Note: The 6-day group departures listed above include the Sacred Valley exploration portion of the itinerary below (days 3-8). Our specialists can help you plan the rest of the trip around your chosen departure date. Let one of our trusted local operators help you plan your trip.
Instead of taking the train straight to Machu Picchu from Cusco, this trip adds a number of twists a turns along the way, through a little-traveled part of Peru, where you can really experience local life, off the beaten track. There's a day of mountain biking from the icy Andes to the hot Amazon jungle, followed by a day of white water rafting. This trip also includes exploration of rarely visited Inca ruins, plunging into swim holes and zip lining over cloud forest. The final segment is a scenic, high-jungle train ride to Machu Picchu, the greatest archaeological site in South America.
|Day 1||Arrival in Lima||Lima|
|Day 2||Arrival in Cusco, Exploring the City||Cusco|
|Day 3||Bike from the highlands to the Amazon basin||Santa Teresa|
|Day 4||White-water rafting in the high jungle||Huancalle|
|Day 5||Vitcos and an unforgettable bike ride||Quillabamba|
|Day 6||Watery fun around Quillabamba||Quillabamba|
|Day 7||Zipline and scenic train ride||Aguas Calientes|
|Day 8||Machu Picchu!||Cusco|
|Day 9||Departing Cusco|
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.
- 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, Exploring the City
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: Bike from the Andes to the Amazon basin
You will be picked up from your accommodation in Cusco at 7 am and driven up to Abra Málaga (Malaga Pass), the high point of the trip at a dizzying 14,270 ft (4,350 m). Here we cross from the eastern side of the Andes to the west. On the upper slopes of the mighty Amazon Basin, we set off on bikes and will lose nearly 10,000 ft (3,000 m) of altitude over an incredibly scenic 44 mile (71 km) descent.
This is a classic South American bike ride, right up there with Bolivia's 'Death Road.' The ride is a long, gentle descent through spectacular scenery – and suitable for anyone who can ride a bike. By the time we get to Santa Teresa, at 6,230 ft (1,900 m), we’re in high jungle – a whole different world from the icy Andean pass where we started.
There’s time this evening to visit the Cocalmayo natural hot springs, the perfect place to relax and celebrate our achievements today, and the adventures to come in the next few days! Accommodation is available at a rustic eco-lodge outside Santa Teresa.
Day 4: White-water rafting in the high jungle
Virtually untouched by tourism and rarely commercially run, the Santa Teresa River offers the most exhilarating and beautiful rafting in the Cusco region, and today you'll take a plunge down its rapids.
In the afternoon we’ll drive to Huancacalle. The scenic drive up a remote mountain road through a vertiginous green valley is a treat in itself. We’ll spend the night in a family-run guesthouse in this tiny town, overlooking sheep-dotted paddocks and a rocky mountain stream.
Day 5: Visit an Inca ruin and take bike ride through the Andean foothills
In the morning we’ll take a short hike to Vitcos and the White Rock, two recently unearthed Inca sites set in scenic bushland. The hiking and site visits are worth the trip to Huancacalle in themselves, but we came here with an even greater purpose – the bike ride out!
We’ll spend the afternoon riding out down the same dirt road we drove up yesterday, freewheeling through farmland and villages for hours as we gradually lose altitude and the passing scenery changes from llama pastures to banana and coffee plantations. This is a spectacular, fun cruise which very few foreigners have done. We continue to Quillabamba where we will spend the night.
Day 6: Watery fun around Quillabamba
Quillabamba is a sleepy jungle town that sees few tourists. Its main attractions are outside town and consist of a series of different swimming holes, each more awesome than the last. Siete Tinajas is a series of seven pools under a jungle cascade, where we can paddle, climb, and pluck jungle fruit straight off trees! Sanbaray and Echarati boast elaborate complexes of swimming pools, slides, landscaped lawns and trout restaurants where hours can go by just lounging, swimming, eating ice-cream and people-watching. This is a day of the jungle at its best, as enjoyed by the locals.
Day 7: Zipline and scenic train ride
We’ll drive back to Santa Teresa today and experience Cola de Mono, South America’s highest zip line (flying fox). Once securely harnessed, we’ll each zip across a half-dozen sections of line slung across the stunning Sacsara Valley, a narrow gap between Santa Teresa and Machu Picchu. The scenery is spectacular and the ride surprisingly serene. Later, we’ll either take a short train ride or hike the pleasant 5 miles (8 km) to Aguas Calientes, where we will spend the night.
Day 8: Explore the ruins of Machu Picchu
An early start rewards us with sunrise at Machu Picchu – a highlight of any trip to Peru. A spectacular stone city surrounded by incredibly steep mountains, Machu Picchu needs no introduction and is considered one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. A guided tour is a required start to orient you in this massive site, then you’ll have plenty of time to explore the area and some of the surrounding peaks on your own before we catch the train back to Cusco, where we'll drop you off at your accommodation.
Day 9: Departing Cusco
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!
Note: The 6-day group departures listed below include the Sacred Valley exploration portion of the itinerary above (days 3-8). Our specialists can help you plan the rest of the trip around your chosen departure date.