Divide your time between Lima and Cusco — with a quick side trip to Machu Picchu — on this outdoorsy 9-day itinerary around Peru. These two cities have plenty of historic sights and cultural attractions to explore, from pre-Inca ruins and colorful food markets in Lima to the quaint streets and ancient temples of Cusco. But they're also excellent places to base yourself while making excursions into the surrounding areas. Zoom around the Sacred Valley on a quad bike, trek through vibrantly hued hills at Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain, and enjoy a scenic train ride to Aguas Calientes, where you'll spend the night before venturing up to Machu Picchu at dawn.

Highlights

  • Discover the city of Lima on a guided cycling trip
  • Sightsee in the ancient Inca capital of Cusco
  • Explore Inca ruins and salt mines on a quad bike tour of the Sacred Valley
  • Wander around Machu Picchu at dawn
  • Trek through rainbow-colored mountains at Palcoyo

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Lima & Get Oriented Lima
Day 2 Go on an Urban Bike Tour Lima
Day 3 Tour the City & Transfer to Cusco Cusco
Day 4 Enjoy an Active Adventure at Moray & Maras  Cusco
Day 5 Explore Pisac & Ollantaytambo  Aguas Calientes
Day 6 Visit Machu Picchu Cusco
Day 7 Trek Around Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain  Cusco
Day 8 Spend One Last Day in Lima Lima
Day 9 Depart Lima - End of Trip  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Lima & Get Oriented

High cliffs over the ocean in Miraflores, Lima

Welcome to Lima, Peru! The country's largest city is home to one-third of the country's population. Located at the site of a pre-Columbian indigenous settlement, 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 makes it a perfect city for exploring on foot. Head downtown to mingle with locals, stretch your legs, and grab a bite to eat in one of many award-winning restaurants. Or take in views over the ocean in the clifftop neighborhood of Miraflores.

Day 2: Go on an Urban Bike Tour

Barranco main square
Cycling around Lima

Today you will explore Lima on a guided cycling tour around the city. First, you will visit Huaca Pucllana, an adobe and clay pyramid built by members of a pre-Incan indigenous civilization. Continue to the oceanfront promenade of Miraflores. Then head straight to Surquillo to discover its bustling marketplace. Sample fresh fruits and juices before ending the tour with a coffee break on a terrace with views over the Pacific Ocean.

Day 3: Tour the City & Transfer to Cusco

The beautiful interior of the San Francisco Convent in central Lima

Get out and explore Lima today on a guided tour. First, you'll head to the historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site packed with fascinating Spanish architecture. Stroll over to the 16th-century Cathedral, which took 80 years to construct in grandiose Spanish colonial style. Visit the Casa Aliaga, a colonial mansion given by 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. Walk around the Pucllana Pyramid, a magnificent ceremonial and archeological center built in the 4th century CE and considered a sacred village by the Incas. You will also visit the monumental San Francisco Convent, which displays the largest collection of religious art in America, and the underground Catacombs.

Later in the day, you'll catch a flight to Cusco. This ancient city is the former capital of the Inca empire, which reigned from the 13th to 16th centuries. Remember: you will be 11,000 feet (3,000 m) above sea level, so take it easy and remember to drink lots of water. 

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Day 4: Enjoy an Active Adventure at Moray & Maras 

Biking in the Sacred Valley
Active adventures continue today! Early in the morning, you'll be picked up and transferred to Cruzpata, where you'll be instructed on how to use a quad bike. Then ride to Moray, an incredible complex of stone amphitheaters developed by the Incas. While the exact reason for the construction of this site remains unknown, historians believe the Incas constructed it to experiment with crop production in different micro-climates.

Continue to the Salt Mines of Maras, a few miles from Moray. This incredible patchwork of stone pools and paths was developed by the Inca as a way of harvesting salt. Afterward, return to Cruzpata and drop off the quad bikes. Have a picnic lunch before traveling to Pachar.
 

After a brief safety and equipment talk, the rock climbing begins! You will climb a "via ferrata," a path that follows a series of metal steps built into the rock wall. This system makes it possible for anyone in good physical condition — even those who have never tried rock climbing before — to experience the thrill of climbing in a safe and controlled way. Descend the mountain on a zip line, arriving safely at the valley floor far below. You'll return to Cusco for the evening.

Day 5: Explore Pisac & Ollantaytambo  

Ruins of Pisac
Exploring the ruins of Pisac

This morning you will depart from your hotel in Cusco and travel to Pisac, one of the most important archaeological sites in the region. In this area, you'll explore ancient Inca burial grounds, irrigation systems, and astronomy centers. Next, go down to the town of Pisac, located at the bottom of the valley. This town is famous for its bustling textile market. Select from a wide assortment of colors, styles, and designs for gifts and souvenirs to take home with you.

Next, you'll stop for lunch, enjoying traditional Andean cuisine at a restaurant in a beautiful setting overlooking the Urubamba River. Then head to the ancient Incan city of Ollantaytambo, one of the few remaining places in the Sacred Valley that have retained their original Inca urban planning. Walk through the streets with Inca-era canals and view the ancient houses still in use today. Climb the agricultural terraces 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. It’s amazing to think how far these large stones were transported from, especially considering the Incas didn’t have pack animals strong enough to carry them.

Finish the day's tour in Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu. You'll spend the night here before getting an early wake-up call tomorrow. 

Day 6: Explore Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu in the early morning
From Aguas Calientes, it's an easy 25-minute bus ride up to Machu Picchu. Get an early start to beat the crowds and get the best views of the ancient ruins. The 15th-century Inca citadel is located at 7,970 feet (2,430 meters) 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 a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Built as a seasonal residence for the emperor's family, Machu Picchu was rarely home to more than 800 people; 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 of the grandeur and artistry of the original citadel.  After the tour,  you will have time to explore Machu Picchu on your own, then take the bus back to Aguas Calientes and have a late lunch or drinks in the picturesque town center. Then ride the train to Ollantaytambo and transfer to Cusco for an overnight.

Day 7: Trek Around Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain 

Hiking near Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain 

Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain is only about 12.5 miles (20 km) from its famous sister Vinicunca. While Vinicunca attracts thousands of visitors, its smaller sister Palcoyo (16,000 ft/ 4900m) has fewer crowds and equal beauty. This mini trek is perfect for travelers who want to view the colorful rainbow mountains in a relatively shorter and more gentle trek, and a great option for those traveling with kids.

Start the morning with an early pickup. You'll stop for breakfast along the way. Your drive this morning will be along the Red River, with plenty of opportunities for photos and stops. The drive will take roughly 3.5 hours, after which you'll arrive at the starting point of the short hike. From here, the hike is approximately an hour via a short, relatively flat path. Along the way, you'll see llamas, sheep, vicuñas, and alpacas. The summit lies about 16,400 ft (5,000 m) above sea level. Once you reach the top, you'll have time to enjoy the panorama and take pictures.

At this point, it is time to hike downhill.  Once you reach the bottom, start the drive back to Cusco. You'll have the evening free to relax.

Day 8: Spend One Last Day in Lima

Peruvian ceviche

You'll fly from Cusco back to Lima today. The afternoon and evening are free to enjoy the city! If you like, you'll have the chance to try a wide range of Peruvian snacks, street foods, traditional dishes, and drinks on a walking food tour of artsy Barranco. A local chef will teach you how to prepare Peru's most famous treats, including ceviche and pisco sours. Then go for a walk along the oceanfront and have one last Peruvian dinner before flying out tomorrow.

Day 9: Depart Lima - End of Trip

Lima's Plaza Mayor

Today the trip comes to an end. You'll transfer to the airport to catch a flight out. Safe travels!

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