Explore the best of South America's cultural sites on this comprehensive 16-day itinerary. Start in Peru, where you'll explore ancient Inca sites & set sail on Lake Titicaca. Transfer to Bolivia for a three-day adventure in the Uyuni Salt Flats, then end your trip on Rapa Nui for an in-depth exploration of the culture that built massive stone moai.

Highlights

  • Discover ancient Inca ruins & culture in the imperial city of Cusco
  • Explore Machu Picchu, the famous Inca Citadel
  • Delve into culture and history on Lake Titicaca
  • Visit the expansive Uyuni Salt Flats
  • Unearth the secrets of the moai stone idols on Rapa Nui

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Lima - Bienvenidos! Lima
Day 2 Arrive in Cusco & Free Day: Lima - Cusco Cusco
Day 3 Pisac & Ollantaytambo Tour: Arrive in Machu Picchu Town Aguas Calientes/ Machu Picchu
Day 4 Visit Machu Picchu: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu & Back to Cusco Cusco
Day 5 The Route of the Sun & Arrive in Puno Puno
Day 6 Uros & Taquile Floating Islands on the Great Titicaca Lake Puno
Day 7 Sun Island By Catamaran & Arrive in La Paz: Puno - La Paz  La Paz
Day 8 Tiwanaku Tour La Paz
Day 9 Uyuni Salt Flats 1/3: La Paz - Uyuni - Chile Uyuni
Day 10 Uyuni Salt Flats 2/3 Uyuni
Day 11 Uyuni Salt Flats 3/3 Uyuni
Day 12 Valley of the Moon in the Atacama Desert San Pedro de Atacama
Day 13 San Pedro de Atacama - Santiago to Easter Island Easter Island
Day 14 Rapa Nui Full-Day Tour: Easter Island Easter Island
Day 15 Orongo & Ahu Akivi: Easter Island Easter Island
Day 16 Easter Island to Santiago - Departure  

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 by one of our representatives, who will take you to your hotel in Miraflores/San Isidro. You will have the remainder of the day free to relax and get acquainted with the city at your own pace.

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. 

Depending on your arrival time, we have plenty of suggestions for you so you can make the most of your day in Lima.

Suggested activities: 

  • 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: Arrive in Cusco & Free Day: Lima - Cusco

Cusco city square and mountains

After breakfast, transfer to the airport to catch your flight to Cusco. Upon your arrival, you will be transferred to your hotel.

The rest of your day is free. Remember that Cusco is at 11,000 feet (3000 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 gentle 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: 

  • Visit the Qoricancha, 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.

  • Walk 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. 

  • 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. 

  • Experience the legendary Mercado Central de San Pedro, a large and diverse market famous for its mouth-watering fruit juices, home-style meals, medicinal herb stalls, and rows of various meats, bread, vegetables, and other necessities. 

  • Eat lunch/dinner 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 3: Pisac & Ollantaytambo Tour: Arrive in Machu Picchu Town

Colorful goods for sale at the Pisac market

This morning you will depart from your hotel in Cusco and travel to Pisac, one of the most important archaeological sites in the region. Here you'll explore the 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.

Stop for lunch, and enjoy a traditional Peruvian -  Andean cuisine at a restaurant in the same Urubamba, conveniently located in a beautiful setting overlooking the Urubamba River at a local restaurant. 

From here, head to the ancient Incan city of Ollantaytambo, one of the few remaining places in the Sacred Valley that have retained its 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. 

From here, take the train to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu town) for the night.

Day 4: Visit Machu Picchu: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu & Back to Cusco

Machu Picchu in the clouds

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 of the grandeur and artistry of the original citadel. 

After the tour,  you will have time to explore the citadel on your own, then take the bus back to Aguas Calientes and grab lunch (not included) in the picturesque town center.  Connect to your train to Ollantaytambo and your connecting transfer back to your hotel in Cusco.

Day 5: The Route of the Sun & Arrive in Puno

Inka Temple of Raqchi

After breakfast in your hotel, make your way to the bus station to board a bus to Puno

During the ten-hour journey, you will have 4 excursions and guided tours to explore sights along the way. Stops include the Temple of Andahuaylillas or Sistine Chapel of America, the Inka Temple of Raqchi, the Raya Pass, and the Inka Aymara museum of Pukara. Each tour lasts roughly 20 to 40 minutes.

Upon your arrival in Puno, transfer to your hotel.

Day 6: Uros & Taquile Floating Islands on the Great Titicaca Lake

Floating islands of Lake Titicaca

Be sure to fuel up at breakfast this morning: this full-day tour will last around nine hours. 

Your first stop will be to one of the floating Uros Islands. It is believed that the Uros were one of the first ethnic groups to populate the Andean region. The Uros people live on man-made floating islands, which are constructed out of the totora reeds that grow in abundance around the lake. During your visit to these islands, you'll learn about their everyday life and traditions.

After your visit to the floating island, you'll head to lunch at a local restaurant on Taquile Island. Quinoa soup, fresh fish caught in the lake, and vegetables are a typical lunchtime meal on Taquile. Afterward, explore the island: it's remained mostly isolated from the outside world until the 1950s, and as a result, Taquileños follow a specific way of life. On the island, decisions are made communally, there are no cars, and there is very little electricity—just the way the locals like it. Taquile is also famous for the exquisite weavings created by local artists. Traditionally, the men spin the thread, and the women design and weave each piece. 

In the evening, walk back to the main dock in Taquile and board a boat back to Puno. Upon arrival in Puno, transfer to your hotel for the evening. 

Note that visiting Taquile requires a strenuous climb up 500 steps to the main part of the island. Elevation ranges from around 12,000 feet at the lakeshore up to more than 13,000 feet at the highest point. 

Day 7: Sun Island By Catamaran & Arrive in La Paz: Puno - La Paz 

Take in the views from the catamaran

Early in the morning, transfer to Copacabana Sanctuary for a brief guided visit. At the Copacabana harbor, you will board the Catamaran cruise ship to sail to Sun Island, the birthplace of the Inca Empire. On this legendary island, you will visit the Inca Garden, Stairs, and Fountain. The itinerary continues with a visit to the Inti Wata Cultural Complex which includes two underground museums of archeology and anthropology, the Traditional Medicine and the Titikaka Reed Shipbuilders Display Centers, the Pachamama Agricultural Inca Terraces, a handicraft display, the Intica Lounge, and at the Manco Capac which is home to a variety of Andean camelids.

The Inti Wata Complex is the main private tourist attraction in Bolivia and includes a unique sailing experience onboard a huge Titicaca traditional reed vessel for a panoramic visit to the Pilkokaina Inca Palace.

Afterward, board the Catamaran cruise again to sail back to Copacabana while enjoying a buffet lunch. After arriving back on land you'll transfer to the city of La Paz, arriving in the evening.  

Day 8: Tiwanaku Tour

The ancient city of Tiwanaku

After breakfast, travel to Tiwanaku, known as "the Cradle of American Man." This archaeological site is among the oldest in Andean history. Located near Lake Titicaca and partly surrounded by mountains and hills, the ancient city was built almost 13,000 feet (4000 meters) above sea level, making it one of the highest urban centers ever constructed. Tiwanaku reached its peak between roughly 500 and 1000 CE when the population reached at least 10,000 people.

Only a small portion of the city, organized in a grid plan, has been excavated. You’ll visit the Pyramid of Akapana, the Temple of Kalasasaya, and the Door of the Sun. You will also have the opportunity to observe examples of ancient craftsmanship, including pottery from ceremonial vessels to incense burners. Return to La Paz in the evening and relax.

Finally, you will return to La Paz, where you will be dropped off in the beautiful San Francisco Square near Sagárnaga Street

Day 9: Uyuni Salt Flats 1/3: La Paz - Uyuni 

Uyuni Salt Flats at sunset

Catch an early morning flight to Uyuni, then hit the road for your full-day tour of the salt flats. 

Explore the salt flats again today with a Jeep tour around the area. You'll stop for photos, have time to walk around, and enjoy a picnic with an incredible backdrop. You'll visit the famed "train cemetery" that's filled with rusting train cars once used to transport minerals and people to and from Uyuni.

Enjoy a walk around the otherworldly Incahuasi Island. Covered in enormous cacti, it boasts amazing views of the flats. Continue onward to the salt-harvesting village of Colchani to see how the locals produce salt.  

You'll also see the Ojos de Salar, where bubbling gases escape from underneath the salt flat, and the Montones de Sal (salt piles). 

On your way to San Pedro de Quemez or San Juan, where you will spend the night, stop to visit the Cueva del Diablo and Galaxy Cristal caves.

Day 10: Uyuni Salt Flats 2/3

Laguna Colorado

You will depart after breakfast for the second day of your excursion. The first destination is the Salar de Chiguana, where you'll have a view of the semi-active Ollagüe Volcano. From here, continue to the Siloli Desert, where you'll observe unique rock formations such as the "stone tree."

Then you'll visit four different lagoons: Honda, Hedionda, Cañapa, and Chiarcota. You'll have the opportunity do some short hiking and observe the unique flora and fauna. You're almost certainly guaranteed to see more flamingos here.

After a visit to Laguna Colorada (Red Lagoon), you will end the day close to the lagoon, where you will spend the night in a basic accommodation/dorm room.

Day 11: Uyuni Salt Flats 3/3

Natural geysers

The departure on the third day will be very early.

First, head to the Geyser Sol de Mañana, and a bit later on, time permitting, you will have the opportunity to warm up when you take a bath in the natural thermal water of the hot springs.

The journey continues on through the Salvador Dalí Desert to Laguna Verde (Green Lagoon) with the close by Licancabur Volcano.

After you pass Laguna Blanca (White Lagoon), you will reach the border. Catch your connecting transport here to San Pedro de Atacama, which takes about 1 hour. Leave Bolivia behind and transfer to your hotel. 

Day 12: Valley of the Moon in the Atacama Desert

Valley of the Moon

After a free morning, set off in the afternoon for a half-day tour of the Valley of the Moon (Valle de la Luna), nestled deep in the middle of the mountains, about 8 miles from San Pedro. The valley contains an unusual landscape of eerie rock formations and eroded, multi-colored hills sculpted by the wind and water over millions of years.

You'll hike across the salt, gypsum, and clay-covered hills, enjoying this inspiring mountain range. After a day in the Andes, enjoy the sunset before returning to your hotel.

Day 13: San Pedro de Atacama - Santiago to Easter Island

Statues on Rapa Nui

Today you'll arrive at the most remote inhabited land in the world: Rapa Nui, or Easter Island as it's commonly known. After breakfast, you'll transfer from your hotel to the airport of Santiago, where you'll catch a flight to the island. The flight time is three hours, so you'll arrive on Rapa Nui with most of the afternoon to spare. After transferring to your hotel and checking in, you can spend the remainder of the day exploring.

There are around 600 stone figures, or moai, on this island, some of which reach 10 meters in height. You’ll find many of them standing on the stone ahu (ceremonial pillars) that dot the island’s green hillsides. They were fashioned out of volcanic rock by obsidian tools by the first settlers from Polynesia sometime after they arrived in 800 CE. The figures themselves represented deceased leaders of the five tribes that once inhabited the island and supposedly offered spiritual protection. Around the 16th century the islanders exceeded their natural resources, and as a result of famine and war they tore down many of the idols, having believed them to have outlasted their usefulness.

By the 19th century Europeans, smallpox, and slavery arrived, wiping out some of the population while more emigrated to Tahiti to work on the plantations. Eventually, the population rebounded and Rapa Nui was annexed to Chile in 1888. Today locals are governed ostensibly under the oversight of a council of indigenous chiefs.

Some recommended activities on the island:

  • Explore Hanga Roa. This is the main town on Easter Island. There are just over 3,000 residents here, which comprise 87% of the island's inhabitants. Hanga Roa has a small-town coastal vibe and you can find restaurants serving unique food like ceviche, empanadas stuffed with fresh tuna, po'e (a pumpkin and plantain cake), and taro ice cream. 

  • Visit the Museo Antropológico Sebastián Englert. For an intro to island life, come to this anthropological museum and view exhibits celebrating the indigenous patrimony, such as ancient tools, totems, sculptures, and more.

  • Take a hike outside of town to Ahu Tahai, one of the aforementioned ceremonial altars: this one fronts the ocean. Here there are some moai as well as caves nearby. It also makes a great sunset-viewing spot.

Day 14: Rapa Nui Full-Day Tour: Easter Island

Ahu Te Pito Kura

After breakfast, you will embark on a full-day tour of the island. It's an informative journey that will shed light on Rapa Nui's famous archeological sites. You'll start at Ahu Te Pito Kura, a unique rock structure featuring a central stone that, legend has it, was brought over by a king of the first tribes and supposedly still emits spiritual power.

Then it's off to Rano Raraku, an impressive volcanic crater, at the base of which you will find many moai. After that, you'll enjoy a delicious snack at Ahu Tongariki, which is considered the biggest ceremonial platform on the island. Here there are fifteen moai displayed in a row. After touring the site, you'll visit another ceremonial platform called Ahu Akahang and finish the day at the beautiful white-sand beach of Anakena.

Day 15: Orongo & Ahu Akivi: Easter Island

Several of the statues

In the morning, you'll travel a few minutes to the southwest corner of Rapa Nui and the remains of the village of Orongo. Located on the rim of an inactive volcano of Rano Kau, this area enjoys a special place in the island's history as it was the principal site of what's known as the "Birdman" era. The cult of the Birdman was the belief system that took root in Rapa Nui in the 1500s after locals mostly gave up on the moai due to war and famine. 

The cult of the Birdman was also a contest. In order to appease their deity, called Meke-Meke, islanders would hold an annual competition to see who be crowned the next chief. The contest involved a group of men swimming to two nearby islands and waiting some time until terns laid their first eggs of the season. Whoever returned with the first egg became chief for a year (the "Birdman"). Orango was the ceremonial village in which he was crowned. 

You'll also visit a cave by the sea, known as Ana Kai Tangata. Inside this cave, you'll see petroglyphs done by the ancient inhabitants of the island. This excursion ends in the early afternoon and concludes the first tour of the day. 

The second tour involves a trip about a mile inland to visit Ahu Akivi. This ahu is unique in that, not only is it home to seven moai, but in ancient times it also doubled as a celestial observatory. An interesting feature of the site is that the seven moai all face sunset during the spring equinox, and their backs are to the sunrise during autumn. While here, you'll take a short hike to two other archaeological sites: the cave of Ana Te Pahu, the largest cavern on Rapa Nui, and the Puna Pau volcano, which for ancient islanders doubled as a quarry in which they extracted the rocks necessary to carve the moai. 

Day 16: Easter Island to Santiago - Departure

Statues at sunset

This marks your last day on the island. Depending on your flight schedule, you should have some time to explore Rapa Nui a bit more before transferring to the airport. Once you do, you'll hop a flight back to Santiago and catch your connecting flight home.

 

More Peru Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Peru? Check out these other 16-day Peru itineraries, with outdoor adventures, cultural trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights.

Looking for a shorter stay? Check out this 14-day version of this itinerary. 

Or, describe your ideal trip and we will connect you with a local specialist to make it happen. 

Map

Map of Highlights of Perú, Bolivia & Chile - 16 Days
Map of Highlights of Perú, Bolivia & Chile - 16 Days