You will begin this 11-day adventure in Lima, before flying to southern colonial city Arequipa and exploring nearby Colca Canyon, one of the world's deepest canyons. You next continue to Puno on Lake Titicaca, Peru's most dramatic lake, and get to visit the lake's iconic islands, including the Uros Islands and Taquile Island. Afterwards, you travel overland on the scenic 'Route of the Sun' to ancient Inca capital Cusco. Your trip finishes with adventures in the beautiful terrain surrounding Cusco, including trekking the Short Inca Trail to the magical Inca citadel of Machu Picchu.

Highlights

  • Marvel at the rich colonial heritage of Arequipa
  • Discover one of the world's deepest canyons, Colca Canyon
  • Take a boat trip to the unusual Uros Islands on Lake Titicaca
  • Wander in wonder along ancient Inca capital Cusco's cobblestone streets
  • Arrive at world-famous Inca citadel Machu Picchu via the Short Inca Trail

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Lima - Bienvenidos! Lima
Day 2 Fly to Arequipa: Free day Arequipa
Day 3 Colca Canyon Tour 1/2: Canyon Viewpoints & Local Family Homestay Experience Colca Canyon
Day 4 Colca Canyon Tour 2/2: Canyon Viewpoints, Chivay Town & Arrive in Puno Puno
Day 5 Lake Titicaca: Boat Trips to Uros Islands & Taquile Island Puno
Day 6 The Route of the Sun & Arrive in Cusco Cusco
Day 7 Sacred Valley Tour of Pisac, Ollantaytambo & Chinchero: Hiking to Inca Sites Cusco
Day 8 Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: Cusco-Ollantaytambo-Km 104-Aguas Calientes Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town)
Day 9 Explore Machu Picchu & Return to Cusco Cusco
Day 10 Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain Trek Cusco
Day 11 Adiós: Fly to Lima, Depart Peru  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Lima - Bienvenidos!

Plaza Mayor, Lima

¡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 and taken to your hotel in the neighborhoods of either Miraflores or San Isidro. You will have the remainder of the day free to relax and get acquainted with the city at your own pace.

Depending on your arrival time, suggestions to make the most of your day in Lima 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, Plaza Mayor. Stroll over to the 16th-century cathedral, which took 80 years to construct and was built in the grandiose style of the Spanish Empire. And be sure to visit Casa Aliaga, a colonial mansion granted by conquistador leader Francisco Pizarro to Jerónimo de Aliaga, one of his captains, in 1535. This is the one of Lima's best-preserved houses from that era, and the only one still belonging to the same family!
  • Browse the Larco Museum of pre-Columbian art, a splendid privately-owned museum in Pueblo Libre and 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. 
  • Wander along the cliff tops in Miraflores, heading to the Parque del Amor or 'Love Park' where you can admire a huge kissing statue and beautiful mosaic walls. The walk, known as the "Malecón" runs along the high and dramatic cliffs of Chorrillos and is a perfect place to watch sunset dip over the Pacific. 
  • Enjoy a drink or meal in Miraflores at the neighborhood's great and lively selection of highly-regarded bars and restaurants. See here for a list of the best places to eat in Lima.

Day 2: Arrive in Arequipa: Free day

Arequipa is dramatically backed by the El Misti volcano

This morning, you will be transferred to Lima Airport to catch your flight to Arequipa. Upon your arrival, you will be greeted, transferred to your hotel and then given time to settle in. 

Arequipa is located at an altitude of 7,627 ft / 2,325 m in the stark mountains of the Andes. This beautiful city is almost completely built out of Sillar, a type of white volcanic stone, hence Arequipa's nickname as 'the White City'. With its one million inhabitants, this is the second-biggest city in Peru, too, with over twice the population of Cusco. 

Depending on your arrival time, suggestions to make the most of your day include:

  • Admire the Iglesia de la Compania, an elegant Jesuit church with a beautifully carved facade that rightly ranks among Arequipa's main attractions.
  • Visit the colonial Monasterio de Santa Catalina to explore a large complex of rooms, secret plazas, and ornate gardens. 
  • Explore the traditional district of Yanahuara, with its beautiful plaza and brilliant views of the volcanoes El Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu. 
  • Grab a snack or sit down for a meal at one of Arequipa's many street vendors or restaurants for a taste of one of Peru's most interesting regional cuisines. For a true taste of the Peruvian south, try the anticuchos—skewered beef heart served with potatoes, a popular snack that dates from the time of the Inca.

Day 3: Colca Canyon Tour 1/2: Canyon Viewpoints & Local Family Homestay Experience

Vicuñas and alpacas graze the mountainsides and upland plains between Arequipa and the Colca Canyon

Today, in the morning, be prepared for an early start as you set off on a scenic drive to Colca Canyon.

This trip will take approximately three hours, taking you through spectacular landscapes featuring snowcapped volcanoes and quaint Andean villages. As the road climbs up to the Reserva Nacional de Salinas y Aguada Blanca, keep your eyes open for wild vicuñas (smaller cousins of the llama) and viscachas (small chinchilla-like rodents). At the highest point of your journey will be Patapampa Pass, located at a breathtaking (and breath-sapping!) 15,300 feet (4,820 m) above sea level. Here is the Mirador de Los Andes, a lookout point offering stunning views of the area's various volcanoes including the Hualca Hualca, Sabancaya, and Ampato volcanoes

You will then descend into one of the Colca Canyon's principal towns, Chivay, prettily surrounded by the pre-Inca agricultural terraces characterizing this canyon's landscape.

Upon arrival in Chivay, you will meet a family from the small village of Coporaque. After lunch, the family will show you their village and you will have the chance to participate in the village's various daily activities. You will also be taken on a walk, on which you will get to know the surrounding area. Another possibility this afternoon, should you wish, is to visit the nearby natural thermal baths of Sallihua (between Yanque and Coporaque). Visitors can pay a few soles here to enter and then relax in the warm waters.

In the evening, you will have dinner with the family and spend the night in their home. This is a great chance not only to get to know the people from this beautiful part of the world, but also to become acquainted with true, traditional Southern Peruvian food, and its dishes rich in quinoa, potatoes, and oca, a kind of sweet, tangy tuber. 

Day 4: Colca Canyon Tour 2/2: Canyon Viewpoints, Chivay Town & Arrive in Puno

Andean condors are one of the most majestic wildlife sights in the canyon

Early this morning, you will drive from your hotel with your guide to Mirador Cruz del Condor, one of the finest viewpoints over the canyon and the best place to spot the famed condors that gracefully soar on the thermal currents. The road leads past picturesque villages and pre-Inca ruins dominated by the Ampato and Hualca glaciers, both visible in the distance. Once you reach Cruz del Condor, you can stand at the viewpoint and gaze into the depths of the canyon, which stretches nearly 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) below.

Next, you will return to Chivay where you can enjoy lunch and browse the local market. 

Afterwards, you will start the journey overland to your hotel in Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Puno is located 5-6 hours from Colca Canyon by road, and you will be able to enjoy spectacular views of the Andes on the way.

Be aware that Puno is at a higher altitude than Arequipa, and that if you haven’t already sufficiently acclimatized, it is a good idea to take it easy after arrival this evening. 

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Day 5: Lake Titicaca: Boat Trips to Uros Islands & Taquile Island

Daily life on the unusual Uros Islands 

Be sure to fuel up at breakfast this morning, as this full-day experience will last around 8 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 communities live on some of the world's only inhabited, man-made floating islands, which are constructed out of the totora reeds that grow in abundance around the lake. During your visit, you will be able to learn about everyday life and traditions in this special and unusual place.

After your visit to the Uros Islands, you'll head by boat to have lunch at a local restaurant on nearby Taquile Island. Typical Taquile food could be quinoa soup, fresh lake-caught fish and vegetables.

After lunch is your chance to explore the island. Taquile remained mostly isolated from the outside world until the 1950s, and as a result, the island's inhabitants, Taquileños, follow their own distinctive way of life. Decisions about the island are made communally, there are no cars, and there is very little electricity - just the way the Taquileños like it. Taquile is also famous for the exquisite weavings created by local artists. Traditionally, it is the men spin the thread, and the women design and weave each piece. You will have the opportunity to learn about the everyday life and traditions of the Taquileños, purchase their weavings, which make for highly original and well-regarded souvenirs, and appreciate the stunning views of Lake Titicaca with a walk to the island's highest point.

Bear in mind that Taquile is very different in topography from the Uros Islands! Visiting requires a strenuous climb up 500 steps to the main part of the island. Elevation ranges from around 12,000 ft (3,660 m) at the lakeshore to some 13,000 ft (3,960 m) at the island's highest point. 

After visiting Taquile, you will return by boat to Puno, where you will spend the rest of the day.

Day 6: The Route of the Sun & Arrive in Cusco

The  'Sistine Chapel of the Americas' in Andahuayillas

This morning, after breakfast in your Puno hotel, you will make your way to the bus station in order to board a bus to Cusco in the heart of the Andes. The way you will be going is a journey of approximately ten hours and is known as 'the route of the sun' because it transports travelers from the edge of Lake Titicaca, the birthplace of the sun in ancient Inca mythology, to Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire.

To break up today's journey, you will have several fascinating stops along the way. You will have guided tours to the temple of Andahuaylillas known as the 'Sistine Chapel of the Americas', the Inca temple of Raqchi, the Abra la Raya pass marking the division between the provinces of Cusco and Puno at a lofty 14,222 ft / 4,335 m of altitude, and the Museo Lítico Pucará, a museum displaying some interesting artifacts from the nearby pre-Inca ruin of Kalasaya. Each tour lasts 20-40 minutes, making this journey an exceptionally interesting one.

Upon your arrival in Cusco, you will be transferred to your hotel, where you can take a well-earned rest before your next high-adrenaline activity tomorrow!

Coming from Puno, you will probably already be adapted to Cusco's lofty elevation at 11,000 feet (3000 meters) above sea level, but in case you are still feeling effects of altitude sickness, take it easy and remember to drink lots of water!

Cusco was designed by the Incas as a city for walking. Whilst you may not have time today, you will have time between activities over the next few days to explore the city's ancient, narrow stone alleyways and sights and doing so on foot is best. Take a stroll through the Plaza de Armas, taking time to see its stunning cathedral; if the weather is beautiful, the plaza is the ideal place to sit on a balcony or bench and enjoy a cup of coca tea whilst absorbing the colorful goings-on of city life.

If you feel like doing something more active here over the coming days, Cusco is one of Peru's most cosmopolitan destinations, and full of museums, galleries and historic sights. Other suggestions for activities here include:

  • Visiting the Qoricancha complex, also known as the Templo del sol (Temple of the Sun). The temple was built by the Incan Emperor Pachacutec (1438-1572), and became one of the Inca Empire's major centres of worship. After the arrival of the Spaniards, it then became the basis for the construction of the Convento de Santo Domingo (Santo Domingo Convent), a 17th-century Baroque Church that is a telling example of the clash between Andean and western cultures.
  • Walking up above the city to Sacsayhuamán and next-door Quenqo, both archaeological complexes used mostly for religious and agricultural rituals, located 2.5 miles (4 km) from central 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 shrouded in mystery. 
  • Discovering 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. The ruins are further along the same road (to Pisac) that Sacsayhuamán and Quenqo are on.
  • Taking a walk up from the Plaza de Armas to the district of San Blas, one of the city’s prettiest areas. Here are beautifully restored buildings, artesanía (handicrafts) workshops and stores. You will find high-quality crafts, comely cobbled streets and quaint little restaurants serving traditional Andean cuisine.
  • Experiencing the legendary Mercado Central de San Pedro (central San Pedro Market), a large market famous for its mouth-watering fruit juices, home-style meals, medicinal herb stalls, and rows of various meats, breads, vegetables, and other necessities.
  • Eating lunch (and perhaps dinner too!) at a local Peruvian restaurant to sample the distinctive local flavors and cooking techniques of Andean Peru.

Day 7: Sacred Valley Tour of Pisac, Ollantaytambo & Chinchero: Hiking to Inca Sites

Inca terraces in the Sacred Valley

Today, you will take a day trip from Cusco to explore the heart of the Sacred Valley. Your first stop will be Pisac, one of the most important archaeological sites in the region. Here, at Pisac Citadel, you will get to explore ancient Inca burial grounds, irrigation systems, and astronomy centers. Next, you will descend to the town of Pisac at the bottom of the valley, famous for its bustling textile market. Here, select from a wide assortment of colors, styles, and designs for gifts to take home with you to remember your Andean adventure by.

You will next make a lunch stop, enjoying traditional Peruvian Andean cuisine at a restaurant in Urubamba, located in a beautiful setting overlooking the Urubamba River. 

From here, you then head to the ancient Incan settlement of Ollantaytambo, one of the few remaining places in the Sacred Valley that has retained its original Inca grid plan. Walk streets lined with Inca-era canals, view ancient Inca houses still in use today and climb the agricultural terraces, from where you can enjoy an Inca’s-eye-view of the valley. At the latter, you will be able to see some of the quarries from where the stone for Ollantaytambo was sourced.

After this, you will head to Chinchero, a small but comely rustic Andean town where you will get to explore the ruins before making your way back to Cusco.

In gastronomic hotspot Cusco, a fantastic selection of places to eat and drink await. Sample another of these (or more than one!) independently this evening and fuel up for tomorrow's exciting Inca Trail adventure!

Day 8: Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: Cusco-Ollantaytambo-Km 104-Aguas Calientes

Hiking the Short Inca Trail

Today, after breakfast, you will be picked up from your hotel and transferred to Ollantaytambo train station in readiness for hiking along the Short Inca Trail towards Machu Picchu. At Ollantaytambo, your train will take you to the trailhead at Km 104 where the Short Inca Trail begins.

You will now begin hiking the trail, appreciating the scenery of the valley as it gets more dramatic and becomes a canyon. The first archeological site you will visit on your hike is Chachabamba: a beautifully situated and especially well-preserved construction likely used for religious purposes and as a gatekeeping point for this entrance to Machu Picchu. 

From here, you will ascend for three hours to the ruins of Wiñay Wayna at 8,964 ft (2732 m). This site was an ancient rest area for travelers on the Inca trail and you too will stop here to relax and enjoy your packed lunch surrounded by superb mountain views.

The trail then becomes gentler and continues through semi-tropical cloud forest to Intipunku (the Sun Gate) at which you will arrive at around 3 pm. Here, you will get to enjoy your first panoramic views of Machu Picchu. You will descend for 30 minutes towards Machu Picchu citadel where there will be time for a short break and, of course, opportunity for photos.

Afterwards you will take the bus down to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town) and check into your hotel to rest in anticipation of your visit to Machu Picchu tomorrow!

Maximum Altitude: 8964 ft (2,732 m)                   
Walk Distance: 6.67 miles (10.79 km) 
Walk Time: 7 hours

Day 9: Explore Machu Picchu & Return to Cusco

Machu Picchu is one of the highlights of any visit to South America

As you have stayed overnight in the town closest to the wonder of Machu Picchu, it is time to take advantage and get up early to beat the crowds that will later arrive at the site. You will take a 25-minute bus up from Machu Picchu Town through cloud forest to reach the entrance to reach the entrance to Machu Picchu Citadel, hopefully before many other visitors are there.

This superlative 15th-century Inca complex 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 a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as being one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Yet the citadel was abandoned just 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, explaining the different buildings and hidden corners of the 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. You will also have time after the guided tour to explore the sanctuary of Machu Picchu independently.

After the tour, you take the bus back to Machu Picchu Town and have a chance to grab your own lunch in the lively town center. Next, connect to your train to Ollantaytambo and then your connecting transfer back to your hotel in Cusco.

Cusco is full of fantastic places to eat and drink: consider independently sampling some traditional Peruvian food at one of these this evening, under your own steam and away from the itinerary schedule. Recharge your batteries this evening for another early start tomorrow!

Day 10: Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain Trek

Hiker on the ridge at Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain

The Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain is a multi-coloured mountainous massif full of wild desert landscapes, snow-capped glaciated peaks and wandering herds of alpaca, once almost unknown to travelers but now one of the most sought-after excursions in the Cusco area. Today is your chance to see this fantastic geological wonder for yourself: an excursion best done between the months of April and October, although possible at other times too.

You will be picked you up early from your Cusco hotel around 3 am to set out on the three-hour drive to the trailhead for the Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain hike at Quesiuno (14,189 ft / 4326 m), stopping for breakfast along the road from Cusco.

You then embark on a 2-hour hike to the summit. The route passes herds of alpacas and llamas and tiny villages where you and your group will have chance to interact with local residents. Views of one of Peru's highest peaks, Ausangate Mountain, will mesmerize you as you climb. Upon reaching the summit and the spectacular panorama of Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain (16,466 ft / 5,020 m), you will have time to explore the mountaintop area for approximately 30 minutes.

It is then time to go back down the way you came, with the return leg taking approximately 1.5 hours. Your transfer will be waiting for you when you return, and you will then embark on the 3-hour return drive to Cusco, stopping along the route back for a buffet lunch.   

You will be dropped off back at your Cusco hotel at about 5:30 pm. As Cusco is renowned for its fantastic Andean cuisine and tonight is your last night in the city before heading to Lima, it could be time to toast your trip by heading to one of the many atmospheric places to eat and drink here. These include the Museo del Pisco, a classy museum and bar dedicated to the national spirit that also serves well-regarded food such as beef sautéed in pisco!

Day 11: Adiós: Fly to Lima, Depart Peru

Andean children in traditional dress

Today is your last day in Peru! You will be met at your hotel for a transfer to Cusco Airport, where you will catch your flight back to Lima and then connect to your international departure.

¡Buen viaje! Have a good trip!

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