Cusco is the ideal starting point to explore the wonders of the Peruvian Andes because beyond Machu Picchu, the monuments, museums, plazas and tours of this ancient capital there is a wide range of natural sites and things to see and enjoy.
In this article, I present you the best excursions from Cusco, which include the impressive 7 lagoons of Ausangate, the fascinating circular terraces of Maras and Moray, and other experiences that will take your breath away. In addition, I leave you tips, recommendations with all the activities available in each place to make your trip an unforgettable experience.
1. Excursion to the Sacred Valley
During this excursion to the Sacred Valley of the Incas you will walk through the main sites of the valley, from the impressive terraces of Moray and the salt mines of Maras, the town of Chinchero to the city of Ollantaytambo. This adventure will take you through the history and culture of the ancient South American empire, from its heart, the Sacred Valley.
Itineraries vary from one operator to another, but commonly they usually head for your first stop at Moray, after a 90-minute drive from Cusco. A few steps from the entrance, terraces in the shape of an ancient amphitheater sit before your eyes. This is an agricultural research center that was vital to the Inca culture.
The next destination is equally exciting: the salt mines of Maras. This ancient salt-producing center, which dates back to pre-Inca times, is a visual spectacle. More than 3000 salt ponds dug into the mountainside are filled daily with a stream of water from a spring, creating a unique and fascinating landscape.
After leaving the Maras Salt Mines, the tour usually continues its course to Chinchero, a small Andean village located at more than 3000 meters above sea level where you will see a textile center specializing in alpaca wool. Finally, you arrive in Ollantaytambo, also known as "The Living Inca City". Its streets and portals and the Punku Punku or Llacta Punku amaze its visitors.
Details of interest
- Price: from 41 € per person.
- Duration: 6 - 12 hours.
- What you should know: in the Sacred Valley you have a range of activities available such as paragliding, climbing and zip-lining for additional supplements. If you feel like any of them in particular, I advise you to sign up directly to that or any other activity of your liking.
- What the tour may include: transportation service to and from your hotel. Expert guide service in your language. Quad bike rental. Zip line experience. Bottled water.
- Pros: This tour allows you to quickly see the main points of the Sacred Valley. It is functional for 3-day trips to Cusco.
- Cons: the exploration is superficial because the extension of the Sacred Valley is quite large, so that to enjoy all the available activities it is ideal to make a direct trip to two or three areas in each tour, as we will see in the following excursions of this list.
2. Excursion to Maras and Moray
If you are looking for a unique and exhilarating experience in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, don't miss the excursion to Maras and Moray! First, you will visit the picturesque village of Maras, where you can appreciate the colonial facades of the houses. But the most impressive of this place are the salt mines and its ancestral salt quarries.
An Inca legend weighs behind this place. However, the secret lies in a spring located in the Qaqawiñay mountain and the natural work of the sun. After learning all the properties and curiosities of the salt of Maras, a pampering for the body awaits you: a relaxing foot massage with mountain herbs and salts.
The tour then moves on to the Moray complex, where the impressive central circular archaeological center is located.
After the first excavations in Moray, archaeologists thought that this place was a set of amphitheaters. However, later investigations based on irrigation systems, site layout and shape, shed light on its true function, it was an agricultural experimentation center where each level offered a different climatic environment to grow different types of plants. It is fascinating! and the walk through the valley will prove it to you.
Details of interest
- Price: from 41 € per person.
- Duration: 6-8 hours.
- What you need to know: hiking level is medium.
- What the tour may include: lunch with typical Cusquenian food. Transportation service to and from your hotel. Professional guide service. Massage with salts. Folkloric show. Entrance to the archaeological center of Moray.
- Pros: It is a tour to get carried away by the benefits of the Sacred Valley of the ancient empire of Tahuantinsuyo. Usually small groups.
- Cons: It is adventure tourism, during the experience you will cross several trails to visit the bends of Maras and Moray. Although it is a comfortable walk, consider that you will be constantly active.
3. Machu Picchu Excursion
From the pick up at your hotel to the return, every moment of the Machu Picchu excursion from Cusco will be filled with excitement and amazement. The tour consists of three legs of round trip transportation, namely:
- First leg: bus transfer from your accommodation to the train station.
- Second leg: train ride to Aguas Calientes.
- Third leg: hike or bus transfer to this wonder of the world.
It is important to know that the train ride starts from two points. From Poroy it is a 30 minute trip, while from Ollantaytambo it is a 90 minute trip. The reason for the variation is mainly due to weather conditions. And if you feel like a luxury trip, you can choose to go up a level by booking a tour to Machu Picchu with the Vistadome 360° train, a first class panoramic train.
At Machu Picchu - the **Old Mountain -**an expert guide will take you to explore the main seat of the ancient Tahuantinsuyo Empire, the House of the Guardian, the Intiwat Pyramid, the qolqas, the complex of water mirrors, the Temple of the Condor, etc. This is a journey of resilience with something interesting to look at in every corner where the architecture and landscape evoke another world.
Details of interest
- Price: from 280 € per person.
- Duration: from 14 hours onwards.
- What you need to know: citizens over 18 years of age from the Andean Community -Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia- can enjoy a special discount on the cost of their train tickets, check with your operator when making your reservation. I recommend experiences of at least 2 days in Machu Picchu to thoroughly appreciate the 325.9 km² citadel. Choose among the various ways to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco with enough time to get to know it internally and its surroundings in Aguas Calientes where you find the Mandor Gardens, thermal baths, museums and more.
- What the tour may include: Round trip train ticket. Expert guide service. Transportation service to and from your hotel. Entrance to Machu Picchu.
- Pros: this is a tour with options for all tastes that invites adventurers to travel back in time in a dream destination.
- Cons: meals and drinks are not usually included. Groups can be large.
4. Excursion to the 7 lakes of Ausangate
Early in the morning, you will be picked up at your hotel to make your way through the Andean landscape for 3 hours with some stops that allow you to see the contrasts between the villages. The first stop is usually in Tinki, from where the Ausangate Circuit begins.
The tour continues to Pacchanta where a typical local breakfast awaits you. Afterwards, the trek begins through the Vilcanota mountain range, where you will discover the impressive landscape of the Mariposa, Jampa, Pucapunta, Tike and Ausangate peaks, one of the 10 highest mountains in Peru thanks to its 6385 meters of altitude.
Along the way, you will have the opportunity to see native animals such as llamas, alpacas, vizcachas and with a bit of luck the majestic Andean condor. But what will really leave you speechless, are the 7 turquoise lagoons that you will find along the way: Azul Cocha, Pucacocha, Sibinacocha, Otorongo, Alcacocha, Comercocha and a secret lagoon that will surprise you with its beautiful color.
After a well-deserved rest in the hot springs of Pacchanta and a traditional lunch in the beautiful community of Chilca -the guardians of Ausangate-, you return to the navel of the world. The experience is magical and if you visit the 7 lagoons of Ausangate in June, you can join the Corpus Christi festival with a mountain pilgrimage to the sanctuary of the Lord of Q'oyllur Riti.
Details of interest
- Price: from 110 € per person.
- Duration: 15 hours and up.
- What you need to know: this is a demanding challenge, if you are not an expert mountaineer I recommend other alternatives such as the Humantay Lagoon for those who want to discover magazine lakes.
- What the tour may include: transportation service to and from your hotel. Services of an expert mountaineering tour guide. Breakfast. Lunch. Hiking poles. First aid kit.
- Pros: Groups are often small, which personalizes the experience to a great extent. The scenery is beautiful.
- Cons: to get to the top of the mountain you have to hike 70 kilometers, as the one-day routes allow you to enjoy the atmosphere of the place up to the first 4 kilometers only. If you want to reach the summit, be prepared for the challenging 6-day trek suitable only for experts.
5. Excursion to the Humantay Lagoon from Cusco
The day will start early in the morning to go to the village of Mollepata, where a breakfast will charge you with energy. Then, continue the journey by road to Soraypampa, where you begin the ascent to the Humantay Lagoon.
During the two-hour hike, you will enjoy a unique landscape with the impetuous Salkantay and Humantay snow-capped peaks as a backdrop. At the top of the mountain awaits the spectacular blue lagoon surrounded by towering glaciers. All in all, it is a landscape that will not leave you indifferent.
After exploring and photographing the place, you begin the descent to Soraypampa camp, where you enjoy lunch. After lunch, you start your way back to Cusco in the excursion's transport.
Details of interest
- Price: from 45 € per person.
- Duration: from 10 hours.
- What you should know: at this site you can also rent horses and lighten the trotting ride. And if you want to experience the Humantay Lagoon in the best Cusco style, participate in the millenary ceremony in honor of the Pachamama that takes place in this place.
- What the tour may include: Private transportation service. Professional guide service. Breakfast. Lunch. Entrance fees for Salkantay and Humantay. First aid kit.
- Pros: The tour to the Humantay Lagoon is one of the best excursions from Cusco not only because of the enchanting scenery, but also because it is suitable for medium level mountaineers.
- Cons: The group can be large.
6. Excursion along the Ruta del Sol from Cusco to Puno
Departing early from the city, you will enjoy a bus ride along the widest section of the Andes, the southern corridor of the altiplano, for about 10 hours to follow the Ruta del Sol to Puno.
Along the way, you will stop at historically sacred towns such as Andahuaylillas and Raqchi, where you will visit temples such as the region's Sistine Chapel and the Temple of Wiracocha. In addition, you will be able to participate in pottery workshop demonstrations and various cultural activities. Afterwards you will have a traditional lunch in the town of Sicuani.
But that's not all, the route also includes passing through the Cordillera La Raya mountain range, home to one of the largest rock collections in the valley. This is the border line between Cusco and Puno, and from this point the panoramic views leave behind the mountains and valleys to move on to the altiplano, and the lagoons. An important fact is that if you want to buy some wool souvenirs this is the place, they offer the best quality and price!
Details of interest
- Price: from 35 € per person.
- Duration: 10 hours and up.
- What you need to know: this route is usually one way, that is, it starts in Cusco and ends in Puno, because locals use it to cross the border with Bolivia. This experience can also be combined with a tourist or luxury class train for a premium experience.
- What the tour may include: transportation service. Lunch. Professional guide service. Traditional drinks.
- Pros: it is an interesting way to visit southern Cusco and the borderline following the footsteps of the Inca empire.
- Cons: transportation back to your lodging is not usually included. Groups can be large
Tips and recommendations for excursions from Cusco
- Transportation service consider that the transportation included in the tours excludes private residences such as those offered by Airbnb or individuals. If that is your case, you may need to head to a central point such as Cusco's Plaza de Armas.
- The altitude may sound a bit repetitive, but Cusco, the heart of the Andes is located at more than 3,000 meters above sea level, so it is normal for tourists to experience what in Peru is known as "soroche", in other words, altitude sickness. Try to organize for your first day some of the best city tours so that your body adapts and from the second day onwards, go for the adventure!
- The schedules of the excursions seen that most of the tours from Cusco are a considerable distance, to make the most of the visits you will usually find a pick up time between 04:30 and 05:00 hours.
- The pictures of the Cusqueños, many of them wear their traditional clothes, very colorful and colorful. This is exotic and we want - myself included - to take improvised photographs of them, however, for them it is uncomfortable. If you ask their permission they will most likely happily agree to pose for your camera. A small gesture makes all the difference.
What should I pack for the excursions from Cusco?
Hiking activities are mostly medium-high level, it is best to be prepared.
Sunglasses, insect repellent, light clothing, sunscreen, cap or hat and poncho, especially if you go in the rainy season between the months of December and March. Finally, good hiking shoes.