Cusco - Best Tours & Trips 2019
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Relaxed A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers.
Full on For those looking to maximize their sight seeing time. You thrive on a packed day’s schedule from 8 am to 6pm, with some (but limited) free time. Most activities and meals included.
Mixed You will have solid amounts of both free time and structured time with some activities and meals included.
Group Tour Groups are between 25-60 people, typically ~30-40. Usually there will be many opportunities to split off and enjoy meals and excursions in smaller groups. This is the most economical way to travel, saving up to 40% versus booking the same itinerary yourself.
Small Group Tour Small groups are usually defined as between 10 and 24 travelers, often less. If you're the kind of person who enjoys more intimate experiences and personal service this is a good choice. All else being equal you will pay a premium for this style vs a larger group tour.
River Cruise These vessels are smaller than most ocean cruisers, limiting which amenties are available. Passenger counts can vary. One of the biggest advantages of a river cruise is the ability to dock at smaller ports and local villages.
Small Ship Cruise Small ship cruises usually have a max passenger count of 500. The primary purpose of these trips is to spend time off the vessel in local ports (e.g. Mediterranean) or experiencing nature (e.g Galapagos or Antarctica). Cabins can vary from budget to luxury.
Private Guided Private tours give you the undivided attention of a guide, and often involve special access to sites and unique experiences not available to larger groups. This is a great option for families, couples, and small friend groups. Expect to pay a bit more for the extra service.
Self Guided / Independent Tour A travel company plans your itinerary and arranges all the logistics including lodging, local activities, and transportantion. You have the flexibility of a solo trip while still getting the convience and time savings of expert planning. Get 90% of the benefits of a tour, without a guide.
Vacation / Holiday Package Similar to a self guided tour, this usually involves a home base, such as a hotel or resort, with packaged activities and day tours as a part of the stay.
Large Ship Cruise This is the "floating city" experience, with multiple ways to enjoy your vacation aboard the ship as much as on land. Ships are multiple floors, provide several activities, culinary, and shopping options. They often make fewer stops and have less time available for shore excursions.
Camping Typically involves most nights sleeping in tents (sometimes permanent tented sites) or in rustic cabins and lodges.
Basic - 2 star You'll stay in no-frills, but clean and comfortable, hotels or guesthouses. A 'Basic' trip might also involve a few nights of camping.
Value - 3 star Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels.
Premium - 4 star 3 to 4 star western hotel equivalents. While not all lodging will be 'luxury' they will be quite comfortable by western standards.
Luxury - 5 star The highest level of comfort and service. All accomodations are in four or five star hotels, boutique lodges or high-end homestays.
Price Per Day
Very Easy Minimal walking - motor vehicles available for all major parts of trip.
Easy Normal generally flat walking in urban or suburban environments.
Moderate Walking or physical activity half to most of day - no carrying equipment.
Strenuous All or most of day hiking or biking, hills included.
Extreme Very challenging all day hiking and backpacking carrying significant equipment.
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Rivers & Seas
Cities & Attractions
Good for Singles Trips that specifically cater to travelers looking to meet other singles.
No Single Supplement Trips where single supplement is usually not required for solo travelers.
Flights & Transport
Continents & Regions
- City tour in Lima, Cusco
- Cruise around Lake Titicaca, the Ballestas Islands
- Scenic drive through the Sacred Valley
- See the other-wordly Nazca Lines from the air
- Iconic train journey aboard the Vistadome train
- Visit the outdoor market at Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu, Sacsayhuaman, the Uros Islands, Lake Titicaca
- Explore Lima a mix of modern and classical culture, enjoy the beauty of Paracas, fly over the incredible Nazca Lines and visit the fairy tale like oasis of Huacachina.
- See the pyramid of Caral amidst the 3rd oldest city in the world and first astronomy centre of America. Bring you to a variety of wildlife along the Peruvian coast and more precisely in the Ballestas Islands.
- Witness the Misti and Chachani volcanoes, the great Condor in the depth of Colca Canyon and see also the White City of Arequipa with its cultural events.
- Discover the wonders of Cusco city (Incas’ capital prior the conquistadors) and its surrounding archaeological sites. Experience its rich culture and its taste for a sweet variety of thing such as the colorfulness of their weaving fabrics.
- Trek via the famous Inca Trail to the magnificent Machu Picchu, one of the 7 wonders of the world, and to the incredible Rainbow Mountain.
- Discover Lake Titikaka starting with a nice boat ride through the floating Uros islands made completely out of reed. Meet with their special vision on ecological growth while showing you the fundamental of these floating natural structure fashioned in the Inca’s traditional style.
- Adventure yourself in the Amazon jungle near Tambopata and spot beautiful macaws, playful monkeys, incredible caimans and many more species along a charming river that litter the area.
- Visit to the Inkaterra Hacienda Concepcion nature and wildlife area.
- Experience Private Tour of Ollantaytambo and Pisac
- Visit Sacsayhuaman, an Incan fortress overlooking the city, as well as the red fort of Pukapukara, and the fountains at Tambomachay
- Visit Incan Ruins and Indigenous Markets
- Enjoy travelling in train through the Cloud Forest and Machu Picchu
- Experience adventurous hike to steep Huayna Picchu sugarloaf peak
- Explore Lima
- Discover Cusco
- See Sacred Valley
- Visit to Machu Picchu
- Board on rail to see Machu Picchu
- Visit the world renowned and colorful Indian market in Pisac
- Enjoy a guided walking tour around Cuzco
- Visit lake Titicaca
- Embark on an unforgettable boat journey to explore the magnificent scenery and fascinating life on and around the lake.
- Visit the floating islands of the Uros Indians
- Enjoy a guided afternoon tour of both colonial and modern Lima
- Visit the village of Huayllabamba
- Experience 2-hours hike leads to Intipunku (Gate of the Sun) which overlooks the awesome Machu Picchu
- Enjoy the climb magnificent views of the mountain ranges.
- Visit the Runkuraqay and Sayacmarca ruins
- Discover remnants of a well-preserved historic civilization
- Experience a thriving modern culture and Relish in the beauty of local hand-woven textiles
- Breath-taking mountain peaks, and artifacts from one the most powerful empires in human history.
- Meet local artisans, musicians, and grassroots leaders who’ll share their contributions to Andean society
- Enjoy the magical ancient city of Machu Picchu, as well as other archaeological sites in the Sacred Valley
- Explore Lima, Peru’s historic ‘City of Kings’
- Enjoy the dazzling Caballo de Paso Festival at Lurin
- Discover the colonial and Inca highlights of Cusco
- Five day horse trek through the stunning Sacred Valley of the Incas
- Visit Machu Picchu, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World
- Hike to Machu Picchu in style along the Salkantay Route
- Enjoy one of Peru's most beautiful and challenging treks
- By night, relax in Luxury mountain lodges reserved for your trekking group
- Lima's historic centre, including the Basilica Cathedral and catacombs
- Guided tour of Machu Picchu, set against its dramatic Andean backdrop
- Walk a section of the Inca Trail via Wiñay Wayna
- Vibrant markets, Inca museums and Spanish churches of Cuzco
- The imposing Inca fortresses of Sacsayhuaman, Pisac and Ollantaytambo
- Traditional lunch in one of the Sacred Valley communities
- Spend two nights deep in the Amazon Rainforest
- Remote full-service camping trek through the beautiful Vilcabamba Range
- Walk on the classic Inca Trail and enjoy a guided tour of Machu Picchu
- Spectacular views of Mt Salcantay (6271m) and its glaciers
- Spend four nights in Cuzco, the old Inca capital
- Explore the fortresses and markets of the Sacred Valley
- Experience the ancient incan inti raymi ceremony
- Explore the sacred valley
- Learn about traditional ways of life and visit local markets
- Conquer the inca trail
- Feel like climbing some mountains, fording some streams and following some rainbows? Where better to fulfil your adventurous dreams than along the epic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu?
- Whether you trek the classic Inca Trail, the Inca Quarry Trail or take the scenic train route, there's something to suit everyone. Trust us, this is going to be one of the highlights of your awesome life
- Don't worry, we won't hog all of your time. You'll have plenty of opportunity to bounce around Cusco, digging deep into the pockets of Incan history
- Intrepid gives you wings! Really big mechanical ones. We'll fly you from Lima to Cusco so you won't have to think about the logistics of it all
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Top Cusco Experiences
Learning about ancient Inca history and visiting well maintained ruins and archaeological sites
Seeing the beautiful and historic Spanish Colonial architecture juxtaposed against Inca ruins
Touring the Sacred Valley
Enjoying local food, art, and culture
Visiting the Inca Museum
Leaving on the Hiram Bingham train to the famous site of Machu Picchu
Meeting local Peruvians and getting introduced to their culture
Seeing a festival procession make its way down the streets, with brightly colored costumes and lively music
Cusco Trip Reviews
1,383 Cusco Tour Reviews - Summary 99% Recommend
Cusco Tours and Travel Guide
Cusco Attractions & Landmarks Guide
Historic Cusco is a classic jumping off place for treks or train rides to Machu Picchu. Spending a few days here to help acclimatize to the altitude is essential and recommended by most tours. This also gives you the time to absorb the incredibly diverse history here and learn some contextual background before heading to the famous Lost City of the Incas.
The City of Cusco
High in the Andes, surrounded by green mountainous terrain, and consisting of countless windows to the distant past, is the city of Cusco. Somewhat heavily commercialized and touristy (it is after all the passage through which 99% of tours and travelers go to reach Machu Picchu), Cusco is a spectacularly vibrant and cultural city in its own right. Representing many stages of native Peruvian history, ancient Inca history, and Spanish colonial history side by side.
This is a classic case of modern local life imbued in every miniscule facet with ancient traditions and customs. As a small city that sees near constant tourist traffic, part of this phenomenon is purely economical, and could potentially as the main and all about appeasing travelers. However there is a genuine sense throughout the city. Tourists are not sequestered among the classic sites and museums. The sites are a seamless part of the heartbeat of the city.
One of the positive outcomes to being so heavily trafficked by outside visitors, is that Cusco’s many old and fragile sites are well looked after and maintained. Additionally, there are several accommodation and food options available. You’re constantly surrounded by intricate details.
Some of the highlights you’ll experience in Cusco include:
Plaza de armas - The main square and heartbeat of the city. This large open space with a beautiful fountain at the center is a meeting place for locals and tourists alike. Surrounded by restaurants, shops, and beautiful architecture.
Inca Museum - This oddly modest museum, housed in a 17th century colonial house is a great way to introduce yourself to the story of the Inca’s. Explore their collections which include traditional Inca crafts called “Keros” (carved wooden ceremonial vessels), and textiles. The museum also includes mummies and Inca idols of gold and solid silver, and ancient Inca artifacts.
Cusco Cathedral - Incredible 16th century Spanish cathedral. See works of art from the Escuela Cuzquena, which was famous during the colonial era. Spanish colonists set up the school to teach the Inca - giving them examples of European art, scenes, and technique.
16th Century Jesuit Church - Beautiful and enormous, situated right on the Plaza de armas, this church was built in the late 1500s, on the site of an Inca palace.
The Sacred Valley - The Sacred Valley is an important part of Cusco, and was an important area to the Inca. A fertile valley, at lower elevation to Cusco, it was where crops were planted, and community was fostered. Stop to explore Ollantaytambo, Pisac, and of course Machu Picchu.
Cusco’s Ancient Ruins and Archaeological Wonders
As many tours to Peru will highlight, Cusco is an archaeological gold mine. This original capital of the Inca Empire contained much activity and its many ruins reveal much about how the Inca, Spanish, and other native groups lived during the region’s long history.
One of the most significant is the Saksaywaman ruins, high on a hill overlooking Cusco. Originally constructed by the ancient Killke people in the year 1100, it pre-dates Inca presence in the area by 100 years. It is most commonly referred to as a fortress, though the structures original intention is unknown.
Once Incan rulers settled in Cusco, they expanded upon the fortress - utilizing a great example of their famous rock wall technique. Each stone is placed so flush against the ones around it, that if you were to attempt to slide a piece of paper between them, it wouldn’t fit.
Spanish conquest began in the 16th century, just 100 years after the construction of Machu Picchu. At this time the Inca Empire’s capital was still in Cusco, where it had been for 2 centuries.
Rather than plunder and burn, the Spanish simply built on top of adapted or expanded out the many existing structures for their use.
Another impressive ancient site you should see in Cusco is the ruins of Qorikancha. Qorikancha, meaning “Golden Courtyard” in the Quechua language was a central temple, with the walls completely covered floor to ceiling with gold sheets, and an example of the Inca’s obsession with gods and status.
The ruins of Ollantaytambo, which was a city constructed by the Incas in the 1400s, is located in the Sacred Valley, and another key stop for travelers keen to explore ancient Inca history. This city was in fact never finished. The arrival of the Spanish halted their progress, and unfinished portions are clearly visible when you explore the ruins today.
Most tours of Cusco include deep dives into the many archaeological wonders of the Inca Empire and the details to be seen that highlight the subsequent conquest by Spanish colonists. These tours involve a lot of walking over uneven surfaces, and by nature of the impressive amount to be seen, will involve a lot of standing and listening to the stories of the Inca Empire, native tribes of Peru, and Spanish influence.
Cusco has a long rainy season, so the chances of you standing and walking in the rain are fairly high, as many of the sights you’ll see during your tour are outside and uncovered. Whenever you are visiting ruins, be very cognisant of where you walk and pay attention to signage. Many may have loose ground and unsafe areas that are not suitable for walking, or have areas that are currently under excavation.
If you’re less interested in ancient history, Peru’s major cities and sites may hold limited fascination for you. While most tours to Cusco and beyond will also highlight on local food and customs of Peru, the central focus will definitely be on the ruins.
Touring the Sacred Valley
The Sacred Valley is part of the wider Cusco region, and a historically significant area to the Inca Empire. This fertile valley encompasses multiple Inca ruins, including the Machu Picchu citadel, and was an extremely important stronghold to the Inca’s survival - helping them to thrive as long as they did.
The valley, surrounded by mountains, is several degrees warmer than the higher elevation Cusco and Machu Picchu. This allowed crops to be grown and provided a climate where settlement and growth made more sense. Unlike the grandeur of Machu Picchu, which most archaeologists believe was built as an estate for the Inca ruler Pachacuti, the Sacred Valley was the center of everyday life for Inca families.
Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley is a lovely small village, with ruins nearby which are a classic stop for most tours to Machu Picchu from Cusco. The train journey from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, at the base of Machu Picchu, is about 3 hours.
From Cusco to Machu Picchu: Prepare for the Journey
Cusco is a classic stop for travelers heading to Machu Picchu. In fact almost all tours stop here for a day or two before embarking on the Inca trail or taking the train to Aguas Calientes. This is useful for a couple reasons.
Cusco is at 11k feet above sea level, while Machu Picchu is at a mere 8K. A few days in Cusco is crucial for adjusting to the altitude. The last thing you want is to suffer from altitude sickness during your journey to Machu Picchu! Take it easy, drink lots of water, and let your body get used to the thin Andean air.
Staying in Cusco is also helpful for providing an initial context to your journey and the characters involved. It’s the perfect introduction to Peru, and the many forces that contributed to the culture and diversity here. Including in food, language, architecture, and art - Cusco is the gateway to another time. The present day locals live concurrent with their ancestors, in keeping their traditions and customs alive. Cusco is the gateway from which you prepare to enter a different world.
During your free time in Cusco, be sure to pick up any last minute essentials for your journey. Depending on the time of year, it could be quite chilly, and even more so once you reach the ruins. The sun is often shrouded in mist and fog before 10am at Machu Picchu, and though you’ll be scrambling up and down ancient stairways as you explore, it will still be damp. Luckily Cusco is full of shops where you can purchase the famous alpaca wool hats, gloves, or ponchos. (Though don’t go overboard! Last thing you want is more luggage to deal with on your hike, or to keep track of during your stay in Aguas Calientes).
There are many ways to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco. If you’re taking the train (of which there are three choices, of different budget levels) if leaves right from Poroy Station, about 20 minutes from downtown Cusco. This service is regular between May and December, but may be irregular during off season months when mudslides or heavy rain cause safety concerns.
If you are planning to reach Machu Picchu on one of the three main treks, you’ll take a bus or shuttle from Cusco to your starting point. On your way, you’ll pass through the Sacred Valley, location of Ollantaytambo, where you might stop for a night depending on your tour itinerary.
Weather in Cusco
The weather in Cusco is mild and temperate, with temperatures rarely dips below 30 degrees F, and rarely above 75 degrees F. The area does experience moderate to heavy rainfall through much of the year, between December and April. Heavy cloud cover can be expected in January, February, and March.
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