There’s so much to see in the Cusco Region, and each person wants to see something different. Whether it’s for budget, health conditions, personal preferences or group plans, there are many factors that can influence a decision. Instead of trying to convince you in visiting one or another place I decided to leave you in front of facts, giving you the possibility to decide what’s calling you more. Below you can find the top list of 10 things to do in the Cusco region. I hope and believe, that it will help at least some of you, to make a good decision about what to see in this part of Peru.
Ten top things worth seeing in the Cusco region
1. Machu Picchu Ruins
Many Peruvians argue that the foreigners are more familiar with Machu Picchu as with the country Peru itself. The promising views and trails that remind of the epoch of Incas brings thousands of tourists each year. There are people who come back from this spot impressed as promised but If I have to be honest it took me two times to fall in love with it. Why? I think that mainly because before my second tour I was much more prepared. I gained knowledge about the ruins, about the Inca Empire and I also decided to take a tour guide. All of that helped me to see the citadel from a completely different and deeper perspective. I visited parts that I did not visit during my first adventure to Maccu Picchu, took my time, and I noticed things I missed the first time as well.
In case you are one of those tourists who prefer to avoid the organized tours, in order to dive deeper into the the meaning of Macchu Picchu mean, I highly recommend hiring a tour guide in front of the main gate of Machu Picchu. Before reaching the ruins, I also recommend reading some history about the Inca Empire and in general about Machu Picchu. It will help you to see much more while you will be wandering through the parts of this amazing Inca archaeological site.
The next important thing would be to decide how you would like to get to Machu Picchu. There are some factors that should be reconsidered before your departure: how much time you have, how active you are and what do you like to do.
In general you have to decide between two options: the trip organized on your own (then you can do it in many ways: longer or shorter; cheaper or more expensive; more or less adventure, etc.) or buying a tour with a travel agency. In the second case you can choose a train tour (usually 1-2 days) or a trekking tour which lasts 4-5 days. The most popular tours leading to Machu Picchu are the following: Inka Jungle Tour, Salkantay and Inca Trail. To be able to take a right decision, follow up this article and the descriptions of each single tour below. If you are considering buying a tour with a travel agency it will also help you to choose the right trip.
The differences between these tours you will find here. If you are considering buying a tour with a travel agency, you can check our article, I am sure it will help you choose the right trip.
2. Moray and Salineras de Maras
My personal number one place worth visiting besides the Inca ruins in Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo, Pisac and Choquequirao is definitely Moray and Salineras de Maras.
In Moray you will encounter mysterious hollows of different sizes in the ground.
In Salineras de Maras you can find more than 5000 salt ponds, which is impressive from the first moment.
If you have any time limitation for the Cusco region, consider buying a one day tour. Then you will see not only the Inca archeological site in Moray and salt ponds in Salineras de Maras, but also a lot of other wonderful things, which will be hard to visit in one day if you will go on your own. There’s some extras you can do based on personal preference – such as the Inca ruins in Chinchero, taking a lesson of handicraft and meeting with local weavers, zip line, biking and/or trekking on the way to Moray and Salineras de Maras, and visiting a so-called chicha place (where typical Andean corn beer is sold – chicha de jora).
One of the reasons of taking an organized tour instead of going on your one lies in the time managing. Normally you can see many more places in a shorter period of time even if it costs you a little more. All of this depends on what kind of traveler you are, what kind of things you like and what is important to you- to see as much as possible in a shorter time or spend as little money as possible. Anyways the region of Moray and Maras are a great place to visit.
If you want to know what you can do in one day in Cusco, check our video here. You will find examples of full-day tours to Chinchero, Moray, Maras and Salineras de Maras.
3. The Inca ruins in Pisac
Pisac ruins can be visited in course of full-day or half-day tours. For those who prefer to see more in less amount of time, half-day tour would be a perfect option, for those who need more time to enjoy the atmosphere – I’d advise considering a full day tour. If you only want to visit the ruins, it will take you a maximum of half a day, but if you wish to do other things: wander the town of Pisac, visit the zoo, visit an Amaru community, try some trekking or biking, for these activities you will need full day.
If you would like to know more about my experiences in Pisac, read my post on it.
4. The Inca ruins in Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo is a small lovely town that is usually only a short stop on the way to the famous Machu Picchu for the majority of the tourists. But in my opinion it would be a great loss to miss out on the beauty this place has to offer.
I can assure you, there is much more to do and see in Ollantaytambo. Of course the ruins are worth seeing and I highly recommend visiting them but despite it, I also recommend doing a full-day trekking 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. All details about this trip you will find here.
All details about this trip you will find here.
5. Patacancha valley
Patacancha valley is situated very close to Ollantaytambo. If you are a designer or just interested in learning about the process of traditional weaving and about Peruvian textiles, you cannot miss Patacancha valley. If you are not a fan of long trekkings but wouldn’t mind doing an easy and short one, this will be a perfect place to release it. If you want to do one of the Lares trails, well this is another reason to choose Patacancha valley as a short destination.
6. Ausangate trek
In my view, the Ausangate trek is one of the most beautiful trekking trails in the Cusco region. Not only you will be surrounded by great landscapes and high mountain passes, meet llamas and alpacas, but also get into small villages hidden between the summits and pass the hot springs with a view of the fifth-largest summit in Peru. How can you skip this route?
If you want to hike Ausangate, you can get a 4 or 5 days trekking tour where you will circle around this stunning mountain. The shorter option would be in 1 or 2 days. If you adore animals and want to get closer to the nature, a horseback riding trip would be a great solution to combine both.
More about this adventure you can read here.
7. Choquequirao trek
Another beautiful Inca ruin. I can assure you that each of many archaeological spots are unique and believe me, each ruin of the Incas are different as well as the routes to get to them. The high amount of 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. I cannot promise that it’s easy to do, but for the sake of beauty and memories you can definitely overcome it.
More about my 3-days tour to Choquequirao you can read here.
8. Lares trek with hot springs
If you are into thermal waters and hot springs, you should choose one of the trails leading to the place called Lares, where you can enjoy beautiful and very warm hot springs. The shortest trek takes 2 days, others you can do in 3 or 4 days. You should reward yourself for all the kilometers conquered and allow yourself to relax after your journey and give you some extra energy! On your way to Lares tours you will also find very nice landscapes, with some snowy peaks, real Incas paths, herds of llamas and alpacas. You will also come across some local communities.
9. Amaru community
When talking about the communities, there are a lot of small ones in the mountains of Cusco whose main job is handicraft. They establish their long traditions and live almost in the same way as their ancestors. One of these communities is situated near Pisac and is called Amaru. If you interested in the textiles in the Cusco region, this place is definitely worth to visit. You can spend some time with the Amaru community and get to know more about their lifestyle. They have simple, but very nice accomodation where you can stay overnight and learn more about the weaving process and their traditions.
10. Cusco city
Assuming that you would stay in the city of Cusco while doing all the trekkings, you cannot miss the so-called city tour. Cusco is known for a wide range of activities and places that it has to offer,, so I recommend you a day for wandering through the beautiful streets of this city and for visiting these things: the ruins of Saqsaywaman, museum of Koricancha, ChocoMuseo, San Blas district, San Pedro market and city centre (Plaza de Armas).