8 Best One-Day Trips from Cusco
When traveling to Peru, chances are you will spend a couple of days in Cusco, a famous city from where travelers set off for exploring Machu Picchu or Sacred Valley. But there is much more. Here are the eight best one-day trips you can do from Cusco either independently or with a tour.
During our trip around South America, we spent two whole weeks in Cusco. Do you think it is too much? Well, maybe it is, but we knew the city high in the Peruvian mountains is one of the world top travel destinations, and we did not want to miss a thing.
Cusco itself is an enchanting city with many historical sights reminding us that once the city was the capital of the Inca Empire, but you can also find here local markets, where you can watch the authentic present life. But most of the best attractions lie outside the city limits, and you need time if you plan on visiting many of them not only because of the distance but mostly because of the altitude - for all the best one-day trips from Cusco, it is necessary to acclimatize first.
Cusco is the perfect jumping off point for the best one-day trips and hikes we've ever done, and now we completely understand why some travelers are able to build their Peru itinerary solely around this city.
Although the country has so many beautiful places to visit, Cusco and its surroundings has too much to offer to take it lightly.
Where else you can in a day see awe-inspiring Inca ruins including the most famous lost city in the world?
Where else you can within a few hours hike high in the mountains surrounded by snow-capped peaks which will take your breath away?
Where else you can admire the crystal clear lakes, and later that day return to a city where all the tourist infrastructure travelers look for is awaiting?
Cusco is one of the most heavily-visited cities in Peru which can be sometimes annoying (we talk about hundreds of people walking around Plaza de Armas in the exact same sweater), but it often brings the advantage that highlights around Cusco and all one-day trips are easily accessible.
There is probably not a place around Cusco you couldn't reach by either public transport independently or with a tour.
BEST ONE-DAY TRIPS FROM CUSCO
There are so many things to see and do around Cusco, that you would have needed at least a month to explore it all.
That's why we have created a list of the best one-day trips we've personally tried and tested.
Sights around Cusco offer a mixture of natural beauty and hard to believe architectural feats, so every type of traveler should be able to choose the activity according to his or her likings, explore the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and much more.
PISAC & PISAC RUINS
Pisac is a small town known for the everyday market, where you can buy mostly textile not only from people living in Pisac but also from the communities nearby.
The market is so famous for handmade clothes, handbags, backpacks that travelers from Cusco come here solely to shop. The disadvantage of traveling long-term is that we did not have any space left in our already heavy rucksacks, so we could only watch the beautifully-made handicrafts. We must warn you, though. The center of the village close to the market is becoming too touristy, and restaurants charge two or three times more than we think they should for the food served. To get a reasonably priced meal, head back to the main road where we found cheap eateries.
But the main reason to make this trip was for us visiting Pisac Ruins, one of our favorite archeological gems at the beginning of the Sacred Valley.
The Inca ruins lie atop a hill above Pisac Town not only at one place, but parts of those ruins are scattered over the hill. Because of the atop position, the principal purpose of Pisac Ruins was to protect Cusco from possible attacks.
We did not know what to expect from Pisac Ruins, but we wanted to do this one day-trip from Cusco primarily because of the acclimatization. There are two ways how to reach Pisac Ruins, but we recommend you the harder one - hike from Pisac town to the Incan fortress. It took us longer than traveling to the gate by car, but it was unmistakably more rewarding as we could see the less visited parts of ruins along the way.
You have three options on how to get to Pisac Ruins. You can either travel by private transport, take a tour, or travel independently by colectivo.
Private Transport | Honestly, we don't think it is worth it to pay five times or six times more for private transport, because minivans from Cusco to Pisac leave regularly, but on the other hand, you can plan your day as you wish.
Tour | The most popular way for most of the people how to visit Pisac Ruins and the town, is with a tour. Usually, Pisac Ruins is a part of an all-day tour around Sacred Valley, where you can see more attractions in only one day. You can join one of the best-rated tours from Cusco.
Colectivo | Traveling to Pisac town independently is easy. Take a colectivo from Puputi street for S/5. Vans leave when full from 7 AM, but you won't need to wait for long, because locals travel forth and back quite often. To get back to Cusco, catch a regular minivan on the main road intersecting Pisac. In case you don't want to hike to Pisac Ruins you will need to take a taxi from the town to the ruins which is a bit pricey - another point for hiking.
Entrance Fee | You need to purchase multi-day or only one-day boleto turistico.
Our Tip: Some people find the atmosphere so enticing and so different from Cusco, that they decide to stay in Pisac instead and visit Cusco or explore Sacred Valley from here.
If you think this might be your case, we've handpicked three best accommodations in Pisac for every budget.
When planning your trip to Peru, you've probably already heard about this one. Rainbow Mountain is a new shining star among all the one-day trips from Cusco. When walking the streets of Cusco, you might be soon overwhelmed, because the picture of Rainbow Mountain hangs on every single door.
But the message is clear.
You need to visit Rainbow Mountain.
Believe it or not, this attraction high in the remote part of the Peruvian mountains has been known only for the past couple of years, because the colorful mountain appeared when the snow covering it for centuries (if not longer) melted. When this happened, photos of Rainbow Mountain went viral, and travelers from all around the world took this place by storm. The success was so sudden that local people started to make living out of tourism instead of farming, and the site began to suffer from over-tourism.
We visited Rainbow Mountain as well, not to get the Instagram photo, but to see with own eyes what is all the fuss about, and can tell, that the seven colored mountain is worth visiting. We did a loop and combined Rainbow Mountain with Red Valley hike which we think was even more beautiful than the classic tour. When taking a tour to Rainbow Mountain, you should be well-acclimatize, and we mean it. The path leads high in the mountains, you'll be over 5000 meters above sea level to be precise, and altitude sickness is a real danger here.
Generally, there are only two ways how to reach Rainbow Mountain trailhead, because there is no public transport at the moment.
Taxi | If you are traveling in a group of four (or don't mind to splurge), it might be a good idea to book a taxi in Cusco at least one day in advance. The cost should be around S/300 with waiting. Do not forget that you still have to pay for food and entrance fees, but it gives you an advantage that you don't need to get up that early, and you can visit the Rainbow Mountain after the morning rush when all tours will be gone.
Tour | Large majority of travelers opt to visit Rainbow Mountain with a tour as we did. It usually includes early morning wake up, meals (breakfast and late lunch), guide and entrance fee. You can make a reservation for the classic well-rated tour. We opted for Rainbow Mountain & Red Valley tour which is at the moment not sold by that many companies, so you need to ask around Cusco and book it either directly, or try to shoot emails to the travel agencies.
Entrance Fee | When traveling with a tour, entrance fee should be already included (always ask!), when traveling by taxi, you need to pay ten soles.
Another must-do one day trip from Cusco is a hike to Humantay Lake.
The crystal clear breathtakingly blue-green lake lies more than 4000 meters above sea level, so prepare your lungs for some serious work. Humantay is a very picturesque lake high in the mountains where the fog and clouds roll almost constantly, so the experience is truly unique - you can never know what will you see here.
Peruvian Andes possess an uncountable number of mountainous lakes. We saw our share already in Huaraz when we hiked to Laguna Paron, Laguna 69 or Laguna Churup, but the hike to Humantay Lake has for sure its rightful place among them. The trek to the lake is not long you should be able to reach its shore in an hour or an hour and a half, but you will spend six hours in a van that day because the trailhead is three hours drive away from Cusco.
Hike to the gorgeous lagoon is also worthwhile acclimatization trip.
There are three ways how to get to Humantay Lake, but none of them include public transport (it would take too long without certainty you will get back to Cusco the same day). You can travel on own, with a tour, or you can have Humantay Lake in your Salkantay Trek itinerary.
Independently | If you prefer traveling on own, you still have two options. You can either rent a car (which is not very common) or book a private transport.
Salkantay Trek | This is how we visited Humantay Lake, and it was awesome. If you plan on hiking Salkantay Trek check if the hike to the lagoon is on the itinerary - it saves you time and money if you want to see both.
Tour | As the lake is quite far from Cusco tourists usually opt for the most convenient way how to get to Humantay Lake which is taking an organized tour. The tour starts early in the morning, and it includes entrance fee, guide, meals, and transport.
Entrance Fee | When traveling on own, you will have to pay ten soles entrance fee in Mollepata.
We learned how to pronounce the name Ollantaytambo correctly when we were already long gone from Peru, but if the word gives you a headache, you can use the shorter version Ollanta - this is also how locals call it.
Ollantaytambo is a picturesque small town with pretty narrow streets and small historical center, but this is not the main reason why the place is almost as touristy as Cusco. The first reason why is Ollantaytambo famous are the impressive ruins snaking up the hills on each side of the valley. They are surprisingly huge and hadn't it been for Machu Picchu, we believe Ollanta Ruins would have been much more appreciated.
We climbed more than 200 stone steps to the top of the ruins to get a better view, and here we could overlook the whole complex, and admire the incredible strength of Inca people who had to drag large stones manually from the other side of the valley.
The other reason why Ollantaytambo is so touristy is simple. You will find here a train station from where daily trains leave for Aguas Calientes, a small town without road access, from where you can visit Machu Picchu.
As you can see, Ollantaytambo is a place you can hardly miss, and thanks to its popularity, you have several options on how to get there.
Tour | The most of Sacred Valley tours have Ollantaytambo on the itinerary, so it is a great way how you can combine more attractions on one day. You can search for the best tours here.
Colectivo | Irregular colectivos leave Cusco when full every now and then you only need to wait in a small station from where minivans leave at the intersection of Calle Pavitos and Av. Grau. The ride takes approximately 2 hours, and you will pay ten soles per person.
Private transport | If traveling by public transport without a set schedule is not your thing, you can hire a private driver in Cusco, but be prepared to pay anything between 120 - 150 soles, depending on your negotiation skills and driver's mood.
Entrance Fee | Same as at Pisac Ruins, you need to buy one-day or multi-day boleto turistico.
Our Tip: Although busy, Ollantaytambo has a more relaxed feel than Cusco, and many people decide to stay here overnight before the train ride to Machu Picchu (even when traveling with the tour, drivers can drop you off here).
Here are the three best accommodation in Ollantaytambo for every budget.
MORAY & SALINAS DE MARAS
Moray was yet another Inca site we visited near Cusco, but it looked completely different than other ruins, and we soon found out why. When you arrive in Moray, you will immediately notice circular-shaped terraces carved into a natural depression in the ground. Although Inca people were a little behind when it comes to writing and reading, they were exceptional builders and farmers.
What we can see today in Moray is an agricultural laboratory.
Every terrace has its different microclimate, and thanks to it Incas were able to produce here thousands of varieties of corn, potatoes and even crop from completely different areas, for example from Amazon.
Moray site is near Salinas de Maras alias Salt mines of Maras, that's why those two places are often combined in one visit. Salinas de Maras is an incredibly photogenic site which also became insta-famous overnight. From June 2019, visitors cannot walk among thousands of cascading salt pools because of the pollution they cause, but you still can enjoy the astonishing view from the viewing platform.
When in Cusco, we tried to figure out how to get to Moray and Maras independently, but during the wet season it seemed that it would be too complicated (we would have to take an hour-long minivan drive from Cusco to the village of Maras for S/7 and from here a taxi for S/50 which might not have been there), so we opted for this tour.
We noticed it is quite popular to discover those two places on an ATV tour so you can check it out if you are a more adventurous soul.
Entrance Fee | Admission to Moray is included in boleto turistico, but to see the salt pools you need to pay ten soles extra.
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If your itinerary in Peru won't allow you more time for Machu Picchu, good news, you can still visit the mysterious Incan citadel on only one day trip from Cusco.
It requires a bit of planning and time management, but no worries, it is doable.
We've visited Machu Picchu twice, once when hiking Salkantay Trek and once when doing Inca Trail, but each time we could not believe how stunning the ruins are. No picture will ever prepare you for the feeling when standing in front of the ancient stone-built city surrounded by green hills often shrouded in fog and clouds.
There is no denying Machu Picchu is the top thing to see when in Peru, if not in the whole of South America.
If you want to visit Machu Picchu in one day, you can either book your train ticket from Cusco or Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, and entrance ticket for Machu Picchu on own (you need to buy those tickets separately), plus do not forget to book a bus ticket from Aguas Calientes to the gate in case you do not fancy hiking, or you can book a tour which includes everything.
SACSAYHUAMAN & Q’ENQO & PUKA PUKARA & TAMBOMACHAY
If you want to get out of Cusco and explore its surroundings, but don't want to go too far, there is a great option to visit four Incan fortresses nearby in only one day.
You can see all of them or choose only one - the best one out of these four are Sacsayhuaman Ruins.
This day will give you a great introduction to the ruins. If you are worried that you might get sick of ruins after some time, we don't think it is possible - we thought the same when exploring the Mayan pyramids in Mexico, but both the Incan and Mayan architecture was so fascinating that it just did not happen.
Sacsayhuaman is UNESCO-listed, but if you have a full day, take a taxi or a colectivo going to Pisac, and ask the driver to be dropped off at Tambomachay Ruins as they are on the top of the hill, and from here you can walk down and visit other ruins one by one, until you reach Sacsayhuaman from where you can easily get via stone steps to the city center of Cusco.
Entrance Fee | You need to buy one-day or multi-day boleto turistico.
A beautiful adobe church and a colorful market will tell you that you're near Chinchero Ruins.
The village of Chinchero and ruins overall are usually visited during Sacred Valley Tours from Cusco and are very often overlooked by independent travelers because public transport is unreliable here.
The ruins at Chinchero consist of a series of nested terraces which were built for farming and agricultural purposes and some of them are still in use until 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, a son of the famous Pachacutec used Chinchero, was way different as he kept it as sort of country resort: to relax and muster the strength to rule the Inca Empire. Well, we don't blame him as the settings of Chinchero couldn't be better.
When the weather is perfect (as was during our visit), you can see many high mountains around including one of the most significant one, Salkantay.
Chinchero is also a weaving village, so you can see here a demonstration how is the alpaca dyed, and you can even buy here some original products.
WHAT TO PACK FOR ONE-DAY TRIPS FROM CUSCO
Cusco city lies at a high altitude as well as other day-trips you can do from here, and when traveling outside, you should be ready for all weather conditions. Although dry season from May to October usually promises sunny days, it is also Peruvian winter, and it can be chilly, especially in the mountains. On the other hand, November to April is the rainy season, so you will need some protection for sure, but temperatures are higher.
Here are five essential things you should pack for one-day trips from Cusco.
Fleece Jacket for Him & for Her | Packing layers is a must-do when traveling outside Cusco for a day as you never know how the weather turns out, and even when its a hot day, the cold winds can blow up there.
Sunscreen | Sun is incredibly strong higher you go, do not forget a quality sunscreen. We used 50+ SPF, and it worked well.
SteriPen | It is not possible to drink tap water in Peru, so in order to keep your plastic waste to minimum, buy this useful travel gadget.
We've also written an in-depth South America packing list where you will find more useful tips and advice on what to pack.
WHERE TO STAY IN CUSCO
Cusco offers a large network of reasonably priced hotels in the historical part of the city, and you don't need to stay anywhere on the outskirt to save money when traveling on a budget. Cusco is a popular destination, especially during the dry season between May and October, so book your accommodation well in advance.
Budget | Cusco Bed and Breakfast - Spacious and clean rooms, comfortable beds, very quiet at night, excellent location.
Mid-range | Tierra Viva Cusco Centro - Providing a tranquil environment, beautiful rooms and also has one of the top-rated locations in Cusco.
Luxury | JW Marriott El Convento Cusco - The hotel features impressive interiors, has a charming colonial courtyard, luxury rooms and Cusco’s cathedral or main square are only 3 blocks away.
Alternatively, search for your accommodation via HotelsCombined.
HOW TO GET TO CUSCO
Cusco is Peruvian destination number one, and it does not matter from where you want to reach Cusco, you can be sure you'll get there. The most common way for backpackers how to get to Cusco is by bus - we took an uncountable number of night buses, and the quality and service were quite fine.
Cusco also has the airport, in case you are traveling to Peru only for two or three weeks and you need to travel around the country quickly and efficiently.
When looking for flight tickets you can search Skyscanner to find the best price.
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