Catch the best of Peru's natural highlights on this whirlwind 6-day itinerary. Start in Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca, before spending the day exploring the Machu Picchu citadel. Enjoy a hike on the famed rainbow-colored soils of Rainbow Mountain, then transfer to the Amazon for three days at an eco-lodge, exploring the rainforest and its wildlife.

Highlights

  • Explore the ancient city of Cusco
  • Delve into the secrets of Machu Picchu's ruins
  • Hike on the colorful soil of Rainbow Mountain
  • Experience the beauty of the Amazon Rainforest

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Lima & Cusco: Free Day Cusco
Day 2 Visit Machu Picchu Cusco
Day 3 Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain Trek Cusco
Day 4 Inkaterra Hacienda Concepcion 1/3 Puerto Maldonado
Day 5 Inkaterra Hacienda Concepcion 2/3 Puerto Maldonado
Day 6 Inkaterra Hacienda Concepcion 3/3 & Adios!  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Lima & Cusco: Free Day

After arriving in Peru in Lima, take a domestic flight onward to Cusco, where you'll be met and transferred to your hotel.

The rest of your day is free. Remember that Cusco is at 11,000 feet (3000 m.) above sea level, so take it easy and remember to drink lots of water.

Since Cusco was designed by the Incas as a city for walking, start your exploration of the narrow stone alleyways on foot. Take a leisurely walk through the plaza; if the weather is beautiful, it's a perfect place to sit on a balcony and have a cup of coca tea while adjusting to the elevation.

Suggested activities: 

  • Visit the Qoricancha, also known as "The Temple of the Sun."  The temple was built by the Incan Emperor Pachacutec (1438 - 1572), and after the arrival of the Spaniards became the basis for the construction of the Santo Domingo Convent.

  • Walk to Sacsayhuamán and next-door Quenqo, both archaeological complexes used mostly for religious and agricultural rituals, located 2.5 miles (4 km) from the city of 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 a mystery. 

  • Discover 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. 

  • Experience the legendary Mercado Central de San Pedro, 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. 

  • Eat lunch/dinner at a local Peruvian restaurant and sample local flavors and cooking techniques—crackling pork, pickled vegetables, seasonal flavors, bread baked in earthen ovens, roasted vegetables, and sweet donuts make for a delicious and filling meal.

Day 2: Visit Machu Picchu

Terraces

This morning you will be transferred from your hotel in Cusco to the Ollantaytambo train station to catch your early morning train to Aguas Calientes, the base for most Machu Picchu adventures. The train ride takes you through a valley and into the Urubamba River canyon, then into the cloud forest as you near the Machu Picchu sanctuary. 

Upon arrival, you will take an easy 25-minute bus ride up to the Machu Picchu ruins. 

This 15th-century Inca citadel 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 considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. 

Built as a seasonal residence for the Inca family, Machu Picchu was rarely home to more than 800 people, and during the royals' absence, a mere 100 servants would remain at the site to maintain the grounds. Machu Picchu was abandoned 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 and explain the different buildings and curious corners of the building 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. 

After the tour, take the bus back to Aguas Calientes and grab lunch (not included) in the picturesque town center.  Connect to your train to Ollantaytambo and your connecting transfer back to your hotel in Cusco.

Day 3: Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain Trek

Hiking on Rainbow Mountain

The Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain is only about 12.5 miles (20 km) from its famous sister Vinicunca. While Vinicunca attracts thousands of visitors, its smaller sister Palcoyo (16,000 ft/ 4,900m) has fewer crowds with no less beauty. This mini trek is perfect for travelers who want to view the colorful rainbow mountains in a relatively shorter and more gentle trek, and a great option for those traveling with kids.

Start the morning with an early pickup at 6:00 AM, stopping for breakfast along the way. 

Your drive this morning will be along the Red River, with plenty of opportunities for photos and stops. The drive will take roughly 3.5 hours, after which you'll arrive at the starting point of the short hike. From here, the hike is approximately an hour via a short, relatively flat path. Along the way, you'll see llamas, sheep, vicuñas, and alpacas. The summit lies about 16,404 ft (5,000 m) above sea level. Once you reach the top, you'll have time to enjoy the panorama and take pictures.

At this point, it is time to hike downhill.  Once you reach the bottom, start the 3.5-hour drive back to Cusco, stopping along the way for lunch.

Upon arrival to Cusco, you'll be dropped off at your Cusco hotel. The approximate arrival time is 5:00 PM.

Day 4: Inkaterra Hacienda Concepcion 1/3

Colorful butterflies

Welcome to the Amazon! Jump right in to life in the Amazon as you take a motorized canoe along the Madre de Dios River to reach your hotel. The trip will take 25 minutes, so sit back and take in the sights of nature as you travel down the river.

Once you settle in, you can sit down to a lunch made from local, organic ingredients. After lunch, a guide will take you through the Concepcion Trails — a series of nature trails in the area around the hotel. Learn firsthand about the rainforest and its components: the flora and fauna of the area, the ways in which humans interact with it, and its significance for the world at large.

At dusk, hop onto a motorized canoe to travel down the Madre de Dios River and experience the Amazon at night. Your guide will tell you more about the Amazonian ecosystem, behaviors of nocturnal animals, and constellations of the Southern Hemisphere.

Head back to the lodge for a delicious dinner and spend the night taking in the unique atmosphere of the rainforest.

Day 5: Inkaterra Hacienda Concepcion 2/3

Out on the water

Enjoy a hearty breakfast as today will include a long trek into the Tambopata National Reserve. Travel down the Madre de Dios River and see for yourself why this river is called the biodiversity capital of Peru.

A dugout canoe will take you across Sandoval Lake, where you can find animals such as the endangered giant river otter, red howler monkeys, and paiche, one of the world's largest fresh-water fish. Return to the hotel for lunch and a bit of relaxation before going back into the rainforest.

The afternoon will be spent in the treetops, as you head to the Inkaterra Canopy Walkway Interpretation Center. There, you can climb one of the two 98-foot towers (30 meters) and cross the seven hanging bridges that connect the treetops. 

Enjoy the breathtaking views and world seen from above as you walk amongst the treetop animals of white-throated toucans, woodpeckers, squirrel monkeys, and three-toed sloths. After the canopy tour,  continue on through the rainforest, crossing a 650-foot (200-meter) bridge in a swamp area, where your guide will teach you more about the flora and fauna of this unique ecosystem.

Once the sun sets, get ready to head back out for a nighttime rainforest excursion. Immerse yourself in the sounds of the nocturnal animals, who remain hidden all day, and learn more about their behaviors, patterns, and evolution. Return to the lodge and enjoy a nice dinner.

Day 6: Inkaterra Hacienda Concepcion 3/3 & Adios!

Spot howler monkeys in the Peruvian jungle
Spot howler monkeys in the Peruvian jungle

Enjoy your last morning waking to the cacophony of jungle sounds in this unspoiled natural wonderland, as parakeets chatter away in the trees and monkeys swing through the treetops. Breakfast is served in the Casa Grande with check-out at 10:00 AM. 

Embark on your motorized wooden boat for the 25-minute return trip along the snaking Madre de Dios River. Stop to see the Butterfly House before continuing to the airport. Peru boasts the greatest variety of butterflies in the world, with 3,700 known species. Many of these can be seen at the Butterfly House, which serves to showcase the variety, beauty, and adaptability of these fascinating insects.

Board your flight to Lima, then catch your connecting flight home. Safe travels!

 

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Map of Best of Peru's Nature: Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain & The Amazon - 6 Days
Map of Best of Peru's Nature: Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain & The Amazon - 6 Days