While I was planning for my 4,5 weeks travel through South America, I planned a lot of things to do. I wanted to visit Peru, San Pedro de Atacama in Chile and Bolivia, before I would return to Peru. My plan was to travel to Cusco and visit the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. I didn’t really know what the things to do in Cusco were, besides hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Luckily, I had a few extra days and managed to explore some very interesting Inca sites near Cusco. As they are well worth your time, money and effort, I’d like to highlight the my personal favorites ones here, so you’ll include them on your travel to Cusco Peru!
1. Sacsaywamen: Closest Inca ruins near Cusco
Sexy-hu-men (that is how you pronounce it- remains funny), is the closests of the Inca sites to Cusco. It is basically in Cusco and used to be the heart of Cusco. You can visit the ruins of Sacsaywamen independently or on a small tour.
The Ruins of Sacsaywamen show you the ancient capital of the Inca Empire in Cusco. Situated high on a hill overlooking Cusco, it served to a great military advantage.
Things to see in Sacsaywamen:
- Giant stone blocks showing Inca masonry
- View overlooking Cusco
- Picknick in the park like all the locals do.
Peruvian celebrate Inti Raymi and people gather at this Inca site near Cusco to celebrate the winter solstice and to welcome the new year.
You need the Cusco Tourist Ticket to enter Sacsaywamen, read more information below.
2. Chinchero: Inca Ruins and Small Village Life
I joined a day tour to visit the Inca sites near Cusco and Chinchero was the first stop. At 7.00 am I had not even had breakfast yet. The grass was still wet from the dew and there was nobody on site.
The green hills of the Vilcabamba mountains in the distance resembled a bit with the image I had in my mind of what Machu Picchu would be like. The white peak of Salcantay showed itself from behind the morning clouds. Besides the amazing natural surround, history tells us the royals used Chinchero as an outhouse but it had also very vertile lands.
Things to see in Chinchero:
- Green hills and terraces of this Inca site
- the adobe church
- Chinchero market and weaving demonstration
You need the Cusco Tourist Ticket to visit Chinchero, read more information below.
3. Maras: Salt Mines in the Hills
Then we continued our tour to the Inca ruins of Maras. These salt pans in the hills are owned by locals. Each family owns one or more salt pans and is responsible for the irrigation of the pans and the collection of the salt after it dries.
Maybe the Salinas de Maras isn’t the most historic of Inca sites in the Sacred Valley, but it makes for spectacular views across the canyon. I stood in the middle of the white pools surrounded by all different shades of brown with the sun burning down on me fiercly. The patterns of salt pans flooding down the hill fascinated me and I didn’t want to leave!
The salt pans of Maras are not included in the Cusco Tourist Ticket. You need to pay 10 Soles at the entrance.
4. Moray: Alien or Inca Site?
Moray on the other hand, is definately one of the most interesting and intreguing Inca sites near Cusco! Imagine a giant circle in the ground, with terraces going down into the circle. Each circle goes down deeper and deeper, forming a giant terraced cone sunken in the earth.
Stories about the origin of the Inca Ruins of Moray
There are many stories about the origin and purpose of the Moray ruins. I list my two favorites:
In ancient Inca times, the Incas used the Moray site to cultivate and grow new cropses. Each level had its own micro-climate which enabled the Incas to farm crops that could not be farmed on their lands in the hills.
the Moray ruins show us the works of aliens. Just like circles in the farm fields, these circular depressions in the ground are the works of aliens from outer space!
Which of these stories do you think is possible?
You need the Cusco Tourist Ticket to see Moray, read more information below.
5. Pisac: Market and Inca Ruins close to Cusco
At the end of the day, while it was already getting dark, we visited the inca ruins of Pisac. Pisac is also knows for its lively market and trade (on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday), but outside the village you can find the Inca ruins of Pisac.
Things to see at the Inca ruins of Pisac:
- the religious part with the temple of the sun and a ceremonial platue
- a citadel with great views of the city of Pisac
- the terraces used for farming (or the aliens again)
You must buy the Cusco Tourist Ticket to visit the Inca ruins of Pisac, read more information below. You do not need the ticket to visit the Pisac market.
6. Raqchi: Religious Inca Ruins near Cusco
I stumbled upon this Inca ruin 110 km outside of Cusco on my cultural bus trip from Puno to Cusco. The Inca ruins of Racqi show the remains of the Temple of Wiracocha, the main Inca god of creation. He was the god of the sun, the moon and civilisation.
You can see the guards huts and the remains of the ancient temple. The farmlands around the Inca site are also very interesting. In the mountains you can spot parts of the ancient Inca trail leading towards Cusco.
You need to buy an entrance ticket for 15 Soles.
7. Ollantaytambo: Machu Picchu’s Smaller Brother
You might have heared of Ollantaytambo, as most train journeys to Machu Picchu start here. Ollantaytambo is also the starting point for almost all Inca Trails to Machu Picchu.
But it is also the village with the Inca ruins of Ollantaytambo. I strongly believe, if Machu Picchu wasn’t discovered, Ollantaytambo would be at the top of everyone’s travel bucket list for Peru.
The Incas built Ollantaytambo against a hill, with a spectacular view of the adjacent mountain and the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The Incas used Ollantaytambo for religious and royal purposes and in the end as a stronghold.
Things to see at the Inca ruins of Ollantaytambo:
- Terraces of Ollantaytambo, they are higher than you and go all the way to the top
- Temple Hill with a chiseled seat and the Sun Temple.
- Storehouses above the city of Ollantaytambo
- View of the Sacred Valley of the Incas from the top of the Inca site
You need the Cusco Tourist Ticket to visit Ollantaytambo, read more information below.
If you are interested in the Inca culture and history and you want to see more Inca sites near Cusco besides Machu Picchu, the above 7 are a very good start to explore! But isn’t that a bit much I hear you think?
Yea, at the end of my day, I was pretty tired of all things Inca and I couldn’t look at any more rocks and stones! (Because of this, I decided to visit the Chocolate Museum in Cusco by the way!). So why did I visit so many?
Because of the Boleto Turistico, or the Cusco Tourist Ticket!
The Cusco Tourist Ticket is a way of the city of Cusco to make some more money off the tourist visiting the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
Uhm, strike that. You need the ticket to visit some key Inca ruins in the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Peru. If you want to visit Sacsaywamen, you must buy the Boleto Turistico. If you want to see Ollantaytambo, you have to buy the ticket.
What is included in the Cusco Tourist Ticket?
A lot! Many Incas sites and ruins in and around Cusco. Museums in Cusco, cultural sites and information centres etc. For more information, check the website (Spanish).
In general, you can buy 4 different types of tickets. One general ticket that includes all (130 Soles/ 38 USD) or 3 different partial tickets (each part costs 70 Soles/ 21 USD). Discounts may apply for children and students.
Part I of the Cusco Tourist Ticket
I visited these on a half day tour. These are all smaller Inca sites near Cusco. You can visit them independent and only buy this part of the Tourist Ticket. Or you can join a tour for 10 Soles. Either way, you still need to buy the Cusco Tourist Ticket yourself.
This part coasts 70 Soles (21 USD)
Part II of the Cusco Tourist Ticket
This is best used for the Inca ruins in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Further away from Cusco, you need 1 to 2 full days to explore them all.
I loved each and every one of them. They could easily substitute for Machu Picchu if MP hand’t been discovered. I did a day tour and visited all of them, including the salt pans of Maras (which isn’t included in the ticket- you need to pay 10 Soles entrance seperate.)
This part of the Cusco Tourist Ticket is also 70 Soles (21 USD)
Do you want to visit all the Inca sites near Cusco?
Because I wanted to visit the Cathedral and some other museum in Cusco, I bought the complete Cusco Tourist Ticket for 130 Soles and was able to visit all the above mentioned Inca sites around Cusco.
You can buy the Boleto Turistico at the main Cusco Tourist office in Cusco and at the entrance of all the sites.
Which of the mentioned Inca sites in the Sacred Valley would you like to visit? Have you been to Cusco and Peru? Which one was your favorite? Share your story in the comment section below.
Read more about Cusco: Visit the Chocolate Museum in Cusco.