From metropolitan cities and ancient Inca ruins to remote jungle lodges, this 12-day exploration of Peru's history and nature is perfect for the adventurous traveler. Start in metropolitan Lima, then continue to imperial Cusco. Explore 15th-century archaeological sites, colorful textile markets, and the famed Machu Picchu estate. Hike to see the colorful Rainbow Mountain, then spend 2 days deep in the Amazon exploring the jungle and seeing rare wildlife. Visit Huaraz in the Cordillera Blanca region of Peru to see steep glaciated peaks and icy alpine lakes.

Highlights

  • Explore metropolitan Lima and ancient Cusco
  • Visit remarkably well preserved 15th-century Inca ruins
  • See the famed 15th-century Machu Picchu citadel
  • Spot fascinating Amazonian wildlife like macaws, cayman, giant river otter, and tapir
  • Hike in the Andes mountains to see steep peaks and blue lagoons

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Lima Lima
Day 2 Arrival in Cusco, Exploring the City Cusco
Day 3 A Taste of Cusco Cusco
Day 4 Sacred Valley Tour: Cusco - Pisac - Ollantaytambo - Aguas Calientes Aguas Calientes
Day 5 Machu Picchu Excursion: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu - Cusco Cusco
Day 6 Rainbow Mountain Trek Cusco
Day 7 Cusco - Puerto Maldonado Puerto Maldonado
Day 8 Wildlife Viewing at Tambopata Reserve Puerto Maldonado
Day 9 Puerto Maldonado - Lima Lima
Day 10 Fly from Lima to Huaraz & City Tour Huaraz
Day 11 Lake Parón Trek Huaraz
Day 12 Flight: Huaraz - Lima & Departure Lima

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Lima

Lima's Plaza Mayor
Lima's Plaza Mayor

¡Bienvenidos! Welcome to Lima, Peru's largest city and central metropolitan hub, and home to one-third of the country's population. Located at the site of a pre-Columbian indigenous Ychsma settlement, which was conquered by the Inca empire in the 15th century and later by the Spanish conquistadores, Lima has a fascinating history and a diverse mix of cultures. Amerindian, European, Afro-Peruvian, and Asian—especially Chinese and Japanese—influences make Lima a dynamic and exciting city to explore. 

Lima's breezy location on the Pacific Ocean and mild desert climate make it the perfect city for exploring on foot. Head downtown to mingle with locals, stretch your legs, and grab a bite to eat in one of the many award-winning restaurants. 

Suggested activities 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. Stroll over to the 16th-century Cathedral, which took 80 years to construct and was built in the grandiose style of the Spanish Empire. 
  • Visit the Casa Aliaga, a colonial mansion granted by chief conquistador Francisco Pizarro to Jerónimo de Aliaga, one of his captains, in 1535. This is the only house from that era that still belongs to the same family. 
  • Stroll around the Pueblo Libre district to the 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. 
  • In the evening, head to the eclectic "Love Park" in the upscale coastal district of Miraflores, where you can admire a huge kissing statue and beautiful mosaic walls.  The park is built on the cliffs of Chorrillos and is a perfect place to enjoy a spectacular sunset over the Pacific. 
  • Enjoy a nightcap at an open-air cafe or restaurant in the diverse Miraflores neighborhood.

Day 2: Arrival in Cusco, Exploring the City

Cusco from the Sacsayhuamán ruins
Cusco from the Sacsayhuamán ruins

Head to the Lima airport for your transfer flight to Cusco. This ancient city is the former capital of the Inca empire, which reigned from the 13th to 16th centuries after conquering the Killke settlement on the same location.    

Remember: you will be 11,000 feet (3,000 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 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 include: 

  • See the Cathedral, the most imposing monument in the central Plaza de Armas and a repository for Cusco's colonial art. Its construction lasted for almost 100 years, beginning in 1560 and ending in 1654. 
  • 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. 
  • Explore San Blas, an old bohemian quarter famous for its picturesque white walls, blue doors, and creative artisan community. 
  • Eat lunch 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 3: A Taste of Cusco

Hot brewed cacao drink, raw cocoa fruit, cacao beans, and caco nibs
Hot brewed cacao drink, raw cocoa fruit, cacao beans, and caco nibs

Depart from your hotel and head to the city center to start your Cusco culinary experience. 

Today you will learn about three key Peruvian specialties: chocolate, coffee, and pisco. Your journey begins at the Coffee Museum where you will learn about what makes Peruvian coffee so delicious and unique. At the end of your tour, you'll have the opportunity to sample several different varieties of Peruvian coffee. 

Continue your exploration of Peru's gastronomic delights at the ChocoMuseum. Here, you will learn about the chocolate production process starting with the cacao tree, and ending with a rich dessert. You'll also learn how to prepare cacao tea and hot chocolate, both of which played important roles in Incan culture. Finish up your tour by learning how to prepare your own chocolate! 

To cap it all off, pay a visit to Pisco Republic where you'll learn all about Pisco, Peru's signature drink. Conclude your tour with a pisco tasting accompanied by typical Peruvian dishes served as snacks. 

After your tour, return to your hotel and enjoy a relaxing evening in Cusco. 

Day 4: Sacred Valley Tour: Cusco - Pisac - Ollantaytambo - Aguas Calientes

Llama and alpaca wool is used for textiles
Llama and alpaca wool is used for textiles

Meet your driver in the morning and head to the Sacred Valley, which contains many historical and archaeological sites, as well as small towns and textile markets. 

Your first stop is Pisac, famous for its bustling textile market. The textile artists in this area are renowned for their skill and craftsmanship. From cleaning and harvesting the wool, to creating intricate designs, the level of detail and attention in their work is unparalleled. Select from a wide assortment of colors, styles, and designs for gifts and souvenirs to take home with you. 

Stop at Urubamba, the largest town in the Sacred Valley,  for a traditional lunch and a quick stop to see the remains of an Inca palace, located within the city. 

From here, head to the ancient Incan city of Ollantaytambo. The city's layout, streets, and some homes have been preserved since the time of the Inca empire. Look for single large lintel over a doorway, an indicator of importance which stems from the Inca.  Explore the tranquil plaza and surrounding ruins, which offer an unparalleled view into the lives of the Inca. 

From Ollantaytambo, board the scenic train to Aguas Calientes, the starting point for many Machu Picchu adventures. Stroll around the small town, grab some lunch, and relax in the healing hot springs. Get a good night's rest—tommorow is a big day!

Day 5: Machu Picchu Excursion: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu - Cusco

Explore the ruins at Machu Picchu
Explore the ruins at Machu Picchu

Get an early start to beat the crowds and get the best views of the ancient ruins. From Aguas Calientes, it's an easy 25-minute bus ride up to the Machu Picchu ruins.

This 15th-century Inca citadel is located at 7,970ft (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 due to the Spanish conquest 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 for the grandeur and artistry of the original citadel. 

After the tour, take the bus back to Aguas Calientes for lunch and then board the train to Ollantaytambo. Upon arrival in Ollantaytambo, meet your driver for your transfer back to Cusco.

Day 6: Rainbow Mountain Trek

Rainbow Mountain in the Andes
Rainbow Mountain in the Andes

Start your morning early with a dawn pickup for the 3.5-hour drive to the beginning of the trek. Once you reach your destination, you will pause for breakfast before beginning the hike. 

Start from Cillca, located at 12,139 ft (3,700 m). From here it's a 4-hour uphill trek to reach the famous Rainbow Mountain. As you hike, take in the sweeping views of the Andes mountains, glacial peaks, and herds of alpacas and llamas. Once you reach the top of Rainbow Mountain you will have unparalleled views of the vibrantly-colored soil, surrounding valleys, and the 21,000 ft (6,400 m) Ausangate Glacier rising in front of you. 

Make your way back to the base of the hike and return to your hotel in Cusco.

Day 7: Cusco - Puerto Maldonado

Stay in a warm and welcoming hacienda
Stay in a warm and welcoming hacienda

Take a short flight from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado, the gateway to the southern Amazon rainforest. Take a short motorized canoe trip down the Madre de Dios River to the Inkaterra Hacienda Concepcion deep in the jungle, where you will stop for a traditional, delicious meal.  

After lunch, take a walk around the hacienda's trails, where you will discover and learn about the rainforest and local wildlife.  At dusk navigate the river by outboard motorized canoe with a guided twilight river excursion. Learn about the Amazonian river ecosystem, nocturnal wildlife behavior, and the southern constellations.

Day 8: Wildlife Viewing at Tambopata Reserve

The dazzling Blue Morpho butterfly
The dazzling Blue Morpho butterfly

Get ready for a long trek through terra firma into the Tambopata National Reserve towards Lake Sandoval. Navigate by dugout canoe across this mirror-like oxbow lake that is home to a variety of unique wildlife. Keep an eye out for endangered giant river otter, the blue-and-yellow macaw, the red howler monkey, the black caiman (a member of the alligator family), and one of the world's biggest freshwater scaled fish, the paiche.

Head back to the lodge for lunch, then head out for a tour of the canopy walkway, where lucky visitors can spot anacondas. Take a 20-minute ride by outboard motorized canoe to an interpretation center, where you will learn about its construction and conservation projects. Ascend one of the two 98-foot towers (30 m) and cross the seven hanging bridges that connect the treetops at 91 feet high (28 m) to see a bird's eye view of the jungle. Enjoy the breathtaking vistas and catch a glimpse of white-throated toucans, woodpeckers, trogons, squirrel monkeys and three-toed sloths.

In the evening, go on a night excursion into the rainforest for a wildlife tour to observe fascinating nocturnal animals. Listen to the sounds of the rainforest at night and try to spot wildlife in the trees with the flashlights from the lodge. 

Day 9: Puerto Maldonado - Lima

Peaceful sunset on the river
Peaceful sunset on the river

After breakfast, transfer to the airport and fly back to Lima. 

Spend the afternoon settling in and relaxing in the hotel, or go for a sunset walk in the romantic neighborhoods of Miraflores and Barranco along the Pacific Ocean before finding the perfect cafe or restaurant for dinner. 

Day 10: Fly from Lima to Huaraz & City Tour

Street vendors in Huaraz
Street vendors in Huaraz

This morning, transfer to the airport for your flight to Huaraz. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel. This adventure hub draws tourists from all over the world to explore the mountains of the Cordillera Blanca. 

After getting settled in, you'll take a tour of Huaraz. Your tour today will include stops at the Plaza de Armas—a traditional central plaza ubiquitous across South America—the Regional Museum of Ancash, the Rataquenua observation deck for panoramic views, the Iglesia La Soledad, and the pre-Incan Wilcahuain ruins. Get a glimpse of what old Huaraz looked like on Jose Olaya street, which is the only street that remained intact after many earthquakes.

Day 11: Lake Parón Trek

The blue water of Lake Parón
The blue water of Lake Parón

Today you will head out to explore the largest lagoon on the Cordillera Blanca—Lake Parón. Head north for half an hour to the city of Caraz, then turn onto a dirt road in the mountains. Reach Lake Parón, located at 13,730 ft (4185 m), after an hour and a half of scenic driving. 

From here you start the 2-hour trek toward the lagoon. Along the way, enjoy spectacular views of the glaciated mountains that surround the lake. Stop for a picnic lunch by the icy blue lake, then return to Huaraz.

Day 12: Flight: Huaraz - Lima & Departure

Lima coastline
Lima coastline

Enjoy breakfast at your hotel, then transfer to the airport for your flight back to Lima. Spend the afternoon settling in and relaxing in the hotel, or go for a sunset walk in the romantic neighborhoods of Miraflores and Barranco along the Pacific Ocean before finding the perfect cafe or restaurant for dinner.

In the evening, transfer to the Lima airport for your homeward-bound flight.