From the hustle and bustle of Lima to the remote Machu Picchu citadel, this one-week highlights tour is perfect for travelers with a time crunch and a thirst for adventure. Explore the bohemian neighborhoods and exciting food scene of Lima, then continue to Cusco—the ancient Inca capital. Spend several days in the ancient Sacred Valley discovering colorful textile markets and monolithic ruins, walk in the footsteps of the Inca and visit a brilliant blue alpine lake. Finish your visit with a tour of Machu Picchu—the famed 15th century citadel.

Highlights

  • Take in the sights and tastes of Lima, Peru's metropolitan capital
  • Experience local culture in the imperial Inca city of Cusco
  • Hike the Inca trail to see the famed 15th-century Machu Picchu ruins
  • Delve into the history and culture of Peru's Sacred Valley
  • See the glaciers and alpine lakes of the Andes Mountains first-hand

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Lima Lima
Day 2 Arrival in Cusco, Transfer to Hotel Cusco
Day 3 Cusco History Tour, Pisac Market Cusco
Day 4 Ollantaytambo & Perolniyoq Waterfall Cusco
Day 5 Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: Ollantaytambo—Km 104—Aguas Calientes Aguas Calientes
Day 6 Machu Picchu Excursion from Aguas Calientes Cusco
Day 7 Cusco: Free day to Explore Cusco
Day 8 Discover Huamantay Lake Cusco
Day 9 Departing Cusco  

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 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. 
  • 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: Arrival in Cusco, Transfer to Hotel

Cusco from the Sacsayhuamán ruins
Cusco from the Sacsayhuamán ruins

Head to the Lima airport for your transfer flight to Cusco

Remember: you will be 11,000 feet (3,000 m) above sea level, so take it easy and remember to drink lots of water. Take a walk through the plaza — if the weather is beautiful, it's a perfect place to sit and have a cup of coca tea while adjusting to the elevation.

In the evening, take the opportunity to experience Cusco's celebrated culinary heritage at a local restaurant. 

Day 3: Cusco History Tour, Pisac Market

Traditional handmade wool textiles
Traditional handmade wool textiles

Today you will explore Cusco's ancient Inca ruins. 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 

Continue to Sacsayhuamán and next-door Quenqo, both archaeological complexes used mostly for religious and agricultural rituals, located 2.5 miles (4 km) 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. 

From here, head to 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. 

Grab lunch at a local Peruvian restaurant, then head over to the Pisac textile market. The textile artists in this area are renowned for their skill and craftsmanship. From cleaning and harvesting the wool, to creating intricate designs, the level of detail and attention in their work is unparalleled. Select from a wide assortment of colors, styles, and designs for gifts and souvenirs to take home with you.

Day 4: Ollantaytambo & Perolniyoq Waterfall

A sunny plaza in Ollantaytambo
A sunny plaza in Ollantaytambo

Start your morning today with a pick up from your hotel in Cusco. You'll head to see the small town of Socma, the Perolniyoq waterfall, and Ollantaytambo. Once in Socma, walk up the steep main road to the orange church in the upper part of town. The trail starts in front of the church and continues westward up the valley.  Head out on this trail, following a small stream into a narrowing valley and through thick forest until you reach the Perolniyoq waterfall. From here, continue for another hour uphill on a small stone path to reach an overlook above the town and ancient Inca ruins. 

After the hike, head to the ancient Incan city of Ollantaytambo. The city's layout, streets, and some homes have been preserved since the time of the Inca empire. Look for single large lintel over a doorway, an indicator of importance which stems from the Inca.  Explore the tranquil plaza and surrounding ruins, which offer an unparalleled view into the lives of the Inca.

In the evening, return to your hotel in Cusco. 

Day 5: 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 marker at km104 where the Inca Trail starts.  Enjoy the scenery of the valley as it turns into a canyon and the train ascends into the cloud forest on the approach to Machu Picchu.  

Start the trek to your first archeological site—Chachabamba. This beautiful site is very well preserved thanks to its location in the valley and was likely used for religious purposes and as a gatekeeping point for this entrance to Machu Picchu. 

From here ascend for 3 hours to the ruins of Wiñay Wayna at 8,964 ft (2732 m), an ancient rest area for travelers on the Inca trail. Stop here to enjoy a picnic lunch with superb views of the massive green mountains and native orchids.

The trail then 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.

After passing through the Sun Gate, take the bus down to Aguas Calientes and check into a hotel to rest and relax in anticipation of a full-day visit to Machu Picchu tomorrow.

Maximum Altitude: 8964 ft  (2732 m)                   
Minimum Altitude: 6850 ft (2088 m)
Distance Travelled: 6.67 miles (10.79 km) 
Approximate Walking Time: 7 hours

Day 6: Machu Picchu Excursion from Aguas Calientes

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 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. 

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 for the grandeur and artistry of the original citadel.

After the tour, take the bus back to Aguas Calientes and grab lunch in the picturesque town center.  Connect to your train to Ollantaytambo and your connecting transfer back to Cusco.

Day 7: Cusco: Free day to Explore

Grab lunch from a small street vendor
Grab lunch from a small street vendor

Today is a free day to explore Cusco and the surrounding ancient ruins. Explore the narrow cobblestone streets by foot, go for a short hike in the hills outside the city, or simply relax in the mountain sun. Go for a walk in the neighborhood of San Blas—it's popular with both locals and tourists for its scenic views and colorful buildings.

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 8: Discover Huamantay Lake

Turquoise Lake Humantay
Turquoise Lake Humantay

Get an early start to your morning with a 5:30 AM pickup from your hotel in Cusco. Leave the city behind as your head towards the small town of Mollepata, located in the lush valley of the Apurimac River. Enjoy breakfast in a local cafe before continuing for 1 hour to the small town Soraypampa, where you will start your hike to Humantay lake. The trail is steep but gorgeous, with views of snow-capped mountains and deep glacial lakes along the way. 

The hike is shadowed by Salkantay Peak, one of Peru’s most sacred mountains, towering at 20,600 ft (6,280 m), with a spectacular sheer and snowy face. It is matched by the equally impressive Humantay Peak, rising 19,412 ft, (5,916) m). Shamans will often give a blessing when safely reaching the crystal-clear waters of Humantay Lake, located at 14,100 ft (4,300 m).   

Once you reach the lakeshore, relax, enjoy a snack, go for a swim (if you are brave!) or give thanks to Pachamama (Mother Earth). When you are ready to hike back down, descend to Soraypampa and have lunch while enjoying the breathtaking panoramic views of the snowy peaks. Drive back to Cusco and spend the evening relaxing in the hotel. 


Drive time: 3.5 hours
Hiking time: 3-4 hours

Day 9: Departing Cusco

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 transfer to your international departure. Alternatively, stay and extend your time in Peru — there's so much to see and explore. ¡Buen viaje!