15 best day trips from Cusco
The former capital of the mighty Inca Empire, the city of Cusco in Peru is a great base for exploring interesting archaeological and historical sites as well as outdoor recreation. The UNESCO World Heritage City boasts vibrant colonial-era architecture, including stunning churches and plazas, and you can often see locals strolling the streets in traditional dress. Cusco is a major tourist destination. There are plenty of hotels for every budget, restaurants serving traditional and world cuisine, and lively bars where you can relax after dark. While the city has much to be proud of, many of the area’s charms can be found outside of the city… Here are some of the best day trips from Cusco to remember a fabulous Peruvian adventure.
1. Machu Picchu
Source: Whitmark / Shutterstock Machu Picchu Perhaps Peru’s ultimate destination, a visit to the Lost City of the Incas is a must when exploring the South American nation. While many people prefer to visit the mystical site after a multi-day hike on the Inca Trail, a day trip from Cusco is ideal if time is limited or you just don’t want to include hiking in your vacation. Head to Aguas Calientes, the main gateway to the incredible Inca site, before admiring the vast ruins and sweeping vistas. Machu Picchu is believed to have been built in the mid-1400s. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered one of the Seven New Wonders of the World… Stroll the terraces, taking in the reconstructed buildings and charming corners; admire the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Three Windows; ponder whether the Temple of the Condor was used as a torture chamber; and see the Intiwatana Stone, an ancient sundial. You can also climb up to the Sun Gate, which offers a spectacular view of the ruins… Recommended Tour : Day trip to Machu Picchu by train from Cusco
Source: Matthias Kestel / shutterstock Sacsayhuaman Sacsayhuaman is another spectacular Inca heritage site close to Cusco. The site is thought to have been developed before the Incas in the 1100s and then expanded and fortified during the Inca Empire. A UNESCO World Heritage Treasure, it sits high on a hilltop with a magnificent view of the surrounding area… See the sacred spring at Tambomahay and explore the Kenko stone labyrinth near the Saxayhuaman archaeological site, before strolling through the remains of an ancient temple, old vaults and ruins of houses… Suggested Tour : Saxayhuaman Archaeological Park
3. huchui Kosko
Source: Marco Alhelm / Shutterstock Spend a day hiking through the well-preserved Huchui Cosco (Little Cusco) to enjoy historical sites, nature, views and interaction with the locals. Driving through several passages, there are many breathtaking views throughout the valley… The picturesque Lake Cuullacocha and meadows offer even more natural beauty, and there are many species of birds to be seen… Archaeological excavations at Huchui Kosko are thought to date back to the 1420s, although there is evidence that the area was inhabited for a long time before the development of the remains you see today. There’s a mix of stone and raw buildings, with impressive terraces, reconstructed vaults, a long great hall, religious buildings, a long irrigation canal, and more. Check recommended hotels in Cusco, Peru
4. Rainbow Mountain.
Source: Lana_May / shutterstock Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain is one of the most unique natural wonders in the vast region of Cusco. The locals, known as Vinicunca, venerate the mountain, considering it sacred. Spiritual rituals and worship took place here before the Inca era, and people still come to the amazing mountain to pray, give thanks, and leave offerings. Colorful layers formed by mineral deposits create an extraordinary view with shades of red, brown, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. Enjoy magnificent views of the nearby snow-capped peaks, the Ausangate Glacier and the green valley… The trip from Cusco to the trailhead takes about three hours, after which the challenging journey begins… Accessible Tour : Rainbow Mountain Hike from Cusco
5. Humantay Lake.
Source: Paulo Enrique Vilella / shutterstock Humantay Lake A spectacular sight in the Peruvian Andes, a trip to Humantay Lake is not one you will easily forget. Formed when glaciers melted centuries ago, the sparkling calm turquoise waters reflect the surrounding snow-capped mountains like a mirror. Look for the small, precariously balanced stone towers built around the lake to worship the Inca land god. You can also discover many interesting flora and fauna. Horseback riding is available around the lake or you can enjoy a great hike. This is a fabulous place for photography and nature lovers. Amazing tour : From Cusco: 1-day hike to Lake Hantay
Source : NicoGutierrezPhotography / shutterstock Chonta Chonta Canyon is a small Andean community west of Cusco. Besides the chance to see how the locals live in the village and take in the stunning views that encompass Mt. Salkantay, wildlife viewing is the highlight of this trip… Look for Andean foxes, deer, cougars and majestic birds of prey such as hawks and eagles. See the mighty condor – the world’s largest bird of prey – soaring through the sky. Make sure your camera is ready.
7. South Valley
Source: Lulu and Isabel / Shutterstock Church of San Pedro Apostol de Andahuayllas The southern valley of Cuzco is a mysterious and intriguing place, replete with ancient Inca (and pre-Inca) ruins, ancient legends and nature. The main attraction of the picturesque valley is the Church of San Pedro Apostol de Andahuayllas, its simple whitewashed facade concealing the Baroque beauty that lies inside; Exquisitely painted ceilings, a gleaming golden altar and stunning frescoes have earned the church the nickname of the Sistine Chapel of the Andes. The magnificent church combines local, Spanish and Moorish designs. The Pre-Indian citadel of Piquillacta is another fascinating site, as is the Temple of Timpon with its elaborate irrigation system. Add thrill to your day with a whitewater rafting adventure on turbulent rivers.
8. Anta Valley.
Source: Marco Alhelm / Shutterstock The Anta Valley The attractive Anta Valley is only a 45-minute drive from downtown Cusco. The valley has beautiful villages like Zurit and Ancachuro, and you can explore the huge terraces used for agriculture and the sacred Inca ruins of Killarumiyoc. An ATV adventure through scenic terrain offers an exciting way to sightsee and have fun while admiring the natural beauty around you. Discover lands that were socially important to the Incas and breathe in history and fresh air.
Source: jericho_cortez / shutterstock Temple of the Moon, Cusco Located on the outskirts of Cusco, Salumpunco (also known as the Temple of the Moon) is easily accessible during a day trip… Despite its proximity, the Inca site sees fewer visitors than other more famous sites in the area. This means that those who make the trip here can avoid the crowds and enjoy the site in relative tranquility, adding another dimension to the exciting exploration. You can really feel like you’ve gone a little off the beaten path as you marvel at the atmospheric ruins and magnificent views. Two caves lead into the hillside, each with interesting carvings and ritual altars. Cracks in the walls allow moonlight to reach the altars when conditions are right, and the overall aura is one of uncertainty, intrigue and mystery of the past… Riding is possible in the surrounding area for a varied day.
10. Sacred Valley.
Source: Anton_Ivanov / shutterstock The Sacred Valley The Sacred Valley is a popular destination in the Peruvian region of Cuzco, and a day trip is sure to be filled with many magical moments… There are many monuments for you to admire, and you will pass through several towns and villages, each with its own unique flavor. The green Urubamba Valley gives life to the spouting Urubamba River, home to wildlife. Another attraction in the valley is Pisac with its bustling traditional market. Browse through the many handicrafts and souvenirs and have a breezy fun haggling with the vendors to ensure the fairest prices for all. A variety of activities are available in the region, including rafting, hiking, exciting ATV rides and thrilling zipline adventures. Recommended Tour : From Cusco: Sacred Valley and Murray Ruins by ATV
Source: saiko3p / shutterstock Salt Mine, Maras The town of Maras is about 26 miles from Cusco, in the wider Sacred Valley area. It has a Catholic church – El Templo Mayor San Francisco de Asis – a local market and several eateries serving traditional Peruvian food. However, the real gem of the city is the stunning salt pools. Set in geometric formations that line the terraces down the slopes of a gaping canyon, the stream flows through shallow pools, evaporating, leaving salty deposits behind this sparkle in the sun. The area supplied the Inca with salt, and to this day provides locals with the mineral; the harvesting process is almost the same as in times past, and you can see local families clearing the land to harvest salt for sale. Combo Tour : Maras and Moray 6 hour tour from Cusco
12. archeological excavation of the moray
Source: Fabio Lamanna / shutterstock The Murray Archaeological Excavation Located near Maras, the Moray Archaeological Excavation is on a soaring plateau above the city. The ruins here are quite unlike those found elsewhere, with round-shaped depressions in the terraces. Some of the holes are very deep, reaching almost 100 feet to the ground. It remains a mystery as to why these holes were created, and several theories have been advanced… There are irrigation canals at this site, and while people today are often baffled by this unique site, it was clearly important to the Incas.
Source: Olga Kot Photo / shutterstock Pisac Located in the Sacred Valley, the town of Pisac is worthy of a self-guided trip. With one of the busiest markets in the area, you’ll find fresh produce, homewares, handicrafts, clothing, souvenirs and more. The colonial village is under the hilltop of the Inca fortress, with an ancient sundial, temple remains, plazas, foundations and terraces. There are several places where old and young alpacas and other creatures can enjoy close encounters. Examples include Awana Kancha and the Living Museum of the Andes. From hiking in pristine mountain lakes to relaxing yoga workshops, there are many activities.
Source: LUC KOHNEN / shutterstock Chinchero Chinchero is the perfect Andean village. Surrounded by towering mountains, the visit gives a glimpse of Peru’s rural life. Stroll through the local market to see a stunning selection of locally made products; woven goods are especially common. Visit the Andean Textile Interpretive Center to learn more about the weaving processes and their importance here in Chinchero, the heart of Peru’s weaving industry. Next to the main square is a charming church with a mix of colonial and indigenous designs. The Spanish-built religious building sits on the site of a much older Inca palace. The village is believed to have once served as a refuge for Inca rulers, and the ruins include stone walls, agricultural terraces, aqueducts and a decorative stone throne. Check recommended hotels in Cusco, Peru
Source: Rubicek / Flickr Lares Hot Springs About a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Cusco, Lares is the perfect place to rest, recuperate and recover from long days of hiking and walking in and around Cusco. Visitors can soothe their mind, body and soul with a blissful soak in an ancient natural thermal spa built by the Incas. Rich in mineral waters help with a number of conditions, the atmosphere is serene, and the views are spectacular. There are many peaks at hand if you want even more hiking.