Beginning in Lima, this 8-day adventure takes in some of the most dramatic historic sights and landscapes of Peru. First you will visit the proud colonial city of Arequipa, before making the journey out to one of the world's greatest canyons, Colca Canyon. You will then travel to ancient Inca capital Cusco and take in the highlights of the Sacred Valley, including the world-famous citadel of Machu Picchu. Finally, you will journey south of Cusco to another of Peru's geological wonders, the multi-hued Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain.

Highlights

  • Marvel at rich colonial heritage in Arequipa
  • Visit one of the world's deepest and most spectacular canyons, Colca Canyon
  • Be dazzled by the beauty of ancient Inca capital Cusco and the Sacred Valley
  • Explore the greatest Inca citadel of them all, Machu Picchu
  • Discover the magical, multi-colored landscapes of Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Lima - Bienvenidos! Lima
Day 2 Fly to Arequipa & Free day Arequipa
Day 3 Colca Canyon Full Day Tour Arequipa
Day 4 Fly to Cusco & Free Day Cusco
Day 5 Pisac & Ollantaytambo tour; Arrive in Machu Picchu Town Aguas Calientes
Day 6 Explore Machu Picchu: Return to Machu Picchu Town & Back to Cusco Cusco
Day 7 Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain Trek Cusco
Day 8 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 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 "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 enjoy a spectacular sunset 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 neighborhood guide to Miraflores.

Day 2: Fly to Arequipa & Free Day

Arequipa, backed by the iconic El Misti volcano

Today you will be transferred to Lima airport to catch your flight to Arequipa. Upon your arrival, you will be greeted and taken to your hotel to settle in. 

Arequipa is located at an altitude of 7,627 ft / 2,325 m in the stark mountains of the Andes. This beautiful city is almost completely built out of Sillar, a type of white volcanic stone, hence Arequipa's nickname as 'the White City'. With its one million inhabitants, Arequipa is the second-biggest city in Peru, with over twice the population of Cusco. 

Depending on your arrival time, suggestions to make the most of your day include:

  • Admire the Iglesia de la Compania, an elegant Jesuit church with a beautifully carved facade that rightly ranks among Arequipa's main attractions.
  • Visit the colonial Monasterio de Santa Catalina to explore a large complex of rooms, secret plazas, and ornate gardens. 
  • Explore the traditional district of Yanahuara, with its beautiful plaza and views of the volcanoes El Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu. 
  • Grab a snack or sit down for a meal at one of Arequipa's many street vendors or restaurants for a taste of one of Peru's most interesting regional cuisines. For a real taste of the Peruvian south, try the anticuchos—skewered beef heart served with potatoes, a popular snack that dates from the time of the Inca.

Day 3: Colca Canyon Full Day Tour

A peek at the mighty Colca Canyon

Today, very early in the morning (around 3 am!), you will embark on an amazing journey to one of the deepest Canyons in the world! On the way there, you will travel across snow-covered volcanoes and through quaint Andean villages, stopping for breakfast along the way before finally arriving in the Colca Valley. 

You will now head directly to the Condor Cross Lookout Point, after an approximate journey time from Arequipa of five hours. Here, with some luck, you will be able to spot the majestic Andean Condor, the wildlife highlight of this rocky canyon, in graceful flight.

On the way back from the lookout, you will stop in the typical valley villages of Pinchollo, Maca and Yanque . Each of these have beautiful colonial churches and make picturesque photo stops. You will also get to see the viewpoints of Antahuilque and Choquetico, both of which offer beautiful views of the surrounding rocky landscapes.

Once in the town of Chivay you will have the option to go to the nearby thermal baths, after which you will enjoy a tasty lunch.

Next, you will return towards Arequipa, but the journey is far from over as you will discover on the way back. You will stop along the way at the dramatic viewpoint of the volcanoes and then at the intriguing high-altitude wetland of the Bofedales de Tocra , a myth-shrouded place where you can spot herds of alpacas who, according to local legend, originated in this very area, as well as wild birds. You will also have a stop at Pampa Cañahuas, a great place for observing herds of vicuña, the beautiful South American camelid that possesses one of the finest fleeces in the world.

You will return to your hotel in Arequipa by late afternoon, where you can relax after a long but exciting day!

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Day 4: Fly to Cusco & Free Day

San Blas, Cusco

Today, after breakfast, you will be taken to the airport to catch your flight to Cusco. Upon your arrival, you will be welcomed and transferred to your hotel close to the historic center.

The rest of the day is yours to spend at your leisure. Remember that Cusco is at 11,000 ft (3,000 m) 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; if the weather is beautiful, it is a perfect 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 jam-packed with museums, galleries and historic sights. Suggestions of activities include:

  • Visit 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.
  • Walk 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. 
  • 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. The ruins are further along the same road (to Pisac) that Sacsayhuamán and Quenqo are on.
  • Take a walk uphill from the Plaza de Armas to the district of San Blas, one of the city’s most attractive areas with beautifully restored buildings, artesanía (handicrafts) workshops and stores where you’ll find high-quality crafts, comely cobbled streets and quaint little restaurants serving traditional Andean cuisine.
  • Experience 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. 
  • Eat lunch (and dinner too) at a local Peruvian restaurant to sample the distinctive local flavors and cooking techniques of the Peruvian Andes. See here for more on the typical dishes of Peru and where to try them

Day 5: Pisac & Ollantaytambo tour; Arrive in Machu Picchu Town

Inca terraces near Pisac

This morning you will depart from your hotel in Cusco into the beguiling Sacred Valley, first traveling to Pisac. Photogenically perched on hillside above is one of the most important archaeological sites in the region, Pisac Citadel, built in the outline of a giant Andean condor. Here you will have opportunity to explore ancient Inca burial grounds, irrigation systems, and astronomy centers. Hundreds of terraces were ingeniously built here in places that received plenty of sunlight, sheltered from the wind and heavy rain to obtain better harvests. Once controlling a strategic route that connected the Sacred Valley to the jungle, the citadel is home to fine stone masonry work easily rivaling that of Machu Picchu.

Next, you will head down into the town of Pisac at the valley bottom. This town is famous for its bustling textile market. Choose from a wide assortment of colors, styles, and designs for traditional handicrafts to take home with you.

Afterwards, you will stop for lunch, partaking of traditional Peruvian-Andean cuisine at a restaurant in the town of Urubamba, with a beautiful setting overlooking the rushing Urubamba River. 

This afternoon, you continue deeper into the Sacred Valley to the ancient Inca settlement (and still-thriving town) of Ollantaytambo, one of the few remaining places in the Sacred Valley that have retained its original Inca urban planning. Walk through the streets lined with Inca-era canals, built to Inca layouts and with Inca foundations to many of the the ancient houses still in use today. Climb the impressive agricultural terraces from where you can enjoy an Inca’s-eye-view of the valley. From the top, you’ll be able to see some of the quarries from where the stone for Ollantaytambo was sourced. 

From Ollantaytambo, you will then take the train to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu town) where you will be staying tonight. The town has many fine places to eat, and you may like to try one of them to recharge your energy levels for tomorrow's adventure.

Be sure to get your sleep tonight: tomorrow you will be exploring what most people deem to be the highlight of a trip to South America, Machu Picchu.

Day 6: Explore Machu Picchu; Return to Machu Picchu Town & Back to Cusco

The Inca marvel of Machu Picchu

Staying in the closest town to Machu Picchu, after breakfast it is time to get an early start this morning to beat the crowds, guaranteeing the best possible views of the ancient ruins. From Aguas Calientes, it is an easy 25-minute bus ride up to the entrance of Machu Picchu citadel.

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 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.  

You will next take the bus back to Aguas Calientes. Take time to grab your own lunch here before connecting to your train to Ollantaytambo, and then your transfer back to your hotel in Cusco. 

Day 7: Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain Trek

Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain

Today, you will require another early start as you are taken to another of Peru's geological highlights. You will be visiting the Vinicunca  Rainbow Mountain, a land of otherworldly multi-colored bands of rock backed by wild desert landscapes and snow-capped glaciated peaks, and populated by herds of alpaca.

In order to best enjoy this beautiful trip, you will be picked you up early from your Cusco hotel (around 3 am!). You will then embark on a three-hour drive through the South Valley of the Peruvian Andes to the trailhead for Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain at Quesiuno, at an altitude of 14,189 ft / 4,326 m. Along the way, you will have a stop to enjoy a breakfast.

At Quesiuno you will begin on your hike, following a lovely Andean stream. Herds of alpacas and llamas will be visible on the surrounding hillsides, whilst dramatic views of the Ausangate Mountain will constantly be in sight. You will walk through tradition-steeped villages and have opportunity to interact with the local residents. Other fauna to look out for includes chinchillas, grey-furred rodents and vicuñas, Peru's only non-domesticated members of the llama family. After a total hike of approximately two hours, you will finally reach your destination. After getting over the shock of their beauty of the Rainbow Mountain, at the lofty height of 16,466 ft / 5,020 m, you will have time to explore the area, take pictures, and soak in the starkly spectacular mountain surroundings. You will spend approximately 30 minutes at the mountaintop before it will be time to descend. You will hike downhill the way you came, reaching your transfer after 1.5 hours of walking. Next, you embark on the three-hour drive back to Cusco, stopping for a buffet lunch along the way.   

You will be dropped off at your Cusco hotel at approximately 5:30 pm, and will have the remainder of the day to spend at your leisure.

Day 8: 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. You will then transfer to your international departure.

¡Buen viaje! Have a good trip!

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