Cusco is the capital of Peru and a great jumping-off point for seeing many of the country’s sights. So I’m rounding up the best day trips from Cusco for you!
One of these, of course, is Machu Picchu—a veritable gem of South America and a World Wonder. Seeing these Incan ruins on a tour is a must when you are in Cusco.
However, there’s a whole load of other Cusco day trips you can take from the capital—from a full day tour exploring parts of the Inca Trail to one day on a Sacred Valley tour. There are plenty of options!
To give you some travel inspo and help you dream of far-off places, I’m going to run through some of the best day trips from Cusco.
The Best Day Trips from Cusco
If you’re in Cusco and you want to get outta the city on a trip for the day, Sacred Valley is a great option!
About 20 kilometers north of Cusco, this lush, fertile valley—running along the Urubamba River—is filled with tons of cool places to visit.
If you’re visiting the Sacred Valley, I cannot recommend enough booking a trek with the Llama Pack Project. They are an incredible nonprofit that works with the local Quechua people to help them sustainably breed llamas and use their wool for textiles, to help lift them and their community out of poverty. They also organize treks with people in the Andean communities and tourists, so by booking a trek with them we were able to go on a hike with the indigenous Quechua people and their llamas. This was honestly one of my favorite travel experiences EVER. Seriously, book a hike with them, it will be one of the coolest things you’ll do.
In addition to hiking, there’s a vibrant market in Pisac, an Inca cemetery, a temple complex and Pisac ruins to explore here.
At the other end of the mountain valley is Ollantaytambo, a town with still more archaeological significance. There’s a beautiful view of the valley from the top of Temple Hill.
Nearby, you can round your day off with some beers at Cerveceria del Valle, a brewpub where you can try some Peruvian artisanal beverages (with snacks, too, of course).
The UNESCO World Heritage Site that is Machu Picchu is the best of any day trips from Cusco you could ever take. It will take you a full day with a very early morning wakeup call in order to pull off a day trip exploring the ancient Incan ruins. But it’s absolutely worth it!
Part of the Inca Trail, Machu Picchu is often the main reason people even head to high altitude Cusco in the first place. It’s a bucket list destination. Being here and wondering how they built it in the first place, the Indiana Jones (or Tomb Raider) vibes, and the awesome views make it super worth it.
To get even more time there, people typically stay over at Aguas Calientes—the “gateway” to Machu Picchu—which is busy with shops, eateries and craft markets. It’s also famous for its hot springs, perfect for aching feet after a hike!
If hiking is your thing, there’s also the amazing Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu that you can embark on, but you will need some spare time to do the trek as it takes several days to complete.
Even if you’ve got the boleto turistico, you’ll still need to pay an entrance fee to Machu Picchu in advance. (Hiring a tour guide to visit is compulsory unless you’re already part of a tour). Be sure to check out my post: The Ultimate Machu Picchu Guide for all the deets on how to get there and which tour group to book.
Rainbow Mountain is perfect Instagram fodder; in fact, you’ve probably seen photos of it all over the internet. If you haven’t, well, the name speaks for itself: it’s a multicolored mountain with stripes of different minerals making it into a marvel.
Also called Montaña de Siete Colores (“Mountain of Seven Colors”) in Spanish—and also known as Vinicuna—it sits at an impressive 5,200 meters above sea level.
Getting there on a day trip from Cusco means driving three hours through a valley. Tours leave the capital at around 5 am!
Involving a bus ride from the city, it’s an early morning departure, but leaving early means you get more time to soak up the beauty of the mountain (and fewer crowds)—plus you can spend more time hiking around.
A top tip: check the weather forecast before you head out for the day. Rain and clouds affect the colors and can make the mountain a lot less impressive. Dry days are best!
Around a three and a half-hour drive from Cusco, Humantay Lake is a mountain lake that’s pretty much stunning, in a word.
High up in the Vilcabamba mountain range, at an altitude of 4,200 meters above sea level, the gleaming turquoise surface of the lake is enough to attract anybody who wants to get into nature.
Close to the Inca Trail, Humantay Lake really shows off the rich natural beauty of Peru!
Not only beautiful, but the lake is also a sacred spot. People leave offerings to the Incan goddess Pachamama—basically “Mother Earth”—in the form of piles of stones.
A day trip from Cusco to Humantay Lake does take time, however. That’s partly because you can only reach it by hiking, after a few hours’ drive from the capital city.
The first port of call after leaving the city is the village of Soraypampa. After this, it’s a steep hour and a half hike to reach the lake; it’s cool because it suddenly appears in the landscape.
Make sure you’ve got hiking boots and appropriate clothing…go prepared! It is super pretty though.
Salineras de Maras
Salineras de Maras—or the Maras Salt Mines—date back to Incan times, and is all about its salt pools. A day trip here from Cusco is a must.
Located 40 kilometers north of Cusco—an hour’s travel time by car—in the Sacred Valley, the Salineras de Maras is filled with thousands of pools that have been dug into the land for salt evaporation. They’ve been in use for hundreds of years.
The sight of these pools of white is breathtaking, almost like a gleaming white version of rice paddy fields in Southeast Asia.
While some are owned by local families, others are not in use anymore. Either way, hiring a guide when you’re here will tell you all about these unique salt mines and give you an insight into the history of this fascinating landscape.
There you have it people—some of the best day trips you can take from Cusco.
There’s so much more to Peru than Machu Picchu—even though Machu Picchu IS incredible! There are stunning mountains (some of them are multicolored!) and gorgeous lakes to see, Incan villages, and ancient civilization to learn about.
If you ever get to Cusco, tag me in your Insta stories or pics. I want to see what amazing places you end up in!
Planning a trip to Cusco? Be sure to check out my other Cusco content here.
The best months to travel to Machu Picchu are March through May or September through early November since the weather will be at its best.
You can typically see all of Machu Picchu in four to five hours. If you really want to explore and appreciate it, you should spend at least one or two days.
Cusco is overall not a dangerous place to travel to, however, you should be aware of your surroundings since thefts can occur.
Elise Armitage is an entrepreneur and founder of What The Fab, a travel + lifestyle blog based in California. At the beginning of 2019, Elise left her corporate job at Google to chase her dreams: being an entrepreneur and helping women find fabulous in the everyday. Since then, she’s launched her SEO course Six-Figure SEO, where she teaches bloggers how to create a passive revenue stream from their website using SEO. Featured in publications like Forbes, Elle, HerMoney, and Real Simple, Elise is a firm believer that you can be of both substance and style.