Cusco is easily one of the best places to visit in Peru. The city is packed with things to do and interesting attractions; you will find an incredible array of restaurants and bars; fabulous accommodation options that cater to all budgets; and an overall friendly, fun vibe.
But there’s more! Getting out of town is actually incredibly easy, and some of the best archeological sites and even best hikes in the country can all be done on day trips from Cusco.
I have been to Cusco twice – the second time stopping there for more than two weeks, actually, to get adjusted to the altitude before I walked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and to rest right after that, before I continued traveling. Sure enough, I did lots of day trips during my visits, and I am ready to share all the planning tips and details that will help you make the most of yours.
Just continue reading to find out which are the best day trips from Cusco!
The Best Day Trips From Cusco
There are many archaeological sites surrounding Cusco, and one of these is the nearby citadel of Sacsayhuaman. Situated on the northern edge of the city, taking a trip to Sacsayhuaman is straightforward as it is easy to get to using either public transport or by walking from the center.
This Inca fortress was built in the 15th century with impressively huge dry-stone walls made up practically of boulders. While it is possible to visit by yourself, taking a tour or hiring a guide would offer an insight into the architecture and importance of the ruins here.
The ruins here include multiple buildings and complexes such as the Temple of the Sun, Qenqo and the further away Tambomachay and Puca Pucara.
Sacsayhuaman is open daily from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm. Admission is part of Cusco Boleto Turistico – you can get that here.
Visit the local communities of the Sacred Valley
This is actually one of the most interesting day trips from Cusco. When we visited, we actually went to check out a series of community projects, which included a weaving community exclusively run by local women – the Ccaccaccollo Community and Women’s Weaving; and the Cuyo Chico Pottery Making.
The local women run interesting demonstration to explain how alpaca wool is collected, washed, colored and weaved – all in a traditional, natural and environmentally friendly way. It’s a great place to by alpaca wool products as you’ll know the quality is excellent and what you are getting is really handmade locally and not in a big factory. Just don’t expect a bargain – it should never be that way when you buy anything hand made!
The pottery making project is very interesting too. You will see a demonstration of how adobe bricks are made. These are used to build traditional homes, which blend very well in the local environment. They also sell small souvenirs.
We visited the local communities as part of a G Adventures tour of Peru; but should you decide to do it make sure to enquire locally in Cusco for a responsible operator that runs the tour.
Less than an hour away from Cusco is the small town of Pisac. Situated in the Sacred Valley region, here you will find traditional Peruvian life, with locals wearing colorful clothing among its cobblestone streets. This sunny spot is an intriguing combination of colonial architecture and striking Inca ruins on the mountainsides.
Popular with yogis and spiritual travelers, Pisac is actually best visited on a Sunday when it hosts its weekly market. Families from across this part of Peru make their way to Pisac to sell and purchase local produce.
Overlooking the village is the Pisac ruins, the crowning glory of the town. It is possible to hike up to these ruins from town to explore. Once you’re there, the views of the surrounding area are breathtaking.
You can get to Pisac by colectivo from Puputi Street. Colectivos depart when full, from 7:00 am. The colectivo will leave you in town, from where you can either hike all the way to the site, or take a taxi to the ruins. To get back to town, catch a colectivo on the road intersecting Pisac.
The ruins of Pisac are open daily from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm. Admission is part of Cusco Boleto Turistico – you can get that here.
For a day trip to the Sacred Valley that also goes to Pisac, click here.
Check out my post A Guide To Visiting Pisac Ruins.
Moray features yet more Inca ingenuity. Situated 50 kilometers (31 miles) northwest of Cusco, these ruins consist of a fascinating set of interconnected circular terraces.
Located on a plateau around 3,500 meters (11,483 feet) above sea level, these 15th-century terraces have been cut out of the land in an intricate pattern, making them look a little like sunken amphitheaters. It is unknown exactly what these terraces were used for – though some theories suggest the terraces at Moray were used to study the effects of climate on growing different crops.
Indeed, the design, depth and orientation of the terraces create a temperature difference of up to 5°C (9°F) between the top and bottom of the terraces. Samples of the soil here have revealed that different soils were brought from different regions.
Moray is open daily from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm. Admission is part of Cusco Boleto Turistico – you can get that here.
Getting to Moray and Maras independently is honestly so complicated, that you’ll regret attempting it. Simply opt for a tour and make your life easy! For a tour of Moray and the Salt Mines of Maras, click here, here or here.
Not far from Moray and usually visited together lies the town of Maras, around 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) to the north of Cusco. Here in the valley, thousands of individual salt pools have been carved out of the landscape.
The pools have been in use since the 15th century, and are still important to this day; they are passed down from family to family. Salty water feeds into the pools from a spring via an underground stream. Each of the pools get filled up by this spring and then the waters evaporate, over time leaving behind salt which is then scraped off.
The local residents who use these salt pools work in a cooperative system that was established in the time of the Incas (or possibly before).
Maras is open daily from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm. Admission is part of Cusco Boleto Turistico – you can get that here. To visit the salt pools you have to pay an additional fee of 10 Peruvian Soles ($2.50 USD).
Chinchero is an Andean village in the high plains of Anta, part of Peru’s Sacred Valley, and is located around 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from Cusco. Visiting here you will be able to see a colonial church, soak up mountain views, see Inca ruins and visit the Sunday market – this is also a weaving village, so all the more if you are looking for some souvenirs to bring home.
The high altitude of Chinchero (3,762 meters / 12,342,5 feet above sea level) means that spending the night here is not a good idea unless you are acclimated. However, the beautiful surrounding snowy peaks and rustic charm of the village make it ideal for a day trip.
There’s a historic precinct of the village with a church, Inca ruins and museum that is covered by the Boleto Turistico – you can get that here.
Getting to Chinchero is much easier on guided tours – there are plenty that go around the Sacred Valley and include a stop there. For a day trip to the Sacred Valley that includes a stop in Chinchero, click here.
The quarry of Cachiqata (or Cachiccata) was amazingly carved out for the purposes of building Ollantaytambo. You can still see the remains of stone-working here, cut by the masons of the Inca period, which was a major part of Inca engineering.
Many people visit Cachiqata as part of a day trip to Ollantaytambo, but it is a beautiful region for walking and worth a day trip in itself. The view here across the Sacred Valley and back to Ollantaytambo is one you won’t forget in a hurry.
From Ollantaytambo, you cross the Urubamba River on the Inca bridge and follow the river past interesting rocks and natural springs, until you reach the quarry itself. Alternatively, you can join a guided tour departing from Cusco. For more information, click here.
The village of Ollantaytambo is also located in Peru’s Sacred Valley. It is usually a stopping off point on the way to Machu Picchu, but it is worth more than just a quick stop off. In fact, this is one of the best day trips from Cusco.
This quaint village has two Inca ruins to explore, and so after the streams of people that pass through on their way to Machu Picchu dissipate, you’ll have the cobblestone streets and ruins to yourself. Wandering around Ollantaytambo – an example of Inca town planning that has been continuously inhabited since the 13th century – is like being in another time altogether.
The Ollantaytambo ruins are the remains of an enormous Inca fortress. They come complete with stone terraces built into the hillside. The complex also includes the Sun Temple and Princess Baths Fountain. You’ll also get amazing views out into the river here.
Ollantaytambo is easily reached via a colectivo from Pavito Street in Cusco, leaving around every 40 minutes and taking an hour and a half (it costs around 15 Peruvian Soles / $3.70 USD). A better option would be to join a guided tour that also goes to other places around the Sacred Valley.
For a day trip to the Sacred Valley, which includes a visit to Ollantaytambo, click here.
Admission to Ollantaytambo ruins is part of Cusco Boleto Turistico – you can get that here.
Check out my post A Short Guide To Ollantaytambo.
This is the big one. This is the most famous site in all of Peru and possibly South America and so, of course, it is one of the most popular day trips from Cusco. However, even so it is possible to visit Machu Picchu in a day, I wholeheartedly recommend to take a bit more time time to fully appreciate it by staying overnight or walking the Inca Trail.
To get to Machu Picchu, you can travel on the train from Cusco all the way to Aguas Calientes, and then take the bus up to the entry to the ruins themselves. It is also possible to take a tour, which makes the process much more straightforward. You’ll have a guide, return train tickets and entrance fees all included in the price. It’ll be a fully packed day (travel time is around 5 hours one way), but also a fantastic experience that you won’t want to miss out on, learning the stories and history of the site.
For a more fancy experience, you can take the Hiram Bingham train, which comes complete with high-end, Pullman style carriages.
You can book your Hiram Bingham Train here.
For a full-day guided trip from Cusco to Machu Picchu, click here.
In recent years Rainbow Mountain has become a super popular destination in Peru – and needless to say one of the most popular day trips from Cusco. While it used to be something of a hidden destination, today thanks to social media and Instagram, Rainbow Mountain has become a bucket list destination.
Around 2015 an ice melt revealed the mountain’s multicolored stripes, which gives the place its name. Hiking Rainbow Mountain will take you deep into the Andes to the place also known as Vinicunca.
Getting here is a simple matter of taking a tour as doing it by yourself is sort of impossible. That’s because you’ll need a 4X4 to actually access it. You’ll have to get up pretty early in the morning for a full day tour; getting there alone takes three hours, with a two-hour hike to the summit. The entry fee is 10 Peruvian Soles ($2.50 USD) but it is usually absorbed in the cost of the tour.
To book your day trip to Rainbow Mountain, click here.
Make sure to also read my post A Complete Guide To Hiking Rainbow Mountain.
Lake Humantay is a beautiful natural spot to soak up some of Peru’s incredible scenery. It’s the perfect alternative to the lakes in Huaraz in the north of Peru; a glistening Alpine jewel set on a backdrop of skyscraping mountains.
Visiting Humantay independently on public transport is a little complicated, but possible. There is a bus stop at Mollepata, near the start of the hike, which you can reach via bus from Cusco. Taking a day trip here is great for those who are planning on embarking on the Inca Trail or any others, as you’ll be able to acclimate to hiking at high altitudes.
Reaching Lake Humantay from Cusco is fairly straightforward if you take a tour. You will have to depart in the early hours of the morning (around 3:00 in the morning) to make the trip, and the hike to the lake itself is around 6 kilometers (3.7 miles).
For information on day trips from Cusco to Lake Humantay, click here.
Make sure to also read my post A Complete Guide To Hiking Laguna Humantay.
Just north of Cusco you’ll find Huchuy Qosqo – one of the lesser known places that can be visited on day trips from Cusco. Dubbed “Little Cusco”, this archaeological site overlooks the Sacred Valley. It’s a rarely visited destination that was once a royal estate within the Inca Empire and dates back to around 1420. Rather than being taxed, the citizens of the Inca Empire were enlisted to build this settlement
Not many people make it to these ruins. That is partly because it is hard to do so by road. Instead, many choose to hike to Huchuy Qosqo – a memorable way to access the site and surprisingly not as difficult as you might expect.
Leave Cusco early in the morning – hop on a colectivo and be prepared to haggle for a taxi to the beginning of the trail. The hike takes around seven hours (there and back). The hike is beautiful and can be done independently, thanks to signs on the trail. Coming across the ruins themselves from above is breathtaking.
There also are guided tours to Huchuy Qosqo departing daily from Cusco. For information, click here.
Ausangate is a mountain peak that makes up part of the Vilcanota mountain range in the Andes surrounding Cusco. Soaring up to 6,384 meters above sea level (20,945 feet), trekking at this giant of a mountain would be a challenge for any outdoors enthusiast.
Day trips to Ausangate offer up the chance to explore the Alpine landscape around, allowing you to enjoy the views of the jagged, snowy peaks and mirror-like lakes of the region without having to don any mountaineering gear.
There are villages located in the shadow of the Ausangate mountain where you can see crafts being made and meet locals. You can also ride mountains past the seven lakes beneath the mountains and visit hot springs. Make sure to bring your camera: the views are insanely beautiful.
Day trips from Cusco to Ausangate start early. You’ll be leaving around 5:00 am and arriving at Ausangate at around 8:30 for a full day itinerary.
To book your guided day trip from Cusco to Ausangate, click here.
This is one in a long list of examples of just how ingenious the Inca Empire was in its building projects. Located near to Cusco and spanning 500 acres, the ruins of Tipon are set around a spring that still feeds into irrigation canals and fountains built here by the Incas.
Amazingly, this place is still fully functional and water flows year round – even in the dry season. It is thought that Tipon was created as part of a royal estate, with some remains found here pointing towards the Inca nobility.
The agricultural landscape here is made up of terraces that are considered to have been used for microclimates. This allowed the Incas to test out the viability of different crops at the high altitude.
It’s a calm, relaxing place to visit, not only due to the dramatic scenery and lush greenery of the grounds, but also the constant stream of water that you can hear and see. It may not be Machu Picchu, but there is enough here to keep you occupied and astounded for hours.
The best way to get to Tipon is to hop in a taxi from Cusco. There is also the option to take a colectivo, but that also means you have to hike 5 kilometers (little over 3 miles) uphill from the modern-day town of Tipon to the ruins (and back again).
For guided tours that also go to Tipon, click here.
Known in Spanish as Balcón del Diablo, the Devil’s Balcony is a great place to hike near Cusco. The hike itself is moderate, being just three miles in length, and can be easily reached from the city. In fact, it’s just a 20-minute walk from Sacsayhuaman and is located in the community Chacan.
Though the hike may be relatively straightforward, the views are amazingly rewarding. The “balcony” itself offers up spectacular views out across the valley.
If you don’t feel like hiking, another way to explore this part of Peru is to take a trip on horseback. You will pass through Andean communities, farmlands and have the constant backdrop of the surrounding peaks.
To book your day trip to El Balcon del Diablo, click here.
If you are planning a trip to Peru, you will want to read these posts:
- Everything You Need To Know About The Inca Trail
- What To Pack For The Inca Trail
- The Best Things To Know Before Visiting Peru
- The Best Things To Do In Peru
- The Best Hikes In Peru
- The Best Restaurants In Cusco