Staying in Cusco, Peru, is mandatory for travelers planning to visit the most famous Peruvian postcard. The city is home to Machu Picchu's closest airport and is nearly 70 miles away from Aguas Calientes, where they can finally reach the entrance. There are several ways to get there, and this decision will impact the length of stay and also the whole travel experience.
Technically, it is possible to visit Cusco and Machu Picchu in two days, but travelers who decide to do that are missing a lot. The former capital of the Inca Empire has many historical sights and natural wonders worth visiting, and they can easily spend a whole week in the region.
Day One: Take It Easy
Cusco stands 11,154 feet above sea level, and travelers are likely to complain about altitude sickness. Therefore, staying a few days in the city is recommended to help the body adapt to the high altitude and not plan much for the first day.
After arriving at the hotel, try the coca tea. The Andean people have been using it for thousands of years to mitigate the impact of altitudes.
After that, try to explore the city center, and there are many interesting buildings, churches, travel agencies and restaurants around the Plaza das Armas.
The Mercado San Pedro is a few blocks further, where locals sell fruits, meals, chocolates, and souvenirs. The place is always packed with tourists.
Day Two: Visit The Ruins
Travelers can walk 45 minutes and reach the impressive Sacsayhuaman ruins, a religious place that dates back to the 15th Century.
The place was built with precisely cut polygonal blocks that were put together like a puzzle, with any type of mortar between them. The most impressive fact is that they have remained intact through the centuries in a region known for earthquakes.
Travelers can enter the place using the Tourist Ticket, which allows tourists to visit 16 historical sites, including the Sacsayhuaman.
For those who book a city tour, the day also includes a visit to Q'enqo, which served as a mummification mortuary for the Inca) and the sunset at Pukapukara, a site of military ruins.
- Touristic Ticket Price: 130 Soles (Approximately $41 USD)
Day Three: Dive Into The Inca Ingenuity
Sacsayhuaman is just a glimpse of what the Incas were capable of. On the third day, travelers can book a day tour and visit Moray and the Salineras.
Tourists will travel 31 miles until they reach Moray, which means "harvesting corn" in Quechua, part of the Sacred Valley. The place consists of multiple circular terraces, creating different microclimates in each of them, where the Incas could try numerous crop types on them.
Afterward, the tour heads to Salineras de Maras, a natural salt field with 3,000 shallow pools. When the water evaporates, it leaves crystallized salt behind a system that has been working for over 500 years.
Tourists can no longer visit all the areas, so the human contact won't contaminate the salt. Yet, it is still an exciting tour.
Day Four: Sacred Valley
Travelers heading to Machu Picchu by train can start their journey one day before and book the Sacred Valley tour. The first stop is Pisac, where they can visit ruins and shops.
It is the perfect stop off for travelers who want to buy products with famous Peruvian fabrics.
Yet, the most impressive part of the Sacred Valley is Ollantaytambo. As Incas believed the higher places were the closest to God, this place had a special meaning to them.
On top of that, the fertile lands made Ollantaytambo crucial for the Inca economy. There are a few options of hotels in the city, but most tourists catch the train to Aguas Calientes to visit Machu Picchu the day after.
Tourists can leave their suitcases at the hotel in Cusco and bring a backpack for one night to Aguas Calientes.
Day Four: Finally, Machu Picchu
The buses heading to Machu Picchu start at 5 am, and there are people on the line already at 4 am. Luckily, buses leave every five minutes, so it is not a long wait.
Only 2,500 people can visit Machu Picchu per day, so it is highly recommended to book the tickets in advance on the official website.
The guided tour takes up to three hours, but the official guides are not mandatory. The place is arguably the most Instagrammable spot in Peru, but it is much more than that, so take at least a few minutes to contemplate the magnificent hills and ruins.
Travelers can catch a train back to Cusco or sleep one more night at Aguas Calientes.
- Ticket to Machu Picchu: $47
- Bus: $24 (round trip)
Day Five: Back To Cusco
For many, this is the last day of the journey, as travelers often head to Cusco to catch their flight. Yet, visiting Machu Picchu is tiring, and it is a great idea to add an extra day at Cusco to rest.
Those who decide to stay can see more of the city.
Visit San Blas, one of the coolest Cusco boroughs, is a great idea. This charming place has some excellent restaurants, art galleries and artists.
Watching the sunset at San Cristobal Church is a great way to wrap up the day.
Day Six: The Second Most Visited Attraction In Peru
After resting for one day, travelers can go back home or schedule a visit to the Rainbow Mountains, the second most visited site in Peru after Machu Picchu.
For thousands of years, this place was covered with snow, which melted due to global warming, revealing a mountain with seven different colors.
The mountains stand 17,060 feet above sea level, making hiking difficult. Yet, it is possible to see people of all ages doing it.
- Price: $68 (Includes transport, food, guide, and entrance)
Day Seven: Discover The Humantay Lake
Humantay is another site that tourists have recently discovered by the tourism hub. The turquoise waters contrast with the mountains covered with snow. The tour often leaves Cusco early in the morning, around 5 am, and it takes approximately three hours to reach the hiking entrance.
The landscape is beautiful, but the hike is equally challenging, and it takes approximately two hours to arrive at the lagoon. Tourists are often back to Cusco around 5 pm.
This is a great way to finish the visit to Cusco, especially for tourists who didn't have the chance to go to Huaraz, a Peruvian region famous for its incredible lakes.
- Humantay Lake Tour Price: $29