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Off the beaten path Cusco: 11 Experiences you can not miss

Cusco’s Top 12 best day hikes

Cusco is the Incan civilization’s heart and the gateway to the Sacred Valley. Most people think of Machu Picchu when they hear the words “Sacred Valley,” but there is so much more to this region than solely the world-famous ruins. Don’t get me wrong–Machu Picchu is absolutely worth a visit and should be #1 on your list when you visit Peru. However, it wouldn’t be fair if you didn’t add some of these incredible day hikes to your list while you are in Cusco.

Humantay Lake and Rainbow Mountain are two of the hottest destinations and are on many wish lists. To help you decide which one you should visit, we’ve compared them in this article to see which best suits your personal preferences.

*An important note about Cusco: the city sits at approx 11,000 feet in elevation. Yes, the altitude is no joke! But don’t let that deter you. You will be just fine with extra precaution and careful preparation before and during your stay (especially the first few days as you acclimatize). This means try not to do anything too strenuous until you’ve been in Cusco for at least 3 to 4 days. In addition, when you arrive, do what the locals do and sip on coca tea, which is supposed to help and minimize the possibility of altitude sickness.

palccoyo rainbow mountain peru
Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain

Spend those first few days in Cusco sightseeing the historic center (Plaza de Armas), visiting a few museums, shopping for beautiful textiles, and eating delicious Peruvian food. Some of our favorite restaurants or eateries in Cusco were: Morena Peruvian Kitchen, Los Toldos Chicken, Korma Sutra, Inka Grill, La Bodega 138, Marcelo Batata, Pacha Papa, and the San Pedro Market.

Once you have adapted to the altitude, it’s time to hike! The following 12 best day hikes near Cusco take you around the city, into the Sacred Valley, and even a little farther to the breathtaking Andes mountains. You will see a wide variety of landscapes, get up close and personal with the Inca culture, and be blown away by all that Peru offers.

1. Sacsayhuaman

This excellent day hike is the closest to Cusco, as it sits right above the city overlooking the historic center. Most people get a taxi to the Sacsayhuaman ruins from Cusco; however, you can also combine it with a network of ruins — smaller and lesser-known sites — that take you away from the crowds and show off the impressive architecture and Inca heritage of Peru. The best way to do this is to get a taxi to Tambomachay and then start the hike from here, taking you past the other ruins (Tambomachay, Puca Pucara, Q’enko), ends at Sacsayhuaman.

You will be amazed at the complexity of the massive stones at Sacsayhuaman, which offers panoramic views of the city below. There are often llamas grazing at these ruins, making it extra special!

Sacsayhuaman tour
Sacsayhuaman

2. Huchuy Qosqo

Another hike close to Cusco is Huchuy Qosqo, a beautiful and quiet trail on the outskirts of town. It is also the shortest hiking option in the Peruvian Andes and is suggested for good acclimatization to the high altitude, especially as training for multi-day treks in the Andes. The 11-mile day trek follows the Inca trail and leads to ancient ruins that were once the summer home of an important Incan king.

First, you want to take a colectivo to Laguna Piuray. When you arrive at the lake, take a taxi to the start of the Imperial Incan trail. The trail is well marked, and you will witness breathtaking views of the mountains and surrounding glaciers before heading down into the valley to the town of Lamay, where you can take a collectivo back to Cusco.

Huchuy Qosqo tour operator
Huchuy Qosqo

3. Chinchero to Urquillos

The hike from Chinchero to Urquillos was unexpected in a good way, and the best part? It’s downhill most of the way and relatively unknown, making this 5-mile trail a great off-the-beaten-path option. We did a full-day tour with Huaynas Expeditions, in which we observed a traditional weaving ceremony, visited the ruins, and then hiked from Chinchero to Urquillos. We finished the day with a late lunch, and it was fabulous!

If you prefer to hike on your own, you can hire a taxi (or Uber) to Chinchero, which boasts beautiful mountain views and is famous for its weaving traditions. From the ruins, you will see a path that descends into the Sacred Valley via well-worn Inca trails, finishing in the colonial village of Urquillos. From there you can hire transport to return to Cusco.

inca path to urquillos
Chinchero to Urquillos

4. Moray to Maras

You might have seen photos of the famous salt mines of Maras, but did you know you can hike to this site from the Moray ruins in a day? This easy-to-moderate 7.5-mile hike across Andean farmland connects two important Incan sites: the agricultural terraces of Moray and the salt evaporation ponds near Maras. Be prepared to have your mind blown!

Begin your hike at the terraces of Moray, where you will learn that each terrace drops in temperature by about 2 degrees. The Incas used these terraces to determine which crops grew best in which temperatures–talk about fascinating! From here, you will hike along the Mule trail away from Moray for just over three miles until you reach the colonial village of Maras.

Moray Incan Site
Moray Incan Site

5. Kinsa Cocha

This hike near Pisac, about a 45-minute drive from Cusco into the Sacred Valley is about as picturesque as they come and totally off-radar. It’s important to note that you will need to arrange transportation from Cusco to Pisac via Colectivo first, and then once in Pisac, you will catch a taxi to Kinsa Concha and BACK. It’s important to negotiate a round trip price and have your driver wait for you at the Kinsa Cocha lakes because otherwise, you won’t be able to catch a ride back home. This will end up costing a bit more, however it is well worth the $30-40 trip.

When you negotiate your price, make sure it’s to visit the Kinsa Cocha Lake and Laguna Azul because the third lake is about 1.5 miles down the road from the first and won’t be included in the price if you don’t specifically ask for it. Before you set off, make sure to agree to a time with your driver for how long you want to hike (3 hours is probably adequate). From here, trails are going around both sides of the lake, and you can choose your route.

Kinsa Cocha trekking
Kinsa Cocha

6. Pisac ruins to market

You can’t go to Cusco without a visit to the Pisac ruins and market, so why not combine them and hike from one to the other? This easy two-mile hike takes you down a steep hill through the expansive Incan fortress of Pisac. Begin with a quick stroll atop the ancient agricultural terraces up to the Qalla Q’asa sector, which looks out over three Andean valleys.

Once you’ve explored the ruins above, follow the path that goes alongside a ridge below and then through a rock tunnel toward the Inti Watana and P’isaqa sectors. Here lies well-preserved temples, as well as working water channels and stone walls showcasing meticulous masonry. Eventually you will take the steps that lead into the picturesque artisan market of Pisac town, which hosts probably the best market for textiles and handicrafts in the Sacred Valley. *Pro tip: Go on Tuesday/Thursday/Sunday when the market is biggest.

Pisac
Pisac

7. Pelroyniyoc waterfall

Tucked away near the beautiful town of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley lies this hidden gem–the Pelroyniyoc waterfall, also next to some ruins. These falls are spectacularly perched atop a cliff, making them even more dramatic. Arrange for a taxi from Ollantaytambo to the village of Socma (a 45-minute taxi ride from Ollantaytambo), where you begin the steep hike. Socma offers a perspective on rural life in the Valley. Above the falls, a few remote communities will occasionally welcome travelers into their homes if you arrive with a local guide.

Perolniyoc Waterfall
Perolniyoc Waterfall

8. Palccoyo

About 3 hours from Cusco, but worth the long drive sits Palccoyo, also known as the “alternative Rainbow Mountain.” We did this hike with Peru Tripper and loved it so much! This trail is lesser known than the more popular, but the over-touristy hike to Rainbow Mountain. We started the day early and drove to a local restaurant halfway between Cusco and Palccoyo, where we enjoyed a delicious breakfast.

From there it was another 1.5 hours to the quaint village of Palccoyo, where our guide introduced us to a local man who gave us a wonderful explanation of the farming techniques that they use in this high-altitude town in the Andes Mountains. For example, they grow over 300 varieties of potatoes here! We also learned all about the tools they use for farming and also, saw the beautiful textiles that the women make. It was fascinating and eye-opening.

Palccoyo Mountain trekking
Palccoyo Mountain

9. Humantay Lake

If you want to experience the high Andes mountains, you can’t miss this lovely day hike to Humantay Lake, just outside Cusco. To get here, you have a 3-hour drive, however, when you arrive, you will be grateful you made the trip. Be prepared to have your jaw on the ground as you witness mind-blowing scenery along the entire 5-mile round trip hike. Snow-capped peaks that reach nearly 20K feet, glaciers, and jewel-colored lakes make up this trail.

This is another high altitude hike (the highest altitude we climbed was 15K), so make sure to spend a few days in Cusco acclimatizing before taking on this hike.

humantay lake day trip cusco
Humantay Lake

10. Rainbow Mountain

You’ve probably seen photos of Rainbow Mountain, and while it is more than often quite crowded, it’s still worth visiting just to witness the vibrant colors of these mountains. The Rainbow Mountain (also known as Vinicunca) is stunning and can be seen on the spectacular multi-day Ausangate Trek. Ausangate mountain is considered a holy mountain by local Peruvians and since pre-Inca times, the mountain has been a place of worship and offerings that carries on traditions today.

Rainbow Mountain in the Morning
Rainbow Mountain

11. Ausangate 7 Lakes

If you crave mind-blowing landscapes and complete tranquility, you can’t miss the hike to the Ausangate 7 Lakes with Huaynas Expeditions. This hike begins at a remote village and meanders its way across the most stunning Andean Valley. It then ascends towards several glacier-fed lakes and towering peaks before finishing the day at some hot springs. If you want to truly get away from it all and experience the majestic Peruvian Andes, add this hike to your list!

Ausangate Lake
Ausangate Lake

Conclusion

Peru is one of the world’s leading trekking and hiking destinations for a good reason–incredible and diverse landscapes combined with Inca history and culture. Cusco is probably the best central location for some of Peru’s top hikes too, so if you can stay a full week or two and make the most of this stunning country, you won’t regret it. These 11 best day hikes near Cusco will certainly not disappoint!

About the author

Tanairi is an expert in everything South America, her passion for the region and exploring off the beaten path makes her travel writing both useful and interesting. She has written for several mainstream publications and you can read her guides on Ecuador, Peru, the Galapagos Islands, and the Amazon.

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