When planning how long to stay in Cusco, many visitors just allow a few days for exploring the city itself. But just surrounding the city are some of the most remarkable Inca ruins outside of Machu Picchu, some as close as 15 minutes from the city center. When planning what to do in Cusco, make sure to allow some time for these Inca ruins in and around the city. Get a glimpse into the impressively well-preserved sites, and delve a bit deeper into the history of the Incas.
Read below for our favorite ruins in the Cusco region and why we believe touring them is one of the most important things to do on your trip to Peru.
Some guidebooks say that if you only visit one site in Cusco city, this should be it. The base of the colonial church and convent Santo Domingo, Qorikancha was at one time the richest temple in all of the Inca Empire. Today the masterful stonework remains, after having withstood looting of the conquistadores and violent earthquakes that leveled everything around it. The stonework you can see today ranks as some of the finest Inca architecture in all of Peru.
Let the mysterious past capture your imagination as you wander through, quickly forgetting that you’re right in the middle of Cusco city.
This Inca citadel sits right on the outskirts of Cusco, right next to the White Christ statue towering over the city. One of the most accessible ruins, Saksaywaman is always popular with visitors. Come see the remarkable masonry in this monumental walled complex, and expect to make some friends with the resident llamas along the way.
Sitting about an hour and a half outside the main city of Cusco, this impressive Inca site includes extensive agricultural terracing resting at the head of a valley. It is believed to have been a park for the upper class, or perhaps an agricultural centrum. Like the ruins of Moray, the various micro-climates on every different level of terraces within the complex lead us to believe it was used as an agricultural laboratory.
It is also home to one of the largest irrigation works seen in Inca ruins, and water still rushes through these channels today.
- Incan Citadel in Pisac
An entire citadel, the ruins at Pisac sit high above the village below with dramatic drops to the gorge below on either side. Here you can see functioning waterworks, agricultural terraces cascading down into the valley, and unique astronomical tools. A massive site, exploring it warrants at least a couple hours of your time.
(Read our entire post on the town of Pisac here).
- Puka Pukara
On the way to Pisac, just 5 miles from Cusco, this expansive set of military ruins sits on high ground overlooking all of Cusco Valley. Meaning “red fortress” in Quechua, the ancient stronghold’s large walls, terraces and staircases are a notable example of military architecture. The center also played an important role as an administrative center, and was a key part of the Inca Empire’s defense for the city of Cusco.
Visitors love the sweeping views over Cusco, the jungle and surrounding ruins, and hues of the walls that change color at sunset from a grey to red (you have to see it to believe it!).
Meaning “labyrinth” in Quechua, Qenqo is perhaps one of the most intriguing spots in Cusco. Unique from many of the other Inca ruins, this particularly mysterious site stands out for its intertwining of the archaeological site and bizarre natural formations. Wander through the carved structures, caves, and temples built into the ground. It’s only 15 minutes outside of Cusco, but one of the holiest places in the region.
This is a site you definitely want a guide for so you don’t miss any of the eerie details or theories.
What makes Ollantaytambo so ideal? In addition to having two sets of ruins, it’s also the town where the train to Machu Picchu runs from. Here you’ll find a traditional town set in the Sacred Valley, with original structures through the main part of town. An entire Inca citadel sits here, as well as a second set of ruins that consists of Incan storehouses dramatically set on the steep slope overlooking the town.
Ollantaytambo has some of the most extensive areas to explore, and is perfect for visiting on your way to or from Machu Picchu.
(Read more about why Ollantaytambo is one of our favorite spots in the Sacred Valley).
- Moray and Maras
A set of two sites right near each other, Moray and Maras are two of the most popular ruins. In Moray you can see the concentric agricultural terraces grading down into the Earth, believed to have been used for archaeological experiments. This dramatic site is often featured as a highlight of Cusco.
Maras is the nearby town where the salt mines dating back to Inca times can be found. Here you can see locals mining the salt just as the area was originally used for, and even join the process.
The most impressive and elusive of them all, the ruins at Choquequirao rival Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, they can only be reached on horseback or by foot. You can read the full details on this incredible spot here to see if it’s a journey you may want to embark upon.
And the best part is- these are just some of the Inca ruins you can see within a couple hours of Cusco city. These have long been our traveler’s favorite ruins in the city of Cusco, but those wanting an even richer experience will have many more to explore. No matter which you see, make sure part of your time in Peru is spent exploring this fascinating history and at least a couple of these ruins in Cusco. There is a lot to do in Cusco, but these are the experiences you won’t soon forget.
You can check out our current tours visiting these sight here, or speak with our travel specialists about combining any of these sites with your current travel plans. Those of you wanting to know about other ruins not listed here that you can visit can inquire here – let us show the unique history of our country! Experience the best of it by traveling with local specialists like those on the team at Peru Travel Now.