Formerly the capital of the Incan Empire, Cusco is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in Peru, and it offers easy access to many of the country's top tourist destinations. Few people who come here will miss the chance to see Machu Picchu, but there are plenty of lesser known archaeological sites to explore as well, including Sacsayhuaman and Moray. Once you've had your fill of history, you can visit a lively Sunday market, relax in therapeutic hot springs that flow down from the Andes mountains, or go for a hike up the striking Rainbow Mountain.
Boasting some of the most picturesque landscapes around Cusco, the Anta Valley is dotted with charming villages and fascinating archaeological sites. A major highlight of the valley is the Quillarumiyoq archaeological complex, which was formerly an important site of worship to the moon, but other points of interest include the Incan terraces and a eucalyptus forest. The valley is only 45 minutes outside of Cusco, and once you're here, one of the most popular ways to get around is by taking an ATV tour, which can easily be arranged with one of the many local tour operators.
Sitting on a windswept plain at an altitude of more than 12,000 feet, Chinchero is a traditional Andean village best known for its rich tradition of weaving and its lively Sunday market. The best time to come is on Sunday, when you can admire the mountains of produce at the market and perhaps purchase some textiles to take home, but it's worth coming during the rest of the week as well. Many of the local workshops offer weaving demonstrations, and you can also spend some time exploring the town's historic district, which features a massive stone wall and an old colonial church.
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Home to dozens of majestic Andean condors, Chonta Canyon is one of the most unique places you can visit on a day trip from Cusco. The canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the U.S., and it's located just outside the Andean community of Chonta. The best way to enjoy the area's incredible beauty is to hike from Chonta to a viewpoint overlooking the canyon, where you can relax and watch the condors soaring through their natural habitat. Most tours that operate out of Cusco include a picnic lunch for you to enjoy at the viewpoint.
Constructed as a royal estate for an Incan emperor in the early 1400s, Huchuy Qosqo is a stunning archaeological ruin that showcases the Incan's ingenuity and engineering skills. The name translates into English as "Little Cusco", and the site makes a wonderful alternative for visitors who want to avoid the lines and the crowds at Machu Picchu. The typical one-day hike to get here begins in the town of Lamay and follows a 7.5-mile portion of the original Inca Trail, and although most visitors choose to take a guide, it's possible for experienced hikers to do the route on their own.
Known for its spectacularly blue waters and its cultural significance as a sacred place for the Incans, Humantay Lake is a magical lake that can only be reached on foot. The trail is moderately difficult, but because of its high altitude, even hikers with a high level of fitness should give themselves two or three days to acclimatize in Cusco before attempting the trek. The snow-covered mountains that surround the lake make for some truly excellent photo opportunities, and aside from simply admiring the views, you can go for a swim or honor the Incan tradition of leaving a small offering for Pachamama (Mother Earth).
6.Lares Hot Springs
Nestled in the beautiful Lares Valley, the Lares Hot Springs are filled with naturally mineral-rich water that flows down from the Andean mountains, and they're a wonderful place to go if you simply want to spend the day relaxing. The therapeutic waters are said to help with rheumatic disorders and other ailments, and there are four pools of varying temperatures to soak in, with the hottest pool being 105 degrees Fahrenheit. There are plenty of lounge chairs to relax on while you're not in the water, and if you get hungry, there are several small food stands.
As one of the seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu is a place that's on many travelers' bucket lists, and it certainly lives up to its big reputation. The train ride between Cusco and the Machu Picchu town is an adventure in and of itself, and once you arrive, you can explore the mystical ruins on your own or with a guide. There are two optional hiking areas within the ruins that require separate tickets, and if you have more time, you can also get to the ruins by taking a multi-day hike through the mountains.
Located in the Sacred Valley, Maras is a small town home to thousands of ancient salt pans that have been used to produce salt since before the time of the Incas. Each of the salt pans is owned and operated by a different local family, and there are plenty of small stalls where visitors can purchase salt and salt-containing products. As of June 2019, visitors are no longer permitted into the crystallization pond area, but you can still see the pans from a viewpoint and learn about the salt mining process from a local guide.
Set on top of a high plateau just outside the village of Maras, Moray is a mysterious Incan ruin that consists of a series of terraced rings. Experts aren't quite sure what the ruins were used for, but it's believed that they were part of a unique agricultural experiment; many of the terraces contain soil that was imported from other regions, and the temperature at the top of the structure varies dramatically from the temperature at the bottom, suggesting that each terrace was designed to represent the agricultural conditions in a different part of the country.
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Also known as Ollanta, Ollantaytambo is a charming Incan town that has been continuously inhabited since the 1200s. It's an excellent example of Incan city planning, and many visitors enjoy simply strolling through the streets and imagining how they might have looked hundreds of years ago. However, the main attraction is the terraced Incan fortress that looms over the western edge of the village, which ambitious visitors can climb to reach an ornate temple complex. Adrenaline junkies can also climb up to the granaries that cling to the mountainside, and if you want an easier walk, you can stroll to the Inca Bridge outside town.
Pisac is one of the better-known tourist towns in the Sacred Valley, but its popularity has only added to its charm, and it attracts everyone from New Age spiritual seekers to run-of-the-mill tourists who simply want to gawk at the spectacular Sunday market. More than half the city's streets are covered with vendors on market day, but handicrafts and textiles can be purchased here no matter what the day of the week. Visitors can also hike up to the ruins behind the town, which are believed to date back to the beginning of the 15th century.
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Situated just on the outskirts of Cusco, Sacsayhuaman is an incredible temple complex that makes for an easy day trip from the city. It takes approximately half an hour to get here on foot from the city center, but you can take a taxi if you'd rather save your energy for walking around the ruins, which can take several hours to explore. It's worth getting a guide if you want to learn about the history of the complex and the significance of the structures, but it's a beautiful site even without explanation, particularly with the sweeping views of Cusco in the background.
Cusco 08002, Peru
Known in English as the Temple of the Moon, Salumpunko is an ancient and mysterious structure that doesn't get nearly as many visitors as many other archaeological sites in the area, but it's well worth going out of your way to pay it a visit. The site consists primarily of two caves carved into the hillside, both of which are decorated with unique carvings and ritualistic altars that are positioned so that the moonlight hits them on certain nights. Entrance to the caves is free, and you can easily get here by taxi or even on foot if you have the whole day.
If you want to see some of the most unique and little-known archaeological sites in Peru, there are few better ways to do so than to take a tour of the Southern Valley. Depending on which tour you take, you'll visit sites from colonial times, Incan times, and even some that predate the Incan empire, but typical highlights include the Tipon water temple, the pre-Incan town of Pikillacta, and the baroque temple of Andahuaylillas. Many of the tours also include food, so you'll have the chance to try unique local dishes like guinea pig and a sweet anise bread known as pan chuta.
15.The Sacred Valley of the Incas
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Stretching for more than 35 miles through some of Peru's most fertile farmland, the Sacred Valley of the Incas was one of the most significant parts of the Incan empire, and it's now one of the country's most popular tourist destinations. You could easily spend a week or more exploring the many sights the valley has to offer, but if you only have enough time for a whirlwind tour, highlights include the stone terraces in Ollantaytambo, the salt mines at Maras, and the Pisac Sunday market. If you want an adrenaline rush, you can also go paragliding, bungee jumping, or white-water rafting.
16.Vinicunca, the Rainbow Mountain
Hidden away in the heart of the Peruvian Andes, Vinicunca, the Rainbow Mountain was only discovered in 2015, but it quickly became one of the country's most popular tourist attractions. Its multi-colored stripes are truly wondrous to behold, particularly on sunny days, but it's best to join a tour or hire a guide; the hike to the summit only takes a couple hours, but the high altitude can cause problem for even the fittest hikers. Horse rides are available up and down the mountain for a fee, and adrenaline seekers can also rent mountain bikes.
Cordillera Vilcanota, Cercado de Lima 08225, Peru, Phone: +51-934-34-36-96
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16 Best Day Trips from Cusco, Peru
- Anta Valley, Photo: Mark/stock.adobe.com
- Chinchero, Photo: ursula/stock.adobe.com
- Chonta Canyon, Photo: xavier gallego morel/stock.adobe.com
- Huchuy Qosqo, Photo: AustralianDream/stock.adobe.com
- Humantay Lake, Photo: ARTURO/stock.adobe.com
- Lares Hot Springs, Photo: Tobias/stock.adobe.com
- Machu Picchu, Photo: emperorcosar/stock.adobe.com
- Maras, Photo: Tracy/stock.adobe.com
- Moray, Photo: Tetyana/stock.adobe.com
- Ollantaytambo, Photo: cge2010/stock.adobe.com
- Pisac, Photo: maylat/stock.adobe.com
- Sacsayhuaman, Photo: Byelikova Oksana/stock.adobe.com
- Salumpunko, Photo: Marc/stock.adobe.com
- Southern Valley , Photo: Lucie/stock.adobe.com
- The Sacred Valley of the Incas, Photo: R.M. Nunes/stock.adobe.com
- Vinicunca, the Rainbow Mountain, Photo: emperorcosar/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: ggfoto/stock.adobe.com