Planning your Peruvian adventure and looking for the best day trips from Cusco? Through trial and error, a lot of time spent on buses and colectivos, and two trips to the Incan capital, we’ve put together our pick of the must-not-miss day trips from the city and the very best Cusco tours.
Until you visit Cusco, you might not realise that many of its most famous attractions lie outside the city limits; it’s for this reason that Cusco continues to be such a popular base for anyone travelling on the southern Peru route. In fact, during our second visit to South America we ended up spending eight nights in the city, but the vast majority of our days were actually spent exploring the surrounding region!
Majestic Incan ruins, rarely visited hiking routes, Instagram favourites, and wonderful insights into traditional communities are just some of the highlights that you can easily reach in just a couple of hours with public transport or a private tour from Cusco. The hardest part actually comes when deciding which ones to leave out of your Peru itinerary!
Based on our own experiences from two visits to the city, we have curated this list of the best days trips from Cusco to help you decide which is right for your own adventure, alongside the essential information and inspiration to help plan it.
The newest addition to day trips in Cusco, Rainbow Mountain didn’t actually exist until around 2015.
Okay, it existed, but it was hidden away under thick layers of ice. The rising temperatures from climate change took their toll however and the ice of centuries gave way to reveal one of the world’s most unique mountain ranges.
Owing a lot of its recent fame to its position as an ‘Instagram-sensation’, Rainbow Mountain is now struggling with the early signs of over-tourism, so please tread lightly should you choose to visit.
Do it Independently | It is not possible to visit Rainbow Mountain on your own (unless you have your own 4x4 vehicle which we’re guessing most of you won’t have in Peru).
Take a Tour | Leaving from Cusco between 2-4 a.m. (yep!), it’s a three hour ride to the entrance, then a hike of around two hours to the photogenic (but very crowded) summit. It’s absolutely cheaper to book your tour when you get to Cusco, but if you’re short on time in the city or prefer to have everything booked before you arrive, this full-day tour is highly recommended..
Entrance Fee | In addition to the tour fee, you will need to pay a 10 soles entry fee.
Did You Know | Until 2018, it was only possible to access Rainbow Mountain (called Siete Colores and Vinicunca in Spanish) via a difficult seven hour hike - a new road has opened it up beyond expectations, with 3,000 - 5,000 visitors per day in high season.
Easily accessible with a 45-minute colectivo (that’s a Peruvian minivan) from Cusco, Pisac offers up a photogenic little traditional town, the chance to visit one of Peru’s best Incan ruins, and a top-notch market for locals and tourists if you visit on a Sunday. Not bad for a day trip huh?
Do It Independently | Colectivos leave at least every hour from Cusco, and it’s an easy journey to do on your own. We’ve shared more information on how to get to Pisac from Cusco, and things to do there, in this post.
Take A Tour | Honestly, we really don’t recommend taking a tour to visit Pisac - it’s just too simple to do yourself. If however you’d like to combine a trip to Pisac with the Sacred Valley sites of Chinchero and Ollantaytambo (all sites within the same Boleto Turistico ticket) this tour is a great option.
Entrance Fee | There is no fee to enter the town or market, but in order to visit the ruins you will need to be in possession of a Partial Cusco Tourist Ticket Circuit III or a full ticket. For more information on the boleto turistico, and help deciding which version you will need for your visit, see our full guide.
Did You Know | The Pisac ruins are considered to be one of the finest remaining Incan ruins in the whole of Peru, but most people see only a very limited portion of them. In order to take it all in, you’ll need to hike up or back down - or like us, both ways!
Not only is it a spectacular hike, a day trip from Cusco to Lake Humantay will also serve as a fantastic acclimatisation opportunity if you plan on doing the Inca Trail hike or one of the other treks that lead to Machu Picchu.
Do It Independently | Now, we really really really tried to work out if this could be done on our own with public transport. As Humantay is actually a stop on the first day of the Salktantay Trek to MP, we imagined that transport links would be a doddle. However, as it’s at least a 3 hour bus ride to Mollepata (the village near the hike start point) and our research made it look like onward and return transport wasn’t a certainty, we opted against it. If you do find out that it’s possible to visit Humantay independently, let us know in the comments!
Take a Tour | Due to the above, a full-day tour (departing at 3 a.m.) to Humantay Lake is almost certainly the best option for Cusco day-trippers. The hike itself is only 7 kms, but there’s a 6-hour round trip by bus to / from the start point. This tour for around £30 per person has great reviews.
Entrance Fee | In addition to the tour cost, you will have to pay an entrance fee of 10 soles.
Did You Know | Humantay, like many of the attractions in and around Cusco, is at high altitude - 4,200 metres in fact! It is essential that you acclimatise properly before doing any hikes at altitude in Peru - find out more information about altitude sickness in South America.
Read Next | Our Favourite Things To Do In Cusco
For many, Ollantaytambo is simply a stop on the way to Machu Picchu, a place from which to jump on the train to Aguas Calientes and continue their Incan adventure.
And yet, this small ancient village, overlooked by two vast and imposing ruins is, in our opinion, more than worth a few hours of exploration - particularly once the early morning tourist masses have boarded that aforementioned train. Get lost in the narrow cobblestone streets, hike upwards for a spectacular viewpoint and absolutely explore some of the Sacred Valley’s most impressive Incan ruins.
Do It Independently | Colectivos leave from Pavitos Street in Cusco once full (around every 40 minutes). The journey takes approximately 1.5 hours and costs 15 soles.
Take a Tour | As with Pisac, if you only intend to visit Ollantaytambo (and don’t require a guide for the ruins), we’d really recommend sticking with public transport - it’s quick, easy and cheap. If you’re short on time however, we’d recommend combining your visit to Ollantaytambo with Chinchero and Pisac with this tour.
Entrance Fee | In order to enter the Ollantaytambo ruins, you will need to be in possession of a Partial Cusco Tourist Ticket Circuit III or a full ticket. To understand how it works, where to buy it, and the various ticket options, read our guide to the Cusco boleto turistico.
Did You Know | Ollantaytambo is home to some of the oldest, continually inhabited buildings in all of South America!
READ NEXT | EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE INCA TRAIL
Moray and Maras
Moray, an impressive Incan ruin used for agricultural and experimentation purposes; Maras, a still functioning (and highly photogenic) salt mine. One on the boleto turistico, the other requiring a separate admission fee.
You may be wondering why these two are so often combined as a day trip from Cusco. The simple answer? Geography - whether you choose to visit independently (like we did) or opt for an organised tour, these two are definitely a double act.
Do It Independently | We absolutely loved our experience of visiting Moray and Maras without a tour, but our stubborness to plump for more than one taxi meant that it involved A LOT of walking. It would take far too long to explain the various permutations of doing it independently here, which is why we’re hoping to have a thorough, but separate post, out soon. We promise.
Take a tour | If you’re looking for a nice, simple, half-day tour to Moray and Maras, this is the tour to go for. For those looking for a little more fun and excitement, consider this tour that involves time riding a quad bike through the Andes.
Entrance Fee | Entrance to the Moray ruins requires purchase of a Partial Cusco Tourist Ticket Circuit III or a full ticket. Entry to the Maras Salt Mines costs 10 soles per person.
Did You Know | The Incas did not have a written language. Instead they used the quipu or khipu, a coloured woolen cord with knots of different lengths to convey messages and signals as well as oral traditions. Their code has not been cracked and, alongside the absence of any written primary source, is a big reason why there remains so much mystery surrounding the civilisation and empire.
This was our wildcard daytrip from Cusco, and we are so delighted that we took a chance on it; this manageable one-day hike to a ruin that only 10-25 people visit a day turned out to be one of our favourite hikes in Peru.
Far less popular and famous than anything else on this list, the 21-mile exploration through beautiful rugged scenery will not disappoint those of you in search of an independent adventure.
Do It Independently | The day starts off with a colectivo, then a haggle over a taxi ride, followed by a long hike that passes through stunning scenery shared only with wild horses and llamas. Read more details about how to hike to Huchuy Cosqo here (coming soon, promise)
Take a Tour | We would strongly recommend visiting Huchuy Cosqo the independent way. Tours do exist, but they are either really quite expensive for what they offer, or take you up to the ruins via a hellish route that would remove much of the enjoyment. If you really do wish to book in advance, this tour follows the route that we took and remove the need to negotiate public transport.
Did You Know | There are plans to build a cable car to Huchuy Cosqo, which we’re absolutely gutted about. However, as with most cable car building plans in Peru, it’s likely that they will get delayed (and hopefully never happen) - if things change, then please do let us know.
So you’ve probably heard of this one before, right?
We have visited Machu Picchu twice, and wouldn’t consider a day trip as one of the best ways to reach and experience it (the Inca Trail is hands down the most magical way to enter it). However, we appreciate that a number of you will not have the luxury of time on your Peruvian adventure, and so a day trip from Cusco to this iconic site may be the only option.
Do it Independently | For an independent day trip to Machu Picchu, the only feasible option is to take the train from Cusco or Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes - from there it’s a 30 minutes bus journey up to the ruins. We will put together a post on this for ease, but until then you’ll find more information in our Machu Picchu guide.
Take a Tour | We don’t often recommend day tours when there is a feasible DIY option, but a day trip to Machu Picchu is definitely an exception to this rule. There are simply be too many steps in the process for anyone but a pro-planner or experienced traveller to feel confident about attempting, and doing it in a single day on your own Instead, consider booking this full-day trip to Machu Picchu, which includes a bilingual guide, return train journey, and citadel entry ticket.
Did You Know | The Inca Trail - the 4-day trek to Machu Picchu - is only open to 500 people per day, meaning that bookings sometimes have to be made up to six months in advance. Read this post for more information on hiking the Inca Trail and key information on how to book, pack, and prepare.