On this classic 10-day adventure, spend time in Peru's cosmopolitan capital Lima, in the ancient center of the Inca Empire, Cusco, and the pretty Sacred Valley surrounding it. Then, the main part of this trip is the four days of adventure on the Classic Inca Trail: the world-famous trek to the magnificent Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. Your itinerary finally finishes in eclectic style with a hike up the rarely-visited Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain.

Highlights

  • Explore Cusco's ancient cobblestone streets
  • Be dazzled by the beauty of the Sacred Valley
  • Discover the world-famous Machu Picchu through the Classic Inca Trail
  • Hike up to the rarely-visited Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Lima - Bienvenidos! Lima
Day 2 Fly to Cusco & Free Day Cusco
Day 3 Moray & Maras Salt Mines Tour Cusco
Day 4 Classic Inca Trail 1/4 Yuncachimpa
Day 5 Classic Inca Trail 2/4 Chaquicocha
Day 6 Classic Inca Trail 3/4 Wiñayhuayna
Day 7 Classic Inca Trail 4/4: Explore Machu Picchu & Return to Cusco Cusco
Day 8 Explore Cusco: Free day Cusco
Day 9 Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain Trek Cusco
Day 10 Adiós: Fly to Lima, Depart Peru  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Lima - Bienvenidos!

Lima coastline in the evening
Lima coastline in the evening

¡Bienvenidos! Welcome to Lima, Peru's largest city and central metropolitan hub, and home to one third of the country's population.

Upon your arrival at Lima Airport, you will be welcomed and taken to your hotel in the neighborhoods of either Miraflores or San Isidro. You will have the remainder of the day free to relax and get acquainted with the city at your own pace.

Depending on your arrival time, suggestions to make the most of your day in Lima 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, Plaza Mayor. Stroll over to the 16th-century cathedral, which took 80 years to construct and was built in the grandiose style of the Spanish Empire. And be sure to visit Casa Aliaga, a colonial mansion granted by conquistador leader Francisco Pizarro to Jerónimo de Aliaga, one of his captains, in 1535. This is the one of the best-preserved houses from that era, and the only one still belonging to the same family!
  • Browse the Larco Museum of pre-Columbian art, a splendid privately-owned museum in Pueblo Libre and 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. 
  • Wander along the cliff tops in Miraflores, heading to the Parque del Amor or "Love Park" where you can admire a huge kissing statue and beautiful mosaic walls. The walk, known as the "Malecón" runs along the high and dramatic cliffs of Chorrillos and is a perfect place to watch sunset dip over the Pacific. 
  • Enjoy a drink or meal in Miraflores at the neighborhood's great selection of highly-regarded bars and restaurants. See here for a list of the best places to eat in Lima.

Day 2: Fly to Cusco & Free Day

The pretty San Blas area of Cusco

This morning, you will be picked up at your Lima hotel and transferred to the airport, where you will take your flight to the ancient Inca capital of Cusco! Upon your arrival, you will be welcomed and then transferred to your hotel.

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. Take a stroll through the Plaza de Armas, taking time to see its stunning cathedral; if the weather is beautiful, the plaza is the ideal place to sit on a balcony or bench and enjoy a cup of coca tea while adjusting to the elevation.

If you feel like doing something more active, Cusco is one of Peru's most cosmopolitan destinations, and full of museums, galleries and historic sights. Other suggestions for activities today include:

  • Visiting 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 centres 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.
  • Walking 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. 
  • Discovering 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. The ruins are further along the same road (to Pisac) that Sacsayhuamán and Quenqo are on.
  • Taking a walk uphill from the Plaza de Armas to the district of San Blas, one of the city’s most attractive areas. Here are beautifully restored buildings, artesanía (handicrafts) workshops and stores. You will find high-quality crafts, comely cobbled streets and quaint little restaurants serving traditional Andean cuisine.
  • Experiencing 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 necessities.
  • Eating lunch (and perhaps dinner too!) at a local Peruvian restaurant to sample the distinctive local flavors and cooking techniques of the Peruvian Andes.

Day 3: Moray & Maras Salt Mines Tour

Maras Salt Flats
Maras Salt Flats

This morning, you'll depart on a day trip into 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, strikingly 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. Do not pass over an opportunity to sample another of the city's wonderful places to eat this evening, independently and away from your itinerary.

Day 4: Classic Inca Trail 1/4

Trekkers alongside the Urubamba River

Today, you will embark on the biggest adventure of your itinerary: the classic 4-day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu.

You will first leave your hotel in Cusco for the 1.5-hour transfer to the ancient Inca settlement of Ollantaytambo where you will have a short stop before driving a further 30 minutes to the official start of the Inca Trail at km 82.

Here, you will meet the rest of the group you will be trekking with, and have your registration facilities taken care of with the help of your trek guide. Then, after you cross the beautiful Urubamba River, the Inca Trail truly begins as fantastic scenery flanks you on both sides.

Your first day of hiking is easier than the subsequent days and a good warm-up for what is to come. You will first arrive in the pretty, grassy rest area of Miskay to have lunch , after which the steep mountain slopes you will have to traverse begin to rear up. A little further on, you will pass the first of many Inca ruins on the trek, the archeological complex of Llactapata. You will then continue your hike through the traditional time-warped little village of Wayllabamba (10,170 ft / 3,099 m) and ascend to Yuncachimpa (10,826 ft / 3,315 m), your campsite for tonight. As you relax after your first day of trekking, gaze out at fine views of Nevado de Verónica, a fang-like 19,333 / 5,893 m mountain.

Difficulty: Moderate
Hiking time: 6-7 hours
Total distance: 6.8 mi / 11km

Day 5: Classic Inca Trail 2/4

Hiking on the Inca Trail

The second day of the Classic Inca Trail is known as a “Free-Hike-Day”: this means that everybody should walk at their pace, which takes the pressure off during what will be the most intense climb of the whole trail today! Walking independently and in small groups, as opposed to one large group, you will also observe different views, flora and fauna. Still, you will nevertheless reconvene with the rest of your group during the breaks along the way.

You begin today walking through the pretty Valley of Llulluchapampa. The first 1.8 mi / 3 km are steep, but you can enjoy the humid woodland and the calm bubbling of river water around you. From here, you continue 2-3 hours to reach the trek's toughest section, the Warmihuañusca Pass (Dead Woman Pass), topping out at 13,828 ft / 4,215 m. The climb up the pass is famously difficult and you will be grateful for a break at the summit, after which you will proceed down a long and steep descent to the Pacaymayo River (Sunrise River) and on towards the Runkurakay pass until you reach tonight's campsite at Chaquicocha at 11,975 ft / 3650 m.

Difficulty: Challenging
Hiking time: 8-9 hours
Total distance: 9.3 mi / 15 km approx

Day 6: Classic Inca Trail 3/4

Wiñaywayna, some of the best-preserved Inca ruins on the Inca Trail

Day three of your trek will oversee a distinct topographical change as you hike into tropical forest around the ruins of Wiñaywayna. 

Today sees you hiking up through three mountain passes, with superb views over the Urubamba River Valley from the top of the third. The day's two archaeological highlights are firstly Phuyupatamarca or 'Town above the clouds' (11,811 ft / 3,600 m), a well-preserved site with a long chain of Inca baths and secondly the impeccably preserved ruins of Wiñaywayna or 'Forever young' (8,694 ft / 2,649 m). You will also get at insight into how the Inca built their thoroughfares today, with sections of Inca tunnel and steep Inca staircases, before you reach the trek's final campsite, where you may welcome the opportunity to take a relaxing hot bath!

Difficulty: Moderate
Hiking time: 5-6 hours
Total distance: 6.25 mi / 10 km approx

Day 7: Classic Inca Trail 4/4: Explore Machu Picchu & Return to Cusco

Machu Picchu

Today, after your very early breakfast (4:30 am), you will head—equipped with your flashlight, as it will still be dark—to the Inti Punku (Sun Gate) to get your first glimpse of Machu Picchu. Watching the sunrise over this ancient citadel, flanked by the distinctive mountain of Huayna Picchu, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The last triumphal descent of your 4-day hike along the Inca Trail will take almost one hour, after which you will get to explore Machu Picchu itself around 8 am.

You can first enjoy this atmospheric Andean location on a guided tour of approximately two hours. 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 (for example, going to the Inca Bridge or exploring the variety of buildings to get that perfect panorama picture).

You will next take the bus back to Aguas Calientes. 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. 

Difficulty level: Moderate.
Hiking time: 2-3 hours
Total distance: 7 km approx.

Day 8: Explore Cusco: Free day

The neighborhood of San Blas in Cusco

Today you will have all day to explore the ancient Inca city of Cusco under your own steam and away from the itinerary schedule. This really gives you the opportunity to slow down the pace of your Peruian travels and experience the city's unique atmosphere, bonding with locals in cafes and markets and wandering the atmospheric streets at leisure. For suggested activities, see under the detailed itinerary for Day 2 above.

Day 9: Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain Trek

Hiker at Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain

Whilst the other day on this itinerary you saw one of the world's most famous and popular historic sites, today it is time for a journey to one of the Sacred Valley region's least-known and least-crowded destinations. The Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain is only about 12 mi / 20 km from its famous sister Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain but, while Vinicunca attracts thousands of visitors, its smaller sister Palcoyo (altitude 16,000 ft / 4900 m) remains relatively undiscovered.

Today you will be taking a mini-trek to get to the top of the mountain, making this perfect for travelers who want to view one of the colorful Rainbow Mountains on a shorter and gentler hike.

You will be picked up early in the morning from your hotel (approximately 5:30-6 am) to begin the 3.5-hour drive to the trailhead for the trek, stopping for breakfast along the way. The drive will be along the 'Red River' (a river at its reddest during the wet season months of January to March, with the hue due to red-mineral mudslides) and you will be able to stop for a short time to appreciate this phenomenon.

Today's hike is short and in just under an hour of hiking you will attain the summit at over 16000 ft / almost 5000 m  via a fairly gradual climb.  Along the way, you are likely to spy llamas, vicuñas, and alpacas grazing the lonely slopes and at the top, the bands of colourful minerals making up the rocky mountainscape are absolutely stunning.

It is then time for you to return back down the mountain for your transport back to Cusco. On the 3.5-hour return drive, there will also be a stop for lunch.

You will be dropped off at your Cusco hotel at approximately 5 pm.

The remainder of the evening is yours to spend as you wish. Cusco has many fantastic places to eat and drink, and this, your final night in the city, is the perfect occasion to try one out and toast your trip. 

Day 10: Adiós: Fly to Lima, Depart Peru

Andean children in traditional dress

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 and then connect to your international departure.

¡Buen viaje! Have a good trip!

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