Cusco is one of the most famous cities among visitors, and a definite stop for anyone traveling throughout the country. Its contraction between a rich sacred history, and a modern urban city vibe make for a unique South American adventure. Lots of travelers often stay in the area longer than planned as they realize Cusco to be a great base for some off the track scenes. So, if you’re looking for a reason to stay in Cusco for longer than planned, don’t miss these easy weekend getaways that aren’t Machu Picchu.
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The Moray ruins are visually stunning, and not yet inundated with hordes of tourists, making it the perfect getaway to truly marvel at the ingenuity of the Inca empire. The deep bowl shape, and multi-level terraces loosely resemble a Roman amphitheater. Moray’s design, with regard to the sun and wind, are a telltale sign which lets us know it’s structure was created with agricultural purpose. Many believe that Moray was used as an agricultural laboratory to conduct research. Each level sits at a different temperature, which could have helped to test and experiment with different crops at every level. Some believe that the structure was first created by a meteor crash, which the Incas then used to their advantage. What we do know for sure, is that Moray is bucket list worthy.
Distance from Cusco: 1.5 hours
On the Cheap: Colectivos are cheap and efficient minibuses which gather individuals heading the same route. From the drop off, grab a taxi to the site for about $15. Expect to pay no more than $20 total, one-way.
Comfort: You can arrange a tour through a travel agency which includes round-trip transportation, and guided tours to Moray and Maras–giving you a 2 for 1 deal for about $100.
Pisac, a colonial village located in the Sacred Valley just 45 minutes outside of Cusco, is the perfect starting point for weekend trips. The ruins themselves are located high above the charming city, and are considered to be one of the best Inca archeological sites in the country. Near the main parking space, for those traveling by car, you will find the largest known Inca cemetery, a residential settlement similar to that of Machu Picchu, and ceremonial baths. Continue hiking the narrow trail past where most tourists stop, and you’ll find hidden tunnels leading to expansive views of the Inca city.
Distance from Cusco: 45-minutes to 1-hour
On the Cheap: Just one colectivo to the site, and walk from there. Expect to pay no more than $3, one-way.
Comfort: Private taxis can be arranged for about $20 one-way. Definitely more pricey, but the comfort of an air-conditioned car and privacy.
Ollantaytambo is another city located in the Sacred Valley. Ollantaytambo is known for being a former business center of the Inca empire, and the last defense against the Spanish conquest. Though originally built for religious purposes, Ollantaytambo acted as retreat from Spanish attacks, leading to the brief defeat of the Spanish by the Incas. The main attraction is the Ollantaytambo Fortress located in a section known as Temple Hill. Temple Hill also happens to be one of the starting points of the famous Inca Trail, which takes you through the Andes mountains, and ends with a sunrise view over Machu Picchu. Even if you are not hiking the Inca Trail to the World Wonder, many visitors still visit Ollantaytambo as a last stop before boarding the train to Aguas Caliente.
Distance from Cusco: 1.5 hours
On the Cheap: Again, the money saving colectivo will get you to Ollantaytambo for about $3, one-way.
Comfort: Private taxi will get you to these ruins for about $25, one-way. The advantage is you can make stops along the way.
If you’re all ruined out, and ready for some adrenaline pumping adventure, don’t miss Huacachina during your time in Cusco. More than thrilling adventures, Huacachina catapults you into a world of magic and wonder as you witness a paradise oasis in the middle of a desert. The many sand dunes call you to the top where you can witness a mirage of palm trees, luxury hotels, and an unparalleled nightlife. But while you’re up there, don’t forget you hauled your sandboard up, too, for no reason other than to board down the dune. Sandboarding, dune-bugging, dancing, and being left in disbelief and wonder, are the main reasons Huacachina continues to attract international visitors.
Distance from Cusco: 3.5 hours
On the Cheap: Sorry, but the only way to get here from Cusco is to fly into Lima, and then take a bus to Ica. Though the buses are quite affordable, flights can be anywhere from $300-$500 round-trip depending on the season.
Comfort: Fly first-class, and take a private taxi from Lima
According to Inca mythology, Lake Titicaca is the birthplace of the sun. It’s the largest lake in South America, and is surrounded by villages which hold traditional culture and ways of life. Over forty islands are spread throughout Lake Titicaca and most are inhabited the indigenous. Crops are still planted and harvested by hand, and ancient holidays and customs are celebrated in traditional, elaborate costumes, with organized processions and brass bands. A number of ruins can be found among the islands, but the easiest and most popular to visit are those islands inhabited by the Uru people, known for their intricately woven textiles.
Distance from Cusco: 8 hours
On the Cheap: Bus operators frequently make trips between Cusco and the drop off point Puno. The total runs about $20, one-way. You can even upgrade your seat for an extra $5 for a bit more comfort.
Comfort: Oddly enough, this luxury sleeper train will take 10.5 hours to get you from Cusco to Puno. Bunk bed cabins start at $600 for 2 people, and can go up to $900 for a deluxe double bed option. Both include a luxury dinner and breakfast.