Cusco, Peru, is probably best known for two things: its former status as the capital of the Inca Empire and its proximity to Machu Picchu. It’s a given that any visit to Cusco comes with the requisite visit to the iconic ruins; however, it turns out it’s also a killer adventure and cultural destination.
Fresh of my recent trip to Peru, Expedia Canada asked me to recommend a few Peru adventures that I found especially memorable.
While there are plenty of great adventure tours and activities, I always find mountains feel especially wild when I head into the wilderness on my own. On my recent trip, I led a photography workshop with The Giving Lens. When the tour wrapped up, I extended my stay by three days and turned that limited 72-hour window into some truly memorable backcountry travel in the Lares and Sacred Valleys. After that, I spent extra time exploring Pisac, Cusco, and Calca in more depth. It was barely enough time, but I left for home with plenty of wonderful memories.
If you can afford three extra days in Cusco after checking out Cusco and visiting Machu Picchu, here’s how I’d recommend you turn it into an adventure.
72-Hour Adventure Guide to Cusco
You might notice that all these activities won’t quite fit into 72-hours in Cusco. Rather than try to fit it all in, choose one option from each section!
This is the ultimate Andes experience. Cusco is located at 3800m but it’s surprisingly easy to climb high above that. On my hike to the Lares Valley, I set my personal altitude record, topping out at 4600m. These are the two hikes I’d recommend:
Hike to Lares via Cancha Cancha
The route was definitely a challenge, but came with some of the most stunning views I’ve ever seen. I not only climbed to 4600 m, which is the highest I’ve ever trekked, but I camped at the base of a glacier at 4200 m! The landscape was incredible and the valley, aside from the few locals who call it home, was deserted.
Check out these photos for inspiration:
Tips: Don’t camp too close to Cancha Cancha, as the locals use dogs to protect their free-grazing alpacas; camp before Cancha Cancha if it’s windy. The air coming off the glacier is freezing; trust the trail, not the map. The route is easy to follow but the map isn’t accurate and the elevations are completely wrong.
How to get there: Simply take a collectivo (a taxi that travels between cities) from Cusco to Calca. From there, an hourly mini-bus travels towards Huaran. Total transportation cost is only $7 soles.
Urubamba to Cuncani to Lares
My friend and adventure photographer Jacob Moon completed a different variation of the Lares trek just a week before my own. His was longer and equally isolated, but seems to be incredibly rewarding. I’ll let his instagram post speak for the hike. Just make sure to read his caption!
Yesterday we completed our customized self guided trek. As many of you many know, if you have been following along, we completed our 8-day trek of the Salcantay Trail, visited Machu Picchu and end our first part of our trek in Ollantaytambo. Well we stayed there for 2 fantastic day to recover then we took off in a bus to Urubamba and in 2 long days completed a variation of the Lares Trek going from Urubamba over a 15,800 foot pass, descending into Cuncani village (pictured above, taken at 14,500 feet) and walked all the way down to Lares to soak in and camp at the hot springs there. The Lares Trek was FanTasTic! Although lacking a 6000 meter peak like on the Salkantay Trail, the Lares Trek took us through ruins, several small villages with rock house, pass a lot of lakes and ponds, through mountain sides and meadows filled with llamas and sheep, through old communities with traditionally dress Peruvian people all while seeing only a hand full of other tourist going the opposite direction which left us alone traveling with the locals most of the time. It was great way to finish our trek and now we are back in Cusco, with FAST internet , which will allow me to post pictures from our trip, plan our next adventure, and write down our experience to share with you. As a side note, if anyone is coming to Cusco soon from Utah, I really need a few things from home. Mail service looks like a nightmare.. If you can help me please message me. Cheers! #mountainhardwear #fromthetribe #wildernessculture #bpmag #doyoutravel #earthpix
Tips: This is a strenuous two-day hike, so leave bright and early from Cusco; be respectful when traveling through the small towns along the way; don’t underestimate how slow you’ll hike at this elevation. It includes a 4800 m pass.
How to get there: It’s a $7-10 soles collectivo ride from Cusco.
Both of these hikes end in Lares, which is famous for it’s hot springs. Reward yourself with an awesome soak. It’s possible to spend the night here or to travel back towards Calca, Pisac, or Cusco.
One Day Options
From Cusco, it’s a 45-minute drive to Pisac. Views on the drive are stunning and the city is situated at the base of the Sacred Valley. Nearly half of the downtown is a giant crafts market, so this is the ideal place to find the perfect souvenir to take home. Although there are several stalls selling artwork, make sure to do your homework. One local man is famous across Peru and his work is both stunning and incredibly affordable.
Check Out the Saksaywaman Ruins
Located high above Cusco, the Saksaywaman Ruins are archeologically stunning and offer fantastic views of the valley. During my visit, I was stunned to learn that these ruins pre-date the Inca! The Killke, who lived in this region from 900-1200, constructed them.
Mountain Bike in Calca
Wayo, the head honcho behind InkasAdventures.com, is an absolute biking fanatic. His company helped pioneer endure-style riding in Peru, so book a tour to find the best gravity-assisted trails in the region! He leads tours all over the Sacred Valley, and beyond, but Calca seemed to be among the most popular.
Far less grandiose than Machu Picchu, the Tipon Ruins are still worth a visit for their stunning hillside location just 20 minutes from Cusco. It’s believed to have been and agriculture centrum, as irrigation systems still carry plenty of water through the site today. Just Make sure to stop in Tipon, too, as it’s famous for its guinea pig!
Half-Day Options (If Time Allows)
Wander deeper into Cusco
My favorite area in Cusco is San Blas and it seemed to get more spectacular the further from I walked from Plaza de Armas. Don’t be shy about heading down alleyways and climbing steep staircases. Just wander and enjoy, but make sure to find Juanitos for lunch!
Visit the San Pedro Mercado Central
Completely different than the handicrafts at the Pisac market, the San Pedro Mercado Central is a food market that locals use on a daily basis. Don’t go if you have a queasy stomach, as the market has a pretty interesting but senses-assaulting meat section.
Time’s up! Hope you enjoyed your 72-hours in Peru as much as I did!
Thanks to Expedia Canada for asking me to share this 72-hour adventure guide to Cusco!