Undoubtedly, one of the most exclusive places worldwide to witness the sunrise is at Tres Cruces Paucartambo, Peru. Observing the birth of the sun very early in the morning is a beautiful experience in itself, but imagine witnessing an optically distorted sunrise from a natural balcony, where you are able to see the snow-capped Andes Mountains, Peruvian jungle AND a sunrise that causes an indescribable multicoloured lightshow with double images and halos everywhere!
Sound unreal? Keep reading to learn more about this natural beauty and how to visit this incredible place…!
Where is the Mirador Tres Cruces?
This famous high mountain lookout is located at an elevation of 3640 m within the Manu Parque Nacional in the Paucartambo province of Peru, which is 100 km southeast of Cusco (approximately a 5-hour drive away). However, instead of driving directly to the lookout, most travelers first take the 3.5-hour drive from Cusco to the local village of Paucartambo. It is the perfect opportunity to make a stopover in this beautiful colonial town on the road to Manu National Park.
Paucartambo is famous for its extraordinary celebration of the Virgen del Carmen Festival in mid-July, so make sure to plan your stopover around these dates. During the day you can celebrate with locals, dancing in colourful costumes and enjoying the incredible traditional acrobatic shows, and then continue your journey to the Tres Cruces lookout in the late evening or early morning.
Learn more about the Virgen del Carmen Paucartambo Cusco festival and how to visit this incredible Peruvian cultural experience.
The Tres Cruces Mirador is only another 1.5 hours away from the town of Paucartambo, off the Paucartambo–Shintuya road. It offers great views of the Manu National Park’s vast jungle, the sacred Ausangate Mountain, spectacular cloud forests, as well as the Andean valleys and the flow of the Paucartambo River. On the left side, there is a massive mountain called “Apuqañaqway”, which is also known as the spiritual protector of this region and their inhabitants.
A Magical Natural Phenomenon: The “White Ray”
Also known as “The Balcony of the East,” Tres Cruces, Paucartambo is one of the three places in the world where you can actually witness a special sunrise, a unique phenomenon that only occurs between May and July due to the unique climatic conditions during these months.
Every year, when this mystical light show takes place at dawn around 4:30 am during winter, a natural spectacle also known as the “the white ray” occurs, causing the optical illusion of three suns on the horizon! The light passes through the humid sky, distorting the image as if through a prism, and giving the effect of three suns rising next to each other. Unbelievable, right?
The Spiritual Significance of Tres Cruces
According to legend, this spectacular phenomenon at Tres Cruces Cusco occurred because locals went there to cleanse their souls. Every time people passed through for their spiritual cleansing, there was sunlight passing through the whole area. Besides, it is said that this sacred sunlight kept all negative energies away, such as hatred, pain, anger, and selfishness, and turned them into unconditional love (munay) and peace for all the participants.
But there is a lot more behind the spiritual and symbolic meaning of the Tres Cruces sunrise of Paucartambo, a tradition that has been maintained for generations until today. Two of the most important deities in the period of the Incas were Inti (“the Sun”) and Pachamama (“Mother Earth”). The Incas believed the spirits of their creator resided in the natural elements – the sun, moon, earth, rivers, trees and winds – and performed ceremonial offerings to honour them.
Ritual Offerings to Honour the Sun and the Earth at Tres Cruces
The most significant ancient tradition is the so-called pago a la tierra, or offering to Mother Earth, a beautiful ceremonial ritual of gratitude and reciprocity, usually performed by Andean Priests (paqos). They are considered the intermediaries between the spiritual and material worlds, and often come from the Q’eros community, which is also located in the province of Paucartambo. They are widely known as the last living direct descendants of the Incas, having survived the Spanish conquest by receding high into the mountains.
A few hours before dawn, the Andean Priests perform a pago at the Tres Cruces de Oro lookout, praising the Sun God and Mother Earth, the Goddess of fertility. The purpose of this ancestral ceremony is to show gratitude for everything we have been receiving from Mother Nature and the Sun. This ritual is strongly connected with the ancient Inca principle of ayni, which refers to the reciprocal concept of giving and receiving in the Andean world. When people perform this ceremony at dawn, they thank the spirits for gifts and everything positive obtained. In this ritual, a despacho (dispatch) is offered with all types of sacred elements, such as rice, quinoa, seeds, sugar, flowers, fruits, and other elements provided by Mother Earth.
During the winter solstice, paqos perform this unique ritual at sunrise, helping human beings sustain a balance with nature. The performance of these offerings is still carried out in the Andean culture, also during the month of August, which is dedicated to Pachamama, as the month of fertility
How to Get to Tres Cruces Paucartambo
On Your Own
Are you planning on catching the spectacular sunrise at the Mirador Tres Cruces in Paucartambo Cusco by yourself? There are minibuses departing regularly from the Paucartambo bus terminal in Cusco. We recommend taking one in the early afternoon so that you arrive in the early evening to Paucartambo. If you’re visiting during the Virgen del Carmen festival, from there you can catch one of the shuttles that run regularly between Paucartambo and Tres Cruces Peru.
Alternatively, arriving to Paucartambo in the evening, you can catch another public bus heading towards Pillcopata and ask to be let off at the turnoff for Tres Cruces. From there, it’s a 13km walk up to the viewpoint. If you time it right, you can make this hike by moonlight, arriving in the pre-dawn hours in time to set up your camp and catch a few winks before the show begins.
Join a Tour to the Fiesta de la Virgen del Carmen
The Virgen del Carmen Festival in Paucartambo is one of the most exciting and popular religious festivals in Peru. It is held every year on the same date in mid-July. This unique Andean fiesta lasts four days and includes beautiful dances, local food, and gorgeous parades. Apus Peru offers culturally enthusiastic adventurers the unique opportunity to witness the Virgen de Paucartambo festival first-hand.
So, why not experience the Fiesta de Paucartambo yourself, and combine it with a trip to the incredible light show? During this 2 Day Virgen del Carmen Tour, you get to immerse yourself in the local culture with private transportation, a guide, and cooks to keep you comfortable.
There are just two departure dates per year, though – July 15-16 and July 17-18 – so plan carefully!
Things to Know Before You Go
Weather in Paucartambo
If you’re heading to the famous Tres Cruces de Oro Paucartambo, it’s important to go prepared. June and July are the best months to visit the Mirador de Tres Cruces in order to catch that amazing winter solstice sunrise, and they both fall during the dry season in the mountains. You can expect plenty of sunny days and clear blue skies, and daytime temperatures can feel quite warm as the Andean sun is intense. But the nights are extremely cold, frequently dropping below freezing!
Want to read more? Get insider information about when is the best time to hike the Andes Mountains and when to visit Machu Picchu.
What to Pack
Packing for your trip to Tres Cruces can be quite tricky, especially when temperatures can vary dramatically during the course of the day and night. Check out our packing list below, so you know exactly what to bring – and which things you can undoubtedly leave behind.
Clothing for Tres Cruces Paucartambo, Peru
Since it can be very cold at the viewpoint in the early morning hours, make sure to take warm clothing and blankets with you. Layering is key, so you have the option to add or take away layers depending on the time of day. We recommend a fleece jacket, comfortable pants, gloves, a hat, and scarf. Even though it might not be raining during the dry season, rain gear is not a bad idea, since the climate can be quite humid at dawn.
As you settle in to watch the spectacle unfold – starting as early as 1:30am – snuggle up in your sleeping bag and blankets, and bring some snacks and sandwiches for the morning hours. Don’t forget a water bottle, your personal hygiene products and some cash in Peruvian soles, too. Keep small change on hand in case you want to buy more water or toilet paper. Maybe you’ll get lucky and some locals will sell hot chocolate or tea in the early morning hours!
What you need for great photos
What could be better than capturing a breathtaking triple sunrise with colour show and halos? So, don’t forget to charge your phone and camera before leaving, you will definitely need them! Remember that batteries are consumed quicker under cold conditions.
Little tip for iPhone owners
This is also a great opportunity to shoot spectacular time lapse videos of the sunrise! All you have to do is to adjust the right position and settings at the beginning, click on the record-button, and you can enjoy the show while your phone does the rest!
Lean back and put on your sunglasses!
Don’t forget that watching a sunrise can be quite challenging for your eyes, which is why you should bring your sunglasses with you. In case you plan to extend your trip to Paucartambo, better also bring a sunhat and sunscreen to protect yourself from the harsh Andean sun during the day.
If you plan to camp close to the Mirador de Tres Cruces Paucartambo, check out the Best Packing List for your Peru Adventure for more packing tips.
More About Manu National Park & Paucartambo, Peru
The Tres Cruces viewpoint is not the only tourist attraction in the area of Paucartambo; there are so many more fascinating and off-the-beaten track sites to discover and explore.
- In Paucartambo, there are several pre-Inca and Inca sites in the region: the Watoqto archaeological complex, the Ninamarca chullpas, the Mauk Allaqta archaeological complex and the Kosñipata petroglyphs.
- The Manu National Park is located on the border of the departments of Cusco and Madre de Dios. The most important attractions are the Pusharo historical cultural area and the Manu River area.
Are you looking for extraordinary places to visit in Peru? Check out our blog with Epic Peru Things To Do for more travel inspiration and information about the Manu National Park.
Where Else Can You See Beautiful Sunrises in Peru?
As one of the most biodiverse countries worldwide, you can be sure that Peru has a few other places with beautiful sunrises!
Lake Titicaca in Puno – Lake Titicaca is the largest freshwater lake in South America and the highest of the world’s large lakes. The landscape itself is incredible; there are many floating islands where you can admire the rising of the sun in the morning!
The Pacaya Samiria National Reserve in Loreto – This incredible place is located right in the middle of the Peruvian jungle. There are a bunch of tours to appreciate the Amazon rainforest, explore its unique flora and fauna, and watch the sunrise in this incredible setting, far away from the noisy cities.
Machu Picchu in Cusco – What could make a better setting for a sunrise than one of the New Wonders of the World? Many tourists line up to be among the first ones to enter the ancient Inca citadel. There is nothing quite like walking through the Sun Gate, Inti Punku, at dawn!
Helpful Tips For Your Visit to Tres Cruces, Paucartambo
- The viewpoint is located in a protected area. It is not allowed to uproot plants and disturb the animals that inhabit the place. Feel free to bring snacks with you, but please be a responsible tourist and take your rubbish home with you.
- In mid-July, Paucartambo celebrates the festivity of the Virgen del Carmen. During this festival, travellers can enjoy various artistic presentations and gastronomic festivals. This is a great time to go, as the whole town is full of joy, dancing, colourful costumes and celebration!
- You can visit the archeological site of Ninamarca on the way to Paucartambo. These beautiful pre-Inca ruins, consisting of 30 chullpas situated on top of a mountain, are at an elevation of 3,000 meters above sea level.
- Sunrise at Tres Cruces lasts from 4:30 am to 5:30 am. Some days it may be cloudy, preventing viewing. Even though this happens more often during the rainy season (November-March), there is always a little risk that the clouds cover the sunrise. Chances are low, but just keep in mind that nature does not follow strict rules and there are some things we cannot prevent.
Are you ready to go to Tres Cruces Paucartambo? Don’t miss this unique chance to admire the world’s most beautiful sunrise – and catch an amazing Peruvian festival at the same time!
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