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A Complete Guide To Exploring Cusco’s Ruins (Without A Tour)


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Felicle Umana



Welcome to the enchanting city of Cusco, Peru, a place where history comes alive through its magnificent ruins. Cusco is a treasure trove of ancient Inca sites that tell the story of a once thriving civilization. While many tourists opt for guided tours to explore these ruins, there is something truly special about discovering them on your own. By venturing off the beaten path and exploring Cusco’s ruins without a tour, you’ll have the freedom to roam at your own pace and immerse yourself in the fascinating history that surrounds you.


Cusco, the former capital of the Inca Empire, is nestled high in the Andes Mountains and offers a plethora of archaeological sites waiting to be explored. From the famous Machu Picchu to lesser-known gems hidden in the valleys and mountainsides, Cusco’s ruins are a testament to the incredible engineering and ingenuity of the Inca civilization. But why choose to explore them without a tour?


Exploring Cusco’s ruins without a tour allows you to forge a deeper connection with the ancient sites and experience them in a more intimate and personal way. You can take your time to soak in the awe-inspiring views, wander through the ruins at your own pace, and truly connect with the historical significance of each site. It offers a unique opportunity to embrace the adventurous spirit within you and create your own meaningful memories in this archeological wonderland.


While guided tours can be informative and convenient, they often stick to a rigid schedule and may not allow for much flexibility. By exploring Cusco’s ruins without a tour, you have the freedom to create your own itinerary and spend as much time as you desire at each site. It’s a chance to connect with the rugged beauty of the Andes and experience the serenity of these ancient sites without the hustle and bustle of a large tour group.


However, exploring Cusco’s ruins without a tour does require some planning and preparation. In the following sections, we’ll provide you with helpful tips, insights, and a step-by-step guide to make the most of your self-guided exploration of Cusco’s ruins. So, lace up your hiking boots, grab your camera, and let’s embark on an unforgettable adventure through the ancient wonders of Cusco!


Why Explore Cusco’s Ruins Without a Tour?

Exploring Cusco’s ruins without a tour offers a unique and immersive experience that allows you to connect with the ancient history and natural beauty of the area in a more personal and meaningful way. Here are a few compelling reasons why you should consider venturing off the beaten path:

  • Freedom and Flexibility: When you explore Cusco’s ruins without a tour, you have the freedom to create your own itinerary and explore at your own pace. You can spend more time at the sites that captivate you the most and follow your own unique interests.
  • Intimate Connection: Discovering Cusco’s ruins independently allows you to forge a deeper connection with the ancient sites. Without the distractions of a large tour group, you can immerse yourself fully in the atmosphere and history of each location.
  • Uninterrupted Serenity: By avoiding the crowds and the time constraints of guided tours, you can experience the true peace and serenity of Cusco’s ruins. You’ll have more opportunities to appreciate the incredible architecture, stunning landscapes, and breathtaking views without feeling rushed.
  • Off-the-Beaten-Path Exploration: With a self-guided tour, you have the opportunity to discover hidden gems and lesser-known archaeological sites that might not be included in traditional guided tours. These smaller sites can offer a more intimate and authentic experience.
  • Embrace Adventure: Exploring Cusco’s ruins without a tour allows you to embrace the spirit of adventure and create your own unique journey. Whether it’s hiking through rugged terrain, discovering secret pathways, or stumbling upon unexpected surprises, you’ll have the freedom to make exciting discoveries along the way.

While guided tours can be informative and provide valuable insights, exploring Cusco’s ruins independently offers a sense of exploration and discovery that can’t be replicated. It allows you to forge your own path and create unforgettable memories as you unravel the mysteries of the ancient Inca civilization. Just remember to plan ahead, stay safe, and be respectful of the sites and their historical importance.


Things to Consider Before Exploring Cusco’s Ruins

Before embarking on your self-guided exploration of Cusco’s ruins, there are a few important factors to consider. Taking these into account will help ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience:

  • Physical Fitness: Exploring the ruins of Cusco can involve walking long distances, climbing steep steps, and navigating uneven terrain. It’s crucial to assess your physical fitness and stamina before embarking on your journey. Regular exercise and hiking can help prepare your body for the physical demands of exploring the ruins.
  • Altitude Adjustment: Cusco is located at a high altitude, which can affect some individuals. It’s advisable to spend a couple of days acclimatizing in Cusco before embarking on your exploration. Take it easy, stay hydrated, and listen to your body. If you experience severe altitude sickness symptoms, it’s essential to seek medical attention.
  • Weather conditions: The weather in Cusco can be unpredictable, with sudden changes in temperature and occasional rain. It’s important to check the weather forecast before heading out and dress accordingly. Layered clothing, a waterproof jacket, a hat, and sunscreen are essential items to pack.
  • Research and Planning: Before visiting the ruins, take the time to research each site you plan to explore. Familiarize yourself with their historical significance, entry fees, opening hours, and specific rules or restrictions. This will help you make the most of your visit and avoid any surprises.
  • Permits and Tickets: Some of Cusco’s ruins, such as Machu Picchu, require permits or tickets that should be purchased in advance. Be sure to check the requirements and secure your permits or tickets ahead of time to avoid disappointment.
  • Safety Precautions: While exploring Cusco’s ruins independently can be thrilling, it’s essential to prioritize your safety. Always inform someone about your planned itinerary and estimated return time. Carry a map, bring a fully charged phone, and consider wearing comfortable and sturdy footwear to prevent accidents.
  • Respect for the Sites: Cusco’s ruins are cultural and historical treasures, so it’s crucial to treat them with respect. Follow the designated paths, avoid touching or climbing on the structures, and refrain from littering. Taking care of these sacred sites ensures that future generations can continue to appreciate their beauty and significance.

By considering these factors and taking the necessary precautions, you can have a rewarding and memorable experience exploring Cusco’s ruins at your own pace. Now that you are well-prepared, it’s time to pack your bags, embark on a journey through time, and uncover the captivating secrets of the ancient Inca civilization.


Best Time to Visit Cusco’s Ruins

Choosing the right time to visit Cusco’s ruins can greatly enhance your experience and ensure optimal weather conditions. While Cusco can be visited year-round, there are a few factors to consider when deciding the best time to explore the ancient sites:

  • Dry Season: The dry season, which runs from May to September, is widely considered the best time to visit Cusco’s ruins. During these months, the weather is generally dry and sunny, offering clear skies and excellent visibility. It’s an ideal time for outdoor exploration, with less chance of rain interfering with your plans.
  • Peak Tourist Season: The months of June, July, and August are the busiest and most crowded in Cusco. These months coincide with the summer vacation period in many countries, and Machu Picchu can get particularly crowded. If you prefer a quieter experience, it’s advisable to visit in the shoulder months of May or September when the crowds are thinner.
  • Wet Season: The wet season in Cusco spans from November to March. While rain is more frequent during this time, it can also bring lush green landscapes and fewer tourists. If you don’t mind the occasional rain shower and prefer a more peaceful atmosphere, visiting Cusco’s ruins during the wet season could be a great option.
  • Shoulder Season: The shoulder months of April and October offer a good balance between weather and tourist traffic. The crowds are relatively smaller compared to the peak season, and there is less chance of heavy rainfall. This can be an optimal time to visit the ruins while enjoying pleasant temperatures and avoiding the large tourist crowds.
  • Special Events: Cusco hosts several traditional festivals throughout the year, such as Inti Raymi, Corpus Christi, and the Cusco Carnival. These cultural celebrations provide a unique opportunity to witness traditional dances, music, and local rituals. However, it’s important to note that these events can attract larger crowds, so plan accordingly if you wish to attend.

Ultimately, the best time to visit Cusco’s ruins depends on your personal preferences. Whether you choose to explore during the dry season for optimal weather conditions or during the quieter months to avoid crowds, Cusco’s majestic ruins will awe you at any time of the year. Just remember to plan ahead, check the weather forecast, and make the necessary arrangements for permits or tickets if required. Now, get ready to embark on a journey through history and marvel at the ancient wonders of Cusco!


Essential Items to Bring for Exploring Cusco’s Ruins

When venturing out to explore Cusco’s ruins, it’s essential to be prepared for the varying conditions and terrain you may encounter. Here are some essential items to bring with you:

  • Comfortable Walking Shoes: Exploring the ruins involves a fair amount of walking and possibly hiking, so comfortable and sturdy walking shoes are a must. Opt for closed-toe shoes with good traction to navigate uneven surfaces and gravel paths.
  • Layered Clothing: Cusco’s weather can be unpredictable, with temperature variations throughout the day. Layer your clothing so you can add or remove layers as needed. Include a lightweight, breathable shirt, a warm sweater or jacket for cooler temperatures, and a waterproof outer layer in case of rain.
  • Sun Protection: The sun in Cusco can be intense, particularly at high altitudes. Be sure to bring and wear a wide-brimmed hat or cap to protect your face and neck from the sun’s rays. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen with a high SPF to protect your skin.
  • Daypack or Backpack: A small daypack or backpack is essential for carrying your water, snacks, camera, sunscreen, hat, and any other personal items. Choose one with comfortable straps and compartments to keep your essentials organized.
  • Water and Snacks: Staying hydrated is crucial when exploring Cusco’s ruins, especially at high altitudes. Carry a reusable water bottle and refill it at designated water stations or bring enough water for the duration of your visit. Additionally, pack some energy-boosting snacks to keep you fueled throughout the day.
  • Insect Repellent: In certain areas, especially during the wet season, mosquitoes and other insects can be more prevalent. Be sure to pack insect repellent to protect yourself from bug bites.
  • Camera and Spare Batteries: You’ll want to capture the stunning beauty of Cusco’s ruins, so don’t forget to bring your camera or smartphone. It’s also advisable to carry spare batteries or a portable charger to ensure your devices stay powered throughout the day.
  • Maps and Guidebooks: While exploring without a tour, having a detailed map or guidebook can be incredibly helpful for navigation and learning about the history of the sites. Consider carrying a physical map or downloading offline maps and guidebook apps on your phone.
  • First Aid Kit: It’s always wise to carry a basic first aid kit containing essentials such as band-aids, blister pads, pain relievers, and any necessary personal medications. Also, pack a small roll of toilet paper and hand sanitizer for emergencies.

By packing these essential items, you’ll be well-prepared to embark on your self-guided exploration of Cusco’s ruins. Remember to pack light and comfortable, and be respectful of the sites you visit. Now, get your gear ready, embrace the adventure, and immerse yourself in the fascinating history and natural beauty that awaits!


How to Get to Cusco’s Ruins

Getting to Cusco’s ruins is relatively easy, thanks to the well-established transportation network in the region. Depending on the specific ruin you wish to visit, here are some common transportation options:

  • Taxi or Private Car: Hiring a taxi or private car is a convenient option for reaching the ruins. You can negotiate a price with the driver, who will drop you off at the entrance. This option offers flexibility and allows you to explore multiple sites at your own pace. However, be sure to arrange for a pickup or have the driver wait for you, as finding taxis at remote sites can be challenging.
  • Public Bus: Public buses are an affordable option for reaching some of the popular ruins near Cusco. Look out for buses heading towards the specific site you wish to visit and be prepared for a more crowded and less comfortable journey. Ensure you have a good understanding of the bus route and schedule, as they may not operate regularly or have limited availability.
  • Collective Taxis: Collective taxis, also known as colectivos, are shared taxis that follow specific routes. They can be found at designated locations and are a popular choice for reaching more remote ruins outside of Cusco. Colectivos can be cost-effective and provide a chance to interact with locals, but be prepared for potentially cramped seating and frequent stops to pick up other passengers.
  • Walking/Hiking: Some of the ruins near Cusco, such as Sacsayhuaman or Q’enqo, are within walking distance from the city center. If you are up for a hike, exploring these ruins on foot can be a rewarding experience and allow you to enjoy the surrounding scenery. However, be mindful of the distance and elevation gain, especially if you are not acclimatized to Cusco’s high altitude.
  • Organized Tours: If you prefer a bit more structure and guidance, joining an organized tour is an excellent option. Many tour companies offer packages that include transportation to multiple ruins, guided tours, and additional perks. This option is convenient and ensures you don’t have to worry about logistics, but keep in mind that you may have less freedom to explore at your own pace.

It’s important to note that some sites, like Machu Picchu, require additional transportation arrangements, such as a train or bus ride. These can be booked in advance through authorized providers or as part of a tour package.


Before setting off, double-check the opening hours and admission requirements for the specific ruins you plan to visit. Also, consider the time and cost involved in reaching each site to help plan your itinerary efficiently.


By choosing the transportation option that best suits your needs and preferences, you can easily access and explore the magnificent ruins of Cusco. Enjoy the journey, embrace the adventure, and prepare to be captivated by the rich history and stunning beauty that awaits you!


Exploring Cusco’s Ruins: A Step-by-Step Guide

Exploring Cusco’s ruins without a tour gives you the freedom to create your own unique journey. While there are numerous ruins to choose from, here is a step-by-step guide to help you make the most of your self-guided exploration:

  1. Plan your itinerary: Research the different ruins in Cusco and decide which ones you would like to visit based on their historical significance, accessibility, and personal interests. Take into consideration the time needed to explore each site to plan your itinerary effectively.
  2. Check opening hours and tickets: Before heading out, check the opening hours of the ruins you plan to visit. Some ruins have specific time slots or limited entry, so it’s important to plan accordingly. Purchase any required tickets or permits in advance to avoid any last-minute complications.
  3. Start early: To make the most of your day and beat the crowds, aim to start your exploration early in the morning. This allows for more peaceful and uninterrupted exploration, especially at popular sites like Machu Picchu.
  4. Bring essential items: Pack all the essential items mentioned earlier, including comfortable walking shoes, layered clothing, sun protection, water, snacks, camera, maps, and any necessary permits or tickets.
  5. Take your time: One of the advantages of exploring without a tour is the ability to move at your own pace. Take your time to soak in the history, architecture, and breathtaking views of each site. Pause, reflect, and appreciate the ancient wonders around you.
  6. Respect the sites: Show respect for the ruins and the surrounding environment. Stick to designated paths, avoid touching or climbing on the structures, and refrain from littering. These ancient sites are delicate, and preserving their integrity ensures future generations can continue to enjoy them.
  7. Seek information: While exploring, look for informational signage or guidebooks that provide insights into the history and significance of each ruin. This will enhance your understanding and appreciation of the sites you visit.
  8. Embrace the unexpected: While having a plan is important, be open to spontaneity and unexpected discoveries. Allow yourself to wander off the beaten path, explore hidden corners, and stumble upon lesser-known ruins and unique viewpoints.
  9. Stay hydrated and energized: With the high altitude and physical activity involved in exploring the ruins, it’s important to stay hydrated and properly fueled. Drink plenty of water and have snacks handy to keep your energy levels up throughout the day.
  10. Take breaks and rest: Exploring the ruins can be physically demanding. Listen to your body and take breaks when needed. Find a quiet spot to sit, relax, and absorb the beauty and tranquility of the surroundings.
  11. Capture memories: Don’t forget to capture your adventure through photos and videos. Take time to capture the stunning landscapes, intricate architectural details, and unforgettable moments you encounter along the way.

By following these steps, you’ll be well-prepared to embark on an enriching and fulfilling self-guided exploration of Cusco’s mesmerizing ruins. So, lace up your shoes, grab your camera, and get ready to embark on a journey through time and history!


Suggested Itinerary for Exploring Cusco’s Ruins

With so many incredible ruins to explore in and around Cusco, it’s helpful to have a suggested itinerary to maximize your time and experience. Here is a sample itinerary to guide your self-guided exploration of Cusco’s ruins:

  1. Day 1: Sacsayhuaman and Qenqo
  2. Start your exploration with the magnificent and expansive ruins of Sacsayhuaman, located just outside of Cusco. Marvel at the massive stone walls and intricate terraces that demonstrate the incredible Inca craftsmanship. From here, you can walk to Qenqo, a site known for its underground chambers and impressive stone carvings. Enjoy the panoramic views of Cusco from these ruins.

  3. Day 2: Pisac and Ollantaytambo
  4. Take a full day trip to the Sacred Valley, starting with the ruins of Pisac. Explore the terraces, temples, and residential areas perched on the mountainside. Afterward, head to Ollantaytambo, a well-preserved Inca fortress with captivating stone architecture. Climb the steep terraces for a breathtaking view of the Sacred Valley.

  5. Day 3: Moray and Maras Salt Mines
  6. Visit the archaeological site of Moray, famous for its unique circular terraces believed to have been used for agricultural experimentation by the Incas. From there, make your way to the nearby Maras Salt Mines, a series of thousands of salt pans cascading down the mountainside. Take a stroll among the dazzling salt formations and learn about the traditional salt extraction methods.

  7. Day 4: Machu Picchu
  8. Take an early morning train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu. Spend the day exploring this iconic Inca citadel, marvel at the perfectly carved stone structures, and experience the awe-inspiring views of the surrounding mountains. Consider starting your visit early to catch the sunrise and savor the tranquil atmosphere before the crowds arrive.

  9. Day 5: Choquequirao
  10. If you’re up for a more adventurous and off-the-beaten-path experience, consider a day trip to Choquequirao. This remote and lesser-known Inca site offers an incredible journey through rugged mountains and deep canyons. Explore the terraces, temples, and impressive hilltop views that rival those of Machu Picchu.

Remember, this is just a suggested itinerary, and you can customize it according to your preferences and time constraints. Keep in mind the distances between the sites and plan your transportation accordingly. Also, be sure to check the opening hours and entry requirements for each ruin in advance.


By following this itinerary or creating your own, you’ll be able to immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring history and cultural richness of Cusco’s remarkable ruins. Enjoy the journey and create unforgettable memories as you explore these ancient wonders!


Safety Tips for Exploring Cusco’s Ruins

Exploring Cusco’s ruins can be an exciting adventure, but it’s important to prioritize your safety throughout your journey. Here are some essential safety tips to keep in mind:

  1. Acclimate to the altitude: Cusco is located at a high altitude, so it’s crucial to give yourself time to acclimate before embarking on any physical activities. Take it easy during your first few days, stay hydrated, and listen to your body.
  2. Stay hydrated: The high altitude and physical exertion can increase the risk of dehydration. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
  3. Protect yourself from the sun: The sun in Cusco can be intense, so protect your skin by wearing sunscreen with a high SPF, a wide-brimmed hat or cap, and sunglasses.
  4. Dress appropriately: Wear comfortable and weather-appropriate clothing, including layered clothing for temperature fluctuations and sturdy walking shoes with good traction.
  5. Carry essential items: Bring a small backpack with essential items like water, snacks, a map, a first aid kit, and any necessary permits or tickets.
  6. Be cautious of your surroundings: Pay attention to your surroundings at all times. While Cusco’s ruins are generally safe, it’s always wise to be aware of your belongings and avoid isolated areas.
  7. Follow designated paths: Stick to designated paths and avoid climbing on the structures or touching any artifacts. The ruins are fragile, and preserving their integrity is crucial.
  8. Be cautious of altitude sickness: Altitude sickness can affect individuals differently. If you experience severe symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of breath, or severe headaches, descend to a lower altitude and seek medical attention if necessary.
  9. Travel with a companion: It’s advisable to explore Cusco’s ruins with a companion, especially if you plan to visit more remote sites. Having a travel partner adds an extra layer of safety and support.
  10. Inform someone of your itinerary: Before heading out to explore the ruins, inform someone about your planned itinerary and estimated return time. This way, someone will be aware of your whereabouts and can provide assistance if needed.

By following these safety tips, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable exploration of Cusco’s ruins. Remember that your well-being is of utmost importance, so prioritize your health, stay vigilant, and make responsible choices throughout your journey. Now, go forth with confidence and embrace the wonder and history that lies within Cusco’s mesmerizing ruins!



Exploring Cusco’s ruins without a tour allows you to embark on a truly immersive and personal journey into the rich history and cultural heritage of the Inca civilization. By venturing off the beaten path, you have the freedom to create your own itinerary, take your time at each site, and forge a deeper connection with these ancient wonders.


Cusco offers a wide range of ruins to explore, from the famous Machu Picchu to lesser-known gems like Sacsayhuaman and Moray. Planning your itinerary, considering the best time to visit, and being prepared with essential items are key factors in making the most of your self-guided exploration.


While exploring, remember to prioritize your safety by acclimating to the altitude, staying hydrated, dressing appropriately, and being cautious of your surroundings. Respect the sites and their historical significance, follow designated paths, and leave no trace. By doing so, you contribute to the preservation of these remarkable ruins for future generations to admire and learn from.


Whether you choose to follow a suggested itinerary or create your own, exploring Cusco’s ruins without a tour is an experience that will leave a lasting impression and a deeper understanding of the ancient Inca civilization. So, lace up your shoes, embrace the adventure, and immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring beauty and history that awaits you in Cusco.


Now, it’s time to embark on your journey through time, uncover the hidden secrets of Cusco’s ruins, and create unforgettable memories in this archaeological wonderland. Happy exploring!