Explore Peru's history from Pre-Incan cultures to the Inca empire, all the way to modern times. Start in the modern capital of Lima, then take a spectacular flight over the iconic Nazca lines. From here, head north up the coast to Trujillo to discover the Mochica pyramids, the mud-brick city of Chan Chan, and the Tucume pyramids of the Sican people. Drive inland through the cloud forest into the Amazonas region to see Gotca waterfall and Kuelap fortress, a walled Chachapoya structure known as the "Machu Picchu of the North". Next, head to Cusco to walk in the footsteps of the Incas, and explore the culture and history of the Incas. Top it all off by spending a day exploring the iconic Machu Picchu ruins. With over 5,000 years of architecture and civilization to experience, this trip is a must on any traveler's list.

Highlights

  • Learn about the fascinating history of pre-Inca cultures
  • Discover ancient pyramids, burials, and fortresses of northern Peru's civilizations
  • Explore the beauty and culture of the Sacred Valley
  • Spend a day exploring the famed 15th-century Machu Picchu ruins

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Lima Lima
Day 2 Nazca Lines Lima
Day 3 Arrival in Trujillo & Temple of the Moon Trujillo
Day 2 Chan Chan, Huaca Arco Iris & Huanchaco Trujillo
Day 5 El Brujo & Journey to Tucume Tucume
Day 6 Tucume Pyramids & Tumbas Reales Museum Tucume
Day 7 Heading to Cocachimba, Chachapoyas Cocachimba
Day 8 Hike to Gocta Waterfall Cocachimba
Day 9 Cablecar to Kuelap Fortress Cocachimba
Day 10 Cocachimba - Lima Lima
Day 11 Arrival in Cusco, Inca Ruins Tour Cusco
Day 12 Sacred Valley Tour: Cusco - Chinchero - Ollantaytambo Ollantaytambo
Day 13 Machu Picchu Excursion: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu - Cusco Cusco
Day 14 Departing Cusco  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Lima

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: Nazca Lines

Aerial view of the Nazca Lines

After breakfast, make your way south of Lima to the Pisco airport. From here you will take a 90-minute flight south aboard a 12-passenger Cessna Grand Caravan to view the sprawling Nazca Lines. You will get a chance to see many of the most famous geoglyphs, including the hummingbird, dog, tree, whale, lizard, and more. 

These massive images, the longest of which are  1,200 ft (370 m), vary from geometric lines to figures of animals and people. Due to the stable environment of the Nazca desert, these geoglyphs—which were created by removing the top layer of iron-oxide coated pebbles to reveal the light-colored clay underneath—have been remarkably well preserved. 

In the evening transfer back to Lima to relax for the evening.

Day 3: Arrival in Trujillo & Temple of the Moon

Temple of the Moon

After breakfast, transfer to the Lima airport to board your flight to Trujillo. Upon arrival transfer to your hotel. Once you've settled in, settle out to see the Temple of the Moon, a pre-Hispanic mud pyramid, sacred to the Moche Civilization which flourished in this area from 100-750 C.E. Exquisite colorful murals decorate the walls of the Temple of the Moon, which has been built and re-built several times. You will notice the religious symbol of the Ai-Apaec, or "The God of the Mountains," appearing many times on the walls of the temple. 

Despite the prevalence of archaeological ruins, the Mochica culture is not dead. After visiting the temples and museum, continue to a pottery and crafts shop to view and learn about the traditional methods of handicrafts that have been preserved by the Mochica people over the centuries.

Day 4: Chan Chan, Huaca Arco Iris & Huanchaco

Relief murals in Chan Chan

Head out in the morning for a full day of sightseeing near Trujillo. Your first stop is the Huanco Arco Iris, or Rainbow Temple, named for the mysterious and colorful high reliefs found on its walls. From here, continue to the world's largest mud-brick citadel: the Chan Chan fortress. This city was once home to 100,000 people of the Chimu culture, with vast buildings, royal palace rooms, and sprawling workshops to house the city's artisans. 

Continue to Huanchaco, a traditional fishing beach town famous for its totora reed boats, known locally as the "Caballitos de Totora". These boats, made out of the thick and buoyant totora reed, have been used for fishing and surfing for centuries. Enjoy lunch in the seaside town, then return to Trujillo in the afternoon. If there's time, take a detour to explore the small historical city center of Trujillo before returning to the hotel for the evening. 

Day 5: El Brujo & Journey to Tucume

Visitors exploring the temple

In the morning, set off for the pyramids at Tucume in the nearby region of Lambayeque. Along the way, stop at the archaeological site of Huaca El Brujo. Believed to have been inhabited by humans for roughly 5,000 years, the site is mainly associated with the Moche culture (100-700 CE). This 98-foot tall adobe pyramid is famous for the discovery of the tomb of the Lady of Cao, also known as the Lady of Tattoos. Her tomb was the first female Peruvian mummy to be discovered dressed as a warrior and buried in a manner similar to the male aristocratic warriors, and her discovery changed perceptions of women in pre-Hispanic societies. 

Stop for lunch at the seaside town of Pacasmayo, then continue to your hotel in the tranquil village of Tucume, in the countryside of Lambayeque.

Day 6: Tucume Pyramids & Tumbas Reales Museum

The Museum of Royal Tombs

Start your day with a visit to the museum and the pyramids at the Túcume Archaeological Complex, the location of the last capital of the pre-Inca kingdoms of Lambayeque and Chimú. Spanning 220 acres, this complex is one of the principal pre-Hispanic conquest monuments in the north and contains fascinating architectural features such as patios and canals. Archaeologists believe that the nobility of Túcume lived in luxury —  in enormous palaces decorated with drawings and exquisite jewels, surrounded by crowds of attendants including administrators, priests, servants, and talented artisans.  

After lunch, head to the Museum Tumbas Reales, or Museum of the Royal Tombs, in Lambayeque, located just outside of Chiclayo. This museum contains a wealth of archaeological treasures buried with the pre-Inca Lord of Sipan. In 1987, when the tomb of the Lord of Sipan was discovered, it was compared in opulence and detail to the tomb of Tutankhamen in Egypt.

Day 7: Heading to Cocachimba, Chachapoyas

Arid landscapes surrounding Tucume

Today is a travel day. Head inland to the charming village of Cocachimba, a 7-hour scenic drive through a constantly changing landscape. You'll travel from the arid deserts of the coast to Andean peaks and through cloud forests on the same day, with plenty of opportunities to stop and stretch your legs. Arrive at your hotel in Cocachimba or Lamud (depending on lodging choices) in the afternoon and spend the rest of the day relaxing and enjoying views of the Gotca waterfall. 

Day 8: Hike to Gocta Waterfall

Spectacular Gotca waterfall

After a hearty breakfast, hit the trail for a 2-3 hour hike to the famous Gotca waterfall. The hike is approximately 3.7 miles (6km) and crosses sugarcane fields and small country roads before leading you through the misty cloud forest. This ecosystem is home to many unique wildlife species, most notably the bright orange cock-of-the-rock—Peru's national bird. After a beautiful hike, enjoy a well-earned rest by the waterfall. Brave visitors may even take a dip in the pool at the base of the waterfall, but be warned—it's cold! 

In the afternoon, hike back to your lodge in Cocachimba for an afternoon of rest. 

Day 9: Cablecar to Kuelap Fortress

A reconstructed building at Kuelap

Get an early start today for your hour-long drive to the town of Tingo. Here you'll board a cable car to get to the spectacular ruins of the Kuelap fortress, an ancient citadel of the Chachapoyas people which pre-dates the Inca empire by half a millennium. At the top, it's a 25-minute hike to the site. 

The entire complex is surrounded by 65 ft (19.8 m) walls, which served as protection against invasions. This site was inhabited until the conquest by the Inca in 1470 and later the Spanish in 1534. The ruins sit majestically above a mountain ridge at 9,500 ft (2,895 m), and its towering walls and round stone houses have earned it the nickname "Machu Picchu of the North". From here, you can enjoy stunning views of the valley and the chance to spot local wildlife. The guided visit will last approximately 2 hours, after which you will head back down the mountain and return to your hotel for the afternoon.

Day 10: Cocachimba - Lima

Evening in Miraflores

In the morning, to the Jaen Airport, located 4 hours away, for your return flight to Lima. After landing, transfer to your hotel in the chic neighborhood of Miraflores. 

Spend the evening relaxing, catching up on souvenir purchases, or going out for dinner and drinks at one of Lima's many restaurants and cafes. 

Day 11: Arrival in Cusco, Inca Ruins Tour

Cusco from the Sacsayhuamán ruins

Head to the Lima airport for your transfer flight to Cusco. After settling in, head out for your day tour of the former capital of the Inca empire, which reigned from the 13th to 16th centuries after conquering the Killke settlement on the same location.    

Remember: you will be 11,000 feet (3,000 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 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 include: 

  • 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.
  • 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. 
  • 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 12: Sacred Valley Tour: Cusco - Chinchero - Ollantaytambo

Maras Salt Flats

Today you will depart from your hotel in Cusco for a visit to the village of Chinchero, believed by the Inca to be the birthplace of the rainbow. You will see extensive Inca terraces and several small colonial-era churches, before exploring Chinchero's famous textile production and weaving crafts. Tour a weaver's studio and learn about the process of cleaning and producing the wool, then browse the selection of vibrant textiles for the perfect handmade gift. 

Continue to Moray, a series of incredible stone amphitheaters built by the Inca. Considered one of the world's most innovative and architecturally advanced cultures, the Inca likely used these stone complexes for experimental agriculture in micro-climates.

From Moray walk (or take a bus) to the Salinerasthe Moray Salt Flats—an intricate network of stone pools developed by the Inca to harvest salt through evaporation. These salt flats are still in use today and are carefully maintained by a close community with regulations and rules that date back to the time of the Inca. 

Spend the night in the small historic town of Ollantaytambo, high in the Sacred Valley. Explore the surrounding stone fortresses, archeological ruins, and cobblestone streets of the town, which remain remarkably intact similar to their original appearances after construction by the Inca.

Day 13: Machu Picchu Excursion: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu - Cusco

Explore the ruins at Machu Picchu

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 7,970ft (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 due to the Spanish conquest 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 for lunch and then board the train to Ollantaytambo. Upon arrival in Ollantaytambo, meet your driver for your transfer back to Cusco.

Day 14: Departing Cusco

Evening view of Cusco's Plaza de Armas

This morning, depart your hotel in Aguas Calientes and make your way to the train station for your train to Ollantaytambo. Upon arrival, take some time to explore this ancient town, then transfer to the Cusco Airport for check in to your homeward-bound flight. ¡Buen viaje!