From the coast to the mountains, explore Peru's Inca and pre-Inca cultures and ruins in this 14-day itinerary. Start in metropolitan Lima, then 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 beautiful landscapes and cultures of the Sacred Valley. Top it all off by spending a day visiting the iconic Machu Picchu citadel. With over 5,000 years of architecture and civilization to experience, this trip is a must on any traveler's list.

Highlights

  • Discover ancient pyramids, burials, and fortresses of northern Peru's civilizations
  • Visit the walled fortress of Kuelap
  • Experience the history 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 Arrival in Trujillo & Temple of the Moon Trujillo
Day 3 Chan Chan, Huaca Arco Iris & Huanchaco Trujillo
Day 4 El Brujo & Journey to Tucume Tucume
Day 5 Tucume Pyramids & Tumbas Reales Museum Tucume
Day 6 Heading to Cocachimba, Chachapoyas Cocachimba
Day 7 Hike to Gocta Waterfall Cocachimba
Day 8 Cablecar to Kuelap Fortress Cocachimba
Day 9 Cocachimba - Lima Lima
Day 10 Arrival in Cusco, Inca Ruins Tour Cusco
Day 11 Tour the Sacred Valley: Cusco - Pisac - Ollantaytambo Ollantaytambo
Day 12 Maras & Moray Tour & Train to Aguas Calientes Aguas Calientes
Day 13 Machu Picchu Excursion: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu - Cusco Cusco
Day 14 Fly from Cusco to Lima, Depart Peru  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Lima

Lima's Plaza Mayor
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: Arrival in Trujillo & Temple of the Moon

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 3: Chan Chan, Huaca Arco Iris & Huanchaco

Relief murals in Chan Chan
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 4: El Brujo & Journey to Tucume

Visitors exploring the temple
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 5: Tucume Pyramids & Tumbas Reales Museum

The Museum of Royal Tombs
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 6: Heading to Cocachimba, Chachapoyas

Arid landscapes surrounding Tucume
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 7: Hike to Gocta Waterfall

Spectacular Gotca 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 8: Cablecar to Kuelap Fortress

A reconstructed building at Kuelap
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 9: Cocachimba - Lima

Evening in Miraflores
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 10: Arrival in Cusco, Inca Ruins Tour

Cusco from the Sacsayhuamán ruins
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 11: Tour the Sacred Valley: Cusco - Pisac - Ollantaytambo

Shopping in the market in Pisac.
Shopping in the market in Pisac.

We'll leave our hotel in Cusco around 8:30 am for our drive into the Sacred Valley en route to Pisac, a village known for its traditional market and immense Inca fortress. During our visit, we will have plenty of opportunities to stop for photos as we pass terraces, irrigation canals, and picturesque mountain views.

In the afternoon, we will depart for the town of Ollantaytambo, which contains some of the best-preserved Inca architecture in the entire Sacred Valley. Roam the winding alleys and vast plazas and gaze upon a marvelous llama-shaped ruin before heading to a local hotel for the night.

Day 12: Maras & Moray Tour & Train to Aguas Calientes

Agricultural terraces of Moray
Agricultural terraces of Moray

This morning, you'll depart from your hotel in Ollantaytambo for your journey to Moray. Along the way, you will see the snow-capped peaks of the Andes, lush yellow fields of wheat, and some villages. Upon arrival in Moray, you'll see the three famous amphitheater-like terraces made by the Incas. These terraces are carved deep into the earth in the shape of a bowl. It is believed that the Incas once used these terraces as agricultural laboratories to determine the optimal conditions for growing crops.

When you are done exploring Moray, you will head about two miles away, to the salt mines of Maras (Salineras de Maras). This village is known as a former salt-producing center and is thought to date back to pre-Incan times. There are over 3,000 salt pools carved into the mountainside, that are filled daily by a stream of water. 

Once you are done with the visit, you will head back to Ollantaytambo in time to catch your train to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu town).

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

Explore the ruins at Machu Picchu
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: Fly from Cusco to Lima, Depart Peru

A pretty street view in Lima
A pretty street view in Lima

Today is your last day in Peru! You will be met at your hotel for a transfer to the Cusco Airport, where you will catch your flight back to Lima and then transfer to your international departure. Alternatively, stay and extend your time in Peru — there's so much to see and explore. ¡Buen viaje!

Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Sep 4, 2019