This ten-day tour of Peru crafts the perfect balance between culture and nature. Begin with cultural experiences in Cusco, the ancient capital city of the Incas. Enjoy a tour of the Sacred Valley, including the amphitheaters of Moray and the Maras Salt Flats, and spend a day exploring the famed Machu Picchu citadel. End your trip with five days in Manu National Park, where you'll observe wildlife and enjoy guided nature walks, including a nocturnal expedition.

Highlights

  • Explore the cultural offerings of Cusco, the ancient Inca capital
  • Visit the famed citadel of Machu Picchu on a guided tour
  • Spend five days observing wildlife in Manu National Park

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Cusco, Exploring the City Cusco
Day 2 Sacred Valley Tour: Cusco - Chinchero - Ollantaytambo Ollantaytambo
Day 3 Machu Picchu Excursion: Ollantaytambo - Machu Picchu - Cusco Cusco
Day 4 Cusco to Manu Cloud forest to Bambu Lodge Manu National Park
Day 5 Bambu Lodge to Hummingbird Lodge Manu National Park
Day 6 Hummingbird Lodge to Manu Reserve to Casa Matshiguenka Manu National Park
Day 7 Manu Reserve to Lake Salvador to Lake Otorongo Manu National Park
Day 8 Casa Matshuguenka to Manu Maquisapayoj to Clay lick Tapir Manu National Park
Day 9 Boca Colorado - Mazuco - back to Cusco Cusco
Day 10 Fly from Cusco to Lima, Depart Peru  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: 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 2: Sacred Valley Tour: Cusco - Chinchero - Ollantaytambo

Maras Salt Flats
Maras Salt Flats

Today you will depart from your hotel in Cusco for a visit to the village of Chinchero, believed by the Inca to be the birthplace of the rainbow. You will see extensive Inca terraces and several small colonial-era churches, before exploring Chinchero's famous textile production and weaving crafts. Tour a weaver's studio and learn about the process of cleaning and producing the wool, then browse the selection of vibrant textiles for the perfect handmade gift. 

Continue to Moray, a series of incredible stone amphitheaters built by the Inca. Considered one of the world's most innovative and architecturally advanced cultures, the Inca likely used these stone complexes for experimental agriculture in micro-climates.

From Moray walk (or take a bus) to the Salinerasthe Maras Salt Flats—an intricate network of stone pools developed by the Inca to harvest salt through evaporation. These salt flats are still in use today and are carefully maintained by a close community with regulations and rules that date back to the time of the Inca. 

Spend the night in the small historic town of Ollantaytambo, high in the Sacred Valley. Explore the surrounding stone fortresses, archeological ruins, and cobblestone streets of the town, which remain remarkably intact similar to their original appearances after construction by the Inca.

Day 3: Machu Picchu Excursion: Ollantaytambo - Machu Picchu - Cusco

Machu Picchu

After breakfast, take the local train to Aguas Calientes, the base for most Machu Picchu adventures. The ride takes you through a valley and into the Urubamba River canyon, then into the cloud forest as you near the Machu Picchu sanctuary. 

Aguas Calientes contains the train station, a craft market, restaurants, and a variety of hotels for those who prefer to spend the night at the foot of the mountain and climb it early in the day. Stop here to eat before taking the 25-minute bus ride up to the Machu Picchu ruins. 

This 15th-century Inca citadel is located at 7,970 ft (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 and remained largely hidden to the outside world until the early 20th century. 

If there's time, hike up to Machu Picchu Mountain for a bird's eye view of the citadel. Afterward, a tour guide will show 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 two-hour tour, take the bus back to Aguas Calientes to connect to your train to Ollantaytambo and your connecting transfer to Cusco.

Day 4: Cusco to Manu Cloud Forest to Bambu Lodge

View from Acjanaco

This morning, you will be picked up from your Cusco hotel at 5:30 am to begin your 8-9 hour drive to the jungle. You will pass the highest point of your trip at an altitude of more than 4,000 m. Along the way, you will make a few stops, one stop including the Cullpas of Ninamarca, a Pre-Incan cemetery.

From here, you will pass the pastures of the Andes until you reach the town of Paucartambo, which sits at an altitude of 2,900 m. Paucartambo is a small town with a lot of history and tradition, it is also known as the folkloric capital of Peru. After a short visit to the pretty town center, you will then continue to Acjanaco which sits at 3,560 m, which also marks the entrance to the National Park of Manu. From here we will begin our descent into the jungle.

Along the way, you will get to see orchids and birds, such as the Resplendent Quetzal, Toucans, and Tangara. In San Pedro, you will come across a perfect place to observe the national bird of Peru, the Andean cock-of-the-rock. Here, you will find a platform that was built to appreciate the Andean cock-of-the-rock. With a bit of luck, you will be able to spot mammals like monkeys or the spectacled bear. You will then move on through the tropical rain forest until you reach the Bambu Lodge where you will be spending the night.

Day 5: Bambu Lodge to Hummingbird Lodge

A quiet morning on the river
A quiet morning on the river

Early in the morning, after a hearty breakfast, you will head out by bus to Atalaya (about 2 hours away). Along the way you will be able to admire flora and fauna. In Atalaya, you will switch onto a motor boat and head down the river Alto Madre de Dios for about 5 hours until you reach the  Hummingbird Lodge. Plenty of aquatic birds and parrots can be seen during your boat ride, furthermore with a bit of luck there will be mammals like monkeys and caipibaras.

Lunch will be on your boat today. Around 3 pm, you will reach the Hummingbird Lodge, located on the river banks of the Madre de Dios river. The Lodge is located very close to the actual reserve and offers great pathways to explore the jungle during the late afternoon or evening. Hikes around the Lodge are optional.

Day 6: Hummingbird Lodge to National Park of Manu Reserve to Casa Matshiguenka

Lush rainforest surrounding the lodge
Lush rainforest surrounding the lodge

This morning, you will head out very early for a four-hour boat ride that will take you toward the Manu river and the control point of Limonal, where you will be entering the Manu Reserve. The park rangers will check your permits and give you some useful advice before entering the National Reserve. Along the Manu river, you will be able to experience the unique nature of the rainforest with its flora and fauna. With a bit of luck, you will see animals like caimans, turtles, monkeys, tapirs and maybe even a jaguar. 

You will then reach your lodge for the night called Casa Matshiguenka, which is located at the banks of the Manu river.  You will also get to learn the lifestyle of the Mattshiguenka family that also live around the lodge. You will spend your first night in the heart of the rainforest.

Day 7: Manu Reserve to Lake Salvador to Lake Otorongo

Manu Reserve

Today, you will head out very early to Lake Salvador which is located upstream, deeper into the Reserve. Lake Salvador is one of the most important lakes within the Manu National Park. The eco-system is home to many important animals like the giant river otter, the black caiman, anacondas, plenty of bird species and up to 13 species of monkeys.

Using a small catamaran to navigate the lake will give you the opportunity to see these animals close up. After visiting the lake, you will head back to the Lodge, the  Casa Matshiguenka. In the later afternoon, you will head out and visit Lake Otorongo. This lake can be appreciated from a 20-meter high observation platform. After some time here, you will head back to the lodge your second night at Manu National park.

Day 8: Casa Matshuguenka to Manu Maquisapayoj to Clay lick Tapir

Manu National Park

Today, you will be heading out of the actual reserve of the Manu National Park and head to buffer zone also known as the Manu biosphere or Maquisapayoj. Here you will visit one of the most important clak licks for the mammals living in the jungle. The animals use these clay licks in order to absorb salts and minerals from the clay, which help them detoxify and digest their diet. Tapirs, deer, porcupines, as well as monkeys pass by here on a regular basis.

Since most animals are nocturnal, this is a night time activity. Your guide will coordinate the excursion with you accordingly. The ride from the Lodge Casa Matshiguenka to the Maquisapayoj Lodge takes about 6 hours. Breakfast will be taken during the boat ride. You will reach the Maquisapayoj Lodge around 3:30 pm.

Day 9: Clay lick of Parrots Blanquillo to Boca Colorado to Mazuco and back to Cusco

Scarlet macaws in Manu National Park

At 5:00 am, you will head on a one hour boat ride to the clay lick of the parrots. From a hidden platform, you can observe all kinds of different species of parrots which feed off the clay, off of the cliffs in order to get the salts and minerals they need to detoxify and digest. With binoculars and telescopes these wonderful birds can be watched magnificently.

After lunch, you will start your way back to Cusco starting with a 3 hour boat ride downstream to the town of Boca Colorado, where you will say goodbye to your boat crew which has accompanied you through the Manu National park over the last couple of days. In a private taxi, you will head about an hour to Puerto Punkiri. Here, you will cross the Inambari River until reaching Puerto Carlos where your transfer to Cusco will be waiting. Then you will continue your journey back to Cusco, on a 7-8 hour bus ride, reaching Cusco around 10:00pm. Overnight in Cusco.

Day 10: 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 will be met at your hotel for a transfer to the Cusco Airport, where you will catch your flight back to Lima and then transfer to your international departure. Alternatively, stay and extend your time in Peru — there's so much to see and explore. ¡Buen viaje!