As I mentioned at the conclusion of my first Cusco travel guide, there are plenty of day trips you can take from Cusco – including Machu Picchu (full post on that coming soon!).
We spent five nights in Cusco and each day was action-packed. Though we thought we spent sufficient time in the city, there are definitely things we didn’t get to in Cusco even after spending five days there.
Cusco is rich in history and the tourism capital of Peru. So it isn’t surprising that there is history around every corner and down every cobblestone street. Below are a few of our favorite day trips we took from Cusco:
Now if you happen to speak Spanish, unlike me, the name of this historic landmark may have made you giggle – it’s pronounced “sexy woman.”
This ancient Incan ruin perched just north of Cusco has been around since as early as 1100. The Incan chose this spot to create a stone fortress since it sits high up on the mountainside and you can see for miles in the distance. It’s high position on the hillside offers beautiful vistas of the bustling city below. Saqsayhuaman is just a short taxi ride away from the city center of Cusco and a must-see archeological site!
You can purchase a ticket for Saqsaywaman for a small fee at the entrance.
We went to Saqsaywaman on our first day in Cusco – aka while we were adjusting to the 12,000+ ft altitude. Granted, we had altitude medicine prescribed by our doctors, which we highly recommend, but we were still very out of breath and worn out after hiking around the ruins all day.
But despite being a bit worn out, we had a blast exploring the stone fortress, and even saw a pack of alpacas on the hillside!
This next historical site is just a short 10-minute walk down the road from Saqsaywaman. Qenko was thought to be an Incan holy site for sacrifices and mummification, complete with a rock altar. There are many large rock and cave pathways at Qenko, which made it a really fun site to explore (as you can see from my Indiana Jones picture below).
There are also a ton of eucalyptus trees in Qenko, though the tree is not native to Peru. We were told anecdotally from a few locals that the eucalyptus trees were brought from Australia to Peru in the early 20th century and have taken over large parts of the countryside. As you can tell from the picture above, there is a large eucalyptus forest along the hillside next to Qenko.
We visited these next three sites on the same day via a great bus tour we found through TripAdvisor. We couldn’t recommend it enough. Though you could definitely take a taxi to these next few places, taking a bus tour was the easiest, stress-free way to just sit back, relax and learn about the history of the Cusco region of Peru.
The first stop on our bus tour was the town of Chinchero, just a short drive outside of Cusco. Our stop here was, unexpectedly, one of my favorite experiences of the whole trip. We stopped at a textile shop and got to see Peruvian women dye alpaca wool with natural dyes, including the blood of a bug, and change the dye color with locally mined salt. I have a whole video on it – check out my “Peru” highlight on my Instagram!
In addition to a couple of really sweet alpacas, there was also a shop selling alpaca wool sweaters, scarves and other knit goods. My boyfriend Drew purchased a really cool scarf – and we felt so good about spending our money at a place where we had seen the work firsthand.
Maras Salt Mines
The main reason we went on the aforementioned bus tour was that I wanted to see the (very Instagram-able) Peruvian Salt Mines or Salineras de Maras.
Located about an hour outside of the city center of Cusco, there are more than 5,000 individual plots of salt, which produce massive amounts of salt every month.
There was a small entrance fee at the entrance of the salt mines – you can purchase a ticket directly on site!
The salt mines were incredible in person – a vast scene that took over a whole hillside. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before!
While at the Maras salt mines, we were able to taste the various pink and white salt that can be mined from the flats. It was crazy to see the sheer volume of salt produced there!
Finally, we made our way to the Moray – an ancient circular ruin that the Incans ingenuously made for agriculture. The circular terraces create different temperatures at each level, allowing for farming of various produce and crops that require different degrees of water and temperature.
The view of the Moray is stunning – it’s nestled among the mountains and is such a cool reminder of the agricultural innovation of native people. It looks like something from an alien movie – a seemingly perfectly round amphitheater-like structure.
I hope this glimpse into the day trips we took from Cusco gave you a little taste of the many historical adventures the region has to offer. keep an eye out for my upcoming blog detailing our trip to Machu Picchu.