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10 Unique & Stunning Day Trips from Cusco

Are you looking for some awesome day trips from Cusco? You’re in the right place!

Peru’s Sacred Valley is not only a feast for the eyes but a treasure trove of history and culture. Located in Peru’s high Andes, the Sacred Valley was once the heartland of an Inca Empire that stretched from Colombia down to Argentina.

The area is most famous for being the gateway to Machu Picchu, but the Sacred Valley has so much more to offer. Whether you’re interested in outdoor adventures, ancient historical monuments, or indigenous Andean culture, the Sacred Valley has something for you.

In this blog, I will highlight ten different day trips in the Sacred Valley that you can take from Cusco. You can mix and match these trips to create a custom multi-day itinerary to suit your interests.

We’ll be looking at some of the more well-known attractions as well as some lesser-visited alternatives that are well worth your time. Let’s dive into it!

What Are the Best Day Trips From Cusco?

Cusco is not only a gateway to Machu Picchu but also a hub for numerous exciting day trips. From exploring the vibrant culture and stunning landscapes of the Sacred Valley to marveling at the natural beauty of Rainbow Mountain and the unique Maras Salt Mines, there are plenty of incredible destinations to discover just a short journey from the city.

Here are the best ones!

1. Visit Rainbow Mountain

Rainbow Mountain has become something of a phenomenon in recent years, almost undoubtedly because of Instagram.

Rainbow moutain - day trips from Cusco Peru

The bright rainbow stripes are incredibly eye-catching when you see them on a news feed or poster, but I have some bad news for you: they’re not the same in person.

Although still impressive, the colors aren’t nearly as vibrant without an Instagram filter, and you’re usually surrounded by a hundred other tourists trying to get the same picture. 

So let me suggest an alternative.

Instead of taking one of the tourist buses that do day visits, look for one of the two-day Rainbow Mountain treks where you can camp overnight.

That way, you can see the mountain in the early morning before most of the buses arrive, and you have a chance to enjoy some of the incredible Andean scenery around Ausangate, which is even more worthwhile than visiting Rainbow Mountain alone.

Check out these tours for visiting Rainbow Mountain:

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2. Huchuy Qosqo

The hike to Huchuy Qosqo (“little Cusco”) is one of the Sacred Valley’s lesser-known gems. You can consider it a super-condensed version of the Inca Trail; less crowded but just as scenic.

The trek starts near Chinchero with a gradual incline before descending into a lush valley. You’ll see the foliage vary drastically as you change altitude, from the arid altiplano grass of the paramo highlands to verdant semi-tropical flora in the valley.

Huchuy around Cusco

Also, look out for llama herders as you cross the landscape.

After a few hours of hiking, you’ll reach the final descent to the ruins of Huchuy Cusco. The ruins sit atop a steep cliff, against a backdrop of stunning mountains. 

The ruins, while not as extensive as Machu Picchu, offer a fascinating glimpse into the past. The site includes a large stone structure believed to have been a royal estate, terraces, and other buildings used for agricultural and administrative purposes.

The panoramic views of the Sacred Valley from Huchuy Cusco are absolutely stunning and provide great views if you’re into photography.

After visiting the ruins, you hike down to Lamay, where it’s easy to find transport back to Cusco.

The whole trek takes around six hours. Make sure you bring all your best hiking essentials such as sturdy footwear, a packed hiking lunch, and plenty of water as there are no shops along the way.

Check out these tours:

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3. Kayaking on Huaypo Lake

Huaypo Lake is an excellent choice for a laid-back day trip from Cusco.

Located roughly an hour from the city, it’s easy to get to by taxi or local bus, and once there you can spend the day paddleboarding or kayaking in the lake’s crystal-clear waters.

The lake is around 3 km long by 2 km wide and sits at over 3,700 meters above sea level.

The setting is stunning, with rolling hills and traditional communities surrounding the lake on three sides, and some of the highest mountains in the region rising beyond the shimmering waters.

The lake provides much of the drinking water for Cusco and has been doing so since the time of the Incas, so to maintain its purity no motor boats are allowed on the lake nor cows in the surrounding fields.

Day trip to Huaypo Lake from Cusco

You can rent a kayak or paddleboard from a well-run shop on the south shore. The water is so clear you can see the fish drifting beneath you as you paddle, and in the center, it’s almost 55 meters deep. It’s also pretty chilly (around 10°C), so you’ll need a wetsuit even if you’re just going for a swim.

After a couple of hours kayaking on the lake, I’d recommend buying a fabulous local lunch prepared by people from the surrounding local communities, consisting of native potatoes, quinoa salad, baked plantain, smoked local trout, enormous-grained corn, and roast chicken with local herbs and spices.

Pair this with a Cusqueña beer for the perfect end to the day, sitting and watching the mountain views.

If you’re not into kayaking, there’s another fun alternative to explore by ATV:

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4. Misminay Andean Community

If you’re looking for a taste of the local indigenous culture, then the Misminay Andean Community is well worth visiting.

Misminay is a community of 120 families who still practice traditional Inca crafts and teach tourists about the indigenous way of life.

On a day visit, you might learn how to prepare Andean food, weave textiles, or even help harvest crops depending on the time of year.

Misminay - locals in Peru

Families typically live in one-room adobe houses together with herds of guinea pigs, cows, and sheep.

The community is about 90 minutes from Cusco. This is a good one to combine with a visit to Maras and Moray for a two-day trip.

The best is to visit the community through a tour:

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5. Salinas de Maras & Moray

These are two of the most interesting and unusual landscapes in the Sacred Valley.

Start the day at Maras, a patchwork of over 3,000 evaporation pools used for harvesting salt. The Maras salt mines have been in use since pre-Inca times and continue to be operated by local families who have inherited the pools through generations.

Each family tends to their own salt pans, and the process of salt extraction remains largely traditional.

Maras salt mines

This is a good place to get some otherworldly pictures walking through the oddly shaped and oddly colored pools. 

From Maras, it’s not far to reach Moray, where you’ll find impressive circular terraces following the natural shape of the landscape. These were used by the Incas to test how crops grew at different altitudes.

Maray from Cusco, Peru

The temperature difference between the top and bottom of the terraces can be as much as 15°C, allowing them to experiment with a variety of crops.

This is an easy half-day tour from Cusco. However, you can also visit independently if you prefer one over the other.

These are some GetYourGuide tours for visiting both:

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6. Spend a Night in a Cliffside Pod Hotel

One for the more adventurous half-day tours from Cusco.

Situated on a sheer cliff face, the Skylodge Adventure Suites consists of three glass pod rooms looking out over the valley.

The only way to reach your room is via a half-hike, half-climb up the mountain using a harness and safety lines. From there, you can enjoy a meal and a night under the stars, looking out over the valley below.

Skylodge hotel Cusco, Peru
Photo credit to Skylodge Adventure Suites

The owner, Ario Ferri, is an avid mountain climber and says he created the pods so that even travelers without serious climbing experience can feel what it’s like to have a proper mountain adventure. 

The ascent to the pods, known as a via ferrata, involves climbing iron rungs and traversing steel cables anchored into the rock face, providing a safe yet thrilling climb.

Once you reach the pods, you are rewarded with unmatched views of the Sacred Valley.

At night, the sky is awash with stars, and the quiet of the mountains provides a perfect backdrop for relaxation and reflection.

A night in the pods costs approximately $450/night but includes meals, drinks, a via Ferrata climb, and ziplining.

Though it’s pricey compared to normal Peruvian lodging, there’s nothing standard about this place and it’s an experience of a lifetime!

7. Chinchero

Indulge in the vibrant textile traditions of the Andes by visiting Chinchero. This charming village is known for its skilled weavers who use traditional techniques passed down through generations.

Visitors can watch demonstrations of traditional weaving techniques, where artisans show how they spin, dye, and weave wool into intricate patterns and vibrant colors.

Chinchero, Peru

Purchasing textiles directly from the weavers ensures that you are supporting the local economy and helping to preserve these ancient techniques.

This is a great place to pick up some souvenirs for the family. The market days are Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, with Sundays being the largest.

You can reach Chinchero by a short bus ride from Cusco, and the entrance to the market is free.

8. Visit Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo is dubbed the ‘Living Inca City’ because it has been continuously inhabited since the 13th century, and its indigenous residents still follow the customs of their Inca ancestors, occupying the same cobbled streets and adobe houses.

It’s rare to find such an authentic example of living history – these are not actors, but real families going about their daily lives. 

There are two sections to the town that you can explore: the modern inhabited section and the preserved ruins where no one lives.

Ruins in Peru

The Ollantaytambo ruins are among the most impressive in the Sacred Valley. The site includes a massive series of agricultural terraces, the Sun Temple, and the unfinished wall of the Six Monoliths, which are a testament to the architectural prowess of the Incas.

The town itself is a maze of narrow, cobbled streets that have retained their original layout since Inca times. Wandering through these streets, you can feel the weight of history and the continuity of traditions that have been maintained for centuries.

Going from one to the other, it’s easy to picture what the ruins would have looked like back in the day.

The entrance fee is around $15, and the journey from Cusco takes approximately 1.5 to 2 hours by bus.

You can explore for yourself, but I’d recommend hiring a local guide for an insight into Ollantaytambo’s rich past:

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9. Pisac Market & Ruins

Experience the cultural extravaganza at Pisac, which is famous for its bustling market and Inca ruins.

Begin your day by exploring the colorful market, where local artisans showcase their crafts. Prices for souvenirs vary, but haggling is a common practice.

Afterward, head to the Inca archaeological sites of Pisac, featuring impressive terraces and panoramic views. Entrance fees are approximately $15, and the journey from Cusco takes around 45 minutes by bus.

Market in Peru

Pisac market is one of the most famous in the Sacred Valley, offering a wide range of goods from fresh produce to handmade crafts.

It’s an excellent place to buy gifts and souvenirs, such as woven textiles, ceramics, jewelry, and alpaca wool products.

The market is particularly lively on Sundays when locals from surrounding villages come to trade.

The Pisac ruins, located on a hilltop above the town, are equally impressive. The site includes agricultural terraces, residential areas, ceremonial baths, and the Temple of the Sun.

The hike up to the ruins is steep but rewarding, offering panoramic views of the Sacred Valley.

The site’s strategic location made it an important administrative and military center during the Inca Empire.

You can also combine visiting Pisac with some other great activities from this list:

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10. Machu Picchu

No visit to Cusco is complete without a trip to the iconic Machu Picchu.

If for some reason this isn’t on your list, then it should be.

To get there, you can take an early-morning train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, the nearest town to Machu Picchu.

From there, it’s just a bus or a walk up the hill to enter Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Tickets for the archaeological site run at about $80 and sell out quickly, so you should try to book them a few weeks in advance.

However, it is sometimes possible to get them on the day.

Many travelers visit Cusco to go to Macchu Picchu which you absolutely must do. The most memorable is walking the Inca Trail or other several-day tours to reach the ruins.

When I visited Cusco I completed the Inca Trail and it was almost better than Machu Picchu itself. It was (for me) the perfect way to explore the mountain range, learn about the Incas, and visit the magnificent site.

Whatever you pick, visiting Machu Picchu will be one of the highlights of your exciting trip to Peru:

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Know This About Day Trips in Cusco

When planning your day trips from Cusco, there are several important factors to keep in mind.

First, Cusco is a popular tourist destination, so expect to see many other travelers, especially around major attractions like the Plaza de Armas and Sacsayhuamán.

To avoid the crowds, consider visiting some of the less frequented sites and wandering off the beaten path.

Second, be aware of the rainy season, which runs from November to April. During this time, heavy rains can cause delays and disruptions to your plans.

Make sure to pack appropriate rain gear and plan indoor activities or flexible schedules to accommodate potential changes.

Altitude sickness is another critical consideration. Cusco sits at a high altitude of about 3,400 meters (11,150 feet) above sea level. This can cause symptoms like headaches, nausea, and shortness of breath.

To mitigate these effects, allow yourself time to acclimate by taking it easy for the first couple of days, staying hydrated, and avoiding alcohol. It’s also wise to consult your doctor about possible medications that can help.

Consider booking guided tours as the local guide can give you a lot of interesting history about the Incas and the area. I booked several and they were worth every penny! If you want to save the money, then do a little research beforehand.

Lastly, the high altitude means the sun is stronger, so sunscreen and sunglasses are essential, even on cloudy days.

Taking these factors into account will help ensure you have a safe and enjoyable visit to Cusco.

Final Thoughts on Day Trips From Cusco

The Sacred Valley offers an abundance of experiences that cater to all interests, from thrilling adventures to profound cultural immersions.

Whether you’re trekking to hidden ruins, paddling across serene lakes, or exploring vibrant markets, the Sacred Valley promises unforgettable memories.

Plan your visit, mix and match the day trips you take from Cusco, and immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of Inca heritage and natural beauty.

If you liked this article, maybe you’d also like to read about the best countries to visit in South America.

As usual, feel free to leave any comments or questions below!

Cusco Day Trips FAQs:

How many days in Cusco is enough?

It depends on your plans. If you’re doing the Inca Trail or a long excursion, you’ll need about a week. If not, you can explore Cusco in 3-4 days, including some day trips.

Can you do a day trip to Lake Titicaca from Cusco?

No, a day trip to Lake Titicaca from Cusco isn’t practical. The journey is long, taking about 10 hours one way. It’s better to stay overnight near the lake.

When is the best time to visit Cusco?

The best time to visit Cusco is during the dry season, from May to September. The weather is pleasant, and you’ll have clear skies, making it ideal for sightseeing and hiking.

Is Cusco or Lima better to visit?

It depends on what you’re looking for. Cusco offers a rich history, culture, and proximity to Machu Picchu. Lima has a vibrant food scene, museums, and beaches. Both have their unique charms.

Can you do Machu Picchu as a day trip from Cusco?

Yes, you can visit Machu Picchu on a day trip from Cusco. It involves a train ride and bus transfer, taking around 3-4 hours each way. However, it’s a long day, and staying overnight in Aguas Calientes might be more comfortable.

Author Bio:

Josh McMinn is a travel writer and journalist based in London, UK. By the time he started university, he’d only been on a plane twice, and spend the subsequent years making up for lost time. Since then, he has traveled extensively throughout Latin America, South East Asia, Europe, and Australia, gathering stories and experiences. He has spent time writing for Travel Radar, and currently works for Llama Travel.

The article may include affiliate links, meaning that I may receive affiliate compensation at no cost to you if you decide to purchase. Read more in my Affiliate Disclosure.


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