Short Solo Trips and Day Hikes Near Cusco

If you’re like me, you love exploring new places on foot. Cusco, with its compact layout, wealth of historical sites, and stunning natural vistas, is the perfect place for day hikes. The following page is an attempt to create a resource for free day hikes that are easily accessible from the city.

Because tourism and trekking are a big business in Cusco it can be hard to find good information about hiking on your own. But before you do set out on your own, please consider:

Reasons to go with a tour company

  • Contribue to the economy and provide jobs for locals.
  • Gain a deeper understanding of ruins and Peruvian history.
  • Greater safety and better chance of staying on course in difficult to navigate areas.
Reasons to go on your own
  • Hike at your own pace, set your own itinerary, go when you want.
  • Budget travelers will be able to see more sights this way.
  • Finding your own way = more risk = more adventure.

This page is a work in progress and I gladly welcome any tips from my readers in the comments.

Distances are approximate, spellings may very on maps and signs, use this advice at your own risk. 

Index:
Important Information
Boleto Turistico

Hikes from Cusco
Cristo Blanco
Chacán Cave

Hikes outside of Cusco
Moray, Maras, Salineras

Important Information


Boleto Turistico

According to Wikitravel, you will need a tourist ticket to enter the following sites:

  • In Cusco: Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo Danzas Folklórico, Monumento Pachacuteq, Museo de Arte Popular, Museo del Sitio del Qoricancha, Museo Historico Regional, Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporáneo, and Santa Cataline Monastery.
  • Near Cusco: Chinchero ruins, Ollantaytambo, Pikillacta, Pisac, Pukapukara, Qénqo, Sacsayhuamán, Tambomachay, and Tipón.

Hikes From Cusco


Cristo Blanco

Status: Completed • Difficulty: Moderate • Length: 2 miles (3km) • Entrance Fee: No

Feel like climbing a third of the way up the Empire State Building at 11,000 feet above sea level? Then do I have a hike for you! This one is really, really easy to navigate.

Start at the Plaza de Armas and head northwest exiting to the right of the Cathedral. This road is called Triunfo. Walk two blocks (passing by the famous twelve-sided stone) to the San Blas neighborhood and Calle Choquechacca. Turn left here and walk northeast until you see a staircase on the right called Atocsaykuchi. Climb about 550 stairs and don’t stop until you get to a main road with a sweeping view of the city.

As you climb the stairs, landmarks will include the South American Explorers Club (less than 100 steps up) and a basketball/street soccer court (about 200 steps up) both on the right. You will come to a few forks in the stairs but just keep to the path that looks better used. Near the top you will start to see yellow hand railing that will let you know you are still on track. Once you reach the main road turn left and walk uphill.

Pretty soon you’ll see Cristo Blanco peaking up from the bushes. Choose any one of the footpaths that take you to the base of the statue. I’m sure the route described here is only one of many. Basically all you have to do is go to San Blas and then go up. (Be careful though. If you try to enter via Sacsayhuaman you might have to pay)

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Chacán Cave

Status: Completed • Difficulty: Moderate • Length: 7 miles (11km) • Entrance Fee: No

[Update 6/15/2012: I returned to this location in mid-June. Almost all the lakes I mention in the post are dry and the water level in the river has dropped significantly. The cave can now be explored all the way through to the other side if you are willing to scramble over some rocks and get your socks wet. Also, my brother found an amazing look-out spot hidden above the cave. To find it, search on the ridge above the cave until you find a large crack in the rocks. Descend into the crevice (it shouldn’t be too difficult. There is a makeshift trail and stairs). Inside you should find an opening that looks out of the cliff face. I believe this is called “balcón de diablo.”]

First, credit where credit is due. This trail was not blazed by me but based on very helpful advice from Trek the Andes and an outdated edition of Footprint Cusco and the Inca Trail. The information from Trek the Andes proved to be so helpful, that I’m actually going send you to that site for most of the directions to Chacán Cave, adding in details I think are helpful.

Getting to the trailhead

What Trek the Andes does not include are directions from the Plaza de Armas, so that’s where I’ll start. From the plaza follow the path outlined above in the Cristo Blanco hike. But once you reach the main road at the top of the stairs, stay on it instead of turning to walk up to the statue. Keep walking until you come to a fork in the road and turn left (towards  Sacsayhuamán).

Walk until you reach the rear entrance of  Sacsayhuamán. With your back to the guard booth look for a big purple sign above you on the hillside, this is your next destination. To reach the sign walk away from the guard booth on the road. It goes uphill and eventually winds its way back to the sign. As Trek the Andes mentions, you can also take a taxi to this point making the distance and climbing significantly shorter. Another shortcut (this only works if you have a the Boleto Turistico) is to cut through Sacsayhuamán.

(Caution: Some sources I’ve read report muggings and assaults behind Sacsayhuamán. Use common sense and don’t hike alone)

Hiking to Chacán

From here, I’ll send you to Trek the Andes for further information on the trail after you’ve reached the sign. My comments are below.

For the paragraph beginning with “3734m GR771059”: My path differed slightly hereThese are my directions. After coming to the two paths that go right, aim for a large rock formation up ahead near the end of a shallow valley. Follow the winding path up to the base of the rock and turn left (uphill).  Once you crest the nearby hill (the trail is less clear here) you should see the at least one lake. Walk down the hill, across a small earthen dyke at the near end of the lake and continue in a straight line from dyke to a wide dirt road. Walk about 50m uphill on the road until you come to a fork. Turn downhill here and follow the path out onto the top of Chacán. (by the time you hit the dirt road you should be able to see the downstream side of Chacán, you can take any of the several paths that lead to it.)

For the paragraph beginning with “2.5km from start 3765m GR 764066”: Important to note that the best access to the cave is on the upstream side of Chacán. Several paths lead down to an open grassy area with good views of the cave. I went to the downstream side and got yelled at by some shepherds who thought I was bothering their sheep.

For the paragraph beginning with “From Chacan at the end of the natural bridge”: Here my path diverged from Trek the Andes. Instead of continuing on his more adventurous path I cut back up to the main road and followed it back out to the sign. This path is very simple. Get to the wide dirt road you were on earlier and follow it downhill, at intersections stick to the road that looks best used.

(For less-adventurous types, you can stick to the road both there and back without much trouble. However, it is not as pretty, especially in the more populated sections where it can be quite litter-strewn)  

Back to Cusco

Once you’ve arrived back at the purple sign, follow the main paved road to the right. This will take you right up next to Sacsayhuamán and past two entrance booths. Heading this way on foot will likely attract the attention of  guards who want to make sure you are not sneaking into the park without a ticket. When confronted, I explained where we were going and where we had hiked to. I also said I knew we needed a ticket for Sacsayhuamán and we planned to visit another day. This seemed to do the trick and we were allowed to continue down the road, though we noticed the guards never took their eyes off us. (I don’t know if they would have let us off so easy if we were coming up instead of heading down.)

Once you’ve passed both entrance stations continue to follow the winding road down to San Cristobal. Turn right onto Arco Irís. Jog right on Huaynapata and quickly left onto Ataud. Continue down until you hit the Plaza de Armas. Made it!

Map

Via Google Maps

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Chacan Cave – Cusiyuchayoc Tunnels – Temple of the Moon

Status: Researching • Difficulty: Moderate • Length: 4km

  • Itinerary from Adventures Within Reach is as follows: Start at the Plaza de Armas and hike uphill eucalyptus trees beside the Saphy River. You should reach Chacan Cave within an hour. This cave also houses a small waterfall and the “Temple of the Rainbow. From here you hike another hour to the Cusiyuchayoc tunnels, AWR calls this “Zona X.” You can explore inside the tunnels and in the afternoon they are illuminated by the sun. Continue from here to the Temple of the Moon and back to Cusco.

Viva El Peru and Pachacutec Monument

Status: Researching  • Difficulty: ?? • Length: ?? 

  • So far, I’ve only found one trip reprot (and a rather dramatic one at that) on this hike. It dosen’t seem like the trail is too hard to find but I’m a little concerned about going it alone because of safety concerns regarding the neighborhoods around the base of the mountain.

Chawaytiri

Status: Researching • Difficulty: Easy • Length: ?? 

  • Another guided hike offered by Peruvian Andes Adventures. Basically a wander around the village of Chawaytiri (near Pisac). From the description it sounds like you just wander around local paths looking at farms.
  • Andes Adventure offers another easy hike called, Patacancha and Pumamarca, but the trailhead is located 3 hours outside Cusco, not really something that should go on this page.

Chinchero-Huayllabamba

Status: Completed • Difficulty: Challenging • Length: 8km (5 miles) 

[Update: I did this hike while on assignment for Apus Peru. It was a long (significantly longer than the original 8km estimate), challenging, and amazing two-day trek. Read about my trip here.] 

  • An Amazonas Explorer page list the details for this hike. Apparently you walk a good section of the Incan Trail from Chinchero down to Huayllabamba (a small village with good views and ruins). The hike returns via Urubamba where you catch a ride back to Cusco.

Moray, Maras, and the Salineras (salt pans)

Status: Completed • Difficulty: Varies • Length: Varies  • Entrance Fee: Yes

I visited the town of Maras, the ruins of Moray, and the salt mines or Salineras on assignment for Apus Peru, a trekking company that operates out of Cusco. At least one tour company (Amazonas Explorer) offers this as a trek but I’m not sure it would be much fun, as pretty much all the walking would be along major roads.

My impression is that these sights are better seen in a day of driving and with a guide. Still, this page is about low/no-cost things to do around Cusco so let me offer some thoughts about how you could reach these sights without a tour or a guide.

You could take a bus to Maras (located in-between Cusco and the Sacred Valley) and attempt to hike into the Moray along the wide dirt road. But you would still have to pay the entrance fee, which I believe was rather steep. From there you could walk three or four miles cross-country to the Salineras and downhill from there along a wide road to Urubamba.

Another option is to take transportation to Urubamba and then walk uphill on the large dirt road to the Salineras. I’m not sure if there is a ticket booth on that side, but if there isn’t, it could be a cheap way to see the salt pans.

Here’s a link to a map of the area. As you can see the individual sites are pretty spread out. Taking this trip on foot might not be very rewarding as you will constantly be passed by tour buses full of people riding in comfort and seeing the same sights you are — all for a few dollars more.

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Chinchero-Urquillas

Status: Researching • Difficulty: ?? • Length: ??

  • About 50 mins from Chinchero to Pisac (good Sunday market and colonial church). Drop down via terraced farmland to Urquillas continue to Urubamba River. Road is on other side of river.

Cusco – Huchay Qusco – Lamay

Status: Researching • Difficulty: Hard (if done in one day) • Length:??

  • Mentioned in one of the SAEC binders.
  • Recommended guidebooks are Footprint Cusco and Sacred Valley Outlines. 
  • This treck is offered by Peruvian Andes Adventures. I extracted these directions from their description: Leave Cusco early in the morning and travel by taxi to Tauca (located near Chinchero). Climb uphill for 3 hours until reaching an unnamed pass at 4500m. For this vantage point you should be able to see the Sacred Valley and Piuray Lagoon. Descend for an hour and a half to Huchuy Qosqo. The next stop is Lamay where you should be able to get transportation back to Cusco. They said it takes all day.
  • Amazonas Explorer list a slightly different route that does not include Lamay. There somewhat scant description says you walk along the edge of the Sacred Valley on the Inca Trail, pass through a gorge and emerge to a good view of the Valley. From there you decend Royal Incan steps to Huchuy Quosqo.
  • Adventures Within Reach gives their itinerary as Chinchero to Piuray Lake to Apacheta Pass to Huchuyqosqo to Lamay but list the trip as “easy hiking.” A second AWR page gives a more detailed itinerary and calls the hike moderate. At 7:00 they leave Cusco for Chinchero and view Mount Veronica and the Vilcabamba range at sunrise. They leave from either Chinchero or Ccorao and hike up to a “Puna” to view Alpacas. From there they cross the Apacheta pass (4,200m) where you first get a view of the Sacred Valley. They next drop down to Huchuy Qosqo which is described as being on a mountaintop with many streams running on either side near Andean Oak trees. The next section for trail passes through open terrain and down switchbacks to Lamay where they get a car back to Cusco. AWR says Lamay is 50 mintues from Cusco.

Huilloc-Pumamarca-Ollantaytambo

Status: Researching • Difficulty: ?? • Length: ??

  • Amazonas Explorer list the details of this trip as follows: Drive from Cusco to Huilloc (this is where many Incan Trail porters come from also it’s a big weaving town). Then take what is described as a “short steep” hike up to Pumamarca. The trip then follows the Incan Trail along a steep and terraced valley to Ollantaytambo where you catch transportation back to Cusco.

Pisac Ruins and Market

Staus: Researching • Difficulty: Easy • Length: ?? 

  • Adventures Within Reach says Pisac is 40 minutes from Cusco. From there it sounds pretty easy to see the ruins and visit the local market. There is mention of an Andean buffet.

Putukusi Mountain (Near Machu Picchu)

Status: Researching • Difficulty: ?? • Length: ?? 

  • Adventures Within Reach gives directions as follows: From Aguas Calientes walk the train tacks to the trailhead. Climb for three hours up ladders and stairs until you reach the top with “stunning views” of MP and AC.
  • Not for those afraid of heights.

Sacred Valley Driving Tour

Status: Researching • Difficulty: Easy • Length: Not so much a hike as a few little hikes

  • Amazonas Explorer recommends you see the valley in this order: Cusco to Pisac ruins to Urubamba to Ollantaytambo ruins to Chinchero to Cusco.

San Jeronimo – Huanca – Sacred Valley -Cusco

Status: Researching • Difficulty: ?? • Length: ??

  • This comes from a SAEC trip report but I failed to recored more than the name.

Southern Sacred Valley

  • Sites in the Sothern Valley include seeing Oropesa,Tipon,Huasao, Pikillacta, Andahuaylilla (Sistine Chapel of the Americas), Sicuani, Urcos and Huacarpay lakes, Raqchi and the temple of Wiracocha (120km from Cusco).

Sunday Market at Urcos and Tipon (Tipán) to Saylla

Status: Researching • Difficulty: ?? • Length: ??

  • A tour by Adventures Within Reach lists the following as a one day excision. Visit Sunday market at Urcos then a colonial church at Andahuaylilla. Next vist a set of ruins including Tipon (same as Tipán?), Pachatusan water fountains, and Piquillacta.
  • Other places take you Tipon and note that the nearby town of the same name is famous for cuy. Also trek takes you downhill 4km to Saylla
  • One of the trip reprots at the South American Explorers Club mentioned a way to do this route without having to pay at a ticket booth.
  • The same trip reprot mentioned a topographical map called Calca #2543 as useful for finding this route.
  • Recommended guidebook is Exploring Cusco by Peter Frost.

Tambomachay – Cusco

Status: Researching • Difficulty: ?? • Length: ??

  • This hike involves taking a taxi to Tambomachay and walking back to Cusco.
  • The trip report this is based on said it was leisurely.
  • Amazonas Explore list this trip but includes a slightly different itinerary.  They also visit Pucara (the red fort) and the moon temple on their way back. There final stop isn’t Cusco but rather Sacsayhauman.
  • Other companies do this hike also with little variation.

 

15 thoughts on “Short Solo Trips and Day Hikes Near Cusco

  1. Jamie

    Hi there, we are 2 female backpackers on a pretty tight budget. Do you think it would be safe for us to do some of the day hikes around Cusco? Would appreciate your advice 🙂

    Reply
    1. Isaiah Brookshire Post author

      Cusco and the surrounding area struck me as fairly safe during the day. I did hear stories about people being harassed or mugged on some of the paths but I was usually more worried about the wild dogs than other people. Some of the sites like the Temple of the Moon and the Moray, Maras, and the Salineras are on major tourist trails that offer safety in numbers. Cristo Blanco is also a safe and easy stop during the day. Zone-X (Cusiyuchayoc Tunnels) and Chacan Cave are more remote and less visited. In general my advice is to trust your instincts, if something doesn’t feel safe, turn around. With one or two extra people added to your group, I would feel safe in any of these places. There are lots of great spots to meet other tourist interested in joining you for a hike like the South American Explorers Club and the Meeting Place Cafe (both in the San Blas neighborhood). Hope that helps. Have fun!

      Reply
    2. abby

      I will be staying in Cusco and looking to do some hikes without a tour guide with a few others with me. What is the best way to gte to trailheads? taxis? I am traveling from the US

      Reply
  2. mel

    re: salineras
    i’ve done this hike with the SAE recently. it is possible to hike from urubamba to the salineras along the dirt road. after crossing the river near the salt pans, there may be someone there to take money, and then you’re on a mule path to the pans.

    after the pans, again it is possible to hike mule paths into maras, (a gorgeous trail, views of the glaciers, and shorter than the main road) and from there catch a bus back to cusco, it seems to run about once an hour. just watch out for mountain bikes.

    the only problem with this route is that it is all uphill, and finding the connection after teh salt mines can be tricky. trip reports are likely to be at SAE.

    Reply
    1. Isaiah Brookshire Post author

      Hi Melissa, some of the hikes have links to maps but the ones that don’t shouldn’t be too hard to find.

      Reply
  3. Doria

    Thank you so much for this info! I am going to Cusco next month and I am finding that the required tour groups for some of the ruins are very expensive. Can’t wait to try some of your recommended treks.

    Reply
  4. sel32012

    I did the Moray to Moras to Salineras to Urubamaba hike a few years ago (2012). I would disagree on most of what you say here. It was beautiful! The difficulty level was super easy. The first time it did it while fairly sick, but I loved it and the second time I went with my dad who was 60 and has asthma. He did it with out any problems at all and I picked this hike for them exactly because it was so easy. You also don’t have to walk along any main roads with tourist buses going by you until the very end. From Moray to Maras there is a small dirt road, all down hill, that you can take. Find it about 100 meters down the main bus road on your left after leaving Moray. The small dirt road, only for horses, bikers and walkers, goes straight through some potato fields. It is level and then goes downhill for most of the rest of the way to Maras. I remember lots of mud! After leaving Salineras and crossing the Vilcanota river in the Sacred Valley you can either walk along the main road to Urubamba, or there is a small dirt road to the right that runs right along the river. You go by cute country houses and gardens, all very pretty even though it is fairly populous, until this small road does meet up with the main road and you have to take that into Urubamba. Or just wait on the side of the road and catch the bus into Urubamba. When I did the Moray to Urubamba hike the first time it took us all day. We arrived in Moray around 9 am, and left the ruins about 10 am to start the hike. We arrived in Urubamba as it was getting dark, around 6pm. We did take our time as the hike was gorgeous with views of the snowcapped mountains across the Sacred Valley. The second time with my parents we only did Moray to Maras and this took us maybe 2-3 hours.

    The San Jeronimo – Huanca – Sacred Valley -Cusco as you have listed is a wonderful hike. I would rate it pretty difficult but totally worth it. Start in the plaza in San Jeronimo, you can take a bus from Cusco there (find the one that says Saylla-Tipón, it will go straight down Av Cultura and then take a small detour to the left to a market. Get off here, go across the huge market to find the San Jeronimo Plaza. Buy snacks in the market!) From the plaza you head to the back of town and there will be a trail that switchbacks up into the mountains. There are arrows pointing the way and signs as it is a pilgrimage. It is pretty easy to follow except in ONE area where the main trail keeps going around a curve and you think you want to follow. This eventually peters out. Instead you want to take a small side trail to your left up a bank. There will be more arrows above the bank leading you on. This is the hardest part! Eventually the steep trail tops out on a fairly level/gentle uphill road to a village. You go through the village and uphill again. You cross over a ridge and the Sacred Valley is laid out at your feet. The view is amazing!! Then it is a very steep and slippery downhill decent to a church in the Sacred Valley. You meet up with the main road through the valley and can catch the bus back to Cusco. This is an all day hike! We started around 8 or 9 am and were hiking in the dark on the way down, which with it being so steep and slippery is not a good idea. We did take our time hiking though, because of the difficulty and view in the middle.

    Reply
  5. Cristina

    Hello! Any recommendations for an easy hike around Cuzco with two boys, 4 and 2 year old? We would like something with a path where we could potentially take a stroller. Thanks in advance!

    Reply
  6. David

    Hi, just did the cave tour, amazingly and far away from being touristic!
    We get our socks really wet and it was worth it! But not at all easy to get into the cave, do with extrem care!
    And do not follow the river too far, you have to turn left to reach the path back!
    Thanks!!

    Reply
  7. Martyna

    Hi Isaiah,
    The Chacán Cave trek you mention sounds great, but the Trek the Andes website seems to be down.
    Any idea on where else I could find info on this trek? A quick search hasn’t proved particularly fruitful

    Thanks 🙂

    Reply
  8. Martyna

    Hi Isaiah,
    The Chacan Caves trek looks great, but the website you refer to seems to be down (/inexistent).
    Any advice on where to find more info on how to get there? The google search so far is not proving particularly fruitful

    Reply

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