Cusco is the “hub” city to stay in while visiting Machu Picchu. Cusco is a 7-ish hour van ride (on very curvy roads; not suggested for people who are easily car sick), and then a 2-3 hour hike to Aguas Calientas. If you do not want to spend that much time traveling, you can take a 20 minute taxi ride to Poroy then take a train to Aguas Calientas. But while you are in town, here are 8 other activities in and around Cusco other than Machu Picchu.
In 2017, I made a 2 week trip to Peru. Could I have planned better and moved around more? Yes! I felt I totally failed on this trip and did not see what all Peru has to offer. However, it did give me a chance to really explore Cusco and the surrounding areas and other Incan ruins. Don’t get me wrong, you definitely need to visit Machu Picchu; it is breathtaking and every one needs to visit. However, there is so much more to see in and around Cusco than Machu Picchu.
Make sure when you arrive to Cusco, you buy a “boleto turistico” which is a Cusco Tourist Ticket. This ticket is similar to the America the Beautiful Passes for National Parks in USA, except it is just for areas near Cusco. You pay for the ticket and when you get to a point of interest included on your ticket, they will punch a hole in your ticket. The ticket is good for 10 days and one visit per place. I will let you know below if the point of interest was included on my ticket.
Quoricancha is a nice place to stop when you first get to Cusco. I would suggest getting a tour guide so you can really learn all about the history associated with Quoricancha and the surrounding area. Quoricancha is included in your boleto turistico.
8. Shop and buy from locals
I do not know the exact location or name of this place, but we stopped here on one of our tours and had time to walk around and shop at a local market. They sold beautiful scarves, blankets, ponchos, and so much more. They even had demonstrations you could watch.
While this is a very small ruin, it has one fact that I still remember and will never forget (hopefully). If you look closely to the picture on the right, there is a “hand” pointing to the left. The index finger is under the third window from the left and the hand is under the last window from the left. The tour guide said the rock was purposefully set this way to point out where the spring was located. I have not researched to determine if this is true, but I hope it is true! Tambomachay is included on your boleto turistico.
This Incan ruin was most likely used for agriculture. Due to the terraces at different elevations and the different temperates at each terrace, it is believed that the Incans were able to grow a vast amount of different crops in one location. It also has an irrigation system and steps built into the terraces. Moray is included on your boleto turistico.
5. Pisac ruins
I don’t know why I did not take more pictures of the Pisac ruins. This was one of my favorite places I visited! There was a lot you could explore on your own and get away from the tour group. Much like Machu Picchu, there are ruins of an ancient Incan village you can walk through. I even got lost for a little while at this place because there is so much to see! This is a must do when in Peru! Pisac ruins are included on your boleto turistico.
4. Plaza De Armas
Plaza De Armas is the “center” of Cusco. This place is always packed with tourists and locals alike. Most of the town’s gatherings are held here and there is beautiful architecture to enjoy. While it may not be as exciting as other places on this list, it is definitely a must!
3. Maras Salt Mines
These salt pans were delibertaly dug into the moutain side to produce salt. Do not ask me the process and the how, because I could write a whole post just on this place and how the salt process takes place. Anyway, this place is COOL. It is NOT included on your boleto turistico, but it is worth the extra money to visit and walk around the salt pans.
Yes, you pronounce this very very very similar to “sexy woman” and yes you must visit this ruin overlooking the city of Cusco. I wish the pictures really showed how massive these stones are at Sacsayhuaman. This was another ruin I enjoyed a lot because after the tour guide gave you history of the site, you were able to explore the site on your own. There is also an overlook, where you could see all of Cusco. This is also a MUST DO! Sacsayhuaman is included on your boleto turistico.
Ollantaytambo is a HUGE (not as big as Machu Picchu) Incan ruin that definitely deserves the number 1 spot. There are many areas to explore, but be warned, it is A LOT of climbing! Directly across (seen in 3rd picture) is a large storehouse in the mountain side you can also check out.
Bonus: Zip Line
If you love a good adventure, here is another option for you! I had to check out of my hostel at 11am, but my flight was not until late that afternoon. Luckily, my hostel held my luggage and I was able to go zip line! This company picked you up in Cusco, drove you to the zip line site, and brought you back to your hostel/hotel. All for $45 American dollars! I even was able to fly like “superman” on the longest line!
I hope you visit Peru soon and see much more of the country than just Machu Picchu! I hope this list gives you an idea of what all Cusco and Peru have to offer.