This article gives you some ideas of what to see in the region of Cusco, either on your own, with agencies, or using rented transport. If you are interested in reading more on Cusco city as such, please see the article HERE.
One Day Trips on Your Own
The top trip you want to take on your own is the one to Machu Picchu. You can also take the trip from Pisac. To learn more about this adventure – including the treks and trails available – see HERE.
Take a trip to Pisac, Urubamba or Ollantaytambo. Each one can be visited simply by taking a colectivo from Cusco. To learn more about Pisac and what to do around, see HERE.
From Cuzco, you can also go to the ruins of Huchuy Qosco. Take a colectivo to Laguna Piuray but say you wish to go to Huchuy Qosco. The driver will drop you off on a dirt road in a small town, from where you can grab a tuk tuk for a few soles to the Camino Inca Huchuy Qosqo (about twenty minutes away). The full-day hike leads along the Imperial Inca Trail.
The trek begins with a meandering walk uphill, from where you can see the remains of Inca terraces and aqueducts, the surrounding cliffs and lakes. A steep but short finish will take you across the mountain pass to the top. For your two hours of effort, you will be rewarded with amazing views of the mountains and glaciers. Continue along the road and you will soon begin to descend into the valley, where the ruins of Huchuy Qosqo lie. On your pilgrimage, you will come across condors, giant hummingbirds and maybe even some beasts. For 22 soles you can not only get inside the complex, but you can also spend the night here for free if you like camping.
An unpleasant part of this trek is the descent to the city of Lamay. You descend (for over an hour) from a really steep height. The path is extremely dusty, rocky and slippery. Once you descend, turn right to reach the bridge. When you cross it, you will find yourself at a bus stop.
A faster but not so scenic alternative is to go to Lamay from Pisac (by a colectivo), and then go to the ruins from Lamay and back the same way.
One Day Trips Recommended as Tours
The Maras salt mines and the Moray terraces are two famous places close to each other, which can be reached by a colectivo to Urubamba and then a taxi to the town of Maras but if you want to save time (from the town of Maras it is a one-hour walk to Moray and almost two hours to the salt mines of Maras) and money, paradoxically, the cheapest will be to take a tour there. The tours charge 30 or 35 soles for transport to both locations to and from Cusco, including the guide, and the van takes you all the way to both places.
To enter Moray you need at least a Partial Boleto Turistico (see the article HERE); the entrance to Maras is separate, worth 10 soles.
The mysterious agricultural terraces in Moray are visually stunning. The archaeological site looks like a large bowl made of concentric terraces. The largest of these descend to a depth of about 150 meters, which leads to a circular bottom so well drained that it never completely disappears, no matter how rich the rain. The concentric terraces are divided by several stairs; however, visitors are no longer allowed to walk from the top to the bottom of the bowl.
The salt pools in Maras built by the Incas are still used today and are a beautiful feast for the eyes as countless salt terraces are reflected in the steep mountain massif. The underground spring which forms lakes in the rock massif of 4 to 10 square meters (approximately 10 to 30 centimeters deep) carries minerals and salt, which is still harvested by the locals. The salt is collected by hand, no modern technology is used, so the sight of the modest little figures of the locals in the fleshy terraces surrounded by white crusts like cocktail glasses with sugar is truly an experience.
HERE for Humantay and HERE for the Rainbow Mountain.
One Day Trips which Require Transport Rental
There are some amazing locations near Cusco for which I would recommend you to align with other travelers in order to share the expenses for transport rentals. You can rent a car for 3 to 4 people for a day, including the driver, for approximately 250 – 350 soles, to any of the locations below. If in need of a help arranging the transport rental, please contact this amazing guide: Patricia Escalante (+51 984 384 852) or her agency pataperutravel.com. She is fair in her acting and in charging, extremely reliable and responsible, and speaks perfect Spanish, English and Quechua.
1. Choquequirao Archeological Park: More than three hours away by car from Cusco, this “Sister of Machu Picchu” as they call it, remote, spectacular, and still not entirely cleared, is a breathtaking site to see at the junction of three rivers. There are also buses going to the place, which take almost four hours and cost about 18 USD. If you prefer to take a hike there, prepare yourself for a challenging four-day trail required to get there and back.
2. Queswachaca Bridge: Three and a half hours and about 160 km away from Cusco, you find the beautiful hand-made rope bridge located on the Apurimac River in the province of Canas. It is in fact Peru´s last woven Inca bridge. Even though there is a modern bridge nearby, the residents of the region keep the ancient tradition and skills alive by renewing the bridge annually, in June, to honor their ancestors and the Pachamama. The event has also been supported by video productions for Nova and the BBC and is the subject of an independent documentary titled The Last Bridge Master (2014). It is becoming a tourist attraction, with some small tolls charged for tourists to use the road during the festival to walk the newly completed bridge. In 2009, the government recognized the bridge and its maintenance as part of the cultural heritage of Peru, and there is now some outside sponsorship. Due to a lack of maintenance during the pandemic in 2020 and early 2021 the bridge collapsed in March 2021. In the following weeks the bridge was fully rebuilt.
3. Chonta Mirador de Cóndores: Two hours away by car from Cusco and you are in the middle of a magnificent landscape, 3400 meters above sea level. The route is along an unpaved road, the trip is pure ascent until the entrance of the viewpoint where one can find hygienic services as well as a place to enjoy some snacks. For foreign tourists the entrance is 30 soles per person, for national tourists only 10 soles per person. Except for the condors, you can see the Salkantay Mountain from afar. Do bring binoculars and remain patient and quiet during the observation time (best around 4 pm). Enjoy the beautiful sunset in the location and head down using flashlights.
4. Mirador de Tres Cruces: You want to be in this marvelous places before the sunrise, so make sure to head out of Cusco around 1:30 am latest. You need 3 to 4 hours (141 km) in the car. The viewpoint is located in the Paucartambo province, at the entrance to the Manú National Park, at an elevation of 3.641m above the sea level. The road to the summit is gravel, narrow and steep. The most recommended season to visit this place is between the months of May and July, especially on full moon nights and on dates close to the Virgen del Carmen festivities (celebrated from July 15 to 18). The viewpoint is visited mostly to observe the stunning sun rise on the horizon while the natural phenomenon called “white light ray” occurs (when light passes through the humid atmosphere and is distorted as if it were passing through a prism). The effect that emerges is that of three suns, one of which jumps from one side to the other. This occurs during the winter solstice dawns between the months of June and July, during the dry season.
Here is a video capturing some details from the trips you can go to from Cusco.