Best of Cusco & the Sacred Valley: Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Humantay Lake, Rainbow Mountain & More - 10 days
- Explore the cobblestone streets of Cusco, ancient capital of the Inca Empire
- Be dazzled by the beauty of the Sacred Valley and its ancient Inca monuments
- Tackle the Short Inca Trail to arrive at majestic Machu Picchu
- Hike to one of the most stunning mountain lakes in the Andes, Humantay Lake
- Be spellbound by the otherworldly colors of Rainbow Mountain
|Day 1||Arrive in Lima - Bienvenidos!||Lima|
|Day 2||Fly to Cusco & Free Day||Cusco|
|Day 3||Sacred Valley Tour of Pisac, Ollantaytambo & Chinchero: Hiking to Inca Sites||Cusco|
|Day 4||Moray & Maras Salt Mines Tour||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 & Back to Cusco||Cusco|
|Day 7||Humantay Lake Trek||Cusco|
|Day 8||Cusco City Tour||Cusco|
|Day 9||Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain Trek||Cusco|
|Day 10||Adiós: Fly to Lima, Depart Peru|
Day 1: Arrive in Lima - Bienvenidos!
¡Bienvenidos! Welcome! You have arrived in Lima, Peru's lively capital and one of South America's largest metropolises, home to one-third of the country's population.
Upon arrival at Lima Airport, you will be welcomed and taken to your hotel in the Miraflores/San Isidro area of the city. You will then have the remainder of the day free to relax and get acquainted with the city at your own pace.
Lima's breezy location on the Pacific Ocean and mild desert climate make it the perfect city for exploring on foot. The most traveler-friendly areas of Lima are Miraflores, along with neighboring San Isidro and Barranco. The city center is also very interesting for its beautiful historical buildings. Explore any one of these districts on foot, but get transport between the city center and Miraflores/San Isidro/Barranco.
Suggestions of activities to make the most of your day in Lima include:
- Explore the city center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site packed with fascinating Spanish architecture. Start with a scenic tour of the colonial buildings, which emanate from the main square, Plaza Mayor. Stroll over to the grandiose 16th-century cathedral, which took 80 years to construct! And pay a visit to Casa de Aliaga, a colonial mansion full of period finery, granted by conquistador-in-chief Francisco Pizarro to Jerónimo de Aliaga, one of his captains, in 1535.
- Discover Pueblo Libre's privately-owned Larco Museum of pre-Columbian art, 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.
- Walk the malecón (walkway) along the clifftops in Miraflores to the romantic Parque del Amor (Love Park), where you can admire a huge kissing statue and beautiful mosaic walls. The park is built on the edge of the cliffs of Chorrillos and is a perfect place to watch sunset sinking spectacularly over the Pacific.
- Have a meal or nightcap at an open-air cafe or restaurant in sophisticated Miraflores, and contemplate the incredible adventure you have ahead of you!
Day 2: Fly to Cusco & Free Day
After breakfast this morning, you will transfer to the airport to catch your flight to Cusco. Upon your arrival, you will be welcomed and transferred to your hotel close to Cusco's 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.
If you feel like doing something active, Cusco is one of Peru's most cosmopolitan destinations, and full of museums, galleries and historic sights. Suggestions include:
- Visit 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 centers 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.
- Walk 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. There are great views back over Cusco on the way.
- Discover the 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 Inca 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.
- From the Plaza de Armas and its beautiful cathedral showcasing fascinating 16th-18th-century art from the Escuela cuzqueña (Cusco school of art), walk uphill to the district of San Blas, one of the city’s most attractive areas with beautifully restored buildings, artesanía (handicrafts) workshops and stores. Here you will find high-quality crafts, comely cobbled streets and quaint little restaurants serving traditional Andean cuisine.
- Experience 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 items.
- Eat lunch (and perhaps dinner too!) at a local Peruvian restaurant to sample the distinctive local flavors and cooking techniques of the Peruvian Andes. See here for more on the best places to eat in Cusco.
Day 3: Sacred Valley Tour of Pisac, Ollantaytambo & Chinchero: Hiking to Inca Sites
This morning, you will depart from your hotel in Cusco on a day's exploration 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 get to will explore ancient Inca burial grounds, irrigation systems, and astronomy centers. Next, you will descend to Pisac town 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.
You will next make a lunch stop, enjoy traditional Peruvian Andean cuisine at a restaurant in Urubamba, located in a beautiful setting overlooking the Urubamba River.
From here, you will make your way in the afternoon 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 spy some of the quarries from where the stone for Ollantaytambo was sourced.
Afterwards, 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 for a well-deserved rest!
Day 4: Moray & Maras Salt Mines Tour
This morning, you depart on another day's trip to the Sacred Valley.
Your first stop today will be Moray. This is an incredible and utterly distinctive complex amongst the Sacred Valley's myriad Inca ruins: a series of stone terraced amphitheaters. These terraces are carved deep into the earth in the shape of a bowl. The exact reason for their construction is unknown; however, historians believe the Incas built Moray to experiment with crop production in different micro-climates.
When you are done exploring Moray, you will head about two miles away, to the salt mines of Maras. This village is known as a former salt-producing center and is thought to date back to pre-Incan times. There are over 3,000 salt pools here, spectacularly carved into the steep mountainside over a millennium ago.
Finally, after seeing these two incredible ancient sights, return to Cusco and have the rest of the day to rest or further explore the city.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 5: Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: Cusco-Ollantaytambo-Km 104-Aguas Calientes
Today, after breakfast, you will be picked up from your hotel and transferred to the train station at Ollantaytambo 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, enjoying 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 & Back to Cusco
As you are staying in the closest town to Machu Picchu, after breakfast it is time to get an early start this morning to beat the crowds, guaranteeing the best possible views of the ancient ruins. From Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu Town, it is an easy 25-minute bus ride up to the entrance of Machu Picchu citadel.
This 15th-century Inca citadel, located at 7,970 ft (2,430 m), 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 and one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Yet this incredible complex was abandoned just one century after its construction and remained largely hidden to the outside world until the early 20th century.
Your guide will lead you around the site and explain the different buildings and curious corners of the complex. Approximately one-third of the site has been rebuilt to its original structure, giving visitors a sense of the grandeur and artistry of the original citadel. After the tour, you will have time to explore the citadel independently.
You will next take the bus back to Machu Picchu Town. Take time to grab your own lunch in the town center before connecting to your train to Ollantaytambo, and then your transfer back to your hotel in Cusco.
Day 7: Humantay Lake Trek
Today you have an early start as you are picked up around 3:30-4 am (!) to begin a memorable Andean adventure to Humantay Lake, a sparkling turquoise mountain lake located at 13,779 ft / 4200 m altitude, accessible from Cusco only via a 4-hour drive and then a 1-hour hike.
First up is the 4-hour-drive to Soraypampa (altitude 12,630 ft / 3,850 m) where you will make a stop for breakfast and get ready to start the trek to the lake. Soraypampa is the campsite for the first day of the beautiful Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu.
From Soraypampa, after a hike of approximately one hour (there is the option of a horseback ride up for those weighing 80 kg or less), you will arrive at the lake. You will be immediately convinced that your journey here was worth it as the lake's waters shimmer below the sheer rock faces of the surrounding nevados (snow-capped peaks). If weather is clear enough, you will be able to see the snow-capped Salkantay mountain beautifully reflected on the lake surface.
At this point, your guide will tell you more about the surrounding topography and how this relates to Inca mythology, after which you can make an offering to the Apus in the local Andean tradition. The Apus were mountain spirits that the Inca and many Andean people today believe will protect them from harm in return for offerings. You will also have time to explore and take pictures.
You will subsequently begin your descent to Soraypampa to have lunch and, after some rest, return to Cusco.
Day 8: Cusco City Tour
Today you will have a guided tour of the fascinating ancient city of Cusco. Begin strolling through the Plaza de Armas, where you will be able to explore the Cathedral and admire its exquisite vestibules and priceless paintings from the Escuela cuzqueña (Cusco School of Art) produced during the 17th and 18th centuries. Just a few blocks away, you will explore one of Cusco’s most impressive buildings, Qoricancha or the Temple of the Sun, whose interior walls were said to have been covered in gold. From here, continue your tour visiting the fortress of Sacsayhuamán in its dominant location above the city. You will visit the trio of other important Inca archeological sites located along the same road: Qenko, Tambomachay, and Puka Pukara. See under the Day 2 detailed itinerary (above) for more on Sacsayhuamán, Qenko, Tambomachay, and Puka Pukara.
Day 9: Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain Trek
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 home, it could be time to toast your trip by heading to one of the many atmospheric places to eat 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 10: Adiós: Fly to Lima, Depart Peru
Today is your last day in Peru! You will be met at your hotel for a transfer to Cusco Airport, where you will catch your flight back to Lima. Here, you will connect to your international departure.
Hasta la proxima vez! Until the next time!
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