Usually I’m not a list maker. I know that I may see something as nice or beautiful, but others won’t necessarily think the same way. It’s a matter of taste.
However, I decided to make an exception with regards to Cusco. I receive a lot of questions about what to see and do in the Cusco region so I figured I’d spell it out for everyone here. It’s easier than trying to answer individual questions since everyone has different likes and dislikes.
Without further ado, here is my list of places to visit in the Cusco region!
Most travelers love Machu Picchu. To be honest, when I first went there, I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I’d be. Fortunately I had opportunity to go there again and I totally fell in love with it!
It helped that I was well-prepared before my second trip. I’d taken time to learn bout the ruins, gained knowledge about the ruins and the Inca Empire. I also decided to hire a tour guide the second time around. All of these things gave me a completely new perspective.
Additionally, I also visited parts that I didn’t see during my first adventure to Machu Picchu and I noticed things I’d missed the first time.
If you don’t go as part of an organized tour, I highly recommend hiring a tour guide. There are plenty in front of Machu Picchu’s main gate. Before reaching the ruins, I also suggest reading some history about the Inca Empire. It will help you understand more while you wander through this amazing Inca archaeological site.
It’s important to decide how you’d like to get to Machu Picchu. This will depend on some factors: how much time you have, how physically active you are, and what you like to do.
In general you have two options: set up the trip on your own or buy a tour with a travel agency. In the second case, you can choose a train tour (this usually lasts 1-2 days) or a trekking tour (plan for 4-5 days). The most popular tours for Machu Picchu are the Inka Jungle Tour, the Salkantay Trek, and the Inca Trail.
You should also make time to go to Moray. You will see mysterious, circular hollows in the ground. One is big and deep while the other is smaller and more flat.
Salineras de Maras
Go as well to Salineras de Maras. You will see more than 5,000 little salt ponds there carved into the side of a mountain. It’s a really magical sight!
If you don’t have much time for the Cusco region consider buying a one day tour. Then you will see not only the Inca archaeological site in Moray and the salt ponds in Salineras de Maras, but also a lot of other spots that would be hard to visit in one day if you go on your own.
During organized tours you can also visit the Inca ruins in Chinchero, take handicraft lessons, go zip lining, biking and/or trekking, or visit a so-called chicha place (where Andean corn beer is sold – chicha de jora).
Taking a tour will cost a little more but it’s worth it for the extra sites you’ll see. There is plenty to see and do on an organized tour in the region of Moray and Maras.
It’s possible to go on full-day or half-day tours to this fascinating site. It all depends on what you like to do and how much time you have. If you only want to visit the ruins, it will take you a maximum of half a day, but there are other attractions in Pisac: the zoo, the Amaru communities, trekking and biking are all fun, full-day activities available in this area.
Ollantaytambo is a cozy, cute town. For most travelers it is only a short stop on the way to the famous Machu Picchu. Sadly they miss out on the beauty this place has to offer.
Believe me, there is much to see and do in Ollantaytambo. Of course the ruins are worth seeing and I highly recommend visiting them. I also suggest doing a full-day trekking tour to Inti Punku (Sun Gate). If you do not think you can walk around 8-9 hours for both sites, you can easily combine this tour with horseback riding.
Patacancha Valley is situated very close to Ollantaytambo. If you are interested in learning about weaving and Peruvian textiles, this is the place to go. Easy, short treks are also available here.
If you want to do one of the Lares trails, Patacancha Valley is the take off point for most of them.
There are many different trekking trails in the Cusco region, but for me Ausangate is number one. Great landscapes, high mountain passes, llamas, alpacas, small villages hidden between the summits, and hot springs with a view of the fifth-largest summit in Peru. What’s not to love about this route?
If you want to hike Ausangate, you can choose a 4 or 5 day trekking tour where you will circle around this stunning mountain. Shorter versions last 1 to 2 days. It’s also possible to organize in this tour as a horseback riding trip.
During the trek, you will see another beautiful Incan ruin. You might think that once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all, but each ruin is different. The trails give you a chance to see and appreciate the beautiful landscapes Peru has to offer. Most travelers do this tour in 4 days, some of them in 5 days, but it is also possible to finish the tour in 3 days.
There are different trails leading to the place called Lares, where you can enjoy beautiful, warm hot springs. The shortest trek takes 2 days, others take up to 3 or 4 days. These hot springs help you relax after your journey and give you some extra energy!
In the Lares tours, you’ll also find nice landscapes, snowy peaks, real Inca paths, and herds of llamas and alpacas. You will also come across some local communities.
There are a lot of small communities in the mountains of Cusco where the natives work on handicrafts. They follow traditions and live like their ancestors.
One of these communities lives near Pisac and is called Amaru. If you would like to know more about textiles in the Cusco region, this place is definitely worth visiting. You can stay with the Amaru community half a day or longer. They have simple but nice accommodations where you can stay the night and learn about the weaving process.
Of course if you decide to stay in Cusco for a few days, you can’t miss the city tour. There are lots of things to do and see in Cusco, so I recommend taking a day to wander through the beautiful streets of this city.
Be sure to visit the ruins of Saqsaywaman, the museum of Koricancha, ChocoMuseo, the San Blas district, the San Pedro market and city centre (Plaza de Armas).
Have you been to Cusco? What other places can you recommend here?