Experience the best of the Andes on this 11-day trip. From Peru's capital Lima, this adventure whisks you up into the mountains to ancient Inca city Cusco. You will then spend several days in the Sacred Valley, including one overnight, seeing archaeological marvels like Ollantaytambo before a trek on the Short Inca Trail to magical Inca citadel Machu Picchu. After hiking to the geological wonder of Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain, you next travel to spectacular Lake Titicaca to conclude your adventure. Here, you will get to try wonderful activities such as kayaking and staying in homestays with local families.

Highlights

  • Discover Cusco's ancient cobblestone streets
  • Be dazzled by the beauty of the Sacred Valley and its ancient Inca monuments
  • Trek the Short Inca Trail to one of the world-famous Inca citadel of Machu Picchu
  • Hike up the spectacular multi-colored Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain.
  • Explore the remarkable floating reed islands of Lake Titicaca by kayak

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Lima - Bienvenidos! Lima
Day 2 Fly to Cusco & Free Day Cusco
Day 3 Quad Bike Tour to Moray & Maras Cusco
Day 4 Sacred Valley Tour to Pisac, Ollantaytambo & Chinchero: Hike to Inca Sites Cusco
Day 5 Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: Cusco-Ollantaytambo-Km 104-Aguas Calientes Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town)
Day 6 Explore Machu Picchu & Return to Cusco Cusco
Day 7 Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain Trek Cusco
Day 8 The 'Route of the Sun' & Arrive in Puno Puno
Day 9 Kayak to The Uros Islands & Amantani Island Homestay Amantani Island
Day 10 Taquile Island, transfer to Juliaca Airport & Fly to Lima Lima
Day 11 Adiós: Depart Peru  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Lima - Bienvenidos!

Peruvian ceviche, the perfect way to begin a trip in Lima

¡Bienvenidos! Welcome to Lima, Peru's largest city and central metropolitan hub, and home to one third of the country's population.

Upon your arrival at Lima Airport, you will be welcomed and taken to your hotel in the neighborhoods of either Miraflores or San Isidro. You will have the remainder of the day free to relax and get acquainted with the city at your own pace.

Depending on your arrival time, suggestions to make the most of your day in Lima include:

  • Explore the historic center of Lima, a UNESCO World Heritage Site packed with fascinating Spanish architecture. Start with a scenic tour of the colonial downtown, which emanates from the main square, Plaza Mayor. Stroll over to the 16th-century cathedral, which took 80 years to construct and was built in the grandiose style of the Spanish Empire. And be sure to visit Casa Aliaga, a colonial mansion granted by conquistador leader Francisco Pizarro to Jerónimo de Aliaga, one of his captains, in 1535. This is the one of the best-preserved houses from that era, and the only one still belonging to the same family!
  • Browse the Larco Museum of pre-Columbian art, a splendid privately-owned museum in Pueblo Libre and housed in a beautifully restored viceregal mansion built over a 7th-century pre-Columbian pyramid. The museum boasts a vast pre-Colonial collection of gold and silver artifacts. 
  • Wander along the cliff tops in Miraflores, heading to the Parque del Amor or 'Love Park' where you can admire a huge kissing statue and beautiful mosaic walls. The walk, known as the "Malecón" runs along the high and dramatic cliffs of Chorrillos and is a perfect place to watch sunset dip over the Pacific. 
  • Enjoy a drink or meal in Miraflores at the neighborhood's great selection of highly-regarded bars and restaurants. See here for a list of the best places to eat in Lima.

Day 2: Arrive in Cusco & Free Day: Lima - Cusco

The narrow streets of Cusco, with the Andes behind

This morning, you will be picked up at your Lima hotel and transferred to the airport, where you will take your flight to the ancient Inca capital of Cusco! Upon your arrival, you will be welcomed and then transferred to your hotel close to the historic center.

You now have the rest of the day at leisure to relax and adapt to Cusco's lofty elevation. The city lies at 11,000 feet (3000 meters) above sea level, so take it easy and remember to drink lots of water!

Cusco was designed by the Incas as a city for walking, so start your exploration of the city's ancient, narrow stone alleyways on foot. Take a stroll through the Plaza de Armas, taking time to see its stunning cathedral; if the weather is beautiful, the plaza is the ideal place to sit on a balcony or bench and enjoy a cup of coca tea while adjusting to the elevation.

If you feel like doing something more active, Cusco is one of Peru's most cosmopolitan destinations, and full of museums, galleries and historic sights. Other suggestions for activities today include:

  • Visiting the Qoricancha complex, also known as the Templo del sol (Temple of the Sun). The temple was built by the Incan Emperor Pachacutec (1438-1572), and became one of the Inca Empire's major centres of worship. After the arrival of the Spaniards, it then became the basis for the construction of the Convento de Santo Domingo (Santo Domingo Convent), a 17th-century Baroque Church that is a telling example of the clash between Andean and western cultures.
  • Walking up above the city to Sacsayhuamán and next-door Quenqo, both archaeological complexes used mostly for religious and agricultural rituals, located 2.5 miles (4 km) from central Cusco. Built by the Killke people, Sacsayhuamán is a marvel of ancient architecture, a monolithic fortress built from giant blocks of stone, the origins and assembly of which remain shrouded in mystery. 
  • Discovering the elaborate Puca Pucara ruins—an architectural complex of alleged military use with multiple plazas, baths, aqueducts, walls, and towers. It is believed that the entourage of the Incan emperor used it while he stayed at Tambomachay, the elaborate estate and baths nearby. The ruins are further along the same road (to Pisac) that Sacsayhuamán and Quenqo are on.
  • Taking a walk uphill from the Plaza de Armas to the district of San Blas, one of the city’s most attractive areas. Here are beautifully restored buildings, artesanía (handicrafts) workshops and stores. You will find high-quality crafts, comely cobbled streets and quaint little restaurants serving traditional Andean cuisine.
  • Experiencing the legendary Mercado Central de San Pedro (central San Pedro Market), a large and diverse market famous for its mouth-watering fruit juices, home-style meals, medicinal herb stalls, and rows of various meats, breads, vegetables, and other necessities.
  • Eating lunch (and perhaps dinner too!) at a local Peruvian restaurant to sample the distinctive local flavors and cooking techniques of the Peruvian Andes.

Day 3: Quad Bike Tour to Moray & Maras

Quad Biking in the Andes of Peru

After breakfast this morning, get ready for another pulse-quickening day of activity as you are picked up and transferred to Cruzpata, the base from which your quad bike tour of Sacred Valley highlights Moray and Maras begins.

You will get instructions on how to use a quad bike before setting off across rolling green farmland towards the first of the two major sights on this adventure, Moray. This is an incredible and utterly distinctive complex of stone amphitheaters developed by the Incas, with the exact reason for their construction unknown. However, historians believe the Incas built Moray to experiment with crop production in different micro-climates. Arriving at Moray in this way, you are less likely to encounter many other tourists, the majority of which arrive at the ruins by other means.

Your quad bike tour now continues to the salt mines of Maras, a few miles from Moray. This striking patchwork of pools cut into a steep mountainside was developed by the Inca as a way of harvesting salt, and is an incredibly dramatic and extensive sight.

Having seen Maras, return by quad bike to Cruzpata for your transfer back to Cusco. Returning to Cusco, a fantastic selection of places to eat and drink await to entertain you. Sample one of these (or more than one!) independently this evening.

Day 4: Sacred Valley Tour of Pisac, Ollantaytambo & Chinchero: Hiking to Inca Sites

Inca terraces like these dramatically flank the Sacred Valley

Today, you will take a day trip from Cusco to explore the heart of the Sacred Valley. Your first stop will be Pisac, one of the most important archaeological sites in the region. Here, at Pisac Citadel, you will get to explore ancient Inca burial grounds, irrigation systems, and astronomy centers. Next, you will descend to the town of Pisac at the bottom of the valley, famous for its bustling textile market. Here, select from a wide assortment of colors, styles, and designs for gifts to take home with you to remember your Andean adventure by.

You will next make a lunch stop, enjoying traditional Peruvian Andean cuisine at a restaurant in Urubamba, located in a beautiful setting overlooking the Urubamba River. 

From here, you then head to the ancient Incan settlement of Ollantaytambo, one of the few remaining places in the Sacred Valley that has retained its original Inca grid plan. Walk streets lined with Inca-era canals, view ancient Inca houses still in use today and climb the agricultural terraces, from where you can enjoy an Inca’s-eye-view of the valley. At the latter, you will be able to see some of the quarries from where the stone for Ollantaytambo was sourced.

After this, you will head to Chinchero, a small but comely rustic Andean town where you will get to explore the ruins before making your way back to Cusco.

In gastronomic hotspot Cusco, a fantastic selection of places to eat and drink await. Sample another of these (or more than one!) independently this evening.

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Day 5: Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: Cusco-Ollantaytambo-Km 104-Aguas Calientes

Hikers on one of the ancient Inca Trails in the Sacred Valley

Today, after breakfast, you will be picked up from your hotel and transferred to Ollantaytambo train station in readiness for hiking along the Short Inca Trail towards Machu Picchu. At Ollantaytambo, your train will take you to the trailhead at km104 where the Short Inca Trail begins.

You will now begin hiking the trail, appreciating the scenery of the valley as it gets more dramatic and becomes a canyon. The first archeological site you will visit on your hike is Chachabamba: a beautifully situated and especially well-preserved construction likely used for religious purposes and as a gatekeeping point for this entrance to Machu Picchu. 

From here, you will ascend for three hours to the ruins of Wiñay Wayna at 8,964 ft (2732 m). This site was an ancient rest area for travelers on the Inca trail and you too will stop here to relax and enjoy your packed lunch surrounded by superb mountain views.

The trail then becomes gentler and continues through semi-tropical cloud forest to Intipunku (the Sun Gate) at which you will arrive at around 3 pm. Here, you will get to enjoy your first panoramic views of Machu Picchu. You will descend for 30 minutes towards Machu Picchu citadel where there will be time for a short break and, of course, opportunity for photos.

Afterwards you will take the bus down to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town) and check into your hotel to rest in anticipation of your visit to Machu Picchu tomorrow!

Maximum Altitude: 8964 ft (2,732 m)                   
Walk Distance: 6.67 miles (10.79 km) 
Walk Time: 7 hours

Day 6: Explore Machu Picchu & Return to Cusco

Machu Picchu has a magical mountain setting

As you have stayed overnight in the town closest to the wonder of Machu Picchu, it is time to take advantage and get up early to beat the crowds that will later arrive at the site. You will take a 25-minute bus up from Machu Picchu Town through cloud forest to reach the entrance to Machu Picchu Citadel, hopefully before many other visitors are there.

This superlative 15th-century Inca complex is located at 7,970 ft (2,430 m) and is a masterpiece of engineering that served as a sanctuary and retreat for the Incan Emperor Pachacutec and his royal court. Machu Picchu, which means "Old Mountain," is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as being one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Yet the citadel was abandoned just 100 years after construction and remained largely hidden to the outside world until the early 20th century. 

Your guide will lead you around the site, explaining the different buildings and hidden corners of the complex. Approximately one-third of the site has been reconstructed into its original structure, giving visitors a sense of the grandeur and artistry of the original citadel. You will also have time after the guided tour to explore the sanctuary of Machu Picchu independently.

See here for more on the best time to visit Machu Picchu.

After the tour, you take the bus back to Machu Picchu Town and have a chance to grab your own lunch in the lively town center. Next, connect to your train to Ollantaytambo and then your connecting transfer back to your hotel in Cusco.

Cusco is full of fantastic places to eat and drink: consider independently sampling some traditional Peruvian food at one of these this evening, under your own steam and away from the itinerary schedule. Recharge your batteries this evening for another early start tomorrow!

Day 7: Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain Trek

Hiker on the ridge of Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain

The Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain is a multi-coloured mountainous massif full of wild desert landscapes, snow-capped glaciated peaks and wandering herds of alpaca, once almost unknown to travelers but now one of the most sought-after excursions in the Cusco area. Today is your chance to see this fantastic geological wonder for yourself.

You will be picked you up early from your Cusco hotel around 3 am to set out on the three-hour drive to the trailhead for the Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain hike at Quesiuno (14,189 ft / 4326 m), stopping for breakfast along the road from Cusco.

You then embark on a 2-hour hike to the summit. The route passes herds of alpacas and llamas and tiny villages where you and your group will have chance to interact with local residents. Views of one of Peru's highest peaks, Ausangate Mountain, will stun you as you climb. Upon reaching the summit and the spectacular panorama of Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain (16,466 ft / 5,020 m), you will have time to explore the mountaintop area for approximately 30 minutes.

It is then time to go back down the way you came, with the return leg taking approximately 1.5 hours. Your transfer will be waiting for you when you return, and you will then embark on the 3-hour return drive to Cusco, stopping along the route back for a buffet lunch.   

You will be dropped off back at your Cusco hotel at about 5:30 pm. As Cusco is renowned for its fantastic Andean cuisine and tonight is your last night in the city before heading south, it could be time to toast your trip by heading to one of the many atmospheric places to eat and drink here. These include the Museo del Pisco, a classy museum and bar dedicated to the national spirit that also serves well-regarded food such as beef sautéed in pisco! 

Day 8: The 'Route of the Sun' & Arrive in Puno

The 'Sistine Chapel of the Americas'

This morning, after breakfast in your hotel, you will make your way to the bus station in order to board a tourist bus to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. The way you will be going is a journey of approximately ten hours and is known as 'the route of the sun' because it transports travelers to the edge of Lake Titicaca, the birthplace of the sun in ancient Inca mythology.

To break up today's journey, you will have several fascinating stops along the way. You will have guided tours to the temple of Andahuaylillas known as the 'Sistine Chapel of the Americas', the Inca temple of Raqchi, the Abra la Raya pass marking the division between the provinces of Cusco and Puno at a lofty 14,222 ft / 4,335 m of altitude, and the Museo Lítico Pucará, a museum displaying some interesting artifacts from the nearby pre-Inca ruin of Kalasaya. Each tour lasts 20-40 minutes, making this journey an exceptionally interesting one.

Upon your arrival in Puno, you will be transferred to your hotel, where you can take a well-earned rest before your next high-adrenaline activity tomorrow!

Day 9: Kayak to The Uros Islands & Amantani Island Homestay

Lake Titicaca kayaking

Before embarking on today's activity, know that the islanders who live on the lake that you will be visiting today greatly appreciate (and in some cases need) small gifts in return for the hospitality they will be showing you. School supplies for island children are recommended as a potential gift to purchase for them.

Finally, be sure to fuel up at breakfast this morning! This will be among the most exhilarating full-day experiences of your trip as you see some of Lake Titicaca's spectacular highlights the adventurous way: by kayak, boat and local homestay! 

Your special adventure will begin with morning pick-up from your hotel in Puno, and transfer to the put-in point for your kayak trip on the lake. Here, your guide will be waiting for you along with the kayaks/ sports canoes and, after a brief introduction to the activity, you will get into the water and start paddling across the shimmering blue water.

Your kayaking destination is the Uros Islands, a 1.5-hour paddle. On the way, watch out for the lake's stunning birdlife which includes herons and Andean flamingos

The Uros Islands are a destination like no other. It is believed that the Uros people were one of the first ethnic groups to populate the Andean region. Their communities live on some of the planet's only man-made inhabited floating islands, which are constructed out of the totora reeds that grow in abundance around the lake. Upon your arrival here, you will have the chance to learn about the exceptional everyday life and traditions of the Uros.

After your visit to the floating islands, your group will continue by boat to reach the island of Amantani in the northwest of the lake. The special thing about this island is that accommodation is in the family homes of islanders. Your group's host families will be waiting for you on the shore, and it is in homestays in their homes that you will spend the night, as well as eating lunch and dinner with them, a period giving ample opportunity to experience the lake from a local perspective. You will also get to walk around the island to the high point of Pachatata from where views across the lake are magnificent. You will get the chance to watch sunset from here, over the lake where the Inca believed the sun was born.

You will then return for an evening of merrymaking with the islanders, with folklore music and drinks. Islanders will show you their traditional dances too. 

Day 10: Taquile Island, Return to Puno, Transfer to Juliaca Airport & Fly to Lima

The beautiful blue island-dotted waters of Lake Titicaca

After breakfast on Amantani, you will be leaving the island for Taquile. an island south of Amantani and known for its beautiful woven handicrafts, considered the most beautiful such textiles of the entire region. You will get the chance to purchase these handicrafts, which make authentic and unique souvenirs of your adventure. The islanders have kept their traditional way of life away from the modern continent! After lunch, you will get to go on an island excursion before returning by boat to Puno. From here you will be transferred to Juliaca Airport for your flight back to Lima.

Upon arrival in Lima, you will be transferred to your hotel.

Day 11: Adiós: Depart Peru

Andean children in traditional dress

Today is your last day in Peru! You will be met at your hotel for a transfer to Lima Airport, where you will catch your international departure.

¡Buen viaje! Have a good trip!

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