Beginning your Peruvian odyssey in cosmopolitan capital Lima, this 11-day itinerary sees you first travel to jungle metropolis Iquitos. You then embark on a trip along the main source of the River Amazon, the River Marañón, using a lodge near Pacaya Samiria Reserve as a base for jungle adventures including rainforest hikes and meeting indigenous communities. You next travel up into the stunning Andes, to ancient Inca capital Cusco. You will then spend two days in the Sacred Valley, seeing archaeological marvels like Moray and Ollantaytambo: a journey culminating in a visit to the ultimate Inca citadel, Machu Picchu. You end this itinerary by exploring another of Peru's geological wonders: Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain.

Highlights

  • Spy pink river dolphins in Pacaya Samiria National Reserve
  • Wander the cobbled streets of ancient Inca capital Cusco
  • Be mesmerized by Sacred Valley Inca sites like mysterious Moray
  • Discover the highlight of the ancient Inca world, Machu Picchu
  • Trek up to the magical Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Lima - Bienvenidos! Lima
Day 2 Pacaya Samiria Amazon Lodge 1/4: Fly to Iquitos, Transfer to Lodge, Amazon Myth-telling & Night-time Jungle Hike Pacaya Samiria Amazon Lodge
Day 3 Pacaya Samiria Amazon Lodge 2/4: Medicinal Plant Hike & Pacaya Samiria National Reserve Tour Pacaya Samiria Amazon Lodge
Day 4 Pacaya Samiria Amazon Lodge 3/4: Indigenous Community Visit Pacaya Samiria Amazon Lodge
Day 5 Pacaya Samiria Amazon Lodge 4/4: Birdwatching & Return to Iquitos Iquitos
Day 6 Fly to Cusco; Free Day Cusco
Day 7 Moray & Maras Salt Mines Tour Cusco
Day 8 Pisac & Ollantaytambo tour: Arrive in Machu Picchu Town Aguas Calientes
Day 9 Visit Machu Picchu: Aguas Calientes-Machu Picchu & Back 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!

Lima coastline in the evening
The beach below Miraflores

¡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 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 the 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 selection of highly-regarded bars and restaurants. See here for a list of the best places to eat in Lima.

Day 2: Pacaya Samiria Amazon Lodge 1/4: Fly to Iquitos, Transfer to Lodge, Amazon Myth-telling & Night-time Jungle Hike

Exploring Peru's Amazonian rivers by boat

Today, in the morning, you will be transferred to the airport for your flight to Iquitos!

You start your adventure through the Northern Peruvian jungle in the city of Iquitos, the world's largest city not to be connected to the outside world by road. At Iquitos Airport you will be welcomed then board your transfer by road to the town of Nauta, the first town founded by the Spaniards on the banks of the Marañon river: a 1.5-hour trip.

In Nauta, you continue your journey by boat to Pacaya Samiria Lodge, one of the closest lodges to the pristine and extremely biodiverse Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, and one of the Peruvian Amazon's best jungle accommodations. On the journey to the lodge, you will have the chance to visit the Fundo Casual (during the high-water season of December-May only) where you can go in search of species of flora and fauna typical of this part of the Northern Amazon. Upon your arrival at the lodge, enjoy a welcome drink and a chance to meet a descendant of the Kukama Kukamiria people, a minority culture currently surviving only in small pockets of the Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon. Check in to your cabin and then enjoy a delicious lunch.

You will spend the rest of today in the vicinity of the lodge. This evening, around dinner time, you will get to hear about some of the intriguing myths and legends of the Amazon and visit the lodge mirador, or viewpoint, for some beautiful jungle panoramas. You will end the day in true Amazonian explorer style with a night excursion through the forest surrounding the Lodge to locate frogs, tarantulas, insects and other nocturnal species.  

Day 3: Pacaya Samiria Amazon Lodge 2/4: Medicinal Plant Hike & Pacaya Samiria National Reserve Tour

Pink river dolphins in the Amazon 

Today, after breakfast, your first adventure is a spectacular trek through the primary (virgin, or undisturbed) forest around the lodge. As you explore, your guide will explain to you about this area's great biodiversity, and about the uses of medicinal plants and trees in indigenous culture. 

In the afternoon, after lunch, it is time to depart to the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. This protected area of flooded forest spans an incredible 8000 sq mi (20800 sq km). Your visit will see you hiking in search of pink and gray river dolphins, as well as discovering the vast variety of flora and fauna that the reserve encompasses. One particularly striking feature of Pacaya Samiria is that the waterways so faithfully reflect the sky, clouds, trees and bankside vegetation. The visitor therefore has the sensation of traveling across mirrors, hence the reserve's nickname as "the forest of mirrors".

You will also visit the 20 de Enero Community in the Yanayacu river basin and be able to see the work carried out by local residents to preserve the reserve and its wildlife. As you progress by boat through the reserve, there will also be an opportunity to try traditional Amazonian fishing.  

You then return to the lodge for dinner and to relax.

Day 4: Pacaya Samiria Amazon Lodge 3/4: Indigenous Community Visit

The mighty Amazon from the air

Today's principal activity, after breakfast, will be a spectacular riverboat trip on the Marañón River, possibly with a stop to try fishing, depending on the season and river conditions. Next, you will pay a visit to the community of San Jorge to meet its inhabitants and better understand the way of life and customs in this part of the Amazon. You will then visit the Center for Kukama Women Crafts (Pua Kamatawara), a project developed by Pacaya Samiria Amazon Lodge. Finally, you will then return to the lodge for dinner and relaxation. 

Day 5: Pacaya Samiria Amazon Lodge 4/4: Birdwatching & Return to Iquitos

The comical toucan, an avian highlight of the Amazon

Today, for breakfast, if you are lucky you will get to eat the fresh fish caught using the traditional traps set by your guide! You will then embark on some morning birdwatching on the riverbanks and restingas, or flooded forests. Following lunch, there will be some free time before you return by boat and bus to Iquitos and to your hotel. If you have the energy after your rainforest excursion, Iquitos is deserving of your time. Suggested activities here for late afternoon and evening include:

  • Wandering the pretty riverside malecón 
  • Stopping at one of the lively restaurants serving traditional Amazonian cuisine
  • Seeing the beautiful tiled facades (known as azulejos) of the colonial mansions dating from the city's 19th-century rubber boom. 

Day 6: Fly to Cusco, Free Day

Qoricancha, one of the astonishing Inca constructions in Cusco

Today it is all change as you swap the sweltering, low-lying jungle for the heights of the jagged Andes mountains. In the morning, you will head to Iquitos airport for your flight to the ancient Inca capital of Cusco! Upon your arrival, you will be transferred to your hotel. The rest of the day is then yours to rest, acclimatize or to explore the capital of the Inca Empire at your own pace. Remember that, due to the considerable change in altitude to almost 11,000 feet (3,000 m) above sea level in Cusco, you should take it easy to avoid the affects of altitude sickness. Do not forget to drink lots of water! 

If you do choose to explore the city, know that Cusco was designed by the Incas as a city for walking, and so this is the best way to get around the historic center. Activities could 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. 
  • Having a coca tea to adjust to the altitude on the pretty Plaza de Armas, exploring the adjacent cathedral, then walking up the cobbled streets to the district of San Blas, one of the city’s most attractive areas with beautifully restored buildings, artesanía (handicrafts) workshops and stores where you’ll find high-quality crafts and quaint little restaurants serving traditional Andean cuisine.
  • Experiencing 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 necessities. 
  • Eating dinner at a local Peruvian restaurant to sample the distinctive local flavors and cooking techniques of the Peruvian Andes. See here for more on the typical dishes of Peru and where to try them.

Day 7: Moray Terraces & Maras Salt Mines Tour

Maras Salt Flats
Maras Salt Flats

This morning, you'll depart on a day trip to the Sacred Valley of the Incas. 

Your first stop today will be Moray. This is an incredible and utterly distinctive complex amongst the Sacred Valley's myriad Inca ruins: a series of stone terraced amphitheaters. These terraces are carved deep into the earth in the shape of a bowl. The exact reason for their construction is unknown; however, historians believe the Incas built Moray to experiment with crop production in different micro-climates. 

When you are done exploring Moray, you will head about two miles away, to the salt mines of 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 here, spectacularly carved into the steep mountainside over a millennium ago.

Finally, after seeing these two incredible ancient sights, return to Cusco and have the rest of the day to rest or further explore the city.

Day 8: Pisac & Ollantaytambo tour: Arrive in Machu Picchu Town

Inca terraces and ruins in the Sacred Valley

This morning you will depart from your hotel in Cusco for a further exploration of the Sacred Valley. Today, your first stop will be Pisac, one of the most important archaeological sites in the region. Here, at Pisac Citadel, you will be able to explore the ancient Inca burial grounds, irrigation systems, and astronomy centers. After this, 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.

Afterwards, you will stop for lunch, partaking of traditional Peruvian-Andean cuisine at a restaurant in the town of Urubamba, with a beautiful setting overlooking the rushing Urubamba River. 

This afternoon, you continue deeper into the Sacred Valley to the ancient Inca settlement (and still-thriving town) of Ollantaytambo, one of the few remaining places in the Sacred Valley that have retained its original Inca urban planning. Walk through the streets lined with Inca-era canals, built to Inca layouts and with Inca foundations to many of the ancient houses still inhabited today. Climb the impressive agricultural terraces from where you can enjoy an Inca’s-eye-view of the valley. From the top, you will be able to see some of the quarries from where the stone for Ollantaytambo was sourced. 

From Ollantaytambo, you will next travel by train to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu town) where you will be staying tonight. The town has many fine places to eat, and you may like to try one of them, independently from the itinerary, to recharge your energy levels for tomorrow's adventure.

Be sure to get your sleep tonight. Tomorrow you will be exploring what most people deem the highlight of a trip to South America: Machu Picchu.

Day 9: Explore Machu Picchu; Return to Cusco

Machu Picchu mysteriously part-wrapped in cloud

As you are staying in the closest town to Machu Picchu, after breakfast it is time to get an early start this morning to beat the crowds, guaranteeing the best possible views of the ancient ruins. From Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu Town, it is an easy 25-minute bus ride up to the entrance of Machu Picchu citadel.

This 15th-century Inca citadel, located at 7,970 ft (2,430 m), 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 and one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Yet this incredible complex was abandoned just one century after its 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 complex. Approximately one-third of the site has been rebuilt to 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 independently.  

You will next take the bus back to Machu Picchu Town. Take time to grab your own lunch in the town center before connecting to your train to Ollantaytambo, and then your transfer back to your hotel in Cusco. 

Day 10: Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain Trek

Bands of rock in all the colors of the rainbow at Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain

Today, you will require another early start as you are taken to another of Peru's geological highlights. You will be visiting the Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain, a land of otherworldly multi-colored bands of rock backed by wild desert landscapes and snow-capped glaciated peaks, and populated by herds of alpaca. A trip here is best done during the months of April-October.

In order to best enjoy this beautiful trip, you will be picked you up very early from your Cusco hotel (around 3 am!). You will then embark on a three-hour drive through the South Valley of the Peruvian Andes to the trailhead for Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain at Quesiuno, at an altitude of 14,189 ft / 4,326 m. Along the way, you will have a stop to enjoy a breakfast.

At Quesiuno you will begin on your hike, following a lovely Andean stream. Herds of alpacas and llamas will be visible on the surrounding hillsides, whilst dramatic views of the Ausangate Mountain will constantly be in sight. You will hike through traditional villages and have opportunity to interact with the local residents. Other fauna to look out for includes chinchillas, grey-furred rodents and vicuñas, Peru's only non-domesticated members of the llama family.

After a total hike of approximately two hours, you will finally reach your destination, Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain. After getting over the shock of this beautiful landscape, perched at a lofty height of 16,466 ft / 5,020 m, you will have time to explore the area, take pictures, and soak in the stark, spectacular mountain surroundings. You will spend approximately 30 minutes at the mountaintop before it will be time to descend. You will hike downhill the way you came, reaching your transfer after 1.5 hours of walking. Afterwards, you will embark on the 3-hour drive back to Cusco, pausing for a buffet lunch along the way.   

You will be dropped off at your Cusco hotel at approximately 5:30 pm, and will have the remainder of the day to spend at your leisure. 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 to one of the many atmospheric places to eat 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 pose for the camera 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 through to your international departure.

¡Buen viaje! Have a good trip!

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