From breathtaking landscapes to ancient ruins, are you ready to discover all the best day trips from Cusco?
More than just the inspiration and namesake of
the world’s Disney’s most famous llama, Cusco is one place you just can’t miss during your trip to Peru! And beyond the usual city sightseeing, there’s also a whole array of fantastic day trips from Cusco for you to experience.
If you’re planning a trip to Peru and aren’t sure where to start, you might want to check out this Ultimate 2 Week Peru Itinerary, 10 off the beaten places in Northern Peru or this list of best things to do in Arequipa for some inspiration.
Cusco is one of my favourite cities in South America, and the home of so many personal firsts!
With the exception of 4 year old me’s Disney World Florida adventure circa 1997, Cusco is the first non-European city I ever set foot in. It was also my first encounter with real life Spanish, the first place I ever stayed in a hostel and the first (and only!) place I ate broccoli on a pizza.
Gross broccoli pizza and nervous Spanish stammering aside, I truly fell in love with Cusco the first…and second…and third time I laid eyes on it.
The charismatic and colonial city of Cusco welcomes more than one million visitors a year, and for good reason.
Aside from being the gateway to Machu Picchu, Cusco is home to innumerable ancient Inca ruins, year-round cultural festivals and an almost indescribable cuisine. You could easily spend weeks on end getting lost in the cobbled backstreets of this vibrant city, but there are also a number of incredible day trips from Cusco if you wanted to escape the crowds for a while.
Disclaimer: I have used stock images for some of the day trips featured in this post. My first two trips to Peru were in 2011 and 2013 before I even know what a pixel was, and the photos from those trips are definitely not up to standard! All credit has been given where necessary.
10 Best Day Trips from Cusco
1. Rainbow Mountain
by Sam & Natalia from Something of Freedom
If you’re up for the challenge, take a day trip from Cusco to hike Vinicunca – more commonly known as Rainbow Mountain.
The mountain has earned its nickname due to the stripes of colourful sediment that cover its surface. Thanks to the incredible natural beauty of the multi-coloured mountain, Vinicunca is becoming an increasingly popular spot to include on any itinerary of Peru.
Although it is possible to visit as part of a longer multi day hike, the most popular way to reach Rainbow Mountain is on a day trip from Cusco. Trips can be arranged from as little as 70 Soles (approx. £16GBP / $21USD), excluding a 10 Sole fee for hiking in the area. Pick up for tours is around 3am as there is an approximately 3-hour drive from the city to the starting point of the hike.
The trailhead sits at an altitude of 4,326 metres, so it’s important to have spent at least a few days in Cusco adjusting prior to your trip. From this point, it’s a tough trek upwards to an altitude of over 5,000 metres to be able to enjoy the breath-taking beauty of Rainbow Mountain. Although the majority of the hike isn’t too steep, it becomes increasingly more difficult due to the altitude.
That being said, the stunning scenery makes the struggle completely worthwhile. Even if you’re well adjusted to the altitude you may well feel some ill effects the next day, but that’s a small price to pay to see this truly unbelievable landscape with your own eyes!
2. Humantay Lake
by Jenny & Steven from Tales From the Lens
The Humantay Lake is found at the start of the Salkantay trek, one of the most famous hikes leading to Machu Picchu. This gorgeous clear blue lake is nestled within the high snowcapped peaks and is fed by the glacier dropping out of the Humantay mountain. This is certainly one of the most beautiful mountain lakes you will have the chance to see in South America and the good news is that you can get there as part of a one-day trip from Cusco.
Most people will join an organised tour from Cusco which can easily be booked a day ahead in one of the many agencies found in the city. However, note that to get to the Humantay Lake your tour will pick you up around 4 am at your hotel as it takes about 3 hours to get there.
Once you are dropped off, you will still have to hike for 1.5 hours to the lake.
This is not a very complicated hike, but the end of the trail is quite steep and at this high altitude, it can be challenging depending on your level of fitness.
Make sure to correctly acclimatize before going on this trip – the lake is located at the altitude of 4,200 metres.
Once at the lake, keep walking along the water and climb up the small hill to your left, you will find an incredible point of view of the turquoise lake, the Humantay glacier and the Salkantay valley in the background.
by James from Travel Collecting
Sacsayhuamán is a former citadel that is very close to Cusco – in fact, it’s situated on the hill directly above the city, which makes it one of the easiest day trips from Cusco. You can easily catch up bus up to the ruins, or alternatively walk if you’re feeling up to it, as there’s a path that goes directly from Cusco’s Plaza de Armas (main square) up the hill to Sacsayhuamán.
I took the bus up and then walked down, which is much easier, since the hill is steep and the altitude high.
These Incan ruins consist mainly of three spectacular walls in tiers above and below each other, around a lawn. The walls are testament to the Incas’ skills at stonework.
The irregular-shaped rocks used to make the walls are enormous, but they fit together so perfectly that even after hundreds of years there’s not even the tiniest of gaps between them.
There would be even more of the citadel still standing, except the Spanish took much of it down to make their new city below. At the top of the hill, there is a small throne or altar that’s worth a quick look.
However, it is the huge stone walls that really impress. With its spectacular views of Cusco laid out below, surrounded by the Andes, it’s easy to see why Sacsayhuamán is one of the most popular day trips from Cusco.
During your time in Peru you’ll come across many an Inca terrace, but I guarantee none will be as impressive as Tipón!
Located just a half hour outside of Cusco, the Archaeological Complex of Tipón is arguably the best example of the Inca’s irrigation and hydraulic ingenuity still in existence today. Although there is evidence of intricately designed irrigation channels in other Inca ruins that have long since fallen apart, the system created in Tipón is still fully functional today.
Supplied by a natural spring towards the top of the complex, these incredibly designed water channels feed the entirety of Tipón with fresh water which, as well as preserving the area’s vivid greenery, is an indication that the terraces were certainly built with an agricultural focus in mind.
A sprawling compound covering almost 240 hectares, much like many other archaeological sites in Peru nobody really knows the true origins of Tipón. Even the name is completely made up, and likely to be totally unrepresentative of the true Quechua origin.
There is one loose indication of the site’s origins recorded by Inca Garcilaso de la Vega in his Comentarios Reales de los Incas. After Wiraqucha, the 8th Sapa Inca of the Kingdom of Cusco usurped his own father for the throne, he allegedly ordered a palace be built for his father to reside. The description of this palace’s location is curiously similar to that of Tipón, which leads many historians to believe that Tipón was originally created for this purpose.
However, there is also strong evidence that Tipón was used as a ritual garden, with the water used not only to irrigate their crops but also for ceremonial worship purposes. Whatever the true origins of Tipón, it definitely makes for a nice day trip from Cusco and, as one of the lesser visited ruins in Peru, you’re almost guaranteed to avoid the crowds.
Tipón can be visited as part of an organised tour (click here to book yours in advance) or individually. Entry to Tipón is included in the Boleto Turistico and one of the partial tickets – however, when I visited we simply paid S. /10 to the entrance guard which I think is illegal but you never know, you could try your luck?
A great accompaniment for your day trip to Tipón is a stop at nearby Pikillaqta. Contrary to the majority of archaeological sites you’ll come across in Peru, Pikillaqta is not Inca.
Pikillaqta actually pre-dates the Inca Empire, and is a village of the Wari culture, one of the lesser talked about but equally as fascinating pre-Columbian civilizations.
The site was originally discovered in 1927, but it wasn’t until the late 70s that excavation really got underway! To date the site covers around 50 Hectares, but it’s believed that there are many more wonders just waiting to be dug up on site.
Based on the discovery of a large patio-like surface at the centre of the site, and up to 18 ‘halls’, it is believed that Pikillaqta was used as a ceremonial or feasting site, where rulers and their families would dine together, even inviting the leaders of nearby villages and towns.
Countless skeletal remains have been found at the site, from camelids (most likely alpacas and llamas that are still very much present in Peru today!) to guinea pig, and humans to… dinosaurs.
Pretty cool, right?
The dinosaur skeletons are actually on display at the small museum at the entrance of Pikillaqta, so even if Wari culture isn’t your thing, who can resist a quick day trip to see actual, real-life dinosaur remains?!
Despite its close proximity to Cusco when compared with the rest of the day trips mentioned her, Pikillaqta sees surprisingly few visitors. Apparently it fills up quite considerably with local families on the weekends, but I visited on a Tuesday (maybe a Wednesday?!) and there were only 2 or 3 other people there.
Like Tipón, entry to Pikillaqta is included in the Boleto Turistico. The site can be visited alone, but I’d highly recommend going as part of a guided day tour from Cusco. I didn’t, and I definitely feel like I missed out on a lot of information as a result!
6. Moray & Maras
I like to think of Moray and Maras like fish and chips: two completely different and unrelated things that people always seem to pair together.
Moray is an archaeological site that contains rather peculiar Inca ruins that some might mistake for crop circles. In fact, I’m embarrassed to confess that when I visited Moray for the first time aged 18, completely clueless to all things Inca, I actually asked my guide if they were crop circles.
Fortunately my poor Spanish and his non-existent English meant my original question got lost in translation somewhere along the way and he thought I asked “why are they circle?”, but I digress.
Like some other Peruvian ruins (I’m starting to see a running theme here…) the origins of Moray aren’t crystal clear. While it’s obvious that the site is agricultural, the circular design is unusual for agricultural terraces of the time, which leads researchers to believe that Moray was created as an experiment of sorts. This claim is backed up by soil extracts from the site, which show that soil may have been imported from other parts of the country especially for Moray.
A complete contrast to the lush green of Moray, the Salinas de Maras (Maras salt mines) are a mosaic of pale pink and brown hues.
If I had to describe the workings of these salt evaporation ponds in one word, it would have to be fascinating.
The various sized terraces have been in existence, and used in the same way, since even before the Inca Empire. he ponds are fed by a mineral-rich underground stream, which emerges from a natural spring.
The water flows through an impressively sophisticated system of natural channels constructed in such way that water gradually runs down into the salt ponds. When each pond is full enough, its keeper will close the notch and halt the flow.
When the water is naturally evaporated by the sun, what remains are nothing but beautiful crystallised salt extracts on the surface and sides of the pool. The keeper will scrape away the salt, turn the water flow back on and the process begins again.
Entry to Moray is included in the Boleto Turistico, and the partial boleto. When I visited the Maras salt mines in 2011 and 2013, I didn’t pay anything. However, I’ve since read there is a 10 Soles entry charge, so be prepared.
Accessing both Moray and Maras alone is a little difficult, so would definitely recommend going with an organised day tour from Cusco or the Sacred Valley, especially if you’re short on time.
7. Sacred Valley
Tipón, Moray and Maras are not the only sites worth visiting in the Sacred Valley.
Definitely one of the closest day trips from Cusco, the Sacred Valley of the Incas is probably my all time favourite destination in Peru.
With the winding Urubamba River zigzagging its way through the ominously high mountains, when I first stayed there in 2011, the Sacred Valley reminded me a lot of home.
So the mountains are a lot more impressive than those in the South Wales Valleys but I mean, a valley is a valley, right? And there’s something about being sandwiched at the bottom of a ravine between two colossal natural peaks that comforts this Valley girl.
Also known as Urubamba Valley, the Sacred Valley is home to an impressive collection of Inca and pre-Inca ruins, excellent adventure sports opportunities and one of South America’s most famous markets. As well as this, it features a unique blend of the old way of living and the new, modern Peru.
8. Apurímac Canyon
If you want to witness the incredible sight of native Andean condors taking flight but don’t quite have time to take a tour or trek of Colca Canyon, Apurímac Canyon is the perfect compromise.
The lesser known and subsequently lesser visited little sister of Colca Canyon, Apurímac Canyon is located just three and a half hours drive from Cusco. So yes, that would probably make it one of the longest day trips from Cusco but definitely one worth taking!
Some sources state that Apurimac Canyon is the third deepest in the world, but it’s always worth taking such claims with a pinch of salt, as the true measurements use vary from country to country. Still, it’s an impressive landscape to feast your eyes upon and a great alternative Cusco day tour.
Even if birds aren’t your thing (but honestly, condors are incredible and you should totally try and see them!), the Apurímac Canyon offers breath-taking landscapes, unreal hiking opportunities and a few adrenaline sports (rafting, anyone?).
9. Q’eswachaka Bridge
Seeing as you’re already heading all the way out to Apurímac Canyon, make sure you don’t miss out on one of the most impressive remnants of the Inca Empire in all of Peru: the Q’eswachaka Rope Bridge.
In Quechua, Q’eswachaka literally means “Braided bridge” with Q’eswa meaning to braid and chaka meaning bridge. And looking at the bridge, it’s not hard to work out where the name came from!
Stretching 33 metres across the Apurímac River, the bridge is a true testimony to the ingenuity of the Inca people as well as the strong sense of pride Peruvians have in preserving their history and culture.
Built in the traditional Inca manner, the bridge is made up of a particularly special type of grass, woven together to strengthen the structure. Naturally over time, and being so exposed to the elements, the bridge is incredibly susceptible to wear and tear. However, the special technique used to create the bridge has been lovingly handed down through the locals from generation to generation, so even today the bridge is still standing.
Every year or two in June the communities of nearby Winchiri, Ccolana, Chaupibanda and Choccayhua gather together and help to reinforce the bridge, restoring any faults and generally maintaining this incredible reminder of the past. If you’re lucky with your timing, you can visit the Q’eswachaka Bridge during its rebuilding process, or on the day it’s completed, when the locals dance across the bridge in celebration.
The Q’eswachaka Bridge is the only remaining example of a traditional Inca hanging bridge today and is definitely one of the most culturally enriching day trips from Cusco.
A lot of the Q’eswachaka Bridge day trips from Cusco also include a visit to the Q’arañahui Caves or nearby Four Lakes.
10. Machu Picchu
And here we are, the pièce de résistance of any trip to Peru.
I mean, did you really expect me to compile a list of the best day trips from Cusco without including this gem?!
I always struggle to write about Machu Picchu because honestly, no words can do it justice.
I mean, just look at it?!
A lot of ill-advised visitors to Peru wrongly believe that you can’t visit Machu Picchu unless you hike one of the multi-day treks which culminate at the World Wonder.
I can promise you this: if that were true, I would not have visited Machu Picchu 2.5 times already! This girl is not built for multi-day treks, I can tell you that for free!
Visiting Machu Picchu is actually the most popular day trip from Cusco. And although opting to visit Machu Picchu in one day from Cusco does end up being a hell of a long day involving 2 train journeys, a lot of walking and maybe a combi ride or two, it’s definitely worth the effort.
If you wanted to relieve some of the stress of having to arrange everything yourself, why not book a pre-arranged, all-inclusive Machu Picchu one day tour from Cusco?
How to book your day trips from Cusco
Typically, in Peru there are three ways of booking your day trips from Cusco and beyond.
The first is by simply walking into one of the many, many tour agencies in and around the Plaza de Armas and booking in person. If you don’t have a strict schedule to stick to, this is definitely the best way to do it as you can almost guarantee the best prices.
However, this doesn’t guarantee you the best quality! And although most tour agencies in Cusco have English-speaking staff, there’s no guarantee that they’ll understand exactly what you’re after. I actually ended up on a French-speaking tour of Machu Picchu during my first trip to Peru,despite me not speaking a word of French, which was a minor inconvenience to say the least.
Most accommodations are able to book tours for you, and some even have their own in-house agencies, so it’s always worth asking on check-in.
With that being said, some accommodation will say they can book a tour for you and simply charge you a little bit extra for them to walk down the road, into an agency, and sign you up there. I found that it’s mostly mid-range accommodation with no tour booking facilities that do this,with most hostels and more luxurious accommodation being more reliable in the quality of the tours they book you on.
Your final option is to book online in advance. In the past I’ve mostly gone for option 1, walking straight into an agency and booking on the day or the night before, but these days I always use Get Your Guide for my overseas tours. One of my main worries when travelling is “Wait, what if there’s no room for me on the tour?!”
Nobody likes FOMO, am I right?
Booking tours in advance gives me the reassurance and peace of mind that yes, I will be able to see those really old ruins I’ve been eyeing up for years.
Check out some of the Cusco day trips available through Get Your Guide:
- Full Day Trip from Cusco to Rainbow Mountain
- Full Day Sacred Valley Tour from Cusco
- From Cusco: Humantay Lagoon Full Day Hike
- Archaeological Park of Sacsayhuamán (Tour from Cusco)
- Machu Picchu Full Day Tour from Cusco with Expedition Train
Where to stay in Cusco
As the cultural capital of Peru, you’re absolutely spoilt for choice when it comes to fantastic accommodation options in Cusco for all budgets.
For the shoestring traveller, Cusco has all the greats including The Point, Flying Dog Hostel and Kokopelli. My personal favourite hostel in Cusco is Pariwana Hostel, which has a great atmosphere and incredibly friendly staff.
If you’re over hostels but don’t want to completely break the bank with your hotel budget, check out Casa San Blas Boutique Hotel. I only stayed for 2 nights back when I first visited Peru in 2011, but the cloud-like bed and fruity breakfast was enough to make me want to come back for me.
And that’s a wrap – the 10 best day trips from Cusco.
I’ll be honest, writing this post has made me miss Peru so much that I’m already tentatively planning a fourth trip for 2020. Hopefully my bank account will hold out until then, or I find a sugar daddy to fund my life of travel because otherwise the closest I’ll be getting to Peru is the alpaca farm down the road.
If you’ve been to Cusco already and think I’ve missed anything, please let me know in the comments below! Or if you’re planning your first trip and have any questions about the best day trips from Cusco, I’d be happy to answer!
And don’t forget to check out the rest of my Peru Articles for more Peru travel inspiration.
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