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Cusco is our favorite city in South America, and we fell in love with it immediately. Originally, we only meant to stay here for a couple of days and ended up sticking around for a month!
Not only are there tons of things to do in Cusco itself but there are also lots of amazing day trips you can take. Obviously, Machu Picchu is the most famous one. However, there are a ton of other amazing places to explore, from Rainbow Mountain to lakes and ancient ruins.
Some people only stay in Cusco for a few days before trekking Machu Picchu, but we strongly urge you to stay longer if you can. Why not make the most of all of the amazing day trips within easy reach of the city?
The only problem you’ll have is deciding which one to do first! But planning has to start somewhere … so keep reading for our recommendations on the 12 best day trips from Cusco.
- Day Trips from Cusco
- 1. Machu Picchu
- 2. Rainbow Mountain
- 3. Humantay Lake
- 4. Moray and Maras
- 5. Pisac and Ollantaytambo
- 6. Weaving Workshop
- 7. Rafting and Ziplining
- 8. Horseback Riding in the Andean Countryside
- 9. South Valley
- 10. Ausangate
- 11. Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain
- 12. Sacsayhuaman
- Other Activities to do While You're in Cusco
- Where to Stay in Cusco, Peru
- Thanks for reading!
- Why We Book Tours with Viator
- Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
Day Trips from Cusco
1. Machu Picchu
- Distance from Cusco: 210 km (130 mi)
- Time needed: 12+ hours
- What you need: Train + bus, or a guided tour from Cusco
We’re adamant that Cusco is so much more than the gateway to Machu Picchu. But at the same time, it IS the gateway to Machu Picchu – and you really can’t miss the chance to visit this iconic Wonder of the World!
Machu Picchu is an ancient citadel that sits on a mountain ridge. It was built somewhere between 1420 and 1450 AD. Nobody is 100% sure what it was used for, but the most common theories are that it was either a royal estate or a religious site. Lots of archaeologists believe it was built for Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, one of the greatest Inca rulers.
Either way, around 750 staff lived here, and Machu Picchu was inhabited for around 100 years before being mysteriously abandoned sometime around 1530. It was rediscovered in 1911, and now thousands of people come to visit it every single day.
You absolutely have to visit Machu Picchu while you’re in Cusco. It really is an amazing feat of engineering – remember, it was built high on a mountain long before any of the construction vehicles and power tools that we have today existed!
Some people choose to trek one of the multi-day hiking trails towards Machu Picchu. If you’re debating whether or not to go that route, read our guide on trekking in Peru first. Hiking here is very physically demanding, and it’s certainly not for everyone. It’s also not necessary, as you can easily visit on a day trip from Cusco!
If you want to visit independently, you can book an Inca Rail ticket from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. They start at $96 USD for a roundtrip ticket – although you’ll pay more if you want a Vistadome train with floor-to-ceiling windows.
You’ll get a bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo and then switch to a train until you get to Aguas Calientes, but it’s all covered under your ticket. Make sure to pick an early departure time, as it’s a 3.5-hour journey. Once you get to Aguas Calientes, you’ll then be able to catch a public bus to Machu Picchu. But be warned: these sometimes have really long wait times. We’re talking for up to 2 hours!
You’ll also need to pre-book your entrance ticket to Machu Picchu itself on the government website. It costs around $50 USD per person. Bear in mind that these tickets sell out way in advance, so this is not a good last-minute option.
Of course, you can take all of the stress out of it by booking one of the tours from Cusco to Machu Picchu. We grabbed this specific Machu Picchu tour and were so happy we did. It includes door-to-door transportation from your hotel, all admission fees, and a guide to take you through the whole process. Plus, you’ll get an in-depth, guided tour of the site itself. Visiting Machu Picchu is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so we say that you may as well make the most of it by going with a guide!
What I love about this tour is that you can still choose which type of train you’d like. You can opt for the classic experience on the Expedition train or the Executive option for comfier seats. For an extra $20 USD, you can choose the Vistadome train, which has glass on all sides for the most amazing views.
Tours leave as early as 4 am and last about 14 hours, so it’s a full day, but you can always sleep in transit because this is something you really can’t miss! Tours cost $349 USD per person and sell out fast! So book this epic day trip well in advance online here.
Related Read: If you want to hike to Machu Picchu, the Inca Trail isn’t your only option. You can read all about the Salkantay Trek here (including our honest review)!
2. Rainbow Mountain
- Distance from Cusco: 137 km (85 mi)
- Time needed: 12+ hours
- What you need: Guided tour
Rainbow Mountain has become an Instagram sensation – and with good reason! Just check out our picture above. This striped, multicolored mountain is a totally unique sight, and it’s become one of the most popular things to see in Peru.
However, it’s also a pretty difficult hike due to altitude sickness. I’m an experienced hiker, but I still got a bad headache! Nonetheless, if you’ve spent a few days in Cusco already, you should find the altitude easier to deal with.
This out-and-back hike from Llacto Cancha takes around 3 hours, and it’s about 7 km (4.3 mi) long in total. It’s quite steep, but the effort is worth it for the amazing views at the top.
By far, the best way to do the Rainbow Mountain hike is on a tour. You can get to Rainbow Mountain yourself using a mixture of collectivos (buses) and taxis. However, this doesn’t work out any cheaper than taking a tour, so you might as well go for the easier option! Plus, the hike can be challenging, so it’s definitely better to go with a guide who can help you along the way.
You’ll be picked up around 4:30 am from your Cusco hotel. After two hours, you’ll reach Cusipata where you can fill up on a breakfast buffet before continuing on to your final destination – Vinicunca (aka Rainbow) Mountain!
Once you arrive, your group will trek for about two hours to reach the epic viewpoint. Don’t forget to charge your phone so you can take loads of Instagram-worthy shots!
The tour costs just $25 USD, including hotel pickup and drop off, a local guide, walking sticks, breakfast, and lunch. It’s fantastic value for money, although remember to bring 25 soles ($7 USD) with you for the entrance fee. You’ll want to dress in layers since it can get quite chilly. Also, wear sunglasses and sunscreen since there’s pretty much no shade in these parts.
If you’re worried about the hike or just want an extra dose of adrenaline, take this ATV tour of Rainbow Mountain! You’ll have so much fun zooming around the mountainous landscape, and it’s a much less strenuous way to reach the summit.
This tour begins with hotel pick-up at 3:30 am. Yes, it’s early, but how often do you go quad-biking over such epic terrain? As you drive towards your starting point, you’ll pass bridges and small towns while your guide shares fascinating information about the local culture.
When you reach Japura, your ATV adventure begins! From here, your guides will lead you past stunning mountains, rivers, and even some alpacas and llamas. Once you get to Rainbow Mountain, you’ll get off the bikes to snap photos as you learn all about these formations.
The ATV tour costs $85 USD, including round-trip transport from Cusco and your own quad bike. You’ll also get breakfast and lunch. Make sure to bring the 25 soles ($7 USD) for the entrance fee. You can expect to return to Cusco by 4:30 pm. So if you’re feeling adventurous, don’t hesitate to book this ATV tour online here!
Related Read: For those visiting Lima as well, check out our favorite day trips from Lima, Peru!
3. Humantay Lake
- Distance from Cusco: 122.5 km (76 mi)
- Time needed: 12+ hours
- What you need: Guided tour
Humantay Lake is a stunning turquoise lake at the bottom of the Humantay Glacier. Believe me, it’s so beautiful. And if you like hiking, you should definitely make the day trip to see it.
The Humantay Lake Hike is 6.4 km (4 mi) roundtrip. It’s a 1.5 to 2-hour hike from the trailhead to Humantay Lake (and another hour to get back again). Remember that you’re dealing with a very high altitude, so prepare for a challenge! The lake is 13,779 ft (4,200 meters) above sea level, so make sure that you spend a few days in Cusco before you tackle this one.
You can do Humantay Lake on your own, but it’s pretty difficult to get here. If you also consider the altitude and the journey, the day can be absolutely exhausting. Plus, you’ll need to leave really early to see Humantay Lake at the ideal time (when it’s nice and quiet). Basically, you’re much better off going with a local guide!
Plus, there are some super cheap guided tours available, like this one! It has glowing reviews and includes two meals and round-trip transport for just $25 USD per person. You’ll be picked up around 4:30 am, but don’t worry, you can always sleep en route! You’ll stop in the town of Mollepata, where you’ll be treated to a hearty breakfast before your hike.
Your hike begins from Soraypampa, and it’ll take about 1.5 hours to reach the lake. Once you arrive, the guides will lead your small group in a Quechuan ceremony to honor the mountain. I really enjoyed getting to experience this tradition and seeing just how much the locals respect the land. Most everything is covered on this tour – just bring 10 soles ($2.50 USD) for the lake’s entrance fee. So for an unbeatable price, book this hiking tour of Lake Humantay here.
Although it’s slightly more expensive, we also really like this all-inclusive tour. It includes an American-style breakfast and this tour is almost identical to the one above, with some extra perks. You still get the buffet lunch in addition to blankets, walking sticks, and the Humantay entrance fee for $43 USD.
They occasionally offer a private tour option for $94 USD per person if you’d prefer that as the group tours can have up to 19 people. You can check availability and book this all-inclusive hiking tour here.
4. Moray and Maras
- Distance from Cusco: 55.2 km (34 mi) to Maras, 65.1 km (40.4 mi) to Moray
- Time needed: 5-6 hours
- What you need: Car, taxi, or guided tour
The Maras Salt mines, or Salineras de Maras, are another must-see while you’re in Cusco. Honestly, there are so many must-see places around here that you’re probably starting to understand why we stayed for so long!
The Salineras de Maras are truly a photographer’s dream! Here, you’ll see over 3,000 salt wells spread across one side of the Sacred Valley. It’s a remarkable sight, and best of all, it’s only about an hour’s drive from Cusco!
Meanwhile, the Moray Ruins are around 17 km (11 mi) from the Salineras de Maras, so it’s easy to combine a visit to the two. These Incan ruins consist of circular terraces, and each one provides slightly different growing conditions for crops. There’s actually a significant temperature difference between the top and bottom terraces due to the varying amounts of sun and wind that each one receives. So basically, the Moray Ruins were once a crop-growing powerhouse!
The Salineras de Maras and the Moray Ruins are both fantastic places to see because they provide a really interesting insight into the ancient Inca civilization. If you’ve got a rental car, it’s pretty easy to drive to both of these places in a single day. Just make sure to have cash to pay the 70 soles ($20 USD) admission fee. If you don’t have a rental car, your best option is to take a guided tour.
This day trip from Cusco gives you a guided tour of both the salt mines and the ancient agricultural terraces. We really enjoyed getting outside the city to see some new sights and these are seriously impressive. Plus, groups are kept small (max of 15), so you’ll get more personalized attention and can ask any questions you want.
Tours are $59 USD including roundtrip transport from Cusco, with pick-ups starting at 8:30 am. The whole thing lasts about 6.5 hours which feels like the perfect amount of time to see these two sights without being rushed. Plus, both of these places are a little off the beaten path, so it’s nice to have all of the driving and navigation taken care of!
You will have to pay a 70 soles (around $20 USD) admission fee for the Moray Ruins when you arrive, but we found this tour very informative, and we learned much more than we would have solo. To visit two unique sights in the Sacred Valley, reserve your tour in advance!
Or, if you want to kick things up a notch, take this awesome ATV tour of the Sacred Valley, which will take you to both Moray and Maras. ATV tours like this take already fascinating sights and add a dose of adrenaline! On this adventure, you’ll get amazing views of the Peruvian countryside and guided tours of both sites.
Roundtrip transport from Cusco’s historic center is included, but if your Cusco hostel or hotel is further away, you can join them at the meeting point. The tour lasts about 5 hours, with options to leave in either the morning or the afternoon. As such, it’s super easy to fit into your schedule.
There are several choices when purchasing this ATV experience. The standard tour costs $78 USD for two people to share an ATV or $52 USD per person for a single rider. You can also upgrade to premium ATVs or a private tour. Whichever tour you choose, make sure to bring 85 soles (equal to about $23 USD) for entrance fees. You can check out the full list of dates, times, and tour options online here!
Related Read: To learn about another incredible location, read about the Colca Canyon in Peru. This Andean canyon is actually one of the deepest in the world, with a dramatic landscape to boot!
5. Pisac and Ollantaytambo
- Distance from Cusco: 34 km (34 mi) to Pisac, 61.5 km (40.4 mi) to Ollantaytambo
- Time needed: 10 hours
- What you need: Car or guided tour
Visiting archeological sites and small towns were two of my favorite things about traveling through Peru. And this day trip includes both!
Pisac is a small village in the Sacred Valley where you can find lots of Inca Ruins, as well as fantastic valley views. It was once a key Inca trading post, and it’s still home to an amazing market where you can find hand-woven textiles. It’s a fantastic place to buy souvenirs!
Pisac is also famous for its Sunday mass, which is an elaborate affair. The town’s church conducts mass in both Spanish and Quechua, the language of the Inca Empire. I also loved how it involved so many traditional musical instruments. We visited several years ago, and at that time, the Quechua mass started around 11 am.
The Artisan Market is open every day from 9 am to 5 pm. But overall, we definitely recommend trying to come here on a Sunday if you can as the Sunday market is even bigger!
Meanwhile, Ollantaytambo is known as the gateway to Machu Picchu. It’s also an impressive archaeological site that was built by the Incas to resist the Spanish. It’s most famous for the Temple of the Sun, which was never finished due to the Spanish invasion of the valley.
The Temple of the Sun, along with most tourist sights in the area, is open between 8 am and 5 pm. There is an entry fee of 70 soles ($20 USD). However, this ticket is good for two full days and covers entry to other sights in Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Chinchero, and Moray. So if you time it right, you won’t have to pay twice!
Pisac and Ollantaytambo are 58 km (36 mi) apart, so it takes around an hour between the two. You can access either town by public transport from Cusco. Unfortunately, traveling between the two by bus tends to be very long and complicated. Therefore, if you want to visit both on a day trip, it’s best to either drive or take a guided tour.
On this full-day tour, you get in-depth guided visits to both Pisac and Ollantaytambo. The views from Pisac are so beautiful, and we loved visiting the local market. Plus, the Ollantaytambo ruins are super impressive – it’s crazy to think that the Incas built this fortress without any modern machinery!
This tour begins around 8 am and lasts for roughly 10 hours. When we went, we spent most of the day walking around town and through archeological sites. Maybe it goes without saying, but wear comfy shoes!
The tours, admission fees, a typical Peruvian lunch, and all transport are included for $79 USD, so we think it’s pretty good value. Without admission fees, the tour costs $49 USD. So, if you bought a 2-day Cusco Tourist Ticket the day prior, go for the cheaper tour! You can also choose a private tour option. To visit both these towns in one go, book your day trip online here!
6. Weaving Workshop
- Distance from Cusco: 51.5 km (32 mi) to Calca (where the workshop takes place)
- Time needed: 6-10 hours
- What you need: Guided tour
Peru is famous for its textiles. In fact, it actually has the oldest textile industry in the world, dating back all the way to 8,000 BC. So we think that this full-day textile workshop in the Sacred Valley makes for a fantastic day trip from Cusco!
You’ll be picked up from your hotel in the morning and head to Calca in the Sacred Valley. You’ll spend the day learning all about weaving and dying from the experts who have dedicated their lives to their craft.
Our favorite thing about this unique experience is that it’s so hands-on. Not only do you get to dye and weave your own piece, but you’ll also head out into the valley to collect plants. You’ll use these to make the dye and spin the yarn yourself! And at the end, you get to keep your piece as a souvenir.
The tour costs $119 USD per person and includes all of your materials, roundtrip transportation, a homemade lunch, and coffee and tea. It’s a fantastic way to immerse yourself in Peruvian culture and learn a new skill along the way. The guides and teachers are so friendly, and group sizes are capped at five, so it’s a really personal experience with lots of one-on-one instruction.
Why We Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Check out the Viator website here!
7. Rafting and Ziplining
- Distance from Cusco: ~80 km (50 mi) to Urubamba River
- Time needed: 8 hours
- What you need: Guided tour
The Urubamba River (also known as the Vilcanota River upstream) is the perfect place for an adventurous day out! The Grade 3 and 4 rapids are suitable for first-timers, but they’ll definitely get your adrenaline pumping! And as if that weren’t enough, you can also go ziplining across the river as well.
Grade 3 Rafting + Zipline
This full-day rafting tour focuses on the Grade 3 rapids, so we think it’s great for beginners and families (as long as all children are aged 9 or older). As well as rafting and enjoying the beautiful scenery, you also get access to the zipline.
It really is a fun-filled day, but if you’d prefer to relax after all of the excitement, there’s a sauna onsite to pop into afterwards. To top it off, you’ll also have a tasty lunch at the Cusipata River Lodge.
Tours begin at 8:30 am and last for roughly 8 hours. Everything we mentioned, along with roundtrip transportation from Cusco, is included in the $69 USD price. They even give you water shoes, access to showers, and all the necessary safety equipment. If this all sounds like fun, check availability and book this adventurous day outdoors.
Grade 3/4 Rafting + Zipline
Meanwhile, this Rafting and Zipline tour is another fantastic option for an adventurous day trip. You’ll tackle Class 3 and 4 rapids, so it’s a bit more intense than the above option.
The first stop on the way to the river is the town of Oropesa to try its famous Chuta bread. I personally loved this bread, which had a slightly sweet anise flavor (although the anise wasn’t overpowering!).
The highlight of this 8-hour tour is definitely the two hours spent rafting down the rapids! Afterward, you can shower, change into your dry clothes, and savor a well-deserved lunch. However, the fun doesn’t end there – you still have the opportunity to enjoy two different ziplines.
This tour costs $85 USD and there’s a maximum group size of 15, so it’s perfect for solo travelers looking to make new friends! While the tour does include hotel pick-up, you’ll be dropped off at Cusco’s city center. There’s nothing quite like the combination of adrenaline and nature – which is why this tour sells out fast! So secure your date online well in advance.
Related Read: Another city with beautiful architecture and wildlife is Arequipa – read all about it right here!
8. Horseback Riding in the Andean Countryside
- Distance from Cusco: ~4 km (2.5 mi) to the horse ranches just outside town
- Time needed: 4 hours
- What you need: Guided tour
The city of Cusco is surrounded by the Andean countryside, which just so happens to be a fantastic place to go horseback riding!
Not only do horseback riding tours from Cusco take you through some beautiful scenery, but you also get to ride Peruvian Paso horses. They’re famed for having a good temperament and being very comfortable to ride.
This half-day horse riding tour takes you to Vieja Estancia, a traditional ranch just outside of the city. From here, you’ll saddle up and head out into the country for a super scenic ride. Unfortunately, Bailey is allergic to horses, but this tour definitely gives her FOMO!
As you ride, you’ll go through local townships in the mountains, observe farmers at work, and pass by lots of alpaca and sheep. You’ll also head to the Devil’s Balcony, a cave that was once an important Inca shrine.
What’s great is you don’t need horseback riding experience to join this tour. However, you must be at least 8 years old. The tour costs $72 USD per person, including horseback riding gear, water, snacks, and roundtrip transport from your hotel. Tours leave daily at 9 am and 1 pm. For a family-friendly activity, book this half-day horseback riding tour here!
Similarly, this top-rated tour also takes you to the Devil’s Balcony and the Temple of the Moon. This temple has been carved into a rock, and it’s one of the most mysterious Inca sites around Cusco. It’s thought that it was used as a fertility temple, but there’s also evidence here to suggest that the temple pre-dates the Incas.
The tour costs $60 USD, including snacks and round-trip transportation from Cusco. Tours also start at 9 am or 1 pm, lasting just under 4 hours. The minimum age is 8 and all levels are welcome. We think it’s a must for anyone who’s interested in ancient civilizations (and horses, of course!).
Standard tourist route
Meanwhile, this horseback tour sticks more to the typical tourist path and takes you on a ride through several ancient sites, including Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo, Puka Pucara, and Tambomachay. These are the four most famous (and most impressive) ruins in the Sacred Valley, and exploring them on horseback makes the experience even more fun!
Tours cost $95 USD per person for groups of two or more. The price includes roundtrip transportation, riding gear, and yummy pastries and fruit. You don’t need any prior experience, and kids as young as 6 years old can join.
You can choose from a 9 am or 1:30 pm departure. Hit up Cusco’s top tourist sights by horseback – book this tour here!
9. South Valley
- Distance from Cusco: 26 km (16 mi) to Tipon, 40 km (24.8 mi) to Andahuaylillas
- Time needed: 6 hours
- What you need: Bus, colectivo, car, or guided tour
The southern section of the Sacred Valley is not as frequented as the northern side, but there’s still plenty of pretty scenery and Inca ruins to explore here!
Tipon is an impressive Inca citadel, and it’s definitely one of the best places to visit in the South Valley. This archaeological site is not as big as some of the ones in the northern section of the Sacred Valley, but it’s home to beautiful terraces and channels, so we definitely think it’s worth visiting. The town itself is quite traditional, and you might even see some people roasting guinea pigs on a spit.
Meanwhile, Pikillacta is located around 40 minutes from Tipon. It’s a Wari archaeological site, which means it actually predates the Inca civilization. Pikillacta is Cusco’s only confirmed pre-Inca site, so it’s likely it’s the oldest site in the Sacred Valley, dating back to 600-1000 AD.
Another 20-minute drive down the road, you’ll find Andahuaylillas. This small village has a chapel so ornate that it’s been nicknamed “the Sistine Chapel of the Americas.” It’s a pretty bold claim – but once you see inside – you’ll see that it’s a fitting title!
It’s possible to spend the day exploring the South Valley via public bus (locally referred to as a collectivo). However, you’ll have to head out pretty early to make sure you have time to hit all three sites. To make things easier, I suggest booking this 6-hour tour.
With hotel pick-up around 8 am and stops at all three locations, this tour means not worrying about catching the right buses or getting up at the crack of dawn. Plus, I always love having a local guide who can describe the importance of each location. Ruins aren’t exactly like museums – you won’t find tons of plaques detailing the sites, so guides can share this info instead!
In addition to these 3 historical sites, you’ll also stop in Oropesa, a town known for its yummy bread. This pastry, chuta, is a round bread that’s flavored with cinnamon and anise. On the return journey, you’ll stop for lunch in Saylla. Lunch is on your own dime, and if you’re a fan of meat, I recommend trying chicharrones (a fried pork specialty).
You can choose a private or a small-group option. Both include hotel pickup and dropoff and your guide. Private tours run from $69-$129 USD per person, depending on your group size (max 8). The small-group tour won’t have more than 15 guests and costs $59-$69 USD each. This tour really is the easiest way to see all these sights, so don’t hesitate to reserve your date online!
- Distance from Cusco: 100 km (62 mi)
- Time needed: 15 hours
- What you need: Guided tour
Some of the Ausangate hiking trails require five days or more to complete, but you can complete the 7 Lagoons Hike in around 6 hours. The trail is around 10 km (6.2 mi) long, and as the name suggests, you get to see seven scenic lakes, as well as stunning snow-capped peaks.
Ausangate is a 3.5-hour drive from Cusco, and the distance and altitude of the hike mean that it’s pretty challenging. While you can do this as a day trip from the city, we only recommend doing so as part of a guided tour. High-altitude hikes really take it out of you. Couple that with driving for hours along remote, pothole-ridden roads, and you’ve got a pretty exhausting day out.
Fortunately, this full-day tour includes round-trip transport from Cusco, so you can sleep on the way there (and on the way back!). You’ll have a local guide to help you through the hike, and if you want, you can pay an extra 70 soles ($20 USD) to do the trail on horseback instead. For an extra 5 soles ($1.40 USD), you can soak your sore muscles in the Pacchanta hot springs after you’ve completed the trail (which was a definite YES for us!).
Pick-up starts around 4:30 am from your Cusco accommodations. The whole day lasts about 16 hours, but don’t worry – you’ll make plenty of stops. Also, a local breakfast and lunch are included (make sure to let them know in advance if you’re vegetarian). The transport, your guide, and meals are covered in the $45 USD price. However, bring at least 15 soles ($4 USD) for the park’s admission fee.
This was one of our favorite hikes in Peru, and nature lovers won’t want to miss the wildlife and views. You can check availability and book your hiking tour right here!
11. Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain
- Distance from Cusco: 130 km (80 mi)
- Time needed: 12 hours
- What you need: Guided tour
Rainbow Mountain is pretty famous, but did you know there’s actually an easier alternative that’s less touristy AND just as pretty?
Palccoyo Mountain has the same stripes as the “original” Rainbow Mountain. However, it has a lower altitude, and the hike is only 40 minutes each way, so it’s a lot easier to tackle! If you struggle with or are worried about altitude sickness, we don’t think you’d be missing out at all to do this mountain instead. Plus, it’s way less crowded!
Palccoyo Mountain is tricky to reach by yourself. There’s no public transport, and the roads are narrow, winding, and uneven. Plus, the group tours to the mountain are super affordable, so it’s a no-brainer as far as we’re concerned.
We recommend this full-day tour to Palccoyo Mountain. When we went, we were picked up around 7 am and headed directly to the mountain. It took about 3 hours of driving, and we were treated to breakfast along the way.
The hike itself was stunning but pretty chill, so if you’re not an avid hiker, you may prefer this option! The hike lasts roughly 1.5 hours, and once you reach the top, you’ll have panoramic views of the landscape. The different colors of sand layered one upon the other are truly incredible. Trust me, this is something you have to see for yourself since pictures just don’t do it justice!
You’ll return the way you came and enjoy a well-deserved lunch before heading back. The tour lasts about 12 hours, and you’ll be dropped off in downtown Cusco. The whole thing costs $38 USD, including transport, a guide, meals, and you also have the option to rent a horse if you don’t want to hike. Make sure to bring 10 soles ($3 USD) in cash for the mountain’s entry fee. For a chill version of the Rainbow Mountain, book this tour of Palccoyo Mountain instead!
Related Read: Since you’re already heading to Peru, we also recommend visiting Bolivia! To learn why, read about our favorite things to do in Bolivia.
- Distance from Cusco: 4.1 km (2.5 mi), 2.9 km (1.8 mi) from the Main Square
- Time needed: 3-4 hours
- What you need: Car, taxi, guided tour, walk
Sacsayhuaman is an incredible Inca archaeological site above the city of Cusco. It’s so close that it’s actually possible to walk here, although it’s all uphill on the way there!
In Quechua, Sacsayhuaman means “the place where the falcon is satiated”, and you’re likely to see a ton of them here, as well as plenty of cute alpacas. Historians believe that Sacsayhuaman was a fortress built by the Incas to keep out the Spanish, although it’s possible it was a ceremonial site.
We were super impressed by this place and its intricate stonework – it’s crazy to think that it was built using ancient tools and absolutely no mortar or glue to hold the stones together!
The entry fee to Sacsayhuaman is 70 soles (around $20 USD), and this also includes admission to Qenqo, Pucapucara, and Tambomachay, all of which are close by.
As we said, it’s possible to walk to Sacsayhuaman, especially if you’re coming from the Main Square. It’s also just a 10-minute drive if you’ve got a rental car or a cheap taxi ride. Taxis are readily available in Cusco, so you can just hop in and go. You could also just take a taxi here and walk back since the return journey is a lot easier (and downhill, woohoo!).
If you’re interested in Inca history, then we recommend visiting Sacsayhuaman on this guided tour. It takes you to Qenqo, Pucapucara, and Tambomachay as well. I especially enjoyed seeing Q’enqo, which is basically a series of ancient tunnels and sacrificial alters carved out of rocks.
Meanwhile, Tambomachay is a stone structure filled with aqueducts, canals, and waterfalls. It’s also called “The Bath of the Inca” and may have been a spa or a place to worship water. Legend has it that it’s never run dry and can instill youthfulness. Regardless, we definitely wouldn’t test that theory by drinking the water here!
The tour costs $69 USD, including a guide, hotel pickup and drop off, and admission. Overall, it’s convenient and a pretty good deal. Tours start at 8 am and last 3 hours, so you’ll still have the whole afternoon free to enjoy other Cusco activities. There’s also a private option for $69-$179 USD per person, depending on group size. To see 3 nearby sites in just 3 hours, book this morning tour of Cusco here!
Horseback riding tour
You can also explore Sacsayhuaman on horseback with this tour. Sacsayhuaman Archaeological Park is very picturesque, and you get great views of the city from up here – which is why it’s a fantastic place to take a horseback tour!
Although most tours just visit the site’s walls, you’ll get a more in-depth journey overall. You’ll also ride to the Devil’s Balcony and the Temple of the Moon while learning all about the locations from your guide.
These 4-hour tours are offered daily at 9 am or 1:30 pm. It costs $65 USD, including roundtrip transportation from your Cusco hotel. To experience Sacsayhuaman on horseback, check availability and reserve your tour online.
Other Activities to do While You’re in Cusco
Cusco is a top travel destination for good reason! There are plenty of things to do in Cusco. So, if you’ve already enjoyed a couple of day trips, check out some other activities below.
- Hangout in the Plaza de Armas – The Plaza de Armas is one of our favorite places to people-watch and soak up the atmosphere. There are several benches, or you can post up at one of the restaurants. You might even see live music or dancing, or you can visit the Cusco Cathedral and the Church of the Society of Jesus.
- Take a tour of Cusco – Guides can help you learn all about this ancient city. As you walk through the cobblestone streets, they’ll show you the top sights and even some hidden gems. If you’re on a budget, take this free Inkan Milky Way walking tour (reserve in advance!). But if you can afford it, this Cusco Sightseeing Tour is much more in-depth and the perfect intro to the city!
- Stay in the Skylodge Adventure Suites – Although not cheap, staying at Skylodge Adventure Suites has to be one of the most unique accommodation experiences. Your room is a transparent capsule hanging from the top of a mountain in the Sacred Valley! It’s a climb on the way up, but you can zipline down!
- Take a cooking class – Peruvian food is insanely delicious, so if you want to make it upon your return, book this Peruvian cooking class. A local chef will take you to the San Pedro Market for all the ingredients before making local dishes with a modern twist! You’ll also taste pisco sours, try exotic fruits, and get to know the culture.
- Go shopping – Cusco’s shopping is full of unique textiles and creative handmade goods. The San Blas area has excellent shopping and a weekend craft market. Avenida el Sol is an artisan hub with everything from paintings and jewelry to alpaca clothing. You can also buy all sorts of things at the San Pedro Market, including fresh juices, cheap meals, and many souvenirs.
Where to Stay in Cusco, Peru
Now that you know how much Cusco has to offer, it’s time to figure out where to stay. We recommend planning to stay at least a few days here … although you may end up extending your trip as we did! There are plenty of options for accommodations, from reasonably priced to more luxurious, depending on your budget. These are the places that top our list of recommendations.
Monasterio, A Belmond Hotel, Cusco – $$$
If you can spend a bit more during your stay, soak up the incredible architecture and location at Monasterio in the city center. This former monastery was built back in 1592 and has an amazing central courtyard. The rooms are beautifully decorated (each one is different!), and if you’re feeling the altitude, oxygen-enriched rooms are available. The price tag here is $545 USD per night.
MOAF Cusco Boutique Hotel – $$
For a mid-range option, we love MOAF Cusco Boutique Hotel for its central location – super close to the main square and lots of top attractions. The breakfast here is excellent, the staff is super helpful, and the whole place has a really nice charm to it. Ask for a room on an upper floor to get the best view! Rooms here are around $90 USD a night.
To snag this deal, check availability and book MOAF Hotel online here.
The Selina Plaza De Armas is a budget-friendly option that offers shared dorm rooms, private rooms, or even unique outdoor tent accommodations. It’s only a short walk from Plaza De Armas and the cathedral, so you’re staying right in the action. The hotel also has a beautiful lobby with a glass-covered patio you can relax in. Dorm rooms are around $30-$50 USD per night, and the teepee tents are under $100 USD.
If you’re traveling on a tighter budget, read our guide on the best hostels in Cusco.
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
Thanks for reading!
Cusco is an awesome city – and not only for its proximity to Machu Picchu (although this is definitely a plus!). The city is surrounded by incredible archeological ruins, stunning landscapes, hiking trails, and cute towns. So if you’re planning a trip to Cusco, we hope you enjoy one of our amazing day trips!
If you found this list helpful, check out our other articles about Peru. We also have blogs dedicated to other South American destinations. For an idea of the topics we cover, I linked to some articles below.