9 Brilliant Day Trips From Cusco, Peru

mountain coloured in red, yellow and blue stripes

If you’re looking for ideas for exciting and beautiful day trips from Cusco, you have come to the right place!

Cusco itself is a gorgeous city, steeped in history and full of charm. There are plenty of things to do in Cusco, the Capital of the Incas. However, it’s also located close to many attractions in the surrounding area, including ancient wonders and landmarks of stunning natural beauty. This makes Cusco the perfect base from which to explore the best of the region via day trips.  

I teamed up with other travel bloggers who have explored Peru in order to pull together this comprehensive list of Cusco day trips.

So, whether you’re staying in Cusco to acclimatise to the altitude as preparation for the Inca Trail or simply using it as a base to explore the Sacred Valley Of The Incas and other nearby areas, you’ll want to check out these day trips from Cusco.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. These are links to products or experiences I recommend and if you were to buy something after clicking on them, I might earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Any earnings go towards the upkeep of this blog, which I appreciate.

Feature image by Anwar from Beyond My Door.

9 Day Trips From Cusco

1. Machu Picchu

Contributed by David & Intan from The World Travel Guy

Of course, one of the most popular places to visit near Cusco is the famous Incan citadel of Machu Picchu! This 15th-century ‘lost city’ of the Inca Empire is as fascinating as it is photogenic, and it belongs on any Peru bucket list.

Some people do the 4-day hike along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, but lots of people visit Machu Picchu an easier way, as a day trip from Cusco. The scenic train ride takes about 3.5 hours each way.

Stone ruins and grassy terraces with a steep mountain and clouds behind it
Machu Picchu

There are some great things to do in Machu Picchu. You can see the iconic viewpoint and get your picture taken with the citadel in the background; go for a stroll in the ruins, and interact with the friendly llamas, which roam freely around the grounds of Machu Picchu. Believe it or not, Machu Picchu is one of the family-friendly attractions in Peru.

Last, but not least, there are a number of great day hikes at Machu Picchu, including the Huayna Picchu mountain (also known as Wayna Picchu) or a shorter and easier hike with similar views, called Huchuy Picchu. Reservations are required in advance, which you can arrange online.

Any of these activities are possible to do on a Machu Picchu day trip, although you might only have time for one hike at a time (i.e. you can hike Huayna Picchu and then do sightseeing at the Machu Picchu ruins before heading back to Cusco). Whether you go independently or take a group tour to Machu Picchu, it’s definitely well worth the time to visit!

2. Rainbow Mountain (Vinicunca)

Contributed by Anwar from Beyond My Door

One of the more unique day trips from Cusco, hiking Rainbow Mountain, offers a breath-taking mountain view.

Rainbow Mountain is known for its colourful mountain peak with several different layers of vibrant minerals. These layers are created by the various minerals in the soil including clay, mud, sand, quatorze, sandstone, calcium carbonate, and claystone.

mountain striped with red yellow and blue coloured rock and two llamas in the foreground
Vinicunca: Rainbow Mountain

As of only a decade ago, Rainbow Mountain was completely unvisited as the peak was covered year-round in snow. Sadly, the peak is only viewable due to climate change that has affected the region.

The hike overall is not difficult with a gradual incline until close to the peak. What makes the trail difficult is the altitude which tops off at 16,000 feet at the highest point. Riding a horse is an option, although you’ll still need to walk the final part as it’s too steep for horses.

The initial viewpoint fills up quickly, so climbing the second hill will allow for smaller crowds and better views. The hill is steep and the additional altitude can be tough on many hikers. 

Some tour operators also offer hikes that take visitors back down through the red valley, which is a blazing red-coloured wonderland just off the main trail. The red colours of the soil are so distinct and feel almost alien.

It is possible to visit the hike either as a group or individually. Either way, it is important to check the weather before going as viewing the peak is very weather-dependent. Rainbow Mountain tours tend to leave Cusco between 3:30 and 4 am and return 12 hrs later and include breakfast and lunch. Going independent is possible by booking your own taxi or car from Cusco. Entrance to Rainbow Mountain is 30 soles per individual and 20 Soles for Red Valley (10 for Red Mountain and an additional 10 for Red Valley). 

3. Moray & Maras

Contributed by Ellie from El On The Move

A brilliant Cusco day trip is to the ruins of Moray, the small town of Maras and the Salt mines of Maras – all in one day.

The first stop of the day is Moray, where you’ll find one of the most famous Inca ruins in the Sacred Valley. The ruin itself is several terraced circles, which are believed to have been used by the Incas to grow food. Astonishingly, the variation of temperature can be up to 5 degrees C between the top and the bottom, leading to the theory that the Incas used them to be able to experiment with how crops grow in different conditions.

circular rings of stone terraces covered in grass
Moray terraces
terraced patch-work of white evaporation pools on a mountainside
Salineras of Maras

After the ruins, the lovely small town of Maras is a perfect spot for some lunch. From here, visit the Salineras of Maras, a large and photogenic salt production site spanning across the valley.

The easiest way to do this trip in one day is to use the same taxi all day (the destinations are not near main roads so there are not many taxis around them). A daily rate can be negotiated with the taxis in Cusco. If you are looking for more of an active day, take a taxi to Moray in the morning and walk all the way to the bottom of the valley to catch a taxi back to Cusco.

There are also companies in Cusco that provide a Moray & Maras guided tour as a day trip.

4. Humantay Lake

Contributed by Jess from I’m Jess Traveling

Humantay Lake is a turquoise, alpine lake that sits at an elevation of 13,900 feet.  Located about 2 hours outside the city, Humantay Lake is one of the most picturesque day trips from Cusco.

turquoise lake at the foot of a craggy snowy mountain partly covered with moody clouds
Humantay Lake

The easiest and most popular way to enjoy this activity is on a day tour. It is possible to hike Humantay Lake independently which will help you avoid the crowds and add a bit of thrill. However, you can also go on a guided tour.

The hike to Humantay Lake is only 2.6 miles round trip and takes about 2 hours to complete.  Don’t let the short miles fool you: this Cusco hike is tough.  With a 1,200 feet elevation at a high altitude, it will leave you huffing and puffing. 

There isn’t much else to do around the lake as it’s pretty isolated out in the wilderness.  If you have time, are physically fit and thrive on a sense of adventure, one of the best ways to experience this hike is by embarking on the Salkantay Trek.  Lake Humantay is a side trip on the first day of this 46-mile trek to Machu Picchu. 

Whichever way you do it, with the dramatic mountains that backdrop the lake and the sense of accomplishment when you make it to the top, this excursion is not to be missed. 

 5. Pisac

Contributed by Vicki Franz from Vicki Viaja

The Pisac Archaeological Park is definitely one of the best day trips you can take from Cusco. With its impressive ruins from the Inca era and its extraordinary and fascinating landscape formations, this place simply will not leave you unmoved.

The park’s remarkable ruins are one of the main reasons for a day trip to Pisac. They belong to an ancient Inca fortress whose roots date back to the 15th century. Besides the imposing ruins to explore here, the site’s breathtaking natural beauty is also a focal point. Ancient field terraces, created to cultivate essential food crops, transform the complex into a unique picturesque scene.

stone ruins and terraces on a mountainside

Písac is part of the Sacred Valley of the Incas and, therefore, can only be visited with the Boleto Turístico. You can choose between a two and 10-day ticket that includes additional attractions of the Sacred Valley. The site is located about 22 miles from Cusco, making it one of the closest day trip destinations. You can reach Pisac as part of a guided tour, by public transportation, such as Colectivo or bus, or by taxi.

After visiting the ruins park of Pisac, it is also worthwhile to walk to the town centre. A small market is held here three times a week where you can buy souvenirs and fresh food.

6. Ausangate

Contributed by Dan & George from Backpacking Latin America

Ausangate is one of the most talked about day trips from Cusco since the mountain range is visible from the streets of Cusco. It is a fantastic hiking destination known for its incredible seven coloured lakes, as well as its towering peaks which set the backdrop.

The lagoons which make up part of Ausangate’s scenery feature shades of turquoise, black, wine, and green and are a must-see on one of the many small-group day hikes.

bright turquoise lake overlooked by steep snowy mountains

The trek here is best done with a tour company that first starts from Cusco and drives into the national park.  Travellers also get the chance to visit the village of Paqchanta where they are usually met by the inhabitants and descendants of Incas, who speak the Quechua language, for lunch. They share even more about what the beautiful mountain range has to offer. The nature around here is diverse and it is not until getting closer that its size can be fully appreciated.

Those that don’t plan ahead for this trip as part of their backpacking Cusco itinerary may choose the option to go via horse. This is a good option if you’re not already acclimatized to the high altitude and want to save your legs by doing minimal hiking.

No matter what time of year, it is recommended to carry warm clothing as it gets cold toward the mountain top.

7. Ollantaytambo

Contributed by Carley from Home to Havana

The town of Ollantaytambo, located just an hour and a half northwest of Cusco, is small in size but is as essential a part of the Sacred Valley as it was in the era of the Incas. Home to some of the most impressive and extensive Inca ruins in the Sacred Valley, it’s also a contender for one of the best day trips from Cusco for those who love history and culture. 

The fortress at Ollantaytambo was once an important Inca stronghold against the Spanish conquistadors. Now visitors can take in the extensive ruins of the temple and fortress that made Ollantaytambo such an essential site. Highlights of the ruins include the Wall of Six Monoliths, a towering wall with stones so massive and smooth you can’t help but marvel at how they were moved here.

remains of stone buildings on top of a stone wall with massive stones cut to fit together perfectly

There is much more to see and do here than just visiting the famous ruins. Add an excursion to the ruins of Pinkuylluna to your Ollantaytambo trip as well. These Inca granaries sit on a hillside above the city. While reaching them requires a 30-45 minute steep climb, they’re much less visited than Ollantaytambo’s main ruins and are free to visit. 

Afterwards, plan to visit the Awamaki store. This non-profit works with weaving cooperatives of indigenous women and markets their creations internationally to bring sustainable income to local communities. You’ll find lovely-crafted textiles, perfect for taking home as a thoughtful souvenir.

Ollantaytambo often features in guided tours of the Sacred Valley.

8. Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain

Contributed by Sarah from A Social Nomad

If you’re looking for a Cusco day trip without crowds, then you should visit Palccoyo.  It’s one of Peru’s famous ‘rainbow mountains’ (or cerros colorados), but it is one that is only rarely visited.  Most visitors head to the more famous and well-known Vinicunca – so the lack of crowds is a good reason to head to Palccoyo instead.

mountainside striped with pink and yellow and blue earth and a sprinkling of snow

Peru’s rainbow mountains get their colour from the natural minerals here – there’s red from iron, green from phyllites, and yellow from Sulphur for starters.  Whichever rainbow mountain you opt to visit from Cusco, the views are stunning, the scenery glorious – and the air a little thin.  Vinicunca is located at 5,200 meters above sea level, and Palccoyo is 300 meters lower in altitude.

Palccoyo makes a great day trip from Cusco, as even though it’s a 3.5-hour drive from Cusco, you can get to see the rainbow mountains with just about 30 minutes of hiking, and without crowds.  Drivers will accompany you to the best points for photography and most group tours to Palccoyo also include lunch on your return.  There are rarely people here, so you’ll have the mountains to yourself.  The last 30 minutes of driving are stunning – and other-worldly.  

Wear layers and bring plenty of water to hydrate and enjoy this incredible place!

9. Pikillacta

Contributed by Heather Cole from Conversant Traveller

Pikillacta is an unusual archaeological site that is easily reached from Cusco. It’s about 20 km east of the city and is well off the beaten tourist trail which means you may have the place to yourself when you visit.

Dating to around 800 A.D. Pikillacta is an ancient settlement of Wari origin. The Incas later took over, but the structures and layout give a fascinating insight into the mysterious Wari culture. Little is known about this civilisation and the site is still being excavated. You might even get to see some of the archaeologists at work while you stroll around the complex.

reddish stone ruins spread out across a valley

The city sprawls across the valley, and you can walk along the old roads and take in some of the dwellings and buildings – there are over 700! A couple of rare dinosaur skeletons have been found during the excavation work, and you can see them on display in the small on-site museum.

To really make the most of your visit it’s best to come with a Pikillacta tour guide, who can accompany you from Cusco. You may need to hire a car and driver, as public transport options are limited. You can also stop at the Tipon archaeological park along the way to Pikillacta.

Map: Day Trips From Cusco

Here’s a map of the region around Cusco and the destinations in these recommended day trips from Cusco.

How To Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left-hand corner of the map to view the layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each one.  If you click the star next to the map’s title, it will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu, go to ‘Your Places’ or ‘Saved’, then click Maps and you will see this map in your list.

In Conclusion

I hope you’re inspired by all you can see and explore in the area surrounding Cusco. It really is full of ancient ruins and natural wonders! If you’re in need of more ideas for travelling in Peru, check out my suggested itinerary for two exhilarating weeks in Peru.

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