in June!
Getting to the other side felt like an achievement, as did the fact that I’d actually found my way to the bridge on my own. I’d definitely recommend visiting Q’eswachaka, as it’s an important piece of Inca history that few tourists get to see.
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
Q’eswachaka is about 160km southeast of Cusco. You can do a tour of the city, which is the easiest and most stress-free way of getting there. However, if you want to visit on a day where there’s no tour, you have to find your own way. Getting there by yourself is difficult, but not impossible.
There are two routes – a short way and a long way. Although the short way is a lesser distance, it takes the same amount of time, if not longer, due to a lack of transport options.
The easiest way to get to Q’eswachaka on your own is by heading from Cusco to Sicuani. There is a bus station in Cusco specifically for buses that head here. It will cost around 10 soles and take approximately three hours. From Sicuani, you can either head to the village of Quehue (Q’ehue) and walk, or get the taxi to take you all the way to Q’eswachaka. It should cost 60 soles for the round trip, and the driver will wait for you. Trekking from Quehue takes almost six hours.
The other way you can go (which I did) is by getting off the bus at Combapata. From there, take a colectivo (minibus) to Yanaoca (2.5 soles). At Yanaoca, take a taxi for the round trip to Q’eswachaka. It will cost around 60 – 80 soles, although I managed to negotiate down to 50. If you’re in a group, the price is the same, and you can split it. The journey in total if you go this way takes about 5 ½ hours to get to Q’eswachaka.
Do – Activities & Attractions
Stay – Accommodation
There is no accommodation at Q’eswachaka itself or the nearby village of Quehue; however, there are a number of accommodations in Sicuani if you want to make this into a two-night trip from Cusco.
If you don’t want to travel via Sicuani, try Casa Familiar Carmelitas in Yanaoca.
Eat – Restaurants
As with accommodation, there’s nowhere to get food at Q’eswachaka itself except for a lady selling soft drinks and corn at the bridge. There are some restaurants in nearby Sicuani, and some in Yanaoca and Combapata.
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
The best time to go is in the middle of June – there’s a three-day festival where the bridge is reconstructed by residents from the local village of Quehue. As well as the reconstruction of the bridge, you can see traditional music and dancing. If you can’t make it in June, go during Peru’s dry season – also the tourist high season. This is from May to October. At this time, you’ve more chance of getting on a tour or finding someone to share the journey with.
Safety – Possible risks
Getting lost is a serious risk if you don’t speak Spanish. Also, don’t attempt to hike to the bridge unless you’ve carefully planned your trip out. Getting to the bridge looks much easier on a map than it is in practice.
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim to those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
If you do a tour to Q’eswachaka, it will cost you 120 soles. This includes trips to four nearby lagunas, breakfast, and a packed lunch. Doing it on your own is cheaper but trickier. In total, I spent 8 soles each way on the bus, 5 soles on colectivos, and 50 on a round trip in the taxi, bringing the total to 63 soles for travel. There was also a 10 soles fee to walk across the bridge. This meant it was almost 50 soles cheaper than doing a tour, but it would have taken away some of the difficulties!
I took a packed lunch with me that I’d made up myself. If you want to eat in either Yanaoca or Combapata, there are a few markets and almuerzo restaurants where you can get a meal for less than 10 soles. I didn’t see anywhere to eat in Quehue.
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Don’t play around on the bridge, especially if there are other people on it. Although it is safe, it can be nerve-wracking to walk across, and it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that someone might fall in.
Reality Check – Be Aware
As I’ve said already, this was a long journey. To get to Q’eswachaka, you should plan it well. There aren’t a lot of English speakers in the villages close to the bridge, so being able to speak Spanish is a major plus. Even more so if you can speak Quechua! For me, it was completely worth it to see a part of Peru that many tourists don’t.
Q’eswachaka doesn’t have an official website, but several blogs give information similar to what you’ll find in this article.
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