Experience the ultimate introduction to Peru in just over two weeks with this active itinerary that includes options for both hiking and biking. From Inca ruins to quaint villages, bustling streets to serene landscapes, this journey across the Andes will include all the main destinations that highlight Peru's unique culture and history.

Highlights

  • Explore the rich history of Cusco and other fascinating towns in the region
  • Trek the Inca Trail or stroll along the countryside to Machu Picchu
  • Discover the ruins and floating reed islands of Lake Titicaca
  • Meet weavers, potters and coffee growers and understand their way of life

Overview

This tour is one of the most comprehensive options for southern Peru, covering not only Cusco and the sights of the Sacred Valley, but also continuing on to Lake Titicaca and the surrounding area. These regions are known for their stunning natural scenery, Inca and indigenous heritage, and traditional lifestyles, all of which will be touched upon for a balanced experience. There will be many opportunities to interact with local artisans and farmers, learn their customs, and stay in their homes. This trip is best for physically fit travelers with an eye for culture.

Three women in traditional clothing in the village of Pisac. 

The first week of the tour will focus on reaching Machu Picchu after a day each in both Lima and Cusco. There are two options to choose from, the standard Inca Trail (which requires a permit), or an alternate, lesser-known jungle trail to the other side of the Andes. The Inca Trail is one of Peru's most famous treks and a bit more rigorous, with somewhat challenging ascents and descents through mountainous terrain and cloud forests. The jungle trail is much more tropical, and also includes more pit stops to regional sights such as Ollantaytambo and Salineras, as well as a coffee tour.

With either option, you will still wander through graceful plazas, cobbled alleyways, farmland paths, and jungle tracks, and you will not miss out on any cultural interactions.  Please note that this trip does not end back at Cusco like many other itineraries. Instead, it will end at Puno's Juliaca Airport, which will likely require a connecting flight to Lima if you want to leave the country. 

Brief Itinerary (Option #1)

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Lima Lima
Day 2 Guided tour of Cusco Cusco
Day 3 Explore Pisac and Ollantaytambo Ollantaytambo
Day 4 Jungle Trail: Visit Chinchero, Moray, Salineras Hotel (Ollantaytambo)
Day 5 Jungle Trail: Travel from the Andes to the jungle by bike Eco-Lodge (Santa Teresa)
Day 6 Jungle Trail: Visit a coffee plantation Hotel (Aguas Calientes)
Day 7 Visit Machu Picchu Cusco
Day 8 Free Day in Cusco  Cusco
Day 9 Visit the archaeology sites Tipón and Pikillacta in Valle Sur Homestay (Raqchi)
Day 10 Pottery workshops in Raqchi, traditional religious ceremony  Homestay (Raqchi)
Day 11 Marangani, a complex of five natural hot springs Hacienda (Ayaviri)
Day 12 Explore the eerie ghost town of Lampa Puno
Day 13 Ancient ruins around Lake Titicaca and stop at Chucuito Puno
Day 14 Visit textile centers in Taquile  Puno
Day 15 Puno (Departure)  

Brief Itinerary (Option #2)

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Lima Lima
Day 2 Guided tour of Cusco Cusco
Day 3 Explore Pisac and Ollantaytambo Ollantaytambo
Day 4 Inca Trail: 7.5-mile hike in Cusichaca Valley  Campsite (Wayllabamba)
Day 5 Inca Trail: Hiking over Dead Woman's Pass  Campsite (Pacaymayo)
Day 6 Inca Trail: Trek the final leg to Machu Picchu  Campsite (Three Ruins)
Day 7 Visit Machu Picchu Cusco
Day 8 Free Day in Cusco  Cusco
Day 9 Visit the archaeology sites Tipón and Pikillacta in Valle Sur Homestay (Raqchi)
Day 10 Pottery workshops in Raqchi, traditional religious ceremony  Homestay (Raqchi)
Day 11 Marangani, a complex of five natural hot springs Hacienda (Ayaviri)
Day 12 Explore the eerie ghost town of Lampa Puno
Day 13 Ancient ruins around Lake Titicaca and stop at Chucuito Puno
Day 14 Visit textile centers in Taquile  Puno
Day 15 Puno (Departure)  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Lima

Peru's picturesque capital city

¡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, as well as pieces of erotic art.

  • 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: Guided Tour of Cusco

Cusco's central square, a great place for strolling and people watching. 

Head to the Lima airport for your transfer flight to Cusco. This ancient city is the former capital of the Inca empire and one of the most beautiful cities in South America! After arriving at the airport, you'll be taken to a local restaurant for a traditional Peruvian meal. In the afternoon, your guide will take you on a casual walking tour around Cusco’s historic center, featuring a plethora of stunning colonial-era architecture. Free time is available later in the day to explore on your own. Since you will need to acclimatize to Cusco’s 11,200 ft (3,400 m) altitude, make sure to take it easy and rest up.

Day 3: Tour the Sacred Valley

Shopping in the market in Pisac. 

The Sacred Valley of the Incas is an incredibly scenic floodplain surrounding the Urubamba River, spanning between Pisac and Ollantaytambo. We will explore both towns, starting off in the cobblestone streets of Pisac. Experience one of the largest handicraft markets in the region and visit an immense Inca fortress, then embark on the day’s trip, deep into the valley.

We will have plenty of opportunities to stop for photos as we pass terraces, irrigation canals, and picturesque mountain views. In the afternoon, we will reach Ollantaytambo, which contains some of the best-preserved Inca architecture in the entire Sacred Valley. Roam the winding alleys and vast plazas and gaze upon a marvelous llama-shaped ruin before heading to a local hotel for the night.

Option #1: Jungle Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Day 4: Chinchero, Moray, Salineras, and Ollantaytambo

The incredible Inca site of Moray.

Today's excursion out of Ollantaytambo starts with Chinchero, a peaceful little town known for its outdoor weaving studios, terraced Inca ruins, and intricately-decorated colonial church. Next, you will continue on to Moray, which features three amphitheaters which showcase the incredible and precise engineering of the Incas. 

After an outdoor lunch, you will either stroll or ride the bus through rolling fields of crops as mountains peer over in the distance. You'll then reach your final destination for the day, Salineras. This centuries-old terraced salt field is still operated today based on Inca technology. Explore the extensive networks of water and fields of salt crystals. Finally, head back to Ollantaytambo, watch the sunset over the mountainside fort, and return to your hotel.

Day 5: Adventures on the Jungle Trail to Machu Picchu

Today we will travel from the dry, Pacific-facing side of the Andes to the lush, eastern-facing slopes side. As we descend from Abra Magala Pass (4,350 m/14,271 ft) beneath the Veronica glacier, watch as the landscape slowly transforms into the misty rainforests of the Celja de Selva, or “eyelash of the jungle”. Bikes will be available, allowing you to experience a thrilling, freewheeling ride downhill.

Once we hit lower ground, we will soon stop for the day at the sleepy village of Santa Teresa (1,550 metres/5,085 feet). Wind down by soaking in the Baños Termales de Cocalmayo, a refreshing set of riverside hot springs, and stay the night at a rustic nearby eco-lodge.

Day 6: Coffee and Aguas Calientes

Travel by train to Aguas Calientes.

Spend the morning exploring an extensive coffee plantation with the guidance of a local producer. See firsthand the equipment used to harvest, mill, and roast coffee beans, and understand the growers’ cooperatives which form the backbone of the regional economy. You'll cap the visit by trying some of the world's best bean-to-cup coffee directly from the source!

In the afternoon, we will ride (7 km/5 miles) aboard a train to Aguas Calientes, a town by the riverbanks within a beautiful jungle gorge. This is our last stop before Machu Picchu, so take some time to explore the market, admire the scenery, and rest for our big day tomorrow.

Option #2: Standard Inca Trail Hike to Machu Picchu

Day 4: Follow the Urubamba River

Hikers make their way along the Inca Trail.

Wake up early and take the bus to Kilometre 82, the starting point of the standard Inca Trail. As we begin our hike, follow the Urubamba River upstream into the highlands of the Cusicacha Valley. Trek through miles of semi-arid forest and village crop fields, and experience breathtaking views of the Andes. Once we reach Wayllabamba, we will stop to camp for the night.

Walking: 12 km (7.5 miles)
Min. Altitude: 2,700 m (8,860 ft)
Max. Altitude: 3,100 m (10,170 ft)
Altitude of camp: 3,100 m (10,170 ft)

Day 5: Hike over Warmiwayñusca Pass

Today, start with a challenging climb (1,200 m/3,940 ft) to the highest point of the Inca Trail, Warmiwayñusca, or “Dead Woman’s Pass”. Take a moment to gaze upon an incredible view of the route we have traveled so far, then continue onward into the distance, approaching the snow-capped mountains of the Vilcabamba Range. As the day comes to an end, we will descend to Pacamayo, a fantastic viewpoint and our campsite for the night.

Walking: 11 km (6.8 miles)
Min. Altitude: 3,100 m (10,170 ft)
Max. Altitude: 4,200 m (13,780 ft)
Altitude of camp: 3,600 m (11,810 ft)

Day 6: Runkurakay, Sayacmarca, and Wiñaywayna

Our trek today passes through some of the most beautiful scenery in all of Peru. Trek through miles of cloud forest surrounded by orchids, hummingbirds, and mountains. As we complete the final leg of the Inca Trail, we will cross the watershed of the Andes and enter the green slopes near Machu Picchu. Three hidden gems, the ruins of Runkurakay, Sayacmarca, and Wiñaywayna, will mark tonight’s campsite and our starting point for tomorrow’s excursion to Machu Picchu.

Walking: 12 km (7.5 miles)
Min. Altitude: 2,670 m (8,760 ft)
Max. Altitude: 3,900 m (12,800 ft)
Altitude of camp: 2,670 m (8,760 ft)
 

Day 7: Explore Machu Picchu

The pinnacle of this journey is a visit to Machu Picchu. 

Rise and shine early and head up to Machu Picchu to watch the sunrise slowly light up the mountains amidst the clouds. Then, go on a tour headed by our guide and fully understand the story of Machu Picchu, the pinnacle of Inca architecture and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Explore the massive complex completely, from the main plazas to the more intricate stone carvings. Towards the end, you will have time to explore the site on your own and even climb some of the surrounding peaks. Finally, catch the train back to Cusco as we gear up for the next part of our journey.

Day 8: Free day in Cusco

Explore the historic buildings of Cusco. 

After an amazing experience in the Sacred Valley, use today to discover all sorts of interesting sights and activities back in Cusco. Check out some of the churches, museums, and art galleries, or if you still seek more adventure, participate in rafting, horseback riding, or a variety of organized tours. You can even just relax at a local café for a peaceful moment as colorfully-dressed locals go about their day. No matter what your mood or personality, you will find something to suit you.

Day 9: Local life and cuisine in the South Valley

Sample traditional foods such as guinea pig in Valle Sur. 

The Valle Sur, just outside Cusco, is a popular weekend getaway for locals, who come here for the famous delicacies served at special restaurants. Try some chicharrones, chunks of pork that are deep-fried with corn and mint, or if you’re daring, sample some guinea pig (cuy)!

After a delicious lunch, spend the rest of the afternoon at Tipón and Pikillacta, two fantastic archaeological sites, and the church of Andahuaylillas, known as the “Sistine Chapel of the Americas” for its ornate interior decorations. As night falls, we will make our way to the village of Raqchi. For the next couple of days, local families will open their homes and lives to you, providing one-of-a-kind insight into the traditional Andean lifestyle.

Day 10: Nature and culture in Raqchi

A local woman shaping a ceramic bowl, one aspect of daily life you will see in Raqchi.

Kimsach’ata is a nearby extinct volcano worth exploring. This morning’s trek towards it will also offer magnificent views of the surrounding countryside. Once we return to Raqchi, try your hand at pottery-making, the traditional craft of many villagers who make a living as professionals. Learn how to work clay with your hands and use a pedal-powered potter’s wheel.

Later on, we will have a unique opportunity to attend a ch’alla, a ceremony that pays homage to Pachamama, or “Mother Earth”. Despite most locals being part of the Catholic community, many of them still celebrate indigenous customs and beliefs. Joining them for this occasion offers a great chance to see the blend of cultures at the heart of Andean religion.

Day 11: Discover the Altiplano

Ruined temple in Raqchi.

In our last morning in Raqchi, we will explore the imposing adobe ruins that dwarf the humble homes of the nearby villagers. Next, we travel to Altiplano, one of the highest inhabited regions on the planet.

After we reach higher ground and cooler temperatures, we will stop at Marangani, a complex of five natural hot springs connected by streams of steaming water. Go for a dip and enjoy the relaxing heat of the pools. We will spend the rest of the day at a historic hacienda. First built as a convent in the 18th century, the hacienda now operates a dairy farm where we can sample some of the locally-produced cheeses and yogurts. Afterward, we will stay overnight on the hacienda grounds.

Day 12: Forgotten riches in Lampa

A woman in traditional dress by the shores of Lake Titicaca. 

Today, we will uncover the secrets of Lampa, a ghost town that once held vast amounts of wealth. Visit the grand cathedral that stands tall among the other abandoned buildings, and explore inside to find a catacomb of skulls and bones as well as a full-scale reproduction of Michelangelo’s Pietá.

For most of the afternoon, we will be making our way east to the shores of Lake Titicaca, one of the world’s highest bodies of water. A distinct culture thrives here, and we will discover its many aspects within the next few days. For the night, we will settle at a hotel in Puno after eating dinner at one of the town’s best restaurants.

Day 13: Lake Titicaca’s South Shore

Aymara woman during the festival of the Virgen del Rosario, Chucuito
Aymara woman during the festival of the Virgen del Rosario, Chucuito

Get ready to venture beyond Puno into the rocky hinterlands. This is a land of ancient monuments dedicated to dwarves, ruins half-buried in the countryside, and layer upon layer of little-known history built up over thousands of years. Strange sights are everywhere, and our first destination is the stone-carved door of Amaru Meru, which is said to be a portal into another dimension. From here you'll have stunning views of the windswept landscape and Lake Titicaca.

We will also stop by at Chucuito, which some believed was built by the Inca as a fertility temple (others say it a hoax). Some 86 giant stone phalluses are spread across this complex, making for a truly bizarre sight. After a fascinating day in the outer regions, it’s time to return to Puno.

Day 14: The Islands of Lake Titicaca

An ancient archway and sculpture in the region of Lake Titicaca

Today, we will take a boat across Lake Titicaca. First, we will stop at the floating reed islands of Uros, famed for the locals which have adapted to life on the water.

Next, we will go to our main destination of Taquile, an island that only recently opened up to the outside world. Until the 1950s, Taquile was completely isolated, resulting in a distinct way of life for locals. Even today, society is still based on communal decisions, co-operative economic activity, and the principles of "Ama sua, ama llulla, amaquella" (don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t be lazy).

Although Taquile lacks cars and electricity is sporadic, it possesses the most well-developed textile center in the region. Women weave while men spin fabrics to create dazzling textiles, each of which tells its own story. Aficionados from all over the world travel to Taquile for its textiles, and you will join them today to experience Taquile’s most time-honored tradition. In addition, get spectacular views of Lake Titicaca before boarding the boat back to Puno.

Day 15: Departure Day

Drive to Juliaca Airport (1 hour) and fly to Lima for international connections or travel elsewhere in Peru. If you are staying in the country, assistance and suggestions are available, but if not, farewell!