Vitcos and the White Rock

Posted by Cassie, October 12th, 2011

On our second trip to Peru, we visited the more remote Incan ruins, and Vitcos was the most remote ruins we visited. It is difficult to get to Huancacalle independently (See the notes at the bottom for instructions on how to get Huancacalle on your own). Huancacalle is the starting point for the difficult hike to Vilcabamba (Espiritu Pampa), so most tourists visit Huanacalle as part of their organized hike to Vilcabamba. We had to endure several uncomfortable rides in shared taxis (colectivos) with four people crammed in the back seat in order to get to Huancacalle. However, it was worth it to see the ruins of Vitcos and the White Rock. Vitcos is not visited by many people. We were the only ones that were there on the day we visited, and the INC did not bother to staff the checkpoint to collect the entrance fee. Vitcos has not been reconstructed like many of the other Incan sites, and in the temple, there were lintels for the doorways that had fallen to the ground. Vitcos has a great defensible position. It has only a narrow strip of land for entering the site, and the rest is surrounded by steep mountainsides. It also has a great view of all the mountain passes leading into the valley.


Manco Inca retreated to Vitcos after losing the battle for Cusco. When Manco first arrived at Vitcos, he was relieved and thought he had outrun his Spanish pursuers. He celebrated with a festival, but he did not realize that the Spaniards were still hot on his trail. They caught Manco by surprise, and the Incans were very drunk at this point in the festivities. Manco survived only because the Spaniards’ greed for the gold they found at Vitcos distracted them and gave Manco enough time to escape. The Spaniards could have taken Vitcos at this time, but their leader, Orgoñez, was recalled to Cusco to participate in the civil war going on between the two factions of conquistadors. Manco Inca ran his rebel empire from here for many years, but later, the Incans were forced to retreat further into the jungle to the last city of the rebel Inca empire, Vilcabamba. Ironically, Manco Inca was killed on the principal plaza in Vitcos by the same assassins that killed Francisco Pizarro in Lima. The assassins fled to Vitcos after killing Pizarro, and Manco welcomed them since he considered any enemies of Pizarro his friends. However, later, the assassins worked out a deal for a pardon from the Spanish authorities if they killed Manco Inca, and they stabbed him while they were in the middle of playing a game with him. I can’t imagine how the assassins believed they would be able to escape with their lives after killing the Incan emperor, and they were quickly caught and killed.

Room in the temple that hasn't been reconstructed- you can see the fallen lintels for the doorways

Nearby Vitcos is the White Rock. It was a sacred carved rock with a temple and natural spring running around the rock. The White Rock is huge- 50 feet in length. The rock is carved to mirror the mountains around it similar to the sacred rock at Machu Picchu. There are actually two huge carved rocks next to Vitcos, and we mistakenly thought that the first rock we came to was the White Rock. However, the actual White Rock is a little farther up the trail.

Another sacred rock that we originally thought was the White Rock

The White Rock!

Manco Inca’s son Titu Cusi invited two friars to stay at Vitcos, and the friars believed that the White Rock was devoted to devil worship. They burned down the temple next to the rock and performed incantations to banish Lucifer from the area. Obviously, this action angered the Incans greatly, and the friars were nearly killed. However, Titu Cusi was generous and spared the friars’ lives. The more zealous Friar Garcia was banished from the Incan empire. The other Friar Ortiz was allowed to stay, but this decision would not serve him well later. When Titu Cusi suddenly died from an unknown illness, the Incans blamed Friar Ortiz for his death, and Friar Ortiz was tortured and killed.

It was very interesting to visit an Incan site that has so much history, and it was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.

How to get to Huancacalle independently: We hiked along the train tracks from Aguas Caliente to the train station at the hydroelectric plant, but you can also take a train. From the hydroelectric plant, take a shared taxi to Santa Teresa from the train station. In Santa Teresa, go to the bus terminal and you will find a line of shared taxis waiting to take you to Santa Maria. From Santa Maria, take another shared taxi or micro to Quillabamba. You will actually pass through the town of Chaullay shortly after Santa Maria, which is at the junction to the road that goes west to Huancacalle. However, from Chaullay, the only way to get to Huancacalle is an uncomfortable two hour ride on the back of truck, so it is best to continue past Chaullay to Quillabamba where you can get another shared taxi to Huancacalle and retrace your steps back to Chaullay.

How to get back to Cusco from Huancacalle: We made the mistake of heading back to Santa Maria and trying to get transport to Ollantaytambo from there. However, it is better to go from Huancacalle to Quillabamba and get a bus from there. We had to wait several hours in the sweltering heat in Santa Maria before the bus came. However, since we didn’t have tickets for the bus, we spent several uncomfortable hours standing in the aisle on windy mountain roads to get to Ollantaytambo. To get a shared taxi from Huancacalle to Quillabamba, hike down the road to Puquiura, and you can get a shared taxi from the main plaza.

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