Many people plan a trip to Cusco in Peru just for Machu Picchu, but there is so much to explore here! As well of plenty of things to do in Cusco, there is also a lot to do in the Sacred Valley. While you are in Cusco you could (and should!) take several day trips from Cusco to explore the different towns, landscapes and archaeological sites that surround the city. Some Cusco tours are ideal to help you acclimatize to the altitude in Cusco, whereas other day hikes are best attempted once you have fully acclimatized to the elevation here. I’ve put together a comprehensive list of the best day trips from Cusco Peru so you can plan your trip to the Sacred Valley with ease.
The Best Day Trips from Cusco
Machu Picchu Day Tours from Cusco
You can’t talk about Cusco and not mention Machu Picchu! If you are not up for hiking the Inca Trail or another trek to Machu Picchu, then it is possible to take a day trip from Cusco to Machu Picchu. Most tour agencies in Cusco will offer day trips to Machu Picchu from Cusco, which are a great option if you are short on time, but it will be a very long day with an early start.
Tours typically include all transport (train and bus), a bilingual guide and entrance to Machu Picchu, be sure to check the details of each tour package carefully. Some include standard train tickets from Cusco to Machu Picchu, and others include a ‘Vistadome’ train which has windows on the ceiling and sides of the train. I honestly don’t know if being able to see above you makes any difference, but if you are on a once-in-a-lifetime trip then you might want to make the most of it!
If you prefer not to take a tour then you could book your train tickets and Machu Picchu tickets independently and arrange a tour guide at the entrance to Machu Picchu, but make sure you check the entry requirements and plan your trip carefully. Trains run from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (aka Machu Picchu Town) at the base of the mountain, and you can then hike up the steps to Machu Picchu, or take a bus. If you do decide to visit Machu Picchu independently then I suggest spending the night in Aguas Calientes so you can be up early and see the sunrise at Machu Picchu, which was the highlight of my trip to South America.
Vinicunca, or Rainbow Mountain as its commonly known, was only discovered a couple of years ago, as it was previously always covered in snow. Perhaps the only positive effect of global warming has been to melt the snow here and reveal the beautiful colours on the mountainside! Bear in mind that if you are planning to hike the Ausangate Trek to Machu Picchu, you can also visit Rainbow Mountain as part of the trek so there is no need to plan a separate day tour from Cusco.
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A day trek to Rainbow Mountain can be arranged through various Cusco tour agencies. Make sure you are fully acclimatized before attempting the hike and prepare for a very early start from Cusco. The hike is challenging and not recommended in wet or snowy weather as the trail can become dangerously slippery and the visibility is poor. However, if you get decent conditions there is no denying how beautiful the mountain is!
Lake Titicaca Tour from Cusco
Day trips from Cusco to Lake Titicaca are only possible if you take an overnight bus from Cusco to Puno, spend the day at Lake Titicaca, and return to Cusco on another night bus. It is a long way, and if you have more time then you can also spend the night at Lake Titicaca so you’re not exhausted from the journey. However, if you only have one day and you want to see Lake Titicaca then this is a good way to do it.
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Peru Hop offers these day tours from Cusco to Lake Titicaca from $69 per person, leaving Cusco at 10pm at night, spending the next day at the lake, and getting back to Cusco at 6am the following morning. These tours include a guided visit of the Uros Islands on the lake (man-made reed islands) and a tour of Taquile Island, as well as the chance to enjoy the beautiful waters of the highest navigable lake in the world.
Sacred Valley Day Tours from Cusco
There are several agencies who arrange Sacred Valley day tours from Cusco to take in several of the following sites in one day, but they can be very rushed. If you have enough time I would recommend spending at least one full day in Pisac and the same for Ollantaytambo, staying there overnight if you can. Moray and Maras can be easily done in a day trip from Cusco including a quick stop at Chinchero as well if you go with a tour.
Pisac is a quaint little town, and definitely worth a day trip from Cusco or more time if you can spare it. Plan your visit to coincide with the huge market on Saturday, for one of the best markets in South America. There is a smaller market here every day though, so don’t worry!
Pisac is also known as a centre for alternative therapies and is a great place to arrange a massage before your after your trek to Machu Picchu! Access to Pisac archaeological site is included in the Boleto Turistico tourist ticket, and you can either hike up from a path at the back of the market or take a taxi up to the ruins to explore and admire the scenery across the valley.
I loved Ollantaytambo as it was much quieter and less touristy than Cusco. I would recommend spending a couple of nights here on your way from Cusco to Machu Picchu as it is mid-way between the two and gives you a different base for exploring the Sacred Valley. However, some people choose to visit Ollantaytambo on a day trip from Cusco which is a good option if you are short on time.
The Inca ruins here are built high up on a mountain above the town and were the site of Manco Inca’s last stand against the Spanish before he fled into the jungle. Although originally built as temples, the ruins here are often referred to as a fortress for that reason. Access is included in the Boleto Turistico Cusco Tourist Ticket.
There are plenty of other things to do in Ollantaytambo aside from the ruins, including a chocolate museum, the market and visiting local communities. Ollantaytambo is also closer to Moray and Maras, so you can visit those sites on a day trip from Cusco or as a tour from Ollantaytambo if you spend a couple of nights here.
Moray and Maras Tours
These two unique sites are quite close together, so typically visited together as part of a day trip from Cusco or Ollantaytambo. It is possible to visit them independently but the public transport isn’t reliable, so taking a day tour is much easier. Biking tours and day trips on quad bikes are popular, or you can arrange a tour with car or bus transportation. No matter how you get there, these two sites are definitely worth exploring!
Recommended Moray and Maras tours from Cusco on GetYourGuide:
Moray, the agricultural experimentation centre of the Incas, is a unique Inca site as it was built specifically for agriculture, not as a religious or residential site. The circular terraces allowed the Inca to experiment with different plants and climates to find the perfect conditions to grow their crops. Incas were accomplished farmers, and the unique terraces at Moray show how advanced they were in farming. The circular terraces look more like alien crop circles than an agricultural centre and Moray was one of my favourite archaeological sites. Entry is included with the Cusco Tourist Ticket.
Maras salt ponds or Salinas have been used for salt evaporation since Inca times. Salty water surfaces from a subterranean stream and is directed through a system of channels down the mountainside, trickling through a series of man-made salt ponds. As the water gradually evaporates, the salt is harvested. It is a surreal sight on the mountainside and a fascinating insight into how the Inca developed salt harvesting.
The archaeological site at Chinchero is the remains of the royal hacienda of Tupac Inca Yupanqui, with a series of terraces overlooking beautiful mountains. There is also a colonial temple built on Inca foundations which you can go inside.
In the village of Chinchero, go to one of the many Textile Workshops where local women do demonstrations of traditional weaving techniques with the opportunity to buy the goods they make. A visit to Chinchero is usually included in Sacred Valley tours to Moray & Maras or Pisac, or you can take a collectivo from Cusco for an independent visit.
Off The Beaten Path Day Trips from Cusco
Humantay Lake is a spectacular turquoise lake surrounded by mountains. It makes a wonderful day trip from Cusco either with a tour or independently with a taxi (there is no public transport to the lake). It’s about a 3-hour drive from Cusco to the trailhead and about an hour to an hour and a half hike to the lake itself. The scenery is absolutely stunning, and the hike isn’t particularly challenging as it is quite short, but it is a constant upward trail to the lake which gets slippery after heavy rain.
Make sure you are fully acclimatized to the altitude in Cusco before attempting the hike and remember to bring food for breakfast and lunch, and plenty of water. Most Cusco tour agencies will offer a day trip to Humantay Lake, including transport, breakfast, lunch and guide. Some tours include the entrance ticket to Humantay Lake, with other tours you will have to pay the 10 soles entrance yourself.
Rafting and Ziplining
If you like more adventurous activities then a rafting and zip lining day trip from could be right up your street. Cusco is close to several good rafting rivers, and you can arrange a rafting tour with most agencies in Cusco. The Urubamba River is one of the most popular spots for rafting, with class II and III rapids about an hour and a half outside of Cusco.
Bear in mind that during the rainy season the rivers are higher and rapids can get up to class III or IV after heavy rain. Tours typically include all rafting and safety equipment, lunch, transport and guide. You can combine a rafting excursion on the Vilcanota River with a zip line or take a separate half day zip line tour to Racchi if you prefer to keep dry!
Half-Day Horse Riding Tours from Cusco
There are several options for horseback riding excursions, most of which are half day tours from Cusco to take in the countryside and some of the less-visited Inca sites around Cusco. Popular trail rides usually visit the Temple of the Moon and Temple of the Rainbow or the “Devil’s Balcony”.
Other horse riding half day tours from Cusco include visits to the Inca archaeological sites Puca-Pucara, Tambomachay, Qenko, and Saqsayhuaman. Horse lovers might also be interested in this Peruvian Paso Horse experience.
A South Valley Day Trip from Cusco
About an hour’s drive south-east of Cusco are two lesser-visited archaeological sites which are both special in their own ways. Most tourists don’t explore this side of Cusco and stick to the archaeological sites closer to the city, but with a little extra effort, you will be rewarded with a unique pre-Inca settlement at Pikillacta and a feat of hydrological engineering at Tipon. You can visit independently, or take a day tour to include transport and a guide. You will need the Cusco Tourist Ticket to visit these two sites.
Pikillacta Archaeological Site was built by the Wari culture around 500AD and shows how the Inca learned from previous civilisations. The site is huge, and best visited with a guide who can explain the functions of the different areas. Don’t miss the views from the viewpoint at the wall above the main entrance.
Tipon demonstrates the skill of the Inca’s hydrological engineering, with large terraces and lots of water channels bringing water to crops and so the Inca had fresh water to drink. The town of Tipon is also renowned for its Guinea Pig dishes, so plan a stop for lunch there if you’re feeling brave!
These Cusco tours include visits to Pikallacta and Tipon:
Where to Stay in Cusco
The central area around the Plaza de Armas is the most convenient and close to all the major attractions but it tends to be busier and noisy at times. The San Blas neighbourhood is pretty and quieter, but anywhere away from the central plaza tends to be a good walk up a hill which can be a challenge with heavy bags!
READ MORE: The Ultimate Cusco City Guide
The Best Hostels in Cusco
There a dizzying number of hostels in Cusco to choose from, these are some of the best Cusco hostels for backpackers and budget travellers.
La Wak’a Perdida Hostel
La Wak’a Perdida is a small new hostel which only has one 8 bed dorm and a double room, so is cosy and quiet. The owner is friendly, and breakfast is included in the rate or there is a kitchen to cook your own food. It’s about 15 minutes’ walk from the Plaza de Armas, close to San Blas. BOOK NOW>>>
Pariwana Hostel Cusco
Pariwana Hostel is a very popular Cusco Hostel, and is a sociable place with a bar and large terrace area for ping pong and socialising. It is a borderline party place, but at the same time not crazy so you can still sleep. Breakfast is included, there is no kitchen but you can order food at the bar if you don’t fancy going out to eat. Private rooms and dorms are available. Very central, a couple of blocks from Plaza de Armas. BOOK NOW>>>
Gaia House Hostel
Gaia House is in a beautiful colonial building, close to the main plaza. There are dorm rooms and private rooms available, with breakfast included. The central terrace is great for chilling out and meeting other travellers, and they have some of the best showers in Peru! BOOK NOW>>>
There is no shortage of hotels in Cusco either, from luxury properties to family-run guesthouses. Check out the ratings for all Cusco Hotels on HotelsCombined.
Airbnb in Cusco
There are also plenty of options for Airbnb in Cusco, like this charming apartment in the city centre. If you have never used Airbnb before, use this link to sign up & get up to $40 credit to use on your first trip! Read more about the Airbnb first time discount code or click below for your Airbnb coupon.
Have you been to Cusco and taken any day tours? What were your favourite day trips from Cusco Peru? I’d love to read your comments below.
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