The former capital of the mighty Inca Empire, Peru’s city of Cusco is a fabulous base from which to explore fascinating archeological and historical sites, as well as enjoy time in nature.
The UNESCO World Heritage City boasts striking colonial-era architecture, including stunning churches and squares, and it’s common to see the indigenous residents strolling through the streets clad in traditional attire.
A major tourist destination, Cusco has plenty of accommodations to suit varying budgets, restaurants serving traditional cuisine and global favorites, and lively bars to kick back in after dark.
Although the city has much to be proud of, many of the area’s delights can be found beyond the city limits.
Here are some of the best day trips to take from Cusco for a fabulous Peruvian adventure to remember.
1. Machu Picchu
Perhaps Peru’s ultimate destination, a visit to the Lost City of the Incas is a must when exploring the South American nation.
While many people opt to arrive at the mystical site after a multi-day hike along the Inca Trail, a day trip from Cusco is ideal if time is limited or you just don’t want to include hiking in your holiday.
Make your way to Aguas Calientes, the main gateway to the incredible Incan site, before marveling at the expansive ruins and sweeping vistas.
Thought to have been built in the mid-1400s, Machu Picchu is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site and commonly said to be one of the world’s new seven wonders.
Walk along the terraces, peering into reconstructed buildings and captivating nooks; admire the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Three Windows; ponder whether the Temple of the Condor was originally used as a torture chamber; and see the Intihuatana stone – an ancient sundial.
You can also walk up to the Sun Gate for terrific views across the ruins.
Recommended tour: Day Trip to Machu Picchu by Train from Cusco
Sacsayhuaman is another impressive Incan legacy close to Cusco.
Steeped in history, it is believed that the site was first developed before the arrival of the Incas in the 1100’s and then later expanded and fortified during the Inca Empire.
The UNESCO-listed treasure is perched high on a hilltop, providing great views over the surroundings.
See the sacred spring at Tambomachay and explore the stone labyrinth of Qenqo, both close to Sacsayhuaman archaeological site, before strolling through ancient temple remains, old storage areas, and the ruins of homes.
Suggested tour: Archaeological Park of Sacsayhuaman
3. Huchuy Qosqo
Spend a day hiking to the well-preserved Huchuy Qosqo (Little Cusco) to enjoy historic sites, nature, views, and interactions with locals.
Leading through several passes, there are plenty of breathtaking vistas throughout the valley to admire.
The scenic Queullacocha Lake and the grasslands offer even more natural beauty, and there are many species of bird to spot.
The archaeological site of Huchuy Qosqo is thought to date back to the 1420’s, though evidence suggests that the area was inhabited for a long time prior to the development of the remains you see today.
There’s a mixture of stone and adobe structures, with impressive terraces, reconstructed storage buildings, a long great hall, religious buildings, a stretching irrigation channel, and more.
4. Rainbow Mountain
One of the most unique natural marvels in the wider Cusco area, Rainbow Mountain is truly a sight for sore eyes.
Known locally as Vinicunca, locals revere the mountain, seeing it as sacred.
Spiritual rituals and worship have taken place here since before the Incan era, and people still come to the striking mountain to pray, give thanks, and leave offerings.
Colorful layers, formed by mineral deposits, make for an unusual sight, with hues of red, brown, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple.
Soak up the splendid views of the nearby snow-capped peaks, the Ausangate Glacier, and the verdant valley too.
The drive from Cusco to the trailhead takes around three hours, followed by a challenging trek.
Available tour: Rainbow Mountain Trek from Cusco
5. Humantay Lake
A spectacular vision in the Peruvian Andes, a trip to Humantay Lake is not one that you will easily forget.
Formed when glaciers melted many centuries ago, the sparkling, calm, turquoise waters reflect the surrounding snow-capped mountaintops like a mirror.
Look for small, precariously balancing stone towers constructed around the lake to worship the Incan earth god.
You’re also likely to spot an array of interesting flora and fauna.
Horse riding is available around the lake or you can enjoy splendid hiking.
It’s a fabulous destination for fans of photography and the great outdoors.
Amazing tour: From Cusco: Humantay Lake 1-Day Trek
Chonta is a small Andean community to the west of Cusco.
As well as being able to see how local people live in the village and admiring stunning views that encompass Salkantay Mountain, spotting wildlife is a highlight of this trip.
Look out for Andean foxes, deer, cougars, and majestic birds of prey such as hawks and eagles.
Seeing the mighty condor – the world’s largest bird of prey – soaring through the skies is nothing short of remarkable.
Make sure to have your camera at the ready.
7. Southern Valley
Cusco’s Southern Valley is a mysterious and intriguing place, brimming with ancient Incan (and pre-Incan) ruins, legends of old, and nature.
A major place of interest in the scenic valley is San Pedro Apóstol de Andahuaylillas Church, its simple white-washed façade belying the Baroque beauty that lies inside; the exquisitely painted ceilings, sparkling golden altar, and stunning frescoes have earned the church the nickname of the Sistine Chapel of the Andes.
The gorgeous church combines indigenous, Spanish, and Moorish designs.
The pre-Incan citadel of Piqillacta is another fascinating site, as is the Temple of Timpon with its elaborate irrigation system that was incredibly advanced for its time.
Add a thrill to your day with a rafting adventure along the raging rivers.
8. Anta Valley
The attractive Anta Valley can be found just 45 minutes from the heart of Cusco.
There are pretty villages, such as Zurite and Ancachuro, throughout the valley, and you’ll be able to explore huge terraces used for farming and the sacred Incan ruins of Quillarumiyoq.
An ATV adventure through the scenic terrain offers an exhilarating way to sightsee and have fun while admiring the natural beauty all around.
Discover lands that were socially important to the Incas and breathe in the history and fresh air.
Situated just on the outskirts of Cusco, Salumpunko (also known as the Temple of the Moon) is easy to reach on a day trip.
Despite its proximity, the Incan site sees fewer visitors than other more well-known sites in the area.
This means that those who do take a trip here can escape the crowds and enjoy the site in relative tranquility, adding another dimension to fascinating explorations.
You can really feel as though you’ve stepped a little away from the beaten track as you wonder at the atmospheric ruins and splendid views.
Two caves lead into the hillside, each with interesting carvings and ritualistic altars.
Cracks in the walls allow the moonlight to hit the altars when the conditions are right, and the overall aura is one of suspense, intrigue, and secrets from the past.
Horse riding is possible in the surroundings for a varied day out.
10. Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley is a popular destination in Peru’s Cusco area, and a day trip is sure to be filled with many magical moments.
There are numerous monuments to admire and you’ll pass through a number of towns and villages, each with their own unique flavor.
The verdant Urubamba Valley is given life by the gushing Urubamba River, home to native wildlife.
Another highlight of the valley is Pisac with its bustling traditional market.
Browse an array of handicrafts and souvenirs and have light-hearted fun as you barter with vendors to secure the fairest prices for all.
Various activities are available in the locale, including rafting, hiking, exciting quad biking, and thrilling zip line adventures.
Recommended tour: From Cusco: Sacred Valley and Moray Ruins by Quad Bike
The town of Maras lies around 26 miles outside of Cusco, within the wider Sacred Valley area.
There’s a Catholic church – El Templo Mayor San Francisco de Asis – a local market, and a handful of eateries where you can savor traditional Peruvian cuisine.
The town’s real gem, however, are the stunning salt pools.
Arranged in geometric formations that are terraced down the slopes of a yawning canyon, a stream flows through the shallow pools, evaporating to leave salty deposits behind that sparkle in the sunshine.
The area provided Incans with salt, and still provides locals with the mineral today; harvesting processes are almost exactly the same as they were in times gone by, and you may see local families scraping the ground to gather the salt for sale.
Combo tour: Maras and Moray 6-Hour Tour from Cusco
12. Moray Archaeological Site
Situated close to Maras, the archaeological site of Moray sits on a soaring plateau above the town.
The ruins here are rather unlike those found elsewhere in the area, with circular-shaped indentations on the terraces.
Some holes are very deep, reaching down into the earth for up to almost 100 feet.
A mystery remains as to why these holes were created and several theories have been put forward.
The site has irrigation channels and – although the people of today are often baffled by the unique site – it was clearly important for the Incans.
Located in the Sacred Valley, the town of Pisac is worthy of a trip in its own right.
Boasting one of the area’s most vibrant markets, you’ll find fresh produce, household essentials, handicrafts, clothes, souvenirs, and more.
The colonial village sits beneath a hilltop Incan fortress, with an ancient sundial, temple remains, plazas, foundations, and terraces.
There are several places where old and young alike can delight in getting up close and personal with alpacas and other creatures.
Examples include Awana Kancha and the Living Museum of the Andes.
From hiking past pristine mountain lakes to relaxing yoga workshops, there are many activities to try too.
Chinchero is a picture-perfect Andean village.
Surrounded by towering mountains, a visit offers insights into rural Peruvian life.
Take a stroll through the local market to view a terrific selection of locally-made handicrafts; woven items are especially abundant.
Visit the Interpretation Center of Andean Textiles to learn more about the weaving processes and its importance here in Chinchero, the heart of the Peruvian weaving industry.
There’s a charming church next to the main square, with a blend of colonial and native designs.
Constructed by the Spanish, the religious building sits on the site of a much older Incan palace.
The village is thought to have once served as a country retreat for Incan rulers, and ruins include stone walls, agricultural terraces, aqueducts, and an ornate stone throne.
Around a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Cusco, Lares is an ideal place to rest, recharge, and re-energize after long days of hiking and exploring Cusco and its surroundings.
Visitors can soothe their mind, body, and soul with a blissful soak in an ancient natural thermal spa built by the Incans.
The mineral-rich waters aid with a number of conditions, the ambiance is serene, and the views are spectacular.
There are many peaks close to hand too if you fancy even more trekking.