Visit some of the very best and biggest destinations in these two popular South American countries in under two weeks. This 12-day itinerary combines each country’s natural and historical highlights with the cosmopolitan cities of Buenos Aires, Lima and Cusco.

Highlights

  • Marvel at the grand neoclassical and colonial architecture of historic Buenos Aires
  • Explore the 275 longstanding waterfalls cascading down Iguazú Falls
  • See historical ruins dotting the beautiful Sacred Valley, including Machu Picchu
  • Wander the cobblestone streets of Cusco, once capital of the Inca Empire

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival at Buenos Aires Buenos Aires
Day 2 Buenos Aires - Half-Day City Tour & Tango Show Buenos Aires
Day 3 Leisure Day in Buenos Aires Buenos Aires
Day 4 Transfer to Puerto Iguazú Puerto Iguazu
Day 5 Explore Iguazú Falls (Argentine Side) Puerto Iguazu
Day 6 Leisure Day in Iguazú Puerto Iguazu
Day 7 Transfer to Lima Lima
Day 8 Lima: Half-Day City Tour Lima
Day 9 Transfer to Cusco: Cusco City Tour + Nearby Archaeological Sites Cusco
Day 10 Transfer to Sacred Valley: Pisac, Urubamba & Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley
Day 11 Exploring Sacred Valley & Machu Picchu, Transfer to Cusco Cusco
Day 12 Transfer to Lima and Departure from Peru  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival at Buenos Aires

The vibrant, distinctive cityscape of Buenos Aires
The vibrant, distinctive cityscape of Buenos Aires

Bienvenido a Buenos Aires (welcome to Buenos Aires!). Once you land in Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina and one of South America's most culturally rich cities, a guide will meet you at the airport and escort you to your hotel. Your guide will help you navigate checking-in and go through a detailed itinerary of the rest of your trip with you.  Then, depending on the time you arrive, you have the remainder of the day free to relax and explore.

Buenos Aires, known as the 'Paris of South America'  is defined by passion. This is exemplified in the rich tango heritage and its citizens' limitless enthusiasm for fútbol (soccer). And make no mistake: this city will entice you out. So after a quick recharge from your flight, be sure to venture out and discover as much as you can. The best starting point would be the city center (although bear in mind that tomorrow you will be having a more in-depth guided tour of the city).

Ideas for your first day in Buenos Aires include:

  • Stopping by the Teatro Colón, one of South America's premier opera houses. The theater runs a diverse program, but it's always breathtaking just to pass by its exterior, too. The neoclassical facade has always numbered among the finest buildings in Buenos Aires since its opening in 1908.
  • Dining at an Argentine parrilla (steakhouse). When night falls and dinnertime arrives, do like the locals and enjoy a thick, juicy steak—Argentina has some of the world's best beef—drizzled with the nation's famous chimichurri (a garlic, herb, and vinegar sauce). Know that Buenos Aires is a culture that thrives after dark, and it's not uncommon for locals to have dinner well past nine in the evening, especially on weekends. 
  • Strolling Puerto Madero, an upscale waterfront neighborhood adjacent to downtown and a great place to get a perspective on the more frantic city center. It is also one of the most pleasant walking areas in the city.

Day 2: Buenos Aires - Half-Day City Tour & Tango Show

The city has many colorful colonial houses
The city has many colorful colonial houses

This morning, you will embark on a half-day guided tour of Buenos Aires' highlights, by foot and by transfer where appropriate. You will get to see the 16-lane Avenida 9 de Julio, the widest city street in the world, with the Obelisco, perhaps the most famous icon of the city, in the middle of it This obelisk was built in 1936 to commemorate 400 years of Spanish settlement in the Río de la Plata area. You will also see iconic city thoroughfare Avenida Corrientes, known for its theatre scene amongst other things.

The first stop will be in the Plaza de Mayo so as to visit the Cathedral and the Cabildo (Old City Hall from the Colonial era). After that, your trip will continue towards the most charming district of Buenos Aires, San Telmo, characterized by its old colonial houses, cobblestoned streets and tango scene. You will afterwards continue to traditional working-class La Boca neighborhood, located in the south of the city, where you will get to see the colorful zinc houses that make up this area of Buenos Aires and that used to be the refuge and home for the first immigrants and popular artists.

Your next port of call will be Puerto Madero, the old city port, now transformed into one of the city's most exclusive residential and dining out areas. Next, you visit Palermo, one of Buenos Aires' liveliest barrios (neighborhoods), and hugely popular with tourists thanks to its excellent museums, restaurants, bars, and cafés. Here you may also get to spend some time in Bosques de Palermo (Palermo Woods), where 740 acres of beautiful gardens and ponds are surrounded by elegant buildings.

Finally, the last point in the tour is Recoleta, a classy district of Parisian-style architecture and high-end boutiques where you can visit Recoleta Cemetery.  Eva Perón is just one of the many famous Argentines laid to rest in this striking landmark, often cited as one of the world’s best cemeteries: wander through aisles of elaborate marble mausoleums designed in Art Deco, Baroque, and Art Nouveau architectural styles. Recoleta also has many bars, cafes and fancy restaurants also worth a visit.

The rest of the day is yours to spend as you wish, with San Telmo, La Boca, Palermo and Recoleta being the best areas to spend time in. 

In the evening, you will be taken by your English-speaking guide to historic San Telmo, the hub of Buenos Aires' tango scene for a dinner, tango and folk music show.

Day 3: Leisure Day in Buenos Aires

Teatro Colon
Teatro Colon

Today is yours to spend as you wish in the 'Paris of South America.' There are plenty of possibilities as to how you could spend your day. 

You could spend the day touring the parts of the city that appeal to you most, such as vibrant neighborhoods San Telmo, Recoleta and Palermo. For culture, Recoleta's Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Fine Arts Museum) is the city's (and arguably the country's most important) museum. This colonnaded building contains works by Argentine artists such as Benito Quinquela Martín, Xul Solar, and Antonio Berni, alongside important works by Degas, Rembrandt, Picasso, and Van Gogh. And of course there are plenty of culinary highlights. The Las Cañitas section of Palermo is a special area of the city known for its beautiful tree-lined avenues, historic polo fields, and burgeoning culinary and nightlife scene. 

In the evening, a culinary end to your time in this foodie city is ideal, perhaps with an experience such as Palermo's Argentine Experience, which allows you to take part in a convivial gastronomic odyssey that celebrates great Argentine food and wine. Guests at this unique "dinner party" share a table while enjoying gourmet food and the country's famous wine (such as the Malbec varietal). Professional hosts guide you through the evening and explain the uniqueness of Argentine culture and how it reveals itself in the nation's food. The day could also end with seeing a show at Teatro Colon, South America's most famous and opulent opera house.

In the evening, there is also an optional organized activity: a tango show excursion at famous and iconic city cafe, Café de los Angelitos. Opened in 1890, it became a meeting point for famous Buenos Aires personalities including the verbal duels of gaucho minstrels like Gabino Ezeiza. Now remodeled, it is a  luxury address at which to end your time in the Argentine capital as 21 artists that perform this live show.

Day 4: Transfer to Puerto Iguazú

Iguazú Falls
Iguazú Falls

This morning, you will be transferred to Buenos Aires Airport for your flight to Puerto Iguazú. This is the location of one of South America's most stunning natural sights, Iguazú Falls, named one of the “New Seven Wonders of Nature.”

Upon arrival at Puerto Iguazú, you will be transferred to your hotel.

There are no planned activities for the rest of the day. Should you have time, consider the following activities: 

  • Stopping at the Güirá Oga animal refuge, where you can take a 90-minute tour
  • Going to Casa Ecológica de Botellas, which is a unique house made of plastic bottles and other recycled materials
  • Sighting the breathtaking vistas at Las Tres Fronteras, where the Iguazú and Parana rivers meet
  • Visiting and shopping at Comunidad Guarani Yriapu, which is an indigenous community that lives a sustainable lifestyle
  • Having fun at La Aripuca, which is a theme park that educates on deforestation
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Day 5: Explore Iguazú Falls (Argentine Side)

Iguazú Falls are the world's largest system of waterfalls
Iguazú Falls are the world's largest system of waterfalls

After breakfast at your hotel, your driver will pick you up and drop you off at the entrance to Iguazú National Park, on the Argentine side of the breathtaking cascades that are Iguazú Falls. This is where you will begin the day's adventure: a full-day tour that involves walking the three circuits that weave around the falls and the wildlife-rich tropical jungle surrounding them. Each of these offers different vantage points from which to view the many different cascades together forming the largest system of waterfalls in the world. Be sure to bring sun cream, sunglasses and insect repellent for exploring the humid jungle.

The three circuits include:

  • The 0.5-mile (800-meter) upper circuit (2 hours) is along walkways elevated above the jungle floor to avoid disrupting the endemic fauna. On this route, you'll see the upper portion of Iguazú, including countless panoramas of the surrounding falls.
  • The 1-mile (1.6-kilometer) lower circuit (2 hours) transports you along elevated walkways leading directly below and around the falls. This circuit takes you near the base of the falls and right up to the crashing torrents of water. You'll be able to feel the magnitude of the falls from up close.
  • The Devil's Throat (two hours) is the star of the show. A small tourist train leaves from Cataratas Station and travels 18 minutes to Garganta Station, where you'll find restrooms, a snack bar, and the start of the path. You then walk 0.75 miles (1.2 km) to reach a vertiginous viewing platform from where you'll be able to peer 269 feet (82 m) directly down into the churning white water, as the highest and mightiest of Iguazu's cascades thunders all around you.

At the end of your tours of the falls, your driver will pick you up and take you back to your hotel.

Day 6: Leisure Day in Iguazú

Rainbow at Iguazu Falls
Rainbow at Iguazu Falls

Today you have free time to continue exploring the Iguazú Falls area. A great way to spend the day is to visit the Brazilian side of the waterfalls, which offers some very different perspectives on this magical natural attraction. Be sure to bring your passport for crossing the border from Argentina to Brazil, as well as sun cream, sunglasses and insect repellent for traversing the humid jungle surrounding the waterfalls.

The Brazilian section of the falls, Iguaçu National Park, is like the Argentine side a UNESCO World Heritage Site and consists of 458,000 acres (about 1850 square kilometers) which, together with Argentina's Iguazú National Park, makes this region one of the largest natural protected areas in South America.

Your 4-hour tour starts at the Visitor Center, access point to the park. In order to be able to begin the walking trail, every visitor must take one of the panoramic-view busses so as to move safely through the park without endangering the flora or fauna.

You then take a 0.8-mile, 1.2-kilometer path down and out onto the waterfalls themselves. From here, jaw-dropping views of literally hundreds of the cascades can be seen, including the spectacular thundering torrent known in Brazilian as Salto Unión and in Spanish as Garganta del Diablo (The Devil´s Throat).

At the end of the path, a panoramic elevator offering more spectacular waterfall views then transports you back to where your bus will be waiting to return you to the visitor center. You will then be transferred back to your hotel.

Day 7: Transfer to Lima

Today, you will transfer to Puerto Iguazú airport for your flight to Lima, capital of Peru. Upon arrival, staff will be waiting for you to transfer you to your Lima hotel. The rest of the day is yours to explore itinerary-free. Rest in your hotel or, if time permits, explore some of the bustling city of Lima. 

The most traveler-friendly neighborhood is Miraflores. Located on a cliff high above the Pacific Ocean, about five miles south of the center of the city, the district offers spectacular water views from the promenade of the Malecón (clifftop walkway), leafy parks laced with jogging trails, some of the city's best restaurants, and upscale shopping in outdoor malls like Larcomar.

Day 8: Lima: Half-Day City Tour

Plaza Mayor, Lima
Plaza Mayor, Lima

Today you will embark on a half-day city tour, seeing Lima's colonial highlights including its mesmeric historic center, Plaza Mayor. Here you will see the grandiose 16th-century church, the Cathedral Basilica of Lima, that took 80 years to complete (!) as well as the Government Palace, residence of Peru's President, the 16th-century Archbishop's Palace and the lemon-yellow Basilica and Convent of San Francisco, a colonial-era convent with beautiful cloisters and catacombs.

The tour continues through Lima to end with a brilliant blue view  of the Pacific Ocean from the clifftop and beachside district of lively Miraflores.

The rest of the day is yours to enjoy as you wish, perhaps sampling one of the restaurants in a city so renowned for its fantastic food that most people rate it among Latin America's foremost culinary destinations.

Day 9: Transfer to Cusco: Cusco City Tour + Nearby Archaeological Sites

Cusco's beautiful historic center, framed by the Andes
Cusco's beautiful historic center, framed by the Andes

After breakfast at your hotel this morning, you will be transferred to the airport to take your flight to Cusco. Upon arrival, our staff will be waiting for you to transfer you to your hotel.

This afternoon, you will be picked up from your hotel to begin a tour of this stunningly beautiful colonial city, once capital of the Inca Empire, and with many of its buildings today built on the bases of Inca palaces. 

You begin with a visit to the pretty Plaza de Armas, flanked by the majestic Cathedral, which is full of beautiful paintings and sculptures. The church houses some of the finest paintings of the Escuela Cusqueña, or Cuzqueña School, an artistic tradition that harmoniously combines European devotional art with indigenous colors and iconography. Take a look at The Last Supper by Quechua artist Marcos Zapata, which depicts Jesus and his disciples around an Andean feast complete with a juicy cuy (guinea pig) and glasses of chicha, a fermented maize beverage.  

You will also get to see one of the most impressive examples of Inca stonework surviving anywhere in South America, the Qoricancha Complex. This site, also known as the Temple of the Sun, was a major Inca temple of worship. 

Your tour then heads up into the hills above Cusco and to the archaeological center of Sacsayhuaman. The impressive site was used to worship the sun, moon and Earth as well as being a military fortress and astrological center.  This monolithic fortress was built from giant blocks of stone, the origins and assembly of which remain a mystery.

You then visit three other major Inca archaeological sites, first nearby Q'enco, and then one-time supply center and checkpoint Puca Pucara. The last stop is Tambomachay, another site swathed in mystery with purposes that could have ranged from being a place to worship a water cult to being an estate and imperial baths for the Inca elite. The views of the hills and valleys surrounding Cusco along the journey are astounding. 

You then have a free evening to spend as you wish. Cusco is a great place to try Peruvian Andean cuisine: see here for the best places to eat in Cusco.

Day 10: Transfer to Sacred Valley: Pisac, Urubamba & Ollantaytambo

Pisac Market
Pisac Market

Today you will journey into the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Your journey will begin with a visit to the beautiful town of Pisac, where you will be able to see its handicraft market and stroll its photogenic narrow streets. The town is impressively crowned by Pisac Citadel, impressively formed in the shape of an Andean condor. You then travel on through the Sacred Valley to Urubamba, where you can enjoy a nice lunch buffet.

Next on your trip today is a visit to beautiful Ollantaytambo: a still-inhabited Inca city where the street plan, irrigation channels and foundations are largely preserved as they were in the Inca period.  You can explore the archaeological site of Ollantaytambo with large groups of Inca forts, plazas and canals as well as the Real Casa del Sol, a megalithic temple of great mystical value.

After your look around Ollantaytambo, you will be transferred to your hotel in the Sacred Valley. Get an early night: tomorrow you will be seeing South America's most impressive Inca archaeological site, Machu Picchu.

Day 11: Exploring Sacred Valley & Machu Picchu, Transfer to Cusco

Machu Picchu has a stunning mountain setting
Machu Picchu has a stunning mountain setting

This morning, you will be transferred to the train station to start embark on one of the continent's most memorable excursions to the Sacred City of Machu Picchu. This spectacularly located mountain citadel is recognized as one of the wonders of the world and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The train ride will take you through the beautiful Sacred Valley to the town of Aguas Calientes. From here, you travel by bus up to the entrance of Machu Picchu to begin your 2-hour guided tour. During this trip of a lifetime you will see Inca temples, squares, terraces, houses, barns and other constructions, set against the broccoli-green backdrop of the Andes mountains, an area noted for its extreme biodiversity.

The beauty of Machu Picchu is enhanced by the extraordinary scenery in which it is located, and around the citadel 125 square miles (325 square kilometers) of verdant mountainside has been protected as a national reserve, including a constellation of other archaeological monuments.
 
After seeing Machu Picchu you will return to Aguas Calientes, where you will have lunch before returning by train to Cusco. Upon your arrival, you will be transferred to your hotel.

Day 12: Transfer to Lima and Departure from Peru

Cusco by night
Cusco by night

This morning, after breakfast at the hotel, it is time for you to be transferred to Cusco airport to take your return flight to Lima and then your onward connection back home.

As they say in Peru, hasta la proxima vez (until the next time!)