The former capital of the mighty Inca Empire, Peru’s city of Cusco, is an excellent base from which to explore fascinating archaeological and historical sites and enjoy time in nature. The UNESCO World Heritage City boasts striking colonial-era architecture, including stunning churches and squares, and it’s common to see the indigenous residents strolling through the streets clad in traditional attire. Here are some of the most incredible day trips from Cusco if you have a spare few days trips from Cusco.
Pisaq is a small town known for its handicraft market, where you can buy textiles from people living in Pisaq but also from nearby communities. The market is so famous for handmade clothes, handbags, and backpacks that a lot of travelers from Cusco come here to shop. The center of the town, close to the market, has become somewhat touristy, and restaurants charge Cusco prices for what is, more often than not, a lower standard of food. However, the main reason to visit Pisaq is the impressive Pisaq archaeological site, one of the most spectacular archaeological gems in the Sacred Valley. The Inca ruins are above Pisac Town, scattered over the hill. The principal purpose of Pisac Ruins was to protect Cusco from possible attacks and has the perfect vantage point over the Sacred Valley.
When planning your trip to Peru, you've probably already heard about this natural attraction that almost overnight became the most sought-after trek in Peru. Rainbow Mountain is now the most popular day trip from Cusco. When walking the streets of Cusco, you might soon be overwhelmed because the iconic stripey mountain can be seen around every corner. Don’t let this put you off; Rainbow Mountain is famous for an excellent reason; it is simply stunning! Found in a remote part of the Peruvian mountains, it has become famous over the past ten years because this attractive, colorful mountain used to be entirely snow-covered for centuries. When taking a trip to Rainbow Mountain, you need to be well-acclimatized. The path leads high in the mountains, reaching over 5000 meters above sea level and altitude sickness is a real issue here. A decent operator will take a first aid kit with an oxygen tank, though this is not to replace the previous acclimatization.
Another must-do one-day hike from Cusco will take you to Humantay Lake. The crystal clear turquoise lake was over 4000 meters above sea level. Once more, acclimatization is a must. The stunning Humantay lake can be located high in the mountains, where the Andes have climatic conditions, so the experience is truly unique. The Peruvian Andes possess countless glacial lakes. The Humantay Lake hike is not too long; you should be able to reach it after an hour and a half hike. However, this trip involves a lot of time in a car to reach the trailhead. The lake is mind-blowing, but the narrow trail through the Peruvian countryside is another reason to book this hike. This long-day trip can be combined with the Salkantay trek for the more adventurous.
Ollantaytambo is a cobblestone town with traditional Inca narrow streets and a small historical center. Ollantaytambo is famous as an impressive archaeological site, snaking up the hills on each side of the valley. They are surprisingly huge, offering a remarkable sight in The Sacred Valley. Climb more than 200 stone steps to the top of the ruins to get a better view, overlook the whole complex and contemplate the resilience of the Incas who carried the large stones from the other side of the valley. Ollantaytambo is also where many take the train to Aguas Calientes for the all-important visit to Machu Picchu.
Moray is another Inca relic that you can see displayed all over Cusco. But it looked completely different than other archaeological sites in the area. When you arrive in Moray, you will notice circular-shaped terraces carved into a natural depression in the ground. Moray was an agricultural laboratory built by the Incas, and each deck had its different microclimate. The Incas could produce thousands of varying corn or potato varieties here and grow products from other areas, such as the Amazon region. Moray can be found near the town of Maras, famous for its salt pans of Maras. Maras is an incredibly photogenic sight where local people still mine the salt via several small pools, allowing the water's evaporation, leaving the salty remains. They use the same techniques that the Incas used hundreds of years previously, and these white pools offer a stark contrast to the surrounding valley.
If you want to get out of Cusco and explore its surroundings but don't want to go too far, visiting four Incan fortresses nearby is a great option. Sacsayhuaman is UNESCO-listed and is the closest site to Cusco. Sacsayhuaman is the perfect introduction to the Inca history with impressive Inca stonework on view for those fascinated by Inca architecture. Puka Pukara was a fortress protecting the entrance into Cusco; TambomachayTambomachay is considered the Inca bath due to its impressive natural waterfalls. Qenqo was a religious ceremonial site where sacrifices took place during Inca times.
A stunning adobe church and a colorful traditional market mean that you've just arrived in Chinchero. The ruins at Chinchero consist of a series of nested terraces built for farming and agricultural purposes, and some are still in use today. The soil at Chinchero is fertile and one of the bests in the Sacred Valley to produce potatoes, but the main reason why the Inca Tupac, the son of the famous Pachacutec, used Chinchero to relax and gather strength to rule the Inca Empire. Chinchero is also a weaving village, so you can see a demonstration of how local people dye alpacas' wool, and you can even buy some original alpaca products. The textile produced here is some of the most exquisite in the area.
Cusco’s Southern Valley is a mysterious and intriguing place, brimming with ancient Incan (and pre-Incan) ruins, legends of old, and nature. A significant area of interest in the scenic valley is the Andahuaylillas Church, its simple white-washed façade belying the Baroque beauty that lies inside; the exquisitely painted ceilings, sparkling golden altar, and stunning frescoes have earned the church the nickname of the Sistine Chapel of the Andes. The pre-Incan citadel of Piqillacta is another fascinating site, with high walls that protected the community from the Inca empire for many years. Tipon is famous for the national Andean dish of “Cuy” or Guinea pig, and Oropesa is renowned for its traditional bread-making techniques still used today.
Several day tours to the Sacred Valley allow you to experience Andean culture at its most authentic. Participate in an interactive cultural time such as Ancestral Sounds to learn more about the region's traditional music and its use in ancestral activities. Alpaca therapy experiences where you can meet these beautiful animals that have been an essential part of the history of ancient Peru and are as important today as they used to be in the past. Or head out on a llama and alpaca hiking adventure in Peru to discover the ancestral culture and nature, passing through thousands of hectares of open space without fences, where boundaries are lost on the horizon. These trips will give you insight into the authentic life of the Andean people and will bring you a little closer to the traditional way of life in Cusco.