Explore the essential highlights of Peru's Sacred Valley, including visits to Cusco and Machu Picchu. Then, journey through a land of wild desert landscapes, snow-capped peaks, and herds of alpacas to arrive at your ultimate destination: the rainbow-painted slopes of Mount Vinicunca hidden deep in the Andes.

Highlights

  • Get to know the markets and Peruvian culture in Cusco
  • Tour the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu for a day
  • Take a challenging day hike to rainbow-striped Mount Vinicunca
  • See even more Incan ruins at Sacsayhuaman in the Sacred Valley

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Lima, Transfer to Hotel Lima
Day 2 Arrival in Cusco, Exploring the City Cusco
Day 3 Cusco - Sacsayhuaman - Ollantaytambo Ollantaytambo
Day 4 Machu Picchu Excursion: Ollantaytambo - Machu Picchu - Cusco Cusco
Day 5 Rainbow Mountain (Mount Vinicunca) Hike Cusco
Day 6 Departing Cusco  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Lima, Transfer to Hotel

Lima's Plaza Mayor
Lima's Plaza Mayor

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. 

Settle into your hotel before sitting down to a delicious meal. With some of the worlds' top restaurants and an eclectic mix of culinary styles, there is no shortage of delightful and exciting dining options. 

Day 2: Arrival in Cusco

An aerial view of Cusco and surrounding hills
An aerial view of Cusco and surrounding hills

Head to the Lima airport for your transfer flight to Cusco. This ancient city is 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.
  • See the Cathedral, the most imposing monument in the central Plaza de Armas and a repository for Cusco's colonial art. Its construction lasted for almost 100 years, beginning in 1560 and ending in 1654. 
  • 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. 
  • Explore San Blas, an old bohemian quarter famous for its picturesque white walls, blue doors, and creative artisan community. 
  • Experience the legendary Mercado Central de San Pedro, 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. 
  • 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 3: Cusco - Sacsayhuaman - Ollantaytambo

Sacsayhuaman ruins, just outside of Cusco
Sacsayhuaman ruins, just outside of Cusco

From Cusco, you'll be picked up for a trip to the impressive archaeological site of Sacsayhuaman ("Sacred Falcon"), thought by archeologists to have been a guard point for the Incan capital. Take a guided tour, followed by a big picnic with foods native to this region of the country. 

In the afternoon,  arrive in Ollantaytambo, one of the most beautiful towns in the Sacred Valley, with plenty of time to relax. This is where you'll be based for the next couple of nights. 

Day 4: Machu Picchu Excursion

Agricultural terraces surrounding the ruins
Agricultural terraces surrounding the ruins

After breakfast, take the local train to Aguas Calientes, the base for most Machu Picchu adventures. The ride takes you through a valley and into the Urubamba River canyon, then into the cloud forest as you near the Machu Picchu sanctuary. 

Aguas Calientes contains the train station, a craft market, restaurants, and a variety of hotels for those who prefer to spend the night at the foot of the mountain and climb it early in the day. Stop here for lunch before taking the 25-minute bus ride up to the Machu Picchu ruins. 

This 15th-century Inca citadel 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 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 two-hour tour, take the bus back to Aguas Calientes to connect to your train to Ollantaytambo and your connecting transfer to Cusco. Rest up—you have an early morning tomorrow. 

Day 5: Rainbow Mountain (Mount Vinicunca) Hike

Rainbow Mountain
Rainbow Mountain

Rise and shine—you'll start your day with an early morning pick-up for the 3.5-hour drive to the start of the trek. When you reach the trailhead, enjoy some breakfast before starting the hike. You'll begin at Chillca, and from here it will be a 4-hour, uphill hike to reach the famous Rainbow Mountain.

Along the way, enjoy amazing views of the Andes, glacial peaks, red mountains, rocky hills, along with llamas and alpacas grazing along the valley. Once you reach the top, you'll have time to rest, snack, and take in the scenery. You will also see amazing views of the valleys, Cordillera Vilcanota Range, and Ausangate Glacier Peak—the tallest mountain of the Cusco region at just under 21,000 ft. 

After taking in the view, we'll descend back to our car and driver for the drive back to our hotel in Cusco. For a 2-day version of this trek, take a look at this article

Day 6: Departing Cusco

Evening view of Cusco's Plaza de Armas
Evening view of Cusco's Plaza de Armas

Today is your last day in Peru. You will be met at your hotel for a transfer to Cusco Airport, where you'll catch your flight home.

Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Mar 18, 2019