Most people who come to Cusco do so as part of a trip specifically to visit Machu Picchu – which is an incredible destination and a totally legit reason to visit Cusco. But Cusco is so much more than Machu Picchu. Before they visit Cusco, many people don’t even realize that the best day trips from Cusco are within a two-hour drive from the city.
Further reading: We’ve put together a list of Cusco travel tips that we believe will can really help you plan your trip a little better. Well, most of them anyway!
We recently spent a month in Cusco, the capital of the Incan empire. Before we went, we had a vague idea that there were lots of things to do in the Sacred Valley, but we really didn’t understand how spectacular some of them were until we actually took them ourselves.
Get the Cusco Tourist Ticket first
We highly recommend buying the Cusco Tourist Ticket before planning any excursions from Cusco. The ticket – also known as the Boleto Turistico del Cusco – includes many of the attractions you’ll find below with the exception of Rainbow Mountain, Maras Salinas, and Machu Picchu.
And remember, to try some of the delicious Peruvian food in this post as you’re making your way around the region.
Here are the Cusco day trips we recommend.
We’ve done all of them.
Day trip from Cusco to Pisac
One of our favorite day trips from Cusco had to be Pisac. It was so good, in fact, that we went there twice. On our first trip, we went only to get some photos for our partners at Peru Hop. We were so impressed by the Pisac Market that we ended up staying here for the entire day, just walking around and taking it all in.
Pisac is about 45 minutes outside of Cusco. We recommend doing it yourself, as you really don’t need to organize a trip here. All you need to do is go into the city and find a colectivo (a van that goes from town to town) and take the one that goes to Pisac and Calca.
A colectivo to Pisac will cost you about 4-5 soles – about $1.50 US.
Tours that include Pisac often just include the market and not the ruins – and a visit to Pisac without seeing the ruins would be a shame, in our opinion. In addition to that, adding another destination is going to make for a very long day. Pisac is an easy trip to do by yourself and should be done separately from Ollantaytambo or Chinchero.
How we did it: Take a colectivo to Pisac in the morning on Tuesday, Thursday, or Sunday and tour the market. Sunday is the most active market day. Then, hire a taxi for about 25 soles to take you to the top of Pisac. The hike back down to the market is about 2 hours and it’s got some incredible views. Have a coffee or lunch at the Blue Llama when you’re done!
Prefer a tour? For those of you who really prefer an organized tour, we’re happy to recommend this tour that takes you to both Pisac and Ollantaytambo. It’ll bring you both places with a few scenic stops along the way a buffet lunch for less than $40. But we suggest you take option A and do it yourself. It really is easy.
Tipon Inca ruins
Tipon is one of the most unique Inca ruins we saw in Peru. That’s because it was the only place we remember seeing that had an intact irrigation system. That irrigation system was crucial to what researchers believe Tipon to be – an experimental farm. Visiting Tipon’s gardens is almost spiritual because it’s so peaceful and you’ll be one of only a couple of dozen people who are there.
Not only that, but most people stay down in the main portion of the Tipon ruins. If you hike way up, you’ll get to see where the ancient irrigation system that feeds the fountains far below begins.
When we visited, we were the only ones who made the trek up.
You can easily visit Tipon from Cusco by taking a bus for about 5 soles. It’s about a 40-minute ride.
Drink Inca Water: Buy a Lifestraw Go water bottle and fill it in one of the ancient Inca fountains. During our one month in Cusco, I avoided buying bottled water and saved at least $2 a day (and a lot of plastic) using this bottle. More than worth the price!
Tipon Bonus: The Pukara
One of the surprises of Tipon – for those who decide to hike up the hill anyway, is a sign that says “Puraka” on it. Pukara means “fortress,” and we had no idea what to expect, but we followed the path anyway. What we found were the ruins of the ancient fortress.
Tipon is full of surprises, making it the perfect Cusco day trip. You can do it as we did – just catch the bus and get a taxi for 15 soles up to the top of the hill. Then, make your way down the path to the town of Tipon and have lunch. Unlike Pisac, where you’ll see ruins all the way down, Tipon is more about exercise.
There’s little to see on the trail except for the views and a few cool farms. But the exercise was nice!
Recommended post trip meal: After your Tipon hike, you’ll be hungry. Tipon is the Cuy (guinea pig) capital of Peru. If you’re that adventurous, check out a restaurant on the highway (where the bus drops you off) called La Hacienda. If cuy is not your thing, try the Gallina al horno (baked chicken). They’re both expensive by Peru standards, but the taste is awesome.
If you prefer a tour: We think Tipon is easy to do on its own. If you’d rather do an organized tour, this one will take you to both Tipon and Pikillacta (see below)
Ollantaytambo day trip
Honestly, most people who go to Ollantaytambo go there solely to catch the train to Machu Picchu. It’s probably not surprising then that when their bus or colectivo drops them off in the main plaza of Ollantaytambo, many are shocked by what they see – a very large hill with Inca ruins looking over them.
Ollantaytambo is a former Inca administrative center about 72 km (45 mi) northwest of Cusco at an altitude of 2,792 m. It’s worth the day trip from Cusco just to spend a few hours here.
Or, if you’re going to Machu Picchu, it’s worth spending the night here on the way back so you can get up the next day, explore Ollantaytambo, and go back to Cusco at night.
One of the great mysteries of Ollantaytambo is why the Temple of the Sun remained incomplete. The stones here are mammoth and the complexity is extraordinary.
Pikillacta and more
If you’re Inca’d out and are in the mood to see something just a little older, then Pikillacta (Pikillaqta) might just be what you’re looking for. Pikillacta means “the place of the flea” – and it’s appropriate, so wear insect repellant.
Pikillacta is a ruin of the Wari (Huari) culture that dates back about 1,200 years to 800 AD – before the Incas.
After taking a look around Pikillacta, you’re going to need to flag down a bus on the main highway – see the box below. But before you do that, be sure to walk about 5-7 minutes up the main highway to a place called Rumicolca.
Rumicolca was also built by the Huari people, but the Incas took it over during their day as a defensive checkpoint to regulate the flow of people into the Sacred Valley.
So, just in case you needed an Inca fix, there’s your daily dose.
How we did it: To get here, take the Urcos bus (the same one you used for Tipon) and ask to get off at Pikillacta. It’ll cost you about 5 soles. They’ll drop you at a stop on the side of the highway. Across the street, there is a path to Pikillacta. Take it and it will bring you to the museum, where the attendant will punch your ticket.
Tour the site, along with Rumicolca. Then, head out to the highway and start walking towards Cusco. When you see a bus, wave it down. You’ll always find one during the day.
Day trip to Rainbow Mountain
Until 2015, Rainbow Mountain didn’t even exist. Well, of course it did, but not in the way we think of it now. That’s because until just a few years ago, Rainbow Mountain was a mountain covered in ice and snow.
While the mountain is stunningly beautiful, it’s important to note that it wouldn’t even be on a tourist’s radar if not for the effects of Climate Change. Rainbow Mountain is only visible because rising temperatures in Peru melted the snow and ice covering it.
Recommended tour: Want to see Rainbow Mountain with fewer people? Book your tour with Rainbow Mountain Travels. They’ll pick you up from your Cusco hotel or hostel between 3:00-3:30 am and get you there while it’s still relatively quiet. It’s about $30 per person and includes breakfast and lunch. You can read about our trip to Rainbow Mountain with them right here.
Chinchero, Moray, and Maras
While most bloggers will list Chinchero, Moray, and Maras as separate day trips from Cusco, we’ve decided to list them as one. While you can certainly split them up and do them separately, it’s much more cost-effective to do them together. And, unlike some of the other trips we’re listing, it’s far easier to just hire a driver for the day and get that driver to take you to each place.
Hiring a driver to take you to all three destinations will cost you about $50-60 or 180-200 soles.
Chinchero is a small colonial town off the main road between Cusco and Urubamba. It’s a little higher than Cusco at about 3,700 meters.
Perhaps the first thing you will notice when you come here is the number of women selling woven fabrics. That’s because Chinchero is the Peruvian home of weaving.
Moray is one of the most unique Inca sites you’ll ever visit. To most people, it just looks like a series of very unique terraces. But to those who read more about this place, Moray is a demonstration of the ingenuity of the Inca civilization.
Moray was an experimental farm. The temperature difference between the terraces at the bottom of Moray and the ones at the top is about 15°C or about 60°F – similar to the range from sea level to the higher elevations of terraces throughout Peru. Not only that, but the soil for the terraces comes from all over the country.
Maras Salinas (Salt Mines)
The Maras salt mines begin with a trickle of water from an underground spring that is naturally salty. This spring slowly fills each of the pools on the side of a mountain. Each of these pools is the property of a different person or family.
After 22 days of evaporating in the sun, the salt is ready to harvest. The salt on top is white salt. The next layer of salt is pink salt – the type you often see at markets in Cusco. The bottom layer is less pure and they use it in things like animal feed.
Important note: When hiring your driver for this trip, be sure to specify that you want to go to the salt mines at Maras and not just to the town of Maras. It might seem obvious that a tourist would want to see the salinas, but for some reason, drivers don’t understand this unless you specify.
Prefer a tour? This tour includes Moray, Maras, and Chinchero for just $99. It doesn’t include admission to any of the sites (which will cost you about 80 soles or $25 U.S.). But it does include a private car, a tour guide, and a quad bike rental! We didn’t do a quad bike tour of Moray and Maras, but we’ve heard good things.
Day trip to Machu Picchu
OK, I hear you saying it already: “You’d be nuts to do Machu Picchu as a day trip from Cusco!” And you’re right. You’d have to be a little crazy. You’ll need at least an overnight stay in Aguas Calientes in order to do Machu Picchu properly.
That said, there are lots of people who do. They get up very early and take the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes.
Machu Picchu in one day: Not ideal. You will be completely rushed from the time you get up in the morning until you get back at night. But if you want to do Machu Picchu as a day trip from Cusco, this is probably the best tour you’ll find.
Recommended itinerary: Buy a train ticket from Cusco to Aguas Calientes here getting to Aguas Calientes one day and leaving late the next. Get a Machu Picchu ticket for 6 or 7 am the next morning here. Then, arrange accommodations in Aguas Calientes for one night. Take the train to Aguas Calientes and get some sleep. Get up early the next morning and visit Machu Picchu at 6 am. Leave that evening to go back to Cusco.
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Michael is originally from Canada but now resides in Atlanta, GA with his husband, Halef, who also writes here. He is a Couchsurfing expert. Michael has traveled to over 50 countries learning how to experience more for less as he travels.