The beautiful and historical town of Cusco has so much to offer. While most people only stay a few days, we stayed here for over a week exploring all the different options of what to do. Basing yourself in Cusco allows you to see many of Peru’s top attractions as convenient day trips such as the Rainbow Mountains and Sacred Valley. Keep reading to see why many consider Cusco to be their favorite city in South America.
Here are 9 Must-Do Day Trips From Cusco, Peru
1. Laguna Humantay
Coming in at number one is the Humantay Lake, or Laguna Humantay, because if you only have one free day in Cusco it should be spent doing this! We only heard of this after arriving in Peru and are shocked we didn’t know more about it. This mountain has some of the most stunning views I’ve ever seen.
To get there before the crowds, an early 4 am wakeup is required. From there, you’ll drive around 3 hours to the base of the mountain. You’ll then walk about 1 hour up a very steep hill to reach the lake and a gorgeous view. The hike itself isn’t that long, but with the altitude, you can find yourself out of breath quite quickly. There is also an option to take a horse up for those who don’t wish to walk. Once you get to the lake, I’d recommend sitting down and relaxing for at least an hour as the view is absolutely stunning.
2. Rainbow Mountain
The second most visited attraction in all of Peru is Rainbow Mountain Vinicunca (number one being Machu Picchu). This mountain is truly one of a kind. While we’d recommend an overnight trek to see Rainbow Mountain, the most common way people visit is with a day trip.
Most day trips leave around 3 am (or earlier if you want to be one of the first!) They then stop for breakfast and arrive to the parking lot after a few hours of driving. The walk is a long one, and honestly not that epic. After a solid 2 hours of walking, you’ll get to the base of Rainbow Mountain. There, you’ll have to hike up a very steep hill to get to the viewpoint. It’s not that big, but because of the altitude, this might just be the hardest hill you climb in your life. The good news is that it’s very short and the view afterward is breathtaking!
Unless you arrive extremely early, there will be a line for photos and clusters of people trying to take one so it might be a good idea to bring a snack with you.
You can go on a day trip with an organized tour, or you can get a bus and taxi there yourself. Going on your own may save you some money, but the tour companies do provide emergency oxygen which can really save you if you end up feeling altitude sick (like I did). However, the price difference ends up being almost $100 cheaper. Up to you.
Tip: During the rainy season, it’s possible that Rainbow Mountain will be covered in snow. Be sure to check the weather and mountain conditions before you go.
While day trips are great, if you want a guarantee to be the first on the mountain we recommend reading what we think is the Best Way to See Rainbow Mountain in Peru (it’s an overnight trek, but completely worth it! It also mentions a second less-visited spot, Red Valley, located right next to the Rainbow Mountain.)
3. Alternative Rainbow Mountain
Wait.. there’s another one?! That’s right! There exists a lesser-known Rainbow Mountain, also known as Alternative Rainbow Mountain or the “Palccoyo” Mountain. This mountain was only discovered a few years ago, and for that reason is much less populated. In fact, when we went we were the only ones there! The hike is also much easier and cheaper than the “original” Rainbow mountain.
Since it is located slightly further away, the tour prices you see are actually about the same as if you were to visit on your own via public transportation. The tour prices will also include breakfast, lunch and a guide. All of which we found to be very useful and definitely worth the cost.
If you book with Exploor Peru you will even have your very own Alpaca to accompany you for the journey! His name is Jorgito and he is an absolute gentleman.
Going on your own will cost you around $65, depending on how good your haggling skills are.
4. Sacred Valley Tour
The Sacred Valley Day Tour usually consists of 4 main stops: Pisac, Moray, Maras, and Ollantaytambo. You can visit all of these places on their own, but considering the location and the fact they are all part of the Cusco Tourist Ticket (Boleto Turistico de Cusco), it makes sense to visit them all in one day. You can hire a taxi driver and visit on your own, or you can do a Sacred Valley Tour from Cusco. The Cusco Tourist Ticket costs 130 Soles and allows entry to all of the sites. The highlights of this tour are:
- Pisac Ruins – The view here is spectacular. You’ll learn a lot about the ancient Incans and find ruins upon ruins that seem to never end!
- Pisac Market – Every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday there is a large market in Pisac. You can spend hours here going through all of the different clothes, food, and souvenirs they have to offer. The prices will be slightly cheaper compared to the markets in Cusco.
- Moray + Maras Salt Mines – The Maras Salt Mines are an incredible thing to witness. The mines consist of thousands of distinct, squared-off salt pools that make for a very unique view. The salt mines are actually still in use, which is why you can’t actually go INSIDE, but it is still worth a stop to see from the outskirts. You’ll find vendors lined up selling all kinds of snacks and tasty chocolate.
- Ollantaytambo – Ollantaytambo was one of my favorite cities. It is most commonly used as a stopping point before visiting Machu Picchu as it has a train station here. This little city is amazing and you can see how all of the colonial houses were built literally on top of Incan remains. Some of the structures here really make you think “how on earth did they build this without wheels?!”. The town itself has a lot of different shops and restaurants. I found it very colorful and cute.
Note: For most Sacred Valley tours, the price does not include an entrance fee. This fee ends up being covered by the Tourist Ticket, or ‘Boleto Turistico’, costing 130 Soles.
5. White Water Rafting
Cusco is located close to the Urubamba river, which happens to offer great white water rafting. During or right after the rainy season, you can find more advanced rapids. The best time to go white water rafting is from December to April.
6. Huchuy Qosqo “Trek”
If you’re looking for something to do that’s off the usual tourist track, a day trip to Huchuy Qosqo will do the trick! Literally named “little Cusco”, this area just north of Cusco has a lot to offer. The site itself is inaccessible by public road but used to act as a military center around Pisac. The Incan preserves are in great condition, and you can see many remains of food preservation the Incans as this was an important agricultural center that produced corn.
The trek itself offers stunning views overlooking the Urubamba mountain range, Sacred valley, and the picturesque Vilcabamba range. You’ll then walk on an original Incan trail that has been partly restored and leads you to Huchuy Qosqo. The most well-known operator of this trip is Salkantay Trekking. The trip with them costs about $100 US and includes breakfast, lunch, hotel pick-up, and a guide.
7. Incan Archaeological Sites
From the center of Cusco, you can actually look up at the surrounding mountains and see some remains of Ancient Incan Archaeological sites. These sites are included in the Cusco Tourist Ticket, but instead of paying full price you can opt for the “Circuit One” option for 70 soles and get access to the following:
- Puka Pukara
Saqsaywaman (pronounced ‘Sexy-woman’) is the largest and by far the most visited. It also happens to be the closest. From Cusco it is a 45 minute walk or a 10 minute car ride.
Located just next to Saqsaywaman is “Cristo Blanco”, a white statue of Jesus that overlooks the entire city. The view from Cristo Blanco is amazing, and the sunset is even better.
8. Machu Picchu Day Tour
While we’d recommend either staying overnight in Aguas Calientes to visit Machu Picchu or doing the famous multi-day Inca Trail Hike to Machu Picchu, if you’re truly in a hurry it is possible to visit in one (very long) day tour.
This would include waking up at 3 am, driving to Ollantaytambo and taking the first train of the day up to Aguas Calientes, bussing up to Machu Picchu and visiting for 2-3 hours, then returning back to Cusco that evening.
9. Explore Cusco
Being a UNESCO World Heritage site, the town of Cusco has so much to see, do and eat! It is recommended to stay at least 1 full day here to acclimatize to the high altitude, but we ended up staying longer because we loved it so much! Here’s our top recommendations on things to do in the city of Cusco!
- Free Walking Tour
We’ve done a few free walking tours and Cusco was by far the best we’ve ever done! There’s so much history in this city, everything is within walking distance, and they include either a free ceviche class or pisco sour making class! We went with Free Walking Peru Tours (Blue Team/Blue Shirts) and highly recommend them. The tour is free but there is a suggested tip of roughly $5 at the end.
- Cooking Class or Pisco Sour Class
Peru is consistently at the top for the best cuisine in the world, so don’t miss your chance to learn from the pros! Cooking classes can be found easily when walking the main streets of Cusco. Not interested in cooking? There’s also an abundance of cocktail and mixology classes where you can learn to make the best Pisco Sour of your life.
- San Pedro Market
San Pedro is not just a food market but a cultural experience well worth seeking out. The food and colors of the market will overwhelm your every sense and the charming shop keepers will playfully fight for your attention. San Pedro is located just an 8 minute walk from Plaza de Armas. Around the market is usually where you can find the cheapest souvenirs and clothing.
At the top of San Blas you can watch the sunset over the city of Cusco. There is a restaurant called ‘Limbus Resto Bar’ that offers stunning views of the city or you can head over to the mirador where you can watch as Cusco starts to come alive at night.
Remember that you are in the highlands, so the sunset might be 30 minutes earlier than the posted time online.
And that’s our list of the 9 best day trips from Cusco! Have any other suggestions? Let us know in the comments below! Happy Travels 🙂
Final Note: You can technically do most of these on your own, but tours in Cusco are set up for convenience and are usually not too much more expensive. I usually advise doing things on your own to save money, but these day trips from Cusco might be the exception. You can find tour operators while you are in Cusco on literally any street (usually cheaper this way), or you can find them and book online in advance. Most tours will include transportation, breakfast, lunch, and a bilingual guide. Our favorite tour companies for day trips from Cusco ended up being Exploor Peru and Flashpacker Connect.
Money Saving Tip: If you purchase multiple tours from one company, you can usually get a discount!
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