cusco day trips

9 Best (Easy!) Cusco Day Trips

There is a lot to see and do in Cusco – but there are plenty of incredible Cusco day trips worth leaving this amazing city for. Whether you’re just in Cusco for a day or two as you acclimate to the altitude in preparation to visit Machu Picchu, or you plan on spending a week or more here, save space in your itinerary for a day trip from Cusco.

In this ultimate guide to the best Cusco day trips, we share everything from natural wonders to the Incan ruins that give the Sacred Valley its name.

We’re covering the most popular day trips and those you won’t hear other bloggers talking about. Let’s dive in and get planning your adventure.

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Cusco Day Trips

Located in the heart of the Sacred Valley, Cusco makes an excellent base for exploring one of Peru’s most stunning regions.

While Cusco has the attractions and the natural beauty to draw its own crowds, most of the travelers visiting Cusco use the city as a natural destination to acclimatize to the soaring altitudes before heading onward to Machu Picchu.

Of course, Machu Picchu is – for many travelers – its own day trip from Cusco. We won’t be covering Machu Picchu in this article, but rather focusing on the other popular Cusco day trips to consider.

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If your itinerary allows for it, don’t make the mistake of making Machu Picchu your only day trip from Cusco – there is so much more here to see and do.

Cusco is also close to some of Peru’s other incredible travel destinations, like Lake Titicaca, the Colca Canyon, and even the city of Arequipa with its soaring volcanoes El Misti and Chachani – some of the most breathtaking volcanoes in South America.

While these destinations are a bit far from Cusco to visit in just one day, they’re well worth adding to your Peru itinerary.

Let’s dive in to some of the best and easiest day trips from Cusco. Easily manageable with just one day, these adventures outside of town are sure to be a highlight of your trip.

Cusco Tourist Pass

You’ll need to purchase the Cusco Tourist Pass to visit almost any of these destinations – especially the sites with ruins! The Cusco Tourist Pass is an excellent deal, and includes admissions to a variety of sites in and around Cusco, over a number of days. Book your Cusco Tourist Pass in advance and start planning your trip!

Pisac

pisac peru

Just around 45 minutes north of Cusco, a day trip to Pisac is one of the easiest day trips to make from Cusco. It’s also one of the most popular.

Home to some of the most spectacular Incan ruins in the Sacred Valley and one of the best markets in Latin America, Pisac is an easy choice of a Cusco day trip for most visitors.

You can easily get from Cusco to Pisac without booking a tour – meaning this is also a great day trip for travelers on a budget.

Take a small passenger van called a “colectivo” that departs regularly from Calle Puputi in the historic center of Cusco or take a taxi. The colectivo will cost just a few bucks, while the taxi will cost about $20 (in soles).

Plan to visit Pisac on Sunday if you can, to take advantage of being in town for the market day! The Pisac market is a long-standing tradition, bringing local vendors from the area to town to sell everything from live animals to fresh fruit and vegetables to souvenirs and textiles.

While the market is open daily, on Sunday, the entire town seems to be overtaken by stalls spilling into the streets – it’s great fun and fantastic people watching (and shopping, too)! Of course, no trip to Pisac is complete without exploring the ruins.

Make sure to budget a good 3-4 hours at least to explore the entire site; there are several different sections you’ll want to see, and the site requires a lot of walking, which can be taxing when you still haven’t fully adjusted to the altitude.

Make sure to explore the impressive agricultural terracing and the different “neighborhoods” of the ruins. You’ll also find nearly 20 different watchtowers – unique to Pisac! – as well as the largest Incan cemetery ever discovered. It’s estimated to have held up to 10,000 bodies!

Read More: Ultimate Guide to Pisac: Pisac Market + the Pisac Ruins

Machu Picchu Tickets

Order your tickets to Machu Picchu as far in advance as you can! Access is limited to preserve this historic site.

Ollantaytambo

ollantaytambo

One of the most important Incan sites in the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo is another fantastic day trip from Cusco if you’re looking to explore some jaw-dropping ruins.

Whatsmore, Ollantaytambo is also an incredibly quaint and charming little town, with good restaurants and even some great shopping, making for the perfect combination of activities for a stellar Cusco day trip.

Ollantaytambo is easily reached by taxi from Cusco, or by local bus – buses depart from the historic center of Cusco frequently and cost just a few dollars. The ride takes around an hour and a half, no matter how you travel.

The main attraction of Ollantaytambo is the impressive ruins on the hillsides around the city, though the city was built on top of Incan ruins as well, and still maintains much of the original layout from centuries ago.

Some of the most impressive ruins include the “Baño de la Nusta” fountain, as well as the jaw-dropping Sun Temple, composed of massive multi-ton monoliths. You’ll want to dedicate at least 2-3 hours to explore all of the ruins.

As the start of the train system that takes visitors the rest of the way to Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo is bustling – as much as a small town can be bustling – and has a lot to offer tourists.

You’ll find artisan shops, like the Awamaki fairtrade shop where local weaving cooperatives sell their wares, as well as plenty of cozy cafes and restaurants.

Read More: Ultimate Travel Guide to Ollantaytambo, Peru

Rainbow Mountain

You’ve surely seen it before – the Rainbow Mountain – whether it be on Instagram, some viral photo, or just on promotional material for travel to Peru. This stunning mountain is, truly, a rainbow, with distinct stripes of color left by mineral deposits over time. It looks surreal. 

Also known as the Montaña de Los Siete Colores or Vinicunca, the Rainbow Mountain has only recently become such a world-famous attraction – it was covered year-round in snow and ice until about 2013, when rising temperatures revealed it. 

Rainbow Mountain is now a major tourist attraction in Peru, and one of the most popular Cusco day trips other than Machu Picchu. Day trips with a guide to Rainbow Mountain are essential unless you have your own form of transportation in Peru.

A day trip to Rainbow Mountain is admittedly a long one – tour operators pick up guests between 3:00 – 4:00 AM from hotels and hostels in the Cusco historic center, and then embark on a 3 hours drive to the mountain. Once there, you’ll need to trek about 1.5 -2 hours to reach the lookout over the mountain.

The views, even before you reach the mountain, are gorgeous. It’s a remote, windswept area, so you’ll want to ensure you’re appropriately dressed for the hike – bundle up year-round!

While not too demanding of a hike physically, it might be best to leave this trip for after you’ve become more acclimated to the altitude here – even just a day or two in Cusco will help significantly.

It’s best to save a trip to Rainbow Mountain for the dry season – snow and rain can make these trips impossible – or steal that classic view of the rainbow-streaked mountain. 

Moray and Maras

moray peru

Located between Cusco and Ollantaytambo, the two unique destinations of Moray and Maras are some of the most visually stunning and unique spots you’ll find in the Sacred Valley. Located just 15 minutes away from each other, these two destinations make one of the most popular Cusco day trips.

While you can visit these sites in addition to others in the Sacred Valley as part of a more extensive Sacred Valley tour, these spots can be seen in an unhurried way, making for a great day trip from Cusco.

The easiest way to visit is by booking a Moray and Maras day trip from CuscoSmall group day trips are quite inexpensive and can include visits to Chinchero or Pisac as well. 

Moray is the site of some unique Incan terracing you won’t find anywhere else. With their distinct round shape, these terraces look otherworldly, and with their high walls and multiple levels, these circle terraces descend almost 500 feet (150 meters) directly into the earth.

While more study remains to be done about these terraces, archeologists know that the Incas used them for farming and that the depressions created a significant temperature difference on each level.

Plus, they’ve determined that unique soil compositions were transported here and added to each terrace for special planting purposes.

Maras is home to the Maras Salt Mines, some of the world’s largest salt mines, used since pre-Inca times. Saltwater is released from a natural underground spring and fed through salt pools to extract the salt naturally from the water.

The ingenuity of the pre-Incan civilizations in cultivating this natural resource is clear! The different salt pools create a white waterfall effect on the hillside for an incredible and unforgettable view of the valley.

Urubamba

urubamba

The largest town in the Sacred Valley, Urubamba is a great destination for a mix of activities to enjoy during a Cusco day trip.

Often added to a larger Sacred Valley day trip, Urubamba offers the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful town with shops, restaurants, abundant natural beauty, ruins, and proximity to many other important destinations nearby.

Many visitors choose to acclimate to the altitude in the area by spending a few days here in some of the area’s most beautiful luxury hotels, complete with extensive grounds and spas, including:

Urubamba is also home to Incan ruins of its own, the famous Quispiguanca royal palace of Incan emperor Huayna Capac. In the large open spaces, you can imagine the stately courtyards and spaces used to grow all kinds of food used to feed the emperor and his elite.

Though the ruins aren’t as impressive as some of the others you’ll find in the Sacred Valley, they’re worth a visit as a part of a tour of Urubamba and the surrounding area.

Urubamba is also a top-rated destination for river rafting, one of the best in Peru. You can find excellent, well-done excursions for river rafting, along with the opportunity to zip line across the valley, another highlight for adventure seekers. 

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Humantay Lake

The pictures speak for themselves – Humantay Lake is a truly incredible destination and well worth your consideration if you’re choosing from among several options of day trips from Cusco.

This aquamarine high-altitude lake, with the most beautiful snow-capped peak in the background, is a sight you won’t soon forget.

Cusco day trips to Humantay Lake are quite affordable – generally around $40 USD – and are by far the easiest way to visit the site. Alternatively, you could take a taxi to Humantay Lake, but you’ll end up paying much more for transportation than you would by just joining a Humantay Lake small group tour

Tours leave Cusco quite early in the morning, usually around 4:00 AM, as the journey to reach the lake takes about 3 hours. Once you arrive, prepare yourself for a hike! The trail from the parking area to the lake is uphill the whole way, and takes about an hour to complete.

Good hiking boots are a must-have if you’re hiking the Inca Trail (though potentially overkill if just visiting Machu Picchu). However, if you plan to visit Humantay Lake, I recommend having your hiking boots ready. The ground is loose in some spots, and you’ll want good traction. 

In the market for a new pair? These are the boots we’ve had and used for years – they’ve made it to several countries with us! 

While the uphill hike is challenging – especially if you’re still getting accustomed to the altitude here – its not very technically difficult, and you’ll just need to take your time. The view at the base of the lake is well worth the effort!

Where to Stay in Cusco

Huchuy Qosqo

The ruins of the Incan site Huchuy Qosqo – known as “Little Cusco” – are an excellent choice for a day trip from Cusco, little visited but with much to offer those who make it here.

This former royal palace of the emperor Viracocha was a summer estate outside of Cusco, where he sought refugee after a revolt that would lead to his son, Pachacuti, taking control of the empire.

To reach Huchuy Qosqo, which is inaccessible via road, you’ll need to hike from the town below the ruins, Lamay, for about 2 hours until reaching the ruins. The hike is physically strenuous, so plan on adding this to your itinerary only after spending at least a few days in Cusco to adjust to the climate.

You’ll need to book a guide for the hike

Some tour companies also offer community tourism opportunities in the town of Lamay in the valley, which is a great way to see traditional dances, try local food, and meet weaving cooperatives in the area, sustainably supporting tourism. 

Community Tourism Cusco offers an excellent excursion. 

Despite the effort to get here, you’ll be greatly rewarded with incredible views, amazing ruins, and an unmatched opportunity to visit this incredible destination in the Sacred Valley.

Chinchero

chinchero

The small town of Chinchero – located between Cusco and Urubamba – seems to have everything you could ever want in a day trip from Cusco.

In Chinchero you’ll find a lovely, historic village, home to artisans and an indigenous market where you can purchase beautiful textiles, plus Incan ruins of a royal palace and lovely, terraced hillsides.

You’ll have plenty of options for visiting Chinchero. Many of the Sacred Valley tours that take participants to various spots in the Sacred Valley include a stop in Chinchero. However, you’re not likely to find a group excursion that only brings you to Chinchero unless arranging a private tour with a guide.

These are some popular tour itineraries that include stops in Chinchero:

Of course, you’re also free to visit Chinchero independently as well! You can easily arrange for a taxi from Cusco, or take the public bus. Leaving from Cusco every hour, the bus ride costs just $2 USD and takes around 45 minutes.

Other than visiting this gorgeous town, the Chinchero market, and the nearby ruins, if you’re looking for something else to do near Chinchero, consider ziplining!

The zipline outside of Chinchero is famous and perfect for adventurous spirits who would love a bird’s-eye view of the town and the valley below.

Cusco Tourist Pass

You’ll need to purchase the Cusco Tourist Pass to visit almost any of these destinations – especially the sites with ruins! The Cusco Tourist Pass is an excellent deal, and includes admissions to a variety of sites in and around Cusco, over a number of days. Book your Cusco Tourist Pass in advance and start planning your trip!

Tambomachay

tambomachay

The Incan ruins of Tambomachay make for an excellent day trip from Cusco. Though not as extensive as the ruins you’ll find in larger Incan cities like Ollantaytambo or Pisac, Tambomachay is an incredible display of Incan ingenuity and construction prowess that make for an incredible visit.

Also known as El Baño del Inca “the bath of the Inca,” Tambomachay is thought to have been a royal bathing complex outside Cusco for the city’s elite.

Other theories of its use are that it served a religious purpose, as you’ll find similar though less extensive fountain structures in many other Incan ruins throughout the Sacred Valley.

Tambomachay is so close to Cusco that it is included in many Cusco city tours, along with the ruins of Sacsayhuaman located on the crest just above town. These are the best local tours that include a visit to Tambomachay:

You can make sure to visit Tambomachay on a Cusco city tour, or plan to visit on your own by arranging for a taxi to reach the site. You can check with your taxi driver and ask him or her to remain at the site while you explore for a while, or catch one dropping off another visitor for a ride back to town.

South Valley

pikillaqta

Last on our list of Cusco day trips – but certainly not least – is Cusco’s South Valley. While the Incan sites to the north and west of Cusco generally get all the attention, the South Valley sites are just as beautiful – and typically must less overrun with tourists, even during high season.

The South Valley is known for having some stunning and unique landscapes, whether you’re here around the rainy season and see them lush and green or in the dry season and see them in more beautiful yellows and burnt tones. 

The South Valley is home to several important Incan sites, including the most impressive three: Tipon, Pikillacta, and Andahuaylillas. Tipon is extremely impressive, with massive terraces and ornate stepping stone structures, as well as monumental and ceremonial fountains.

Pikillacta is the area’s only pre-Incan site, home to the Wari.

Andahuaylillas is home to Incan ruins as well, though visiting is also the perfect chance to see the quaint, historic town with the beautiful church known as the “Sistine Chapel of the Americas.”

You can find a relatively inexpensive half-day or full-day tour of the South Valley that covers these three main archeological sites and includes transportation, food, and a knowledgeable guide.

This is the best way to easily and conveniently explore in just one day – and you’ll save money with a small group excursion rather than just using taxis from place to place.