Peru,  South America,  Travel Tips

Alternatives to Machu Picchu – Cusco’s Inca Ruins

In and around Cusco there are dozens of Inca ruins alternatives to Machu Picchu. Every traveler visiting Peru has heard of Machu Picchu, and it’s the rich Inca history and famed archaeological sites that pull tourists to Peru in the first place. As stunning as Machu Picchu is, there are many more Inca historical sites and ruins around Cusco and the Sacred Valley that are also worth visiting. You can actually visit 10 alternatives to Machu Picchu all for about the same price as a single day trip to Machu Picchu! 

Keep reading for information on why visit alternatives to Machu Picchu, 10 alternative sites, and a cost-effective itinerary of Cusco’s Inca Ruins. 

Why Visit Alternatives to Machu Picchu? 

Sustainability

Machu Picchu has been the center of focus in the conversation about over-tourism. So many visitors come to Machu Picchu that the site was starting to suffer damage. Now, officials have capped the number of visitors allowed in each day, and each visitor can only stay for a set amount of time. Officials are trying to disperse visitors from the Citadel city of Machu Picchu and out into the surrounding national park and visitors center.

By visiting less-touristed destinations instead of the most popular one, you help disperse the tourism footprint rather than having only one place bear the entire burden. 

Fewer Crowds

Because fewer people visit these alternatives to Machu Picchu, you’re more likely to have space to yourself to freely explore. You won’t have as many other people in your photos, and you can spend as much or as little time as you want. 

More cost-efficient 

Visiting Machu Picchu is not cheap. The 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu starts at $600, while train trips from Cusco require an overnight stay and run from $250 to $400 (though you could also take a bus for about $160). Either way, Machu Picchu tours on their own are a lot of money for not a lot of time actually at the site. You can visit all 10 of these alternatives for the cost of an overnight train or even bus trip to Machu Picchu. 

Ten Alternatives to Machu Picchu

You can enter many of the alternative sites to Machu Picchu I list below with the Cusco Tourist Ticket (Boleto Turistica de Cusco), which is good for 10 days and grants you admission to 16 different museums and sites around Cusco for 130 soles (about $47 USD). I’ll let you know below if a particular site is on the ticket or not! 

If you plan on visiting several of the sites listed below, it is well worth it to buy this ticket, which you can obtain at any of the attractions listed on the ticket in addition to the Official Tourist Information Center just off the main square in downtown Cusco. There are also partial tourist tickets (Cusco Ruins, Cusco Museums, and Sacred Valley Ruins) which are good for fewer sites and only 1 or 2 days. These would be a good option if you are only visiting a few sites that are near each other all on the same day.

Throughout this guide, I generally recommend Find Local Trips for booking tours. This is a great way to support locals via tourism, the tour prices are affordable, and the tours we went on with them were all excellent. Find Local Trips did not sponsor this endorsement – we just had a great experience booking through this website and highly recommend it! 

Maras

What is Maras? 

Maras is an ancient salt mine that’s still in use 2500 years later. Even without an inherent interest in salt mining in and of itself, I found the expansive terraces of salt pools here to be visually stunning. They go on for as far as the eye can see, and there were still locals mining the salt from the pools there today. Maras is truly unique because you don’t often get to visit ancient places that are still used for their original purpose.

How to Visit Maras

If you have a rental car, it’s just over an hour’s drive northwest from Cusco. Otherwise, I recommend booking a day trip which includes your transportation and a guide for $25 USD but does not include admission to Maras itself. 

Maras’ entrance fee is 10 soles, or about $3 USD. The Cusco Tourist Ticket does NOT include Maras.  

Maras salt pools near Cusco, Peru
Maras Salt Pools

Moray

What is Moray? 

Looking more like alien crop circles than Inca ruins, Moray, located an hour and a half away from central Cusco, features dramatic circular terraces that served as an agricultural laboratory where Quechua farmers manipulated soil and elevation to produce some of the 2000 varieties of potato that grow in Peru. 

Dating from the 15th century, Moray is an easy site to visit in conjunction with Ollantaytambo and/or Maras, as they are all within a few miles of one another. Allow about an hour to enjoy the site and circumnavigate the terraces. 

How to Visit Moray

If you have a rental car, it’s an easy 1.5 hours drive northwest from Cusco. Otherwise, I recommend booking a day trip which includes your transportation and a guide for $25 USD but does not include admission to Moray itself. 

The full Cusco Tourist Ticket includes Moray’s admission fee, as does the Sacred Valley Ruins partial ticket. The Sacred Valley Ruins partial ticket includes Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero, and Moray (70 soles, or about $20).

Moray Inca Ruins near Cusco is an alternative to Machu Picchu
Moray’s circular terraces

Sacsaywaman

What is Sacsaywaman? 

Sacsaywaman (pronounced like “sexy woman”) is an ancient Incan site overlooking the modern city of Cusco and is one of the most-visited Inca ruin sites (aside from Machu Picchu) thanks to its proximity to the Cusco city center. This large complex of ruins is one of the best examples of the precision of Inca architecture. These boulders are massive, yet somehow the Inca people rolled them into place and fit them together seamlessly! I recommend at least an hour exploring the different “rooms” of the site, which historians believe was fortress in its heyday in the 13th century.

How to Visit Sacsaywaman

Most people take a tour, bus, or taxi, but it’s a nice 3km walk/hike from the city center. Taking a taxi would cost less than $6 round-trip, while a tour including transportation to and a guide at Sacsaywaman, Qenqo, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay costs about $20, not including admission.

Admission to Sacsaywaman is only available in either the Cusco Ruins Partial Tourist Ticket (70 soles, or $20, and includes Sacsaywaman, Qenqo, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay) or the full Cusco Tourist Ticket.

Sacsaywaman Cusco Peru
Sacsaywaman’s ruins, with modern Cusco in the valley below

Qenqo

What is Qenqo? 

If you walk 20-minutes past Sacsaywaman, you’ll come to the lesser-known site called Qenqo, and its tiny neighbor, Qenqo Chico. 

Qenqo features zigzag caves and crevices, as well as unique petroglyphs carved into the rock. Looking at it from Qenqo Chico, it admittedly just looked like a jumble of rocks, but when you get closer, you can see the narrow pathways carved through the stone, forming something like a labyrinth.

How to Visit Qenqo

Most people take a tour, bus, or taxi, but it’s a nice 4km walk/hike from the city center. Taking a taxi would cost less than $6 round-trip, while a tour including transportation to and a guide at Sacsaywaman, Qenqo, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay costs about $20, not including admission.

As with Sacsaywaman, admission to Qenqo is only available in either the Cusco Ruins Partial Tourist Ticket or the full Cusco Tourist Ticket.

Qenqo ruins near Cusco Peru
Exploring the labyrinth of Qenqo

Ollantaytambo 

What is Ollantaytambo?

The town of Ollantaytambo has been inhabited since the 13th century and is surrounded by ruins. The main site is both a fortress and a temple. It’s also the site of a significant Inca victory over the Spanish conquistadors. The highlight here is climbing up the terraces and taking in the view over the town. You can even walk along some of the original Inca trails cut into the mountains. 

How to Visit Ollantaytambo

If you don’t have a rental car, the easiest option is to take a guided tour of Ollantaytambo, which starts at $30 and usually includes transportation and a guide at other sites and points of interest. You can also take a bus or taxi, though availability may be limited. The fullCusco Tourist Ticket and Sacred Valley Ruins partial ticket both include admission to Ollantaytambo.

Ollantaytambo, Peru
Ollantaytambo’s ancient Inca Terraces

Pisac 

What is Pisac? 

Pisac’s Inca ruins and farming terraces are a hint of the ancient city that was once bigger than Machu Picchu. At this picturesque location, you can see the remains of temples, waterways, and tombs (at a distance) inside the cliffs! 

In my opinion, Pisac is the strongest rival to Machu Picchu. It includes many types of ruins, including homes, villages, and farming terraces, and is nestled amid the mountains. 

How to Visit Pisac

Again, if you have a car you can self drive to Pisac. Otherwise, it’s easiest to visit on a guided tour with other sites on the itinerary. Tours that visit Pisac start at $30 and include a guide and transportation for other sites as well.

The admission fee for Pisac is included on the full Cusco Tourist Ticket, or the Sacred Valley Ruins partial ticket.

Ancient village of Pisac
Ancient village of Pisac

Chinchero

What is Chinchero? 

The small village of Chinchero is known for its historic main square. A colonial-era whitewashed church is the centerpiece of the square. What makes it unique is that its foundation is made from the stone remains of ancient Inca structures. The interior of the church is also stunning. All of the walls and ceiling were painted in floral and religious designs by indigenous artists. In reality, though, these artists were more than likely forced to do this work by the Spanish colonizers. Still, the building is a beautiful place to visit and its history is worth learning. Plus, the views overlooking Inca-era farming terraces are spectacular – especially at sunset!

How to Visit Chinchero

As with most of the other sites listed here, if you don’t have your own car, you can access Chinchero most easily via a tour. Chinchero is often visited on tours to Pisac or Ollantaytambo and the cost starts around $30.

The admission fee for Chinchero is included on the full Cusco Tourist Ticket, or the Sacred Valley Ruins partial ticket. 

Chinchero's Spanish church and Incan walls
Chinchero’s Spanish church and Inca walls

Tipon 

What is Tipon?

Even though it’s only 20 minutes outside of Cusco, Tipon is one of the least-visited sites in the Sacred Valley. It is, however, an impressive sight, with water channels and fountains throughout the city, sprawling over gradual terraces. 

How to Visit Tipon

Tipon is easiest to visit by self-driving or on a guided tour. Tours of Tipon start at $30 and include several destinations.  

Tipon is included in the full Cusco Tourist Ticket or the Cusco Museums partial ticket (70 soles or $20). 

Coricancha

What is Coricancha? 

These ruins are in the heart of Cusco where you can see the original Inca stonework. Unfortunately, colonizers destroyed much of the original temple to build a church instead. Today, you can see the Spanish church on top of the Inca stone walls. 

How to Visit Coricancha 

You can walk 10 minutes from Plaza de Armas to Coricancha. Entrance to Coricancha is 15 soles, or about $5. The full Cusco Tourist Ticket or Cusco Museums partial ticket also includes admission to Coricancha.

Coricancha's large Inca walls
Original Inca stonework in the heart of Cusco

Puka Pukara 

What is Puka Pukara? 

One of the simpler Inca sites, Puka Pukara is home to the remains of a hastily constructed military fort. Historians and archaeologists theorize that Quechua people built this fort quickly to defend against an imminent attack. This is based on the fact that stonework here is less precise than at other sites. 

How to Visit Puka Pukara

Puka Pukara is technically walkable from Cusco’s center, but it would be a longer trek of about 6km. Google estimates it would take an hour and a half walking from Plaza de Armas. I would make it a day hike to Sacsaywaman and Qenqo en route to Puka Pukara and maybe nearby Tambomachay. 

Alternatively, you can self-drive, or take a quick taxi ride for about $5. There are also guided tours that stop at Puka Pukara starting at $18.

Puka Pukara is included on both the full Cusco Tourist Ticket as well as the Cusco Ruins partial ticket. 

Itinerary for Touring Cusco’s Inca Ruins 

Follow my recommendations below to see all of the sites listed here for less than $250 total (not including tips).

Day 1: Chinchero, Maras, and Moray

  • Book a day tour for $25 on Find Local Trips.
  • Buy the full 10-day Cusco Tourist Ticket at Moray or Chinchero (wherever you visit first) for 130 soles (about $40)
  • Buy entrance to Maras onsite for $3 (not included in Cusco Tourist Ticket) 
  • Total: $68

Day 2: Ollantaytambo and Pisac

  • Book a day trip for $80 on Find Local Trips.
  • Both Ollantaytambo and Pisac are included in the Cusco Tourist Ticket
  • Total: $80

Day 3: Coricancha, Sachsaywaman, Qenqo, and Puka Pukara

  • You can walk to all of these sites from downtown Cusco if you’re up for about 3 hours of hiking each way. Sachsaywaman and Quenquo are 3km away up a hill from the city center, while Puka Pukara and neighboring site Tambomachay are another 4.5km. You could also take a quick cab or Uber for about $10 total, or splurge the relatively affordable $18 for a guided tour and transportation to all of these places. 
  • All of these places are included in the Cusco Tourist Ticket. 
  • Total: $0, or $10, or $18

Day 4: Tipon

Summary of Alternatives to Machu Picchu

Following the more expensive options in the above itinerary for alternative sites to Machu Picchu, you’ll spend $236 for 4 days of touring a total of 13 sites (since some of the tours visit sites I didn’t describe as part of my recommended 10 detailed in this post). This is about the price of the 2 day/1 night train trip to Machu Picchu. 

Following the more frugal options from this itinerary, you’ll spend $188, which is comparable to the cost for the 2 day/1 night bus trip to Machu Picchu. 

Unless you care strongly about ticking Machu Picchu off of your bucket list, I guarantee you’ll learn just as much and see way more visiting the Inca ruins at these 10 alternative sites to Machu Picchu. That’s not to say you shouldn’t visit Machu Picchu if you want to. Machu Picchu is definitely beautiful and I enjoyed the Inca Trail hike we did there in 2014. However, if you aren’t hiking and don’t care about the ego candy of “being able to say” you went to Machu Picchu, you could skip it entirely and still have an enriching experience touring any of these alternative Inca ruins sites in Peru’s Sacred Valley. 

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Hey, I'm Sarah! I'm a Virginia-born girl living in Wisconsin. I'm obsessed with organization, planning, and adventurous travel. I am a cat-person with a love for all dogs, and I can never decide whether I want a sweet or a savory meal for brunch. Most of my travels (and my brunches) are with my best friend/soul mate/husband, Tim.

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