From Colca Canyon to Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu, this diverse itinerary takes you to Peru's major highlights. Spend some time exploring Lima before heading out to explore the colonial city of Arequipa. Next, explore Colca Canyon and beautiful Lake Titicaca. Finally, head to the Inca capital of Cusco, discover colorful textile markets in the Sacred Valley and hike the short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Highlights

  • See Andean condors soaring over one of the world's deepest canyons
  • Explore the culture, history, and beauty of Lake Titicaca
  • Walk the Inca Trail for a day, ending at marvelous Machu Picchu
  • Discover Inca ruins and small villages in the Sacred Valley

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Lima Lima
Day 2 Fly to Arequipa & Arequipa City Tour Arequipa
Day 3 Colca Canyon Tour: Arequipa - Chivay - Cabanaconde Cabanaconde
Day 4 Colca Canyon & Puno Arrival Puno
Day 5 Lake Titicaca: Uros & Amantani Islands Amantani Island
Day 6 Lake Titicaca: Taquile Island, return to Puno Puno
Day 7 Arriving in Cusco: Puno - Cusco Cusco
Day 8 Sacred Valley Tour: Cusco - Chinchero - Ollantaytambo Ollantaytambo
Day 9 Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: Ollantaytambo - Km 104 - Aguas Calientes Aguas Calientes
Day 10 Machu Picchu Excursion: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu - Cusco Cusco
Day 11 Fly from Cusco to Lima, Depart Peru  

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 a great city for exploring on foot. Head downtown to mingle with locals, stretch your legs, and grab a bite to eat in one of the city's 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 seventh-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: Fly to Arequipa & Arequipa City Tour

Arequipa's Plaza de Armas
Arequipa's Plaza de Armas

This morning you will be transferred to the airport to catch your flight to Arequipa. In the afternoon, go on a city tour, stopping at Monastery Santa Catalina and the Compañia Church, famous because of its incredible Baroque style and the colorful Cupula of Saint Ignacio. Then head to Arequipa’s main square, visiting the Cathedral with its unusual Neo-Renaissance style. After, head towards the traditional district of Yanahuara, with its beautiful plaza and views of the volcanoes Misti, Chachani, and Pichu Pichu. After the tour, head back to your hotel in Arequipa for the evening.

Day 3: Colca Canyon Tour: Arequipa - Chivay - Cabanaconde

Views over the Colca Canyon

Start the day early with breakfast at your hotel in Arequipa before setting off on a scenic drive to Colca Canyon. This drive will last around three hours and takes you through spectacular landscapes, including snowcapped volcanoes and quaint Andean villages. 

As the road climbs up to the Reserva Nacional de Salinas y Aguada Blanca, keep your eyes open for wild vicuñas (smaller cousins of the llama) and viscachas (small chinchilla-like rodents). At the highest point of your journey, you’ll reach Patapampa Pass, located at a breathtaking 15,300 feet above sea level. Here, you'll visit Mirador de Los Andes (Lookout Point of the Andes) with incredible views of the peaks of the various volcanoes surrounding Arequipa, including the Hualca Hualca, the Sabancaya, and the Ampato

Next, descend down into the town of Chivay, where you’ll begin to see pre-Inca agricultural terraces that characterize the landscape of the canyon. Stop in the main square for lunch. Then ride to the Calera Hot Springs, renowned for the therapeutic effects of its thermal waters. You can either take a dip in the natural baths or just take in the stunning scenery. In the evening, transfer to a hotel in Cabanaconde to rest.

Day 4: Colca Canyon & Puno Arrival

Mirador Cruz del Condor
Mirador Cruz del Condor

Early this morning, you’ll meet your guide and drive to Mirador Cruz del Condor, one of the best viewpoints over the canyon and home to the famed condors that gracefully soar on the thermal currents. The road leads past picturesque villages and pre-Inca ruins dominated by the Ampato and Hualca Hualca glaciers, both visible in the distance. Once you reach Cruz del Condor, you can stand at the viewpoint and gaze into the depths of the canyon, which stretches nearly 4,000 feet below.

Return to Chivay where you can enjoy lunch and browse the local market before starting the journey by land to your hotel in Puno. Puno is located more than five hours from Colca Canyon by car: you'll enjoy spectacular views of the Andes on the way. Note that Puno is at a higher altitude than Arequipa, and if you haven’t already sufficiently acclimatized, it's a good idea to take it easy after arrival.

Day 5: Lake Titicaca: Uros & Amantani Islands

Totora, a thick reed, is the basis for constructions here
Totora, a thick reed, is the basis for constructions around Lake Titicaca

Get an early start today for your exploration of Lake Titicaca's vibrant communities. After an early pickup, head to Puno Bay to set sail for the floating reed islands of Uros. The Uros people, who have been constructing reed structures for hundreds of years, offer guided tours to their homes and sell traditional handicrafts to supplement their traditional hunting and fishing economy. These floating islands provide a fascinating glimpse into life on the lake as well as the impact of tourism on cultural heritage. 

After your visit to Uros, continue your journey to the island of Amantani for a delicious homemade lunch. Afterward, stretch your legs on a relaxing hike around the rocky island and enjoy spectacular views of Lake Titicaca. In the evening, join your homestay family for dinner and a demonstration of local music and dancing.

Day 6: Lake Titicaca: Taquile Island, return to Puno

The mayor of Taquile Island greeting residents
The mayor of Taquile Island greeting residents

In the morning, after a simple but delicious breakfast, depart Amantani and head to Taquile. You will have most of the morning and early afternoon to enjoy this island and exploring its beautiful landscape and communities. 

Grab lunch at a local restaurant—quinoa soup, fresh fish caught in the lake, and vegetables are a typical lunchtime meal in Taquile. This island remained mostly isolated from the outside world until the 1950s, and as a result, the Taquileños follow a very different way of life. On the island, decisions are made communally, there are no cars, and there is very little electricity. Taquile is also famous for the exquisite weavings created by local artists. Traditionally, the men spin the thread, and the women design and weave each piece.

In the afternoon, head back down the 535 stairs that lead to the dock to board the boat back to Puno. You'll arrive in Puno in mid-afternoon with plenty of time to explore the port city and have dinner in town.

Day 7: Arriving in Cusco: Puno - Cusco

Cusco from the Sacsayhuamán ruins
Cusco from the Sacsayhuamán ruins

In the morning, transfer to the airport in Juliaca for your 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 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 wonderful place to sit on a balcony and have a cup of coca tea while adjusting to the elevation. 

Suggested activities include: 

  • Visit the Coricancha, 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.
  • 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. 
  • Walk to Sacsayhuamán and next-door Quenqo, both archaeological complexes used mostly for religious and agricultural rituals, located 2.5 miles 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 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. 
  • 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, bread, and vegetables. 
  • Eat dinner at a local restaurant and sample traditional 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 8: Sacred Valley Tour: Cusco - Chinchero - Ollantaytambo

Maras Salt Flats
Maras Salt Flats

This morning you will depart from your hotel in Cusco and travel to the town of Chinchero, which the Inca believed to be the birthplace of the rainbow. In this typical Andean village, you can see extensive Inca terracing and some pretty colonial-era churches. The town is also known for its weaving studios: you'll have a chance to see the weavers producing handmade products.

From Chinchero you'll continue to Moray, an incredible complex of stone amphitheaters developed by the Inca. While the exact reason for the construction of this site remains unknown, historians believe the Inca constructed in order to experiment with crop production in different micro-climates.  

From Moray, you will walk through farmlands (or take a bus) to Salineras, an incredible patchwork of stone pools and paths developed by the Inca as a means to harvest salt. Spend the night in Ollantaytambo, a historic town in the Sacred Valley, set on the Urubamba River, overlooked by massive stone fortresses. You'll have a chance to explore this charming village, its cobbled streets, and pretty central plazas before getting some rest.

Day 9: Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: Ollantaytambo - Km 104 - Aguas Calientes

The Inca ruins of Winay Wayna
The Inca ruins of Winay Wayna

Early in the morning, take the train from Ollantaytambo to the spot where the short Inca Trail starts. By train, you'll see how the valley turns into a canyon and the scenery begins to alter as the cloud forests appear on the approach to Machu Picchu. Disembark the train and start the hike along a challenging uphill path towards your first archaeological site. Chachabamba is a beautiful site that's well-preserved, thanks to its location in the valley. It was likely used for religious purposes and as a gatekeeping point for this entrance to Machu Picchu. 

From there, you'll ascend for three hours to the ruins of Wiñay Wayna, an ancient rest area for travelers on the Inca Trail. Stop to enjoy a delicious boxed lunch with superb views of the massive green mountains and native orchids. After lunch, the trail becomes gentler and continues through the semi-tropical cloud forest to Intipunku (Sun Gate), where you'll enjoy your first panoramic views of Machu Picchu. Descend half an hour to the citadel for a short break and an opportunity for photos.

You won't be exploring the ruins today: it'll be getting dark by this point. After passing through the Sun Gate, cross the site to take the bus down to Aguas Calientes, where you'll check into a hotel to rest and relax in anticipation of a full-day visit to Machu Picchu the next day.

Maximum Altitude: 8,964 feet                   
Minimum Altitude: 6,850 feet
Distance Travelled: 6.67 miles (to Inti Punku)  
Approximate Walking Time: seven hours

Day 10: 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 7,970 feet: it's 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, only 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 it 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, then board the train to Ollantaytambo and transfer back to Cusco.

Day 11: Fly from Cusco to Lima, Depart Peru

A pretty street view in Lima
A pretty street view in Lima

Today is your last day in Peru. You'll be picked up at your hotel and driven to the Cusco Airport, where you'll catch your flight back to Lima and transfer to your international departure. Alternatively, stay and extend your time in Peru—there's so much to see and explore. ¡Buen viaje!

Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Oct 29, 2019