Explore the essential highlights of Peru on this 8-day itinerary. Begin in the metropolitan capital city of Lima, and explore the vibrant city by bike. Then, head to the ancient Inca capital of Cusco, and get a taste of the local culture on a culinary tour. Next, discover the beautiful textiles and incredible ruins of the Sacred Valley, and spend a full day taking in the majesty of Machu Picchu. Top it all off by summiting the colorful rainbow mountain - the perfect photo op!

Highlights

  • Experience the highlights of Lima by bike
  • Take in the sights, aromas, and tastes of Cusco on a culinary tour
  • Delve into the history and culture of Peru's Sacred Valley
  • See the famed 15th-century Machu Picchu citadel
  • Summit the colorful Rainbow Mountain

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Lima Lima
Day 2 Lima Bike Tour Lima
Day 3 Arrival in Cusco, Exploring the City Cusco
Day 4 A Taste of Cusco Cusco
Day 5 Sacred Valley Tour: Cusco - Chinchero - Ollantaytambo Ollantaytambo
Day 6 Machu Picchu Excursion: Ollantaytambo - Machu Picchu - Cusco Cusco
Day 7 Rainbow Mountain (Mount Vinicunca) Hike Cusco
Day 8 Departing Cusco  

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: Lima Bike Tour

The shaded Bridge of Sighs in Barranco
The shaded Bridge of Sighs in Barranco

Get your cycle on with this two-wheeled journey through the bohemian neighborhoods of Barranco and Chorrillos, and the modern neighborhood of Miraflores! You will explore hidden gems and spectacular views of the coast as you travel through colorful streets, peaceful parks, and lovely biking paths.

Start the adventure in Miraflores and head to Parque Kennedy, an area popular with both locals and tourists. This park is famous for its large population of cats, and visitors take the opportunity to pet the felines and take photographs.

Continue to one of the wide bike paths on Lima's main avenues to get to Miraflores and the quirky Love Park. This romantic cliffside park is full of colorful mosaics and romantic kissing statues. From here, ride along the coast to reach the bohemian district of Barranco, home to many of Lima's artists and creatives. Visit the Puente de los Suspiros—the Bridge of Sighs—where rumor has it visitors are granted a wish for crossing with closed eyes. 

Your ride will take you through 10 miles (16 km) of Lima's most picturesque neighborhoods with lots of stops to take breaks and buy water. Your tour guide will guide you through local history guide you through safe riding paths on this enjoyable and relaxing bike tour.

Day 3: Arrival in Cusco, Exploring the City

Cusco from the Sacsayhuamán ruins
Cusco from the Sacsayhuamán ruins

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: 

  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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 4: A Taste of Cusco

Hot brewed cacao drink, raw cocoa fruit, cacao beans, and caco nibs
Hot brewed cacao drink, raw cocoa fruit, cacao beans, and caco nibs

Depart from your hotel and head to the city center to start your Cusco culinary experience. 

Today you will learn about three key Peruvian specialties: chocolate, coffee, and pisco. Your journey begins at the Coffee Museum where you will learn about what makes Peruvian coffee so delicious and unique. At the end of your tour, you'll have the opportunity to sample several different varieties of Peruvian coffee. 

Continue your exploration of Peru's gastronomic delights at the ChocoMuseum. Here, you will learn about the chocolate production process starting with the cacao tree, and ending with a rich dessert. You'll also learn how to prepare cacao tea and hot chocolate, both of which played important roles in Incan culture. Finish up your tour by learning how to prepare your own chocolate! 

To cap it all off, pay a visit to Pisco Republic where you'll learn all about Pisco, Peru's signature drink. Conclude your tour with a pisco tasting accompanied by typical Peruvian dishes served as snacks. 

After your tour, return to your hotel and enjoy a relaxing evening in Cusco. 

Day 5: Sacred Valley Tour: Cusco - Chinchero - Ollantaytambo

Maras Salt Flats
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 Maras 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 6: Machu Picchu Excursion: Ollantaytambo - Machu Picchu - Cusco

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 to eat 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 and remained largely hidden to the outside world until the early 20th century. 

If there's time, hike up to Machu Picchu Mountain for a bird's eye view of the citadel. Afterward, a tour guide will show 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.

Day 7: Rainbow Mountain (Mount Vinicunca) Hike

Rainbow Mountain
Rainbow Mountain

Today will begin with an early pick-up from your hotel in Cusco for the 3.5-hour drive to the start of the trek.

When we reach the trailhead, we'll enjoy some breakfast before starting the hike. After breakfast, we will begin the hike from Chillca, at 3,700 m/12,139 ft elevation. From here, it will be a 4-hour, uphill hike to reach the famous Rainbow Mountain.

Along the way, you will enjoy amazing views of the Andes, glacial peaks, red mountains, rocky hills, along with llamas and alpacas grazing along the valley. Once you arrive at the top of Rainbow Mountain, you will have enough time to absorb the majesty of the red mountains that surround this area. You will also see amazing views of the valleys and Ausangate Glacier Peak in front of you. Ausangate is the tallest mountain of the Cusco region (just under 21,000 ft elevation) and is part of the Cordillera Vilcanota Range.

After taking in the view, we'll descend back to our car and driver for the drive back to our hotel in Cusco. 

Day 8: Departing Cusco

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 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 Mar 18, 2019