After spending time in Peru's cosmopolitan capital Lima and then in the ancient center of the Inca Empire, Cusco, the main part of this 10-day trip is the four days of adventure on the Inca Jungle Trek: the most adrenaline-filled way of arriving at Machu Picchu. You will hike, mountain bike, white-water raft and zip line your way to the magical Inca citadel. After a day exploring Cusco independently, your trip then concludes with a journey to one of Peru's geological wonders, the striking Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain.

Highlights

  • Explore the Inca-built cobbled streets of Cusco
  • Be dazzled by the beauty of Sacred Valley towns like Pisac and Ollantaytambo
  • Hike, bike, zip line, and raft on the action-filled Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu
  • Delve into the secrets of Machu Picchu's storied ruins.
  • Discover the magic of multi-colored Rainbow Mountain

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Lima - Bienvenidos! Lima
Day 2 Fly to Cusco & Free Day Cusco
Day 3 Sacred Valley Tour of Pisac, Ollantaytambo & Chinchero: Hiking to Inca Sites Cusco
Day 4 Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu 1/4: Mountain Biking & Rafting Santa Maria
Day 5 Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu 2/4: Trekking & Thermal Baths Santa Teresa
Day 6 Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu 3/4: Zip Lining & Trekking Aguas Calientes
Day 7 Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu 4/4: Explore Machu Picchu & Return to Cusco Cusco
Day 8 Explore Cusco: Free day Cusco
Day 9 Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain Trek Cusco
Day 10 Adiós: Fly from Cusco to Lima, Depart Peru  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Lima - Bienvenidos!

Lima coastline in the evening
Lima coastline in the evening

¡Bienvenidos! Welcome! You have arrived in Lima, Peru's lively capital and one of South America's largest metropolises, home to one-third of the country's population.

Upon arrival at Lima Airport, you will be welcomed and taken to your hotel in the Miraflores/San Isidro area of the city. You will then 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. The most traveler-friendly areas of Lima are Miraflores, along with neighboring San Isidro and Barranco. The city center is also very interesting for its beautiful historical buildings. Explore any one of these districts on foot, but get transport between the city center and Miraflores/San Isidro/Barranco. 

Suggestions of activities to make the most of your day in Lima include:

  • Explore the city center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site packed with fascinating Spanish architecture. Start with a scenic tour of the colonial buildings, which emanate from the main square, Plaza Mayor. Stroll over to the grandiose 16th-century cathedral, which took 80 years to construct! And pay a visit to Casa de Aliaga, a colonial mansion full of period finery, granted by conquistador-in-chief Francisco Pizarro to Jerónimo de Aliaga, one of his captains, in 1535.
  • Discover Pueblo Libre's 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. 
  • Walk the malecón (walkway) along the clifftops in Miraflores to the romantic Parque del Amor (Love Park), where you can admire a huge kissing statue and beautiful mosaic walls. The park is built on the edge of the cliffs of Chorrillos and is a perfect place to watch sunset over the Pacific. 
  • Have a meal or nightcap at an open-air cafe or restaurant in sophisticated Miraflores, and contemplate the incredible adventure you have ahead of you!

Day 2: Fly to Cusco & Free Day

San Blas is one of the most atmospheric parts of Cusco

After breakfast this morning, you will transfer to the airport to catch your flight to Cusco. Upon your arrival, you will be welcomed and transferred to your hotel close to Cusco's historic center.

You now have the rest of the day at leisure to relax and adapt to Cusco's lofty elevation. The city lies at 11,000 feet (3000 meters) above sea level, so take it easy and remember to drink lots of water!

Cusco was designed by the Incas as a city for walking, so start your exploration of the city's ancient, narrow stone alleyways on foot. 

If you feel like doing something active, Cusco is one of Peru's most cosmopolitan destinations, and full of museums, galleries and historic sights. Suggestions include:

  • Visit 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 centers 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.
  • Walk 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. 
  • Discover the 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 Inca 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.
  • From the Plaza de Armas and its beautiful cathedral showcasing fascinating 16th-18th-century art from the Escuela cuzqueña (Cusco school of art), walk uphill to the district of San Blas, one of the city’s most attractive areas with beautifully restored buildings, artesanía (handicrafts) workshops and stores. Here you will find high-quality crafts, comely cobbled streets and quaint little restaurants serving traditional Andean cuisine.
  • Experience the legendary Mercado Central de San Pedro (central San Pedro Market), a large and diverse market famous for its mouth-watering fruit juices, home-style meals, medicinal herb stalls, and rows of various meats, breads, vegetables and other items.
  • Eat lunch (and perhaps dinner too!) at a local Peruvian restaurant to sample the distinctive local flavors and cooking techniques of the Peruvian Andes. See here for more on the best places to eat in Cusco.

Day 3: Sacred Valley Tour of Pisac, Ollantaytambo & Chinchero: Hiking to Inca Sites

The Sacred Valley is full of breathtaking Inca sites

This morning, you will depart from your hotel in Cusco on a day's exploration 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 get to will explore ancient Inca burial grounds, irrigation systems, and astronomy centers. Next, you will descend to Pisac town 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.

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

From here, you will make your way to the ancient Incan city 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 spy some of the quarries from where the stone for Ollantaytambo was sourced. 

Afterwards, 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.

Day 4: Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu 1/4: Mountain Biking & Rafting

Mountain biking on the Inca Jungle Trek

You have an early start this morning (pick-up time 5:30 a.m!) as you leave Cusco behind you to begin your 4-day Inca Jungle Trek. This trek is famous for being the most adventurous and action-packed way of travelling through the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu. Over the next four days, you will see why as you mountain bike, trek, white-water raft and zip-line your way to the famous Inca citadel.  

With a stop for a buffet-style breakfast along the way, you will journey through the Sacred Valley to Abra Málaga (altitude 14,160 ft / 4,350 m), the starting point of the mountain biking part of your adventure. After your guide has introduced the activity and provided you with the necessary equipment, you will the begin your 3-hour descent by bike over a distance of 5.9 mi / 9.5 km until you reach the town of Huamanmarca, then on to the town of Santa María (altitude 3,937 ft / 1 200 m) where you will have lunch and stay tonight. The route takes you down from snow-capped mountains into tropical forest, and is a dramatic transition between ecosystems. 

In the afternoon you have the option of rafting on the Vilcanota River, the upper part of the Urubamba River. This river offers category III and III + rapids, and rafting is possible between the months of April and December, You must be able to swim to participate in this activity, in accordance with Peruvian law.

Afterwards, relax in your hotel and prepare yourself for another action-packed day tomorrow!

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Day 5: Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu 2/4: Trekking & Thermal Baths

A stretch of the trail on the Inca Jungle Trek

This morning, after breakfast, you start your first day of trekking: to Santa Teresa.

The first two hours of your hike will be ascent, and on the way you will have several stops for learning about and observation of local flora and fauna. You will also get to stop at the home of a local family to learn more about Andean customs and traditions in this region. You next cross a section of the Inca Trail that formerly connected Machu Picchu with the last Inca refuge from the Spanish, Vilcabamba. Impressive views from here sweep across the Huancarccasa canyon to the majestic mountain of Salkantay. You then descend to the town of Quellomayo, where you will enjoy lunch and some well-earned relaxation time!

It is then time to continue with the last two hours of today's hike to arrive at the thermal baths of Cocalmayo after 6-7 hours of total trekking time (including your lunch stop). Here you will have time to enjoy the baths, before private transport will take you to the town of Santa Teresa, where you will spend your second night.

Day 6: Inka Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu 3/4: Zip Lining & Trekking

Zip lining is an exhilarating part of the trek

The third day of your Inca Jungle Trek presents the opportunity to do zip lining with one of the area's a highly-trusted operators. Should you choose to do zip lining, the activity will last approximately two hours, after which you will have breakfast.

After this, you will board your transport to hidroelectrica (the hydroelectric plant and train station), where the control checkpoint and entrance to Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary, the park and protected space surrounding Machu Picchu, is located. At this point you will start your 2-3 hour trek to the town of Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town).

Along the way, you will pass through Intihuatana archaeological site, continuing via Inka Rakay (where you will have lunch) with beautiful views of the Machu Picchu mountains and Huayna Picchu, finishing in Machu Picchu Town, where you will spend the third night of the trek.

Get a good night's sleep tonight: tomorrow you will be exploring what most travelers reckon to be the highlight of a trip to South America, Machu Picchu!

Day 7: Inka Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu 4/4: Machu Picchu & Back to Cusco

The light at Machu Picchu makes the site even more special

This morning, you will rise early in order to beat the crowds to take a 25-minute bus up from Machu Picchu Town through cloud forest to reach the entrance to Machu Picchu Citadel.

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 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 sampling some traditional Peruvian food at one of these this evening.

Day 8: Explore Cusco: Free day

Cusco by night

Today you will have all day to explore Cusco independently and away from the itinerary schedule. For suggestions of ways to spend your free day, see under the detailed itinerary on Day 2 (above).

Day 9: Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain Trek

Hiker on 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. The highlight, as the above image shows, is the striking bands of different colored rock best seen from the ridge top, resembling the bands of color in a rainbow. Today, your final big adventure on this itinerary is the chance to see this fantastic geological wonder for yourself, on a trek best done during the months of April-October.

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 / 4,326 m), stopping for breakfast along the road from Cusco.

You then embark on the two-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 stun 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 three-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 home, it could be time to toast your trip by heading independently to one of the many atmospheric restaurants 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 10: 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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