It’s difficult to find anyone who traveled to Peru without including, or at least considering, visiting Machu Picchu on their route. The iconic archaeological site, one of the seven wonders of the world, is the most visited attraction in the Latin American destination — whose tourist base is heavily swelled by Brazil, the fifth country that sends the most people there.
But the Inca city has gained attention in the news in recent weeks for another reason: the strike by residents and tour operators, who protested against the centralization of the sale of tickets to the sanctuary by the private company Joinnus. Protesters even disrupted rail transport and buses that access the historic ruins, isolating tourists in the Andes.
Even though the situation has been regularized, following an agreement between the Peruvian government and residents of the region, uncertainty about whether or not to continue a trip to Cusco in the short term may linger. But there are no reasons. Not only because the strike has been lifted, but also because the other tours offered in the district are worth the trip.
Machu Picchu is a must-see destination, but it’s not the only one — and if you have the misfortune of not being able to access it during your trip to Peru, check out other tips on what to visit in the region.
Don’t ignore the City Tour
If you’re the type of traveler who gets chills when you hear the tourist agency offering a city tour, consider taking the tour in Cusco. The idea here is not to take the bus to see the historic center; If this is your intention, it is worth taking the guided walking tour, which leaves daily from the Plaza de Armas.
On this tour, tourists discover the archaeological sites around the city, such as the Inca fortress Sacsayhuaman, the labyrinths of Qenqo, the ruins of Pukapukara and Tambomachay, intended by the Incas for the cult of water. Most agencies also include a visit to the Cusco cathedral in this package.
The tour does not require much physical effort and can therefore be done on the first or second day of the trip — remember that Cusco is 3,400 meters above sea level and the lack of oxygen is quite tiring. It is necessary to give time for acclimatization, that is, for the body to get used to it.
How much? Around 35 soles (R$45.50) per person, with transport and guide (English or Spanish). Entrance to the archaeological sites must be paid separately, using the Cusco tourist ticket*.
Visit Moray and the Maras salt flats
Another circuit that should be included in the itinerary. On this tour, tourists visit the archaeological site of Moray, a green and curvy region. The space was an agricultural experimentation field where the Incas created microclimates — hotter at the bottom, in the center, and colder on the steps above — in order to be able to plant different products in the same place.
Afterwards, the visit continues to the Maras salt flats, formed by 5,000 wells. There, 700 families live from the artisanal extraction of salt, in a simple process carried out in the same way since the pre-Inca period: the salt water that comes out of the mountain is channeled into wells, evaporates during the dry period, and the crystallized compound is removed manually.
How much? Around 40 soles (R$52) per person, with transport and guide (English or Spanish). Entrance to the archaeological site must be paid separately, using the Cusco tourist ticket*. Entrance to the Maras salt flat costs 15 soles (R$20).
Discover more about the Sacred Valley
Now that your body is more accustomed to the altitude, it’s time to take a tour of the other archaeological sites in the Sacred Inca Valley, which permeate the Urubamba River. The route includes the ruins of Pisaq, the town’s colorful artisanal market and a visit to the Inca fortress of Ollantaytambo.
Here, get ready to climb 250 steps and have an incredible view of the city that became a space of resistance for Manco Inca Yupanqui, one of the first Inca rebels during the Spanish invasion, in the 15th century. Worth knowing: if you are going to Machu Picchu, it is possible to stay in Ollantaytambo and take the train there that takes you to the historic site.
How much? Around 130 soles (R$170) per person, with transport and guide (English or Spanish) and buffet lunch. Entrance to the archaeological sites must be paid separately, using the Cusco tourist ticket*.
Adventure in the Mountain of Seven Colors
Have you been in the region for a few days? You can finally include Vinicunca, known as the Mountain of Seven Colors, in your itinerary. The destination has become the second most visited in Peru, behind only Machu Picchu, and attracts crowds who want to reach the top to take photos with its peculiar colors.
The unusual tones of the mountain are caused by the oxidation of different minerals. To get there, you need to wake up early (really: the van will pick you up between 3am and 4am), travel for around three hours and then start the walk, which takes another hour, to the top.
The route wouldn’t be difficult if it weren’t for the 5,200 meters of altitude, which makes breathing very difficult. To avoid soroche, the famous altitude sickness, there are remedies and the method most used by locals: chewing coca leaves during the journey.
How much? Around 130 soles (R$ 170) per person, with transport, guide (English or Spanish), breakfast and lunch on return. Entrance to Vinicunca costs 15 soles (R$20).
Do you have a few more days? Go to the Colca Valley
Anyone who can extend their trip through Peru by at least two more days can (and should) include Arequipa on their itinerary. The city is 500 km from Cusco (one hour by plane or nine hours by bus), but it is enchanting to see the volcanoes that surround the region. Furthermore, this is where the trip to the Colca Valley departs, a canyon that is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the USA, at around 4,000 meters.
The route to the canyon alone justifies the trip: you will see alpacas, vicuñas and all the beauty of the fauna and flora of the Andean valley. But with a bit of luck, you will also be able to witness, already on the mountain, the flight of the condor, a bird whose wings can reach three meters in diameter and which was sacred to the Inca civilization.
The tour is long, starts early in the morning and can be tiring. Therefore, if you have more time, tourists can choose to do the Colca in two days and sleep in historic Chivay, a city that dates back to the pre-Inca period and is the gateway to the valley.
How much? Around 80 soles (R$105) per person, with transport, guide (English or Spanish) and breakfast. Entrance to the canyon must be paid separately, 40 soles (R$52) per person, for South Americans.
* O Cusco Tourist Ticket gives access to 16 attractions, including the archaeological sites of the Sacred Valley, is valid for ten days and costs 130 soles (R$ 169). Tourists can also buy a partial ticket, which costs 70 soles (R$91), gives access to one of the three circuits and is valid for one day. Purchases can be made directly at the entrance ticket office of any of the attractions included in the circuit.