Peru is famous for the ruins of Machu Picchu to the south, but the lesser-known pre-Inca sites across the country are just as impressive. This 15-day itinerary brings you up close to some of the largest and oldest sites, like the sprawling city Chan Chan, the mysterious Moray terraces, and the imposing Kuélap fortress, as you travel from arid desert to misty cloud forest.


  • Walk among Chimú and Moche reliefs, murals, and pyramids
  • Hike through cloud forests for views of the 2,500-foot Gocta Waterfall
  • Try your hand at sandboarding in the Ica Desert
  • Sample salt from Inca-era wells in Salinas de Mara
  • Visit four ancient sites in the Sacred Valley, including Machu Picchu

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Trujillo Trujillo
Day 2 Huacas de Moche, Chan Chan & Huanchaco Tour Trujillo
Day 3 Visit El Brujo & Transfer to Chiclayo Chiclayo
Day 4 Túcume Pyramids & Tumbas Reales Museum Tour Chiclayo
Day 5 Transfer to Chachapoyas Chachapoyas
Day 6 Hike to Gocta Waterfall Chachapoyas
Day 7 Take the Cablecar to Kuélap Fortress Chachapoyas
Day 8 Fly to Lima Lima
Day 9 Visit the Ica Desert & Huacachina Oasis Lima
Day 10 Fly to Cusco, Explore Cusco
Day 11 Moray Terraces & Salineras de Maras Tour Cusco
Day 12 Pisac, Ollantaytambo & Chinchero tour Cusco
Day 13 Transfer to Aguas Calientes & Explore Machu Picchu Cusco
Day 14 Hike to Vinicunca Cusco
Day 15 Fly to Lima & Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Trujillo

Street view of Trujillo's Plaza de Armas with the yellow cathedral and a blue public building
Trujillo's main square, Plaza de Armas

Welcome to Trujillo! Thanks to its sunny, calm weather, the coastal city is known as "La ciudad de la primavera eterna" (The City of Everlasting Spring). Once the heart of the Moche and Chimú cultures, the city is now known for its archaeological finds and beautiful colonial-era buildings and role in gaining independence from Spain. You'll fly in today and have time to explore.

While you're in town, check out the Historic Centre of Trujillo, watch a demonstration of the "Marinera," a traditional Peruvian dance, or settle in with a plate of ceviche, since it's said that the famous dish was created by the Moche people in this area around 2,000 years ago.

Day 2: Huacas de Moche, Chan Chan & Huanchaco Tour

Relief murals in Chan Chan
Relief murals in Chan Chan

Head out in the morning for a full day of sightseeing near Trujillo. First, visit two monuments of the Moche culture, the Huaca de la Luna, or "Moon Temple," still decorated with well-conserved paintings on the walls, and the Huaca Arco Iris, or "Rainbow Temple," named for the colorful high reliefs found on its walls. From here, continue to what was once the largest city in pre-Columbian Peru: Chan Chan. The Chimú complex features clusters of buildings, royal palace rooms, and sprawling workshops to house the city's artisans. 

Continue to Huanchaco, a traditional fishing beach town famous for its totora reed boats, known locally as the "Caballitos de totora" (Little Totora Horses). These boats, made out of the thick and buoyant totora reed, have been used for fishing and surfing for centuries. Enjoy lunch in the seaside town, then return to Trujillo in the afternoon. If there's time, take a detour to explore the small historical city center of Trujillo before returning to the hotel for the evening.

Day 3: Visit El Brujo & Transfer to Chiclayo

Detail of a mural the El Brujo complex. The mural resembles a patchwork quilt and is composed of black, yellow, red, and white lines
Remains of a mural in El Brujo
In the morning, set off to Chiclayo in the nearby region of Lambayeque. Along the way, stop at the archaeological site of El Brujo. This 98-foot-tall (29.8 m) adobe pyramid is famous for the tomb of the Lady of Cao, a female Peruvian mummy discovered dressed as a warrior and buried in a manner similar to the male aristocratic warriors, suggesting that she, and potentially other women of the time, was a high-ranking member of society.

Day 4: Túcume Pyramids & Tumbas Reales Museum Tour

Aerial view of the Túcume Archaeological complex with green forest and mountains in the background
Aerial view of the Túcume Archaeological Complex

Start your day with a visit to the 26 pyramids at the Túcume Archaeological Complex, an area successively controlled by the Lambayeque, Chimú, Inca, and Spanish peoples. Spanning 547 acres (221.5 ha), this sprawling complex contains fascinating architectural features such as pat, canals, and enormous palaces decorated with exemplary murals. 

After lunch, head to the Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipán (Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum) in Lambayeque, just outside of Chiclayo. This museum contains a wealth of archaeological treasures buried with the Lord of Sipán, a Moche mummy discovered in nearby Sipán in 1987. At the time, the Lord of Sipán's tomb was one of the best-preserved in the country, earning comparisons with the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun. 

Day 5: Transfer to Chachapoyas

View of Chachapoyas from the Luya Urco viewpoint above the town with terracotta-colored rooftops, a central street extending away from the camera, and green mountains in the background
View of Chachapoyas from the Luya Urco viewpoint

Today is a travel day. Head inland to Chachapoyas, a city surrounded by cloud forests in the Amazonas region. During the roughly seven-hour drive, you'll watch the arid deserts of the coast give way to the humid cloud forests of Andean peaks. Along the way, you'll have plenty of chances to get out, stretch your legs, and capture photos of the landscape.

Arrive at your hotel in Chachapoyas in the afternoon and spend the rest of the day relaxing or exploring the charming town. Visit the Santa Isabela Nursery's orchids, admire the colonial-era casonas (mansions), or see the legendary Pozo de Yanayacu. This well would cause any single man that drank from it to be utterly charmed by the local women.
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Day 6: Hike to Gocta Waterfall

Gocta Waterfall
After a hearty breakfast, hit the trail for a two-three hour hike to the famous Gocta Waterfall. The 3.7-mile (6-km) hike is well worth it, not only because it crosses through vast sugar cane fields and thick cloud forest but because the falls drop a jaw-dropping 2,531 feet (771 m) in two steps. While the falls have only been known to the general public since the early 2000s, you might pass some well-known wildlife during your hike, like the bright orange tunki (Andean cock-of-the-rock), Peru's national bird.

Day 7: Take the Cablecar to Kuélap Fortress

View of the ruins of round buildings in Kuélap, Peru, with mountains and cloud forest in the background
View of circular structures at Kuélap

Get an early start today for the hourlong ride to Nuevo Tingo, a small village nestled in the high Andes. From here, board the cable car up to the spectacular ruins of Kuélap, a pre-Inca settlement surrounded by 65-foot (19.8-m) walls. The site, located 9,500 feet (2,895 m) up a mountain ridge overlooking the Utcubamba Valley, earned the nickname "Machu Picchu of the North." Take a guided tour through the settlement's rounded buildings before heading back down the mountain.

Day 8: Fly to Lima

View of the cliffside highway on the coast of Lima, Peru
Aerial view of Lima

Today, catch a ride to the Jaen Airport for your flight to Lima. Upon arrival in Peru's capital, you'll be transferred to your accommodations and have the rest of the day to explore. Sitting on high cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, there's plenty to do and see in this city of almost 10 million people. Check out the chic shopping centers in Miraflores, visit Museo Larco's huge collection of pre-Columbian art, or take a walk past the lemon-yellow buildings surrounding the Plaza Mayor de Lima.

Day 9: Visit the Ica Desert & Huacachina Oasis

The village of Huacachina in the Ica Desert at sunset
Huacachina Oasis in the evening

Take a four-hour ride down Peru's coastline toward Ica, a city in the southern Ica Desert. From here, head to Huacachina, an oasis among the sand dunes. After a quick tour, it's off to the dunes for adrenaline-pumping dune buggy rides or sandboarding across the sands. If you're not feeling too adventurous, hang out with a Pisco sour—after all, the famous Peruvian brandy comes from this region. Stop for lunch on the shores of the oasis lagoon before heading back to Lima.

Day 10: Fly to Cusco, Explore

The main square in Cusco

It's time to trade in Peru's current capital city for the formal capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco. With an elevation of 11,000 feet (3,000 m), the city's altitude takes some getting used to—remember to rest often and drink plenty of water for the first couple of days here after your flight over. Consider walking through the narrow streets to check out local markets or have a cup of coca tea to help adjust to the elevation. Or, head to the slopes above the city to check out Inca sacred sites like Sacsayhuaman and Q'enqo

Day 11: Moray Terraces & Salineras de Maras Tour

View of the Maras salt terraces with the gridlike pools of salt water in the foreground and rocky mountain slopes in the background
The Salineras Maras

Visit two of the more well-known archaeological sites in the area today, starting with Moray. This historically ambiguous site hosts three muyus (circular terraces) with depths of up to 98 feet (30 m). The dramatic change in temperature from the top to the bottom of each muyu creates microclimates like those in a greenhouse, leading many to believe the Incas used the site as an agricultural laboratory. There's no way to know for sure, and that enduring mystery is part of Moray's charm.

Then, head to Salineras de Maras, a patchwork of thousands of salt wells created by the Incas and still used today. This geometric landscape high in the mountains is a favorite for photographers, but even if you don't use a camera, you can bring a piece of the Salineras home. You can still buy salt from the wells in nearby Maras, just as the Incas once did hundreds of years ago. 

Day 12: Pisac, Ollantaytambo & Chinchero Tour

Pisac's colorful textile market
Pisac's colorful textile market

The scenic floodplain between Pisac and Ollantaytambo in the valley of the Urubamba River is known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Tour three of the Sacred Valley's gems today on a tour of Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Chinchero. Start at Pisac Archaeological Park and check out the Inca-era complex before heading down the hill to the modern town's handicraft market, the largest in the region.

From here, head to Ollantaytambo, one of the few remaining places in the Sacred Valley that have retained its original Inca urban planning. Walk through the streets with Inca-era canals and view the ancient houses still in use today. Climb the agricultural terraces for a bird's-eye-view of the valley. From the top, you’ll be able to see some of the quarries from where the stone for Ollantaytambo was sourced and marvel at the feat of engineering that brought them up to the sight.

Then, head back toward Cusco and stop at Chinchero, a small Andean village sitting at a higher elevation than the other villages at 12,342 feet (3,762 m) above sea level. Enjoy breathtaking views of snowy mountains like Salcantay, the highest peak in the Vilcabamba mountain range, as you explore the Inca-era terraces, a colonial-era stucco church, and another artisanal market. 

Day 13: Transfer to Aguas Calientes & Explore Machu Pichu

View of Machu Picchu during a pink summer sunrise
Machu Picchu

It's finally time to head for the most well-known Inca archaeological site in Peru, Machu Picchu. First, catch a train to Aguas Calientes, the small town that serves as a base to explore Machu Picchu. Admire from the ceiling windows on the train as you pass by the Urubamba River canyon and through cloud forests. Then, take a bus for the last stretch of the trip to the Inca citadel.

Presiding nearly 8,000 feet (2,438 m) above the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu has been stunning visitors for centuries. When you arrive today, get an extensive tour from a guide and walk among 15th-century dry-stone walls and check out the three most famous structures—the Intihuatana ritual stone, The Temple of the Sun, and The Temple of the Three Windows—as well as some lesser-known spots around the area. At the end of the day, catch the train to Cusco.

Day 14: Hike to Vinicunca

View of Vinicunca, "Rainbow Mountain," from the summit of a neighboring slope, with a blue sign reading "Montana Vinikunka Altitud: 5.036 M.S.N.M."
View of Vinicunca
Head south on a three-hour ride from Cusco to Quesiuno to meet the trailhead to Vinicunca. The mountain goes by many names, like Montaña de Siete Colores and Rainbow Mountain, thanks to the colorful stripes that cover the peak. Hike for about two hours, passing mountain streams, potato fields, and herds of alpacas or llamas before you reach the Red Valley and the Rainbow Mountain itself. You'll have plenty of time to explore the gorgeous area and take pictures before heading back down the trail.

Day 15: Fly to Lima & Depart

Panoramic view of Miraflores coast at sunset with the ocean on the left and lighthouse center
View of the sunset in Miraflores, Lima

Today is your last day in Peru! You'll be met at your hotel for a transfer to the Cusco Airport, where you'll catch your flight back to Lima and then connect to your international departure. ¡Buen Viaje!

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Map of Ancient Peru: Huacas de Moche, El Brujo, Túcume, Kuélap & The Sacred Valley - 15 days
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