Spanish School Peru: AMAUTA

7 best day & weekend trips from Cusco!

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Monday June 10, 2024 - Posted by to Travel in Peru
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Best day weekend trips from Cusco

Staying in Cusco to learn Spanish or, to explore the city while travelling in Peru? The ancient Incan capital is the perfect place to base yourself if you’re looking to spend some time exploring Cusco, the Sacred Valley and other parts of Peru, with an array of fascinating destinations nearby that can easily be visited over a day or two.

Read on to discover a few of our favorite day and weekend trips you can take from Cusco – including our top tips on how to get there.

Studying Spanish at our Cusco language school during the week? You’re in luck – all of these are perfect plans if you want to make the most of your weekends off and have something exciting to talk about in class on Monday!

1. Machu Picchu

We’re sure you knew this one already – but we could hardly make a list of the best weekend trips from Cusco without including Peru’s best-known tourist attraction! These ancient Incan ruins are one of the Seven Wonders of the World for good reason, and are the main reason many people choose to visit Cusco.

Most travellers find one day at Machu Picchu is plenty, giving you time to do a 2-3 hour guided tour, see the beautiful views and archeological features, and soak up the mystical atmosphere before heading back to Cusco. However if you’re not in a rush then we recommend making a weekend out of it and staying in nearby Aguas Calientes overnight. The extra day means you can avoid getting up at 4am for the journey there and can have a more relaxed start to your trip – perfect if (like us) you’re not a morning person! It also gives you some more time to enjoy the local sights, whether that’s spending a second day at Machu Picchu to experience one of the other circuits, enjoying some of the local hiking or visiting the famous hot springs in Aguas Calientes (which literally means ‘hot waters’ in Spanish).

If you have a little more time, another great alternative is to spend 4 or 5 days trekking to Machu Picchu on the famous Inca Trail or the lesser-known Salkantay Trail or the Inca Jungle trek.

How to get there: Take the train, or book a bus journey (dry season only – includes a 15 kilometer walk) as part of a group tour. Recommended: book a tour to Machu Picchu. Planning a trip to Machu Picchu has become more explicated throughout the years and you have to book 4 – 8 weeks in advanced to ensure one of the (many) entrance tickets for your favorite route (and photos!) within the citadel.

 

Visit Machu Picchu Peru

 

2. Humantay Lake

One of our favourite day trips, Humantay Lake is guaranteed to take your breath away – and not just because of the high altitude! This staggeringly-beautiful emerald lake is located beneath a huge glacier and is truly a photographer’s dream.

The trailhead is around three hours’ drive from Cusco. Once you arrive, it’s a short but steep one-hour hike to reach the lake. Make sure to allow plenty of time to take photos when you’re there and have the most scenic lakeside picnic of your life! If you do opt to go with a tour, most companies will provide lunch as part of the trip – if not then make sure you bring plenty of snacks with you.

Want to make a weekend of it? Why not take a two-day trip combining Humantay Lake with the Salkantay Hike, staying overnight in a sky dome where you can gaze at the Andean constellations and learn about their significance to the Inca centuries ago.

How to get there: The simplest way is to book the Humantay day tour, or organise a return trip with a private taxi – negotiate a price with your taxi driver to wait for you during the hike and bring you back to Cusco. Public transport is a little more complicated but if you’re on a tight budget (and you have time) then you can take a colectivo (minivan) to Mollepata, and from there a shared taxi to Soraypampa town.

 

Tour Humantay Cusco Peru

 

3. Ollantaytambo

This quaint little town in the Sacred Valley was the last defence against the Spanish conquest – and the only place the Spanish suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Inca. The famous battle of Ollantaytambo took place in January 1537, when Manco Inca used the Sacred Valley’s geography along with more than a touch of tactical genius to surprise the Spanish at dawn and steal an unexpected victory.

The town’s main draw is the spectacular archaeological site, a collection of sacred ruins built into the hillside including the famous Templo del Sol; on the opposite hillside you can also do a short but steep hike up to the ruins of the Pinkuylluna Granaries. After seeing the ruins, spend some time wandering the town and getting lost in its charmingly-narrow 13th century streets, the best-preserved example of Incan town planning. For coffee or lunch, we recommend stoppìng in at Alqa Restaurante y Museo – this oasis in the centre of the city is a little pricey by local standards, but has a beautiful shaded garden area and some of the best food we’ve had in Peru.

Just a 90-minute drive from Cusco, Ollantaytambo can easily be visited as part of a tour of the Sacred Valley if you want to tick off several sights in one day – but if you do have more time then we recommend making your own way there so you can spend the day (or weekend) enjoying everything the town has to offer.

How to get there: Visit as part of a day tour of the Sacred Valley, or take a colectivo or shared taxi – these leave regularly from Calle Pavitos in central Cusco and are 10-15 soles each way per person (around $3-4).

 

Day Tour Ollantay Peru

 

4. Rainbow Mountain

If you’ve been in Cusco for long, you’ll most likely have seen photos of this spot plastered on the boards outside every tourism agency and all over Instagram! One of the most stunning natural locations we’ve ever seen, this otherworldly sight will make you feel like you’ve been transported to another planet.

Rainbow Mountain, also known as Vinicunca or Montaña de 7 Colores, is Peru’s fastest growing tourist attraction. Covered with Andean snow and ice until recently, it was only in 2015 that its striking bands of red, yellow and orange were uncovered due to glacier melt and travellers started visiting from all over the world.

The trailhead is around three hours from Cusco, and is best reached on a tour. Once you’ve reached the car park near the top of the mountain, the hike from there to the peak is only about an hour, but don’t underestimate the altitude! You’ll start hiking at 4,800m and the top is a dizzying 5,200m above sea level – almost the same altitude as Everest Base Camp.

Once you’ve made it to the peak and got the obligatory photo, if your legs (and lungs) can handle it then you can also pay a further 20 soles to hike up to the Red Valley. Named for its iron-rich red soil, it’s way more peaceful and less touristy than the Rainbow Mountain and you may be lucky enough to find yourselves the only ones up there

How to get there: The easiest way by far is to book day tour Rainbow Mountain – if you want to make a weekend of it then two-day tours are also available. Public transport options are limited, so if you’d rather make your own way there then a hire car is the best option – just make sure your driving skills are a match for Cusco’s traffic and the bumpy mountain roads!

 

Day Tour Rainbow Cusco Peru

 

5. Pisac

This little colonial village is located 45 minutes from Cusco and is the ideal place for a weekend trip or to just go for the day.

Like Ollantaytambo, the main attraction is the archaeological site set high above the town, with some of the best-preserved Incan ruins in the Sacred Valley. Within the site you’ll find a residential settlement, ceremonial baths and a large Incan cemetery, all surrounded by agricultural terraces carved into the hillside. To get there, it’s a two-hour uphill hike from the town itself, or you can skip the walk and jump in a taxi.

Aside from the ruins, Pisac itself is well worth a wander around! A cute little hippie town, it has a large market of textiles and ceramics as well as some fantastic restaurants and lots of community events – think cacao ceremonies, ecstatic dance, yoga retreats and more. To see what’s happening while you’re there, check out the Pisac, Pisac All Events Facebook page – if you’re there on a Sunday then don’t miss Sacred Sushi’s Curry Sundays!

How to get there: Visit as part of a tour of the Sacred Valley, or take a colectivo (shared minivan) from Calle Puputi in central Cusco for approximately 6 soles each way (just over $1).

 

Visit Pisac Sacred Valley

 

6. Lake Titicaca

Prepared for an overnight bus journey? If so, Lake Titicaca can easily be visited on a weekend trip from Cusco!

The largest lake in South America, it was a sacred place for the Inca who believed their god of creation was born from its depths to create the sun, the moon, the stars, and all mankind. Today it’s best-known by many travellers for its series of human-made floating islands, constructed out of reeds and inhabited by the local Uru community. Take a boat trip or kayaking tour out on the lake to learn about their way of life and how the islands are made – if you’re there for the weekend, you can even book an overnight homestay on one and live with the locals!

How to get there: Book a two-day tour including transport and a stay on Isla Amantani, or make your own way by bus from Cusco – it’s around an 8-9 hour journey each way.

 

Tour Lake Titicaca Puno

 

7. Maras & Moray

For something a little different from most of the Sacred Valley sites, the Salineras of Maras are an intriguing sight just an hour’s drive from Cusco. This unique salt mine has been active since the Inca times, and its 3000 salt ponds are collectively owned by 600 local families under a system called ‘ayni’, a Quechuan term meaning reciprocity and mutual ownership.

According to Inca legend, the salt water that flows from the mountain comes from one of the four brothers that founded the Inca empire. His brothers tricked him by trapping inside a mountain cave, and in his sorrow, his floods of tears created the beautiful salty spring that covers the mountainside.

Most people choose to combine visiting the salt mines with a trip to nearby Moray, a set of circular terraces with a peculiar history. No one is 100% sure what the purpose of these were for the Inca, but most archaeologists agree that it was likely some kind of experimental agricultural laboratory, with each terrace having its own microclimate for testing crops such as potatoes and corn.

How to get there: Book a day tour by bus to visit both sites – or if you’re feeling more adventurous, why not join a guided quad bike tour? If you’d prefer to make your own way there then you can take a colectivo to Urubamba and negotiate with a taxi driver there to take you to both sites – however the taxi alone will cost between 150 – 200 soles (approx $40 – $55) so unless you’re in a group, you’ll find joining a tour from Cusco to be cheaper.

 

Day Trip Maras Moray

 

Additional Options

Just to mention a few additional options.

  • Travel to the white, colonial City of Arequipa and visit the Colca Canyon
  • Take a Jungle trip, e.g. a 3d/2n Tour to the Tambopata National Park
  • Go biking, rafting, quad biking, do zipe line and more!

Plan your trip!

We hope you enjoyed our suggestions of what to do near Cusco! If you’d like any help planning your travels or booking onto any tours, why not get in touch with our sister company Dos Manos, a Peru-based travel agency with all-local travel advisors who know the Cusco and Sacred Valley area like the back of their hand. For students at any of the Amauta Spanish Schools across Peru, there are exclusive discounts on select tours. Contact or write to info@dosmanosperu.com.

 

 


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