This itinerary is ideal for travelers who have a limited amount of time in the Sacred Valley, and really want to make it count. Spend 5 days delving into the beauty and rich culture of the Sacred Valley. Walk in the footsteps of the Inca on the short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and top it off with an exploration of the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu.

Highlights

  • Get to know the textiles, culture, and cuisine of Cusco
  • Walk in the footsteps of the Inca on a stretch of the Inca Trail
  • Spend a day exploring the famed Machu Picchu ruins

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Lima Lima
Day 2 Arrival in Cusco & Sacred Valley Tour: Cusco - Pisac - Ollantaytambo Ollantaytambo
Day 3 Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: Ollantaytambo - Km 104 - Aguas Calientes Aguas Calientes
Day 4 Machu Picchu Excursion: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu - Cusco Cusco
Day 5 Departing Cusco  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Lima

¡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, as well as pieces of erotic art.
  • 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 Cusco & Sacred Valley Tour: Cusco - Pisac - Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo village and Pinkuylluna Mountain
Ollantaytambo village and Pinkuylluna Mountain

This morning, you will be transferred to the Lima airport to catch your flight from Lima to Cusco. Upon arrival in Cusco, you will be greeted and begin your Sacred Valley Tour.

Head to the Awana Kancha Llama Sanctuary, located halfway between Cusco and Pisac. Visit with the alpacas and llamas, then head over to the weaving and textiles exhibition. Local artists demonstrate the process of cleaning, spinning, dyeing, and weaving the intricate details on the colorful textiles. Afterward, browse the shop to select a piece of your own to bring home—each one is a unique and handmade treasure. 

Continue on to Pisac, one of the most important archaeological sites in the region. Here you'll explore the ancient Inca burial grounds, irrigation systems, and astronomy centers. Next, 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. After taking some time to explore, we'll stop for lunch at a local restaurant. 

From here, head to the ancient Incan city of Ollantaytambo. Explore the tranquil plaza and surrounding ruins and Inca Fortress, which offer an unparalleled view into the lives of the Inca.

Day 3: Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: Ollantaytambo - Km 104 - Aguas Calientes

The Inca ruins of Winay Wayna along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
The Inca ruins of Winay Wayna along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Early in the morning, we will take the train from Ollantaytambo to Km 104 where the short Inca Trail starts. By train, we see how the valley turns into a canyon and the scenery begins to alter as the cloud forests appear on our approach to Machu Picchu. We will disembark the train at Km 104 and start the hike along a challenging uphill path. 

Start the trek to your first archeological site—Chachabamba. This beautiful site is very well preserved thanks to its location in the valley and was likely used for religious purposes and as a gatekeeping point for this entrance to Machu Picchu. 

From here ascend for 3 hours to the ruins of Wiñay Wayna (2732 m / 8964 ft), an ancient rest area for travelers on the Inca trail. Here, we'll stop to enjoy our delicious boxed lunch, with superb views of the massive green mountains and native orchids.

The trail then becomes gentler and continues through the semi-tropical cloud forest to Intipunku (Sun Gate) where you'll enjoy your first panoramic views of Machu Picchu. Descend half an hour to the citadel for a short break and an opportunity for photos.

We won't be exploring the ruins today, as it will be getting dark. After passing through the Sun Gate, we'll cross the site to take the bus down to Aguas Calientes, where you'll check into our hotel to rest and relax in anticipation of a full-day visit to Machu Picchu tomorrow.

Maximum Altitude: 2732 m / 8964 ft                     
Minimum Altitude: 2088 m / 6850 ft
Distance Travelled: 10.79 km / 6.67 ml (to Inti Punku)  
Approximate Walking Time: 7 hours

Day 4: 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 5: 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 will transfer to your homeward-bound flight. ¡Buen viaje!

Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Mar 18, 2019