If you are planning a trip to Cusco and the famous Machu Picchu, you might wonder, “how many days to spend in Cusco?” We, too, had the same question before visiting, but after our trip and 3-week-long stay in Cusco, we can tell you that you’ll need at least 5 days in Cusco.
Determining how many days to stay in Cusco is challenging because there are so many factors involved. How does your body adapt to the altitude change? How are you planning to visit Machu Picchu? Are you planning on doing any day trips from Cusco?
That is why we have decided to write this guide on how many days in Cusco to spend, so you can plan your itinerary and be able to enjoy the ancient capital of the Incas without fearing that you’ll miss out!
We’ve also included several sample Cusco itineraries, so that you can have a rough idea of what you’ll be doing in Cusco!
How Many Days To Spend In Cusco?
As we mentioned, you’ll need at least 5 days in Cusco to enjoy all of its famous attractions, and that is not including the trip to Machu Picchu. Cusco is the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, and the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with plenty of historic buildings and ruins.
With 5 days in Cusco, you can explore some of the sites in the historic Sacred Valley, go on numerous hikes (such as Rainbow Mountain and Humantay Lagoon), and much more. It’ll give you time to overcome altitude sickness, something that is essential to you having a good time in this Peruvian city.
Note that 5 days does not include the time you’ll need to visit Machu Picchu. Depending on the options you have selected for Machu Picchu, you need to add another 1 to 5 days onto your Peru itinerary.
How To Decide How Many Days To Spend In Cusco?
There are several things you need to think about when deciding how many days to stay in Cusco. Below we’ve included some of the most important things you should take into account!
Adjusting to Altitude Sickness
Cusco is one of the highest altitude cities in the world – at 3,400 meters (11,154 feet) above sea level, so you will need to allow between one to three days in Cusco for your body to adjust to the thin air.
As soon as you arrive in the former capital of the Inca Empire, you will find breathing more difficult as places of high altitude have less oxygen in the air.
It’s important that you understand altitude sickness before deciding on how many days to stay in Cusco. The severity and effects of altitude sickness are different for everyone. You might find that you need three days of mild activity before you are acclimatized, which could mean you need more days in Cusco than the average person.
Mild symptoms can range from nausea, headache, dizziness, and tiredness. And it is important that you avoid alcohol and cigarettes and drink plenty of water until your body has adjusted!
Pro Tip: Make sure you drink some coca tea (a local Peruvian drink) or chew on some coca leaves when you are in Cusco, it’s a natural remedy that helps with altitude sickness!
How Are You Planning to Visit Machu Picchu?
Machu Picchu, one of the world’s most famous Seven Wonders of the World, is probably the reason you came to Peru in the first place. It’s perhaps the most famous thing about Peru and most definitely worth seeing!
Cusco is regarded as the gateway to Machu Picchu, and so as you can imagine, there are a plethora of tours available to this Inca citadel. Visitors can choose from:
- One-Day Tour
- Two-day Budget Tour
- Legendary 4-day Inca Trail Hiking Tour
- Five-day Salkantay Trek
- Other uncommon methods
We recommend either the two-day budget tour if you don’t mind a little bit of hiking and are trying to save some money, the Inca Trail (obviously), or the Salkantay Trail if you are really into hiking.
And although it’s possible to visit Machu Picchu in one day from Cusco, we don’t advise doing this as it will feel rushed, and you’ll only get to Machu Pichhu at mid-day, which is when it’s at its busiest! These tours include Machu Picchu tickets, so you don’t have to worry about not being able to buy them!
Pro Tip: For most travelers, the two-day budget tour is probably the most suitable since it combines a little bit of hiking and you can visit Machu Picchu early in the day, which is considered the best time to visit Machu Picchu.
How Many Day Trips From Cusco Are You Planning To Do?
If you plan on taking day trips from Cusco (which we highly recommend doing), you’ll need to add extra days to allow for this. There are plenty of amazing destinations close to Cusco, from the iconic Rainbow Mountain to the quaint villages of Pisac and Ollantayambo.
Sacred Valley (Moray and Salineras de Maras)
The aptly named Sacred Valley (named so because it contained some of the Incan civilization’s best agricultural land) is a series of Inca ruins that run from Pisac to Macchu Picchu, this popular attraction is a whopping hundred kilometers in length. And in the past, they served as Inca villages.
The two best places to visit in the Sacred Valley are Salineras de Maras and Moray.
Salineras de Maras is not an Inca ruin and is, in fact, an active salt mine that the ancient Incas used for mining salt. Interestingly, it’s one of only a few places in the world that produces pink salt!
On the other hand, the Moray Ruins was a sort of ‘agricultural lab’ to the Incas – the different circular levels were each a different climate, and by testing out which level produced the best crop, those genius Incas optimized their output!
You’ve undoubtedly come across this Instagram-famous Rainbow Mountain (aka Montaña de Siete Colores) on your social media feeds. It’s regarded as Cusco’s second most popular tourist attraction (behind Machu Picchu), but be warned, the colors won’t be as bright as the images you’ve seen on the internet, as most of those are heavily edited!
To see this colorful mountain looking its best, try to visit Cusco during the summer – as a sunny day is when the colors really pop! Also worth noting is it’s a 7 km round-trip hike, as the tour bus can only take you so far.
What’s great, too, is the colorful mountain is only one part of the area’s beauty – the surrounding valley boasts snow-capped peaks and breathtaking views over Ausangate. It really is pretty as a picture here!
Note: Rainbow Mountain is situated 5,200 meters (17,100 ft) above sea level, make sure you stay a few days in Cusco to acclimatize before visiting.
One of the most beautiful lagoons in Peru is sandwiched between Humantay Mountain and Salkantay Peak, around 120 km from Cusco.
There are loads of one-day tours from Cusco to Humantay Lake, and most include breakfast in a typical Peruvian village along the way. Then, it’s a 1.5-2 hour hike to the lake, which lies at a mindboggling 4,200 meters above sea level! But your efforts will certainly be rewarded at this wow-worthy lake where you can take lots of photos from the shore.
It’s important to note that most people see this turquoise-hued lake on the famous Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, which is widely regarded as the best alternative to the Inca Trail. Therefore, if you plan to do the Salkantay Trek during your time in Peru – there’s no need to visit Humantay Lake via a one-day tour.
Ollantaytambo and Pisac
It’s about a 45-minute drive from Cusco to Pisac (the starting point of the Sacred Valley), so as you can imagine, it’s an extremely popular place to visit from Cusco.
This photogenic town is home to one of the most popular markets in Peru (formerly just held on a Sunday, the artisanal market is now held daily!) and expansive Incan ruins, which boast intricate stonework and is a quieter, more accessible alternative to Machu Picchu!
Ollantaytambo (aka Ollanta) lies 72 km from Cusco and is just as pretty as Pisac with its narrow cobblestone streets, historic stone buildings, and excellent hiking and biking trails nearby. The town’s crowning glory is the two huge ancient ruins that dominate its landscape – one a ruined fortress and the second the mysterious Temple of the Sun.
Are You A Slow Traveler?
Cusco is home to heaps of bucket-list-worthy attractions like Plaza de Armas and San Blas, so just aimlessly wandering its streets makes for a memorable experience. If you have the time, it’s best to spend a few days walking the city, especially the historic centre, slowly taking in its best sights!
But besides the main attractions in Cusco, there are plenty of hidden gems dotting the small narrow streets. From ruins like Saqsaywaman and Qorikancha to a range of boutique shops (perfect for some authentic Peruvian souvenirs), restaurants, and cafes, you’ll never run out of things to do in Cusco.
If that sounds like your travel style, then 5 days in Cusco isn’t going to cut it for you, especially if you want to visit Pisac, Humantay Lagoon, etc.! So, if you’re a slow traveler, you’ll need to allow a minimum of a week to see all the city’s top sights.
How Many Days In Cusco: Suggested Itineraries
As a general rule of thumb, if you can allow more than 5 days in Cusco, we strongly recommend it. There is so much to do in Cusco that you could easily spend a week and still discover things that have you mouthing ‘wow’ every hour!
Below, you’ll find some sample itineraries that will give you a better understanding of what you’ll be able to see and do in Cusco in your timeframe!
1 Day In Cusco Itinerary
Allowing yourself just one day in Cusco, Peru is not enough time as altitude sickness could hinder any sightseeing you have planned. However, we understand that 24 hours is all you may have, but seeing the best of Cusco will be a struggle in this timeframe. For example, you won’t have time for a day trip to Rainbow Mountain or the Sacred Valley.
With only one day in Cusco, we recommend an early wake-up so that you can head straight for the San Pedro Market. See the locals going about their daily business, buy some fresh produce, and grab a hearty breakfast, coffee, or fresh juice to energize you for the rest of the day’s adventures.
Your next stop is a bit of a hike up to Sacsayhuaman (Saqsaywaman), an incredible Inca fortress that provides one of the best views of Cusco. If you’re not keen on the grueling hike up, you can pay for a local taxi, but keep in mind they charge top dollar because it’s such a popular Cusco attraction!
The walk down to Cusco from Sacsayhuaman is easier than the hike up, so if you’re still feeling good, we recommend walking from here down to the bohemian neighborhood of San Blas (one of the best areas to stay in Cusco), passing the iconic church of San Cristobal, which has a rich history and is built on the ruins of an Inca palace!
Your second last stop of day one in Cusco is arguably our favorite part of the whole city. San Blas is home to quirky stores, cute cafes, and local restaurants and has an all-around easy-going vibe. Allow just under half a day here to soak up the vibrant atmosphere.
Finally, it’s time to hit the beating heart of Cusco’s historical centre – the Plaza de Armas, the city’s main plaza, which is best visited after dark. With a pulsating energy and bordered by the stunning Cusco Cathedral, it’s the perfect place to end the day.
2 Days In Cusco Itinerary
Two days still aren’t enough time to see all of Cusco’s attractions. In fact, even with 48 hours, you’ll only manage to visit about 50% of Cusco’s best sights.
Your two-day itinerary will look pretty much the same as the one-day itinerary above in that you’ll spend your first day here ticking off Cusco’s must-see attractions like Plaza de Armas, San Pedro Market, San Cristobal Church, and the Sacsayhuaman ruins but, on your second day you’ll have the chance to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for two of our favorite destinations in the Sacred Valley – Salineras de Maras and Moray.
What’s great about this two-day itinerary is that it doesn’t involve strenuous hiking, which will help prevent altitude sickness!
As I mentioned above, the stunning Salineras de Maras is an active salt mine, and during your visit here, you’ll get up close to the salt pools and see how pink salt is made.
Moray, on the other hand, gives a fascinating insight into Inca culture and their ingenuity as they were able to mimic different climates on each level, thus optimizing their crop output. In fact, it’s said to be an engineering wonder and one that has puzzled archaeologists for centuries.
3 Days In Cusco Itinerary
Three days in Cusco is just about enough time to get your body adjusted to the high altitude, making room for a more strenuous (but massively rewarding) day trip to Ollantaytambo and Pisac on your third day.
Three days in Cusco also allows you enough time to see the city’s top tourist attractions like Plaza de Armas and San Cristobal Church, as well as a visit to the Sacred Valley’s best sights, Salineras de Maras and Moray on day two.
Spend the last of your three days in Cusco admiring the breathtaking architecture and learning all about the ancient Incans. We recommend checking out the artisanal market in Pisac and then wandering its expansive Incan ruins with magnificent stonework.
Next, visit Ollantayambo, spending time at the looming Temple of the Sun. It’s one of the most impressive Inca sites and it was built using gigantic 12-foot stones. And it once served to defend the Incas from their enemies.
4 Days In Cusco Itinerary
Your 4-day adventure in Cusco will look very similar to our three days in Cusco outlined above, but on Day 4, you’ll have to opportunity to visit one of the most beautiful lagoons in Peru – the turquoise glacial Humantay Lagoon.
Because it’s located 120 km from Cusco and involves a 1.5 to 2-hour hike each way, you’ll need to allow a full day here. But, we promise, it’s so worth the effort as not only will the first glance of the lake’s bright blue waters take your breath away, it’s views of both Humantay Mountain and Salkantay Peak make for the perfect photo opp!
It’s important to note that if you’re planning to hike the Salkantay Trek during your time in Cusco, there’s no need for a day trip to Humantay Lake as you’ll stop here on your trek.
5 Days In Cusco Itinerary
Five days is the perfect amount of time to spend in Cusco! This perfect itinerary allows enough time to experience the best things to do in Cusco city, such as the artsy San Blas neighborhood, the Sacsayhuaman ruins, and the San Cristobal Church.
Plus, it also gives you enough time to take some epic day trips to bucket-list-worthy places like the Sacred Valley, Humantay Lake, and the Incan ruins of Pisac and Ollantaytambo!
For the first four days, do exactly as we suggested above, but on day 5, you absolutely should visit Rainbow Mountain! It is one of the best hikes in Peru, aptly named as seven colors are visible on the mountain, from greens to pinks!
After all, it’s the second most popular thing to do in Cusco (first is Machu Picchu) – the reason why we’ve saved this for your fifth day is that it’s the highest in altitude (at a whopping 5,200 meters /17,060 feet above sea level!) and it’s also quite a difficult hike to the mountain, totaling 7 km round-trip.
6 or More Days In Cusco Itinerary
Six days (or more) in Cusco is perfect for slow travelers as it allows for a more authentic and unhurried experience. This longer itinerary will look pretty much the same as the 5-day itinerary, but it gives you extra time to fully explore the nooks and crannies of this historically-rich city.
You’ll have time to check out the city’s best local markets, like Centro Artesanal and Baratillo Market, to meet the locals and sample awesome Peruvian food (such as cuy, or guinea pig in English), shop for some local souvenirs, spend an hour chilling out in Orellana Pumaqchupan Park.
In short, six days to explore Cusco is enough time to fully immerse yourself in the city centre, see all the sights in the Sacred Valley and experience all the worthy day trips (such as Rainbow Mountain and Humantay Lake) from the city! It’s also plenty of time to acclimatize to the altitude.
And although six days may seem like a lot of time, we promise you will never be bored in Cusco!
How Many Days In Cusco FAQs
How Many Days To Stay In Cusco Before Machu Picchu?
We recommend spending only one or two days in Cusco before going to Machu Picchu. The elevation at Machu Picchu is lower than Cusco, which is going to help you adjust to the altitude much easier. You can always go back to Cusco and do more sightseeing after visiting Machu Picchu.
How Many Days to See Cusco and Machu Picchu?
We recommend spending at least 6 to 10 days to see both Cusco and Machu Picchu. For Cusco, you’ll need at least 5 days, and for Machu Picchu, you’ll want to spend anywhere from 1 to 5 days, depending on what type of tour you’ve booked.
Should I Go to Cusco or Machu Picchu First?
It is recommended that you go to Machu Picchu first because the elevation at Machu Picchu is slightly lower than that of Cusco’s. However, because most tours depart from Cusco, it is unlikely that you’ll be able to go to Machu Picchu without visiting Cusco first.
How Many Days To Spend In Cusco And Lima?
Generally speaking, it is recommended to spend a total of at least 8 days in Cusco and Lima. You’ll need at least 5 days to visit Cusco and its nearby sights (not including Machu Picchu) and about 3 days to explore Lima, the capital of Peru.
How Many Days in Machu Picchu Is Enough?
One full day in Machu Picchu is enough. This’ll give you enough time to explore the main site, as well as climb some of the mountains inside the archaeological site, such as Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain.
Is Three Days in Cusco Enough?
3 Days in Cusco is enough time to explore the city, but not enough time to explore the sights around Cusco, including the Scared Valley, Rainbow Mountain, and Ollantaytambo.
Is Four Days in Cusco Enough?
Four days in Cusco is just enough time to explore the ancient capital of Inca, plus take day trips to some of the attractions nearby. You have time to explore the Sacred Valley, including Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Salineras de Maras, and Moray. You won’t have much time to do hiking though.
Is Five Days in Cusco Enough?
Five days is the perfect amount of time to spend in Cusco. This will give you enough time to acclimate to the altitude, explore the historic center and its cultural attractions, go on day trips to the Sacred Valley, and hike some of the nearby mountains such as Rainbow Mountain and Humantay Lagoon.
Final Thoughts: How Many Days In Cusco Is Enough?
As you have read, deciding how many days to spend in Cusco, Peru is not easy! It’s such a gorgeous, historically-rich city, and we’re sure you’ll want to spend as much time exploring Cusco as possible, but lots of time may not be a luxury you have.
We recommend spending 5 days in Cusco and then allowing extra days for visiting Machu Picchu – that way, you can fully immerse yourself in the city and take several day trips! But if you don’t have five days, make sure you read up on our guide to see what you can expect on your visit to Cusco!
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