On this 10-day journey, you will truly get to see the very best of Northern and Andean Peru. In the north, you will be based in Chachapoyas for trips to one of the world's mightiest waterfalls, Gocta Falls, and the amazing pre-Inca fortress of Kuélap. You will then begin discovering the Andean Inca heartland of Peru, seeing magical Sacred Valley ruins such as those at Moray, Pisac and Ollantaytambo before exploring the regional highlight, Machu Picchu. The trip ends with a trek to one of Peru's geological highlights, Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain.

Highlights

  • Explore Lima, its colonial center and its swanky beachside suburb Miraflores
  • Climb to Northern Peru's archaeological highlight, Kuélap, by cable car
  • Be dazzled by the beauty of the Sacred Valley and its ancient Inca ruins
  • Discover famous Inca citadel Machu Picchu
  • Trek up to Rainbow Mountain to view one of Peru's geological wonders

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Lima - Bienvenidos! Lima
Day 2 Free Morning in Lima, Fly to Jaén & Transfer to Chachapoyas Chachapoyas
Day 3 Hike to Gocta Waterfall Chachapoyas
Day 4 Cable car to Kuélap Fortress Chachapoyas
Day 5 Transfer to Jaén; Fly Jaén-Lima & Lima-Cusco Cusco
Day 6 Moray & Maras Salt Mines Tour Cusco
Day 7 Sacred Valley Tour: Pisac, Ollantaytambo & Arrive in Machu Picchu Town Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu Town
Day 8 Explore Machu Picchu & Return to Cusco Cusco
Day 9 Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain Trek Cusco
Day 10 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 Peru! Upon your arrival at Lima Airport, you will be welcomed and taken to your hotel in the Miraflores/San Isidro area of the city. You will then have the remainder of the day free to relax and get acquainted with the city at your own pace.

Lima's breezy location on the Pacific Ocean and mild desert climate make it the perfect city for exploring on foot. The most traveler-friendly areas of Lima are Miraflores along with neighboring San Isidro and Barranco. The city center is also very interesting for its beautiful historical buildings. Explore any one of these districts on foot, but get transport between the city center and Miraflores/San Isidro/Barranco. 

Suggestions of things you can do to make the most of your day in Lima include:

  • Explore the city center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site packed with fascinating Spanish architecture. Start with a scenic tour of the colonial buildings, which emanate from the main square, Plaza Mayor. Stroll over to the grandiose 16th-century cathedral, which took 80 years to construct! And pay a visit to Casa de Aliaga, a colonial mansion full of period finery, granted by conquistador-in-chief Francisco Pizarro to Jerónimo de Aliaga, one of his captains, in 1535 - and miraculously still owned by the same Aliaga family today!
  • Discover Pueblo Libre's 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. 
  • Wander the malecón along the clifftops in Miraflores to the romantic Parque del Amor (Love Park), where you can admire a huge kissing statue and beautiful mosaic walls. The park is built on the edge of the cliffs of Chorrillos: the perfect place to watch sunset fall spectacularly over the Pacific. 
  • Enjoy an evening meal or nightcap at an open-air cafe or restaurant in sophisticated Miraflores, and dream about the adventure awaiting you!

Day 2: Free Morning in Lima, Fly to Jaén & Transfer to Chachapoyas

Plaza Mayor, Lima

You have this morning free to discover Lima on your own. This is a good time to continue your explorations where you left off yesterday. Miraflores, Barranco and San Isidro are nice neighborhoods to wander around, discovering great cafes and places to eat in the city that is known as a gastronomic hub. See neighborhood guides to Barranco and Miraflores for more ideas on what to do this morning.

Then, at the appointed time, head to the airport for your flight to Jaén, located in the far north of Peru. Upon landing, you will head in a group transfer to Chachapoyas, located four hours' drive away. You will arrive in Chachapoyas in evening, and stay here tonight. Chachapoyas is the peaceful gateway to the magical pre-Inca marvel of Kuélap and several other remarkable sights, including one of the world's tallest cascades, Gocta Waterfall.

Day 3: Hike to Gocta Waterfall

The stunning Gocta Waterfall

Today, after a hearty breakfast, you will embark on the first seriously active part of the itinerary, hitting the trail for a 2-3 hour hike to the famous Gotca waterfall, one of the world's mightiest cascades.

Your hike today will be approximately 3.7 miles (6km). To begin with, your path crisscross sugarcane fields and small country roads before entering misty cloud forest. This ecosystem is home to many unique wildlife species, most notably the bright orange cock-of-the-rock—Peru's national bird. Your beautiful hike culminates  in the waterfall itself, spectacularly tumbling down vegetated cliffs. Enjoy a well-earned rest here and—if you are brave enough—take a swim in the pool at the base of the waterfall, but be warned: it's cold!

You will then return to Chachapoyas in the afternoon and the rest of the day will be yours to spend as you wish.

Day 4: Cablecar to Kuélap Fortress

Kuélap fortress is undoubtedly one of the mystical highlights of a trip to Northern Peru

You will require an early start today as you prepare to explore what is arguably Northern Peru's highlight: a trip to the spectacular ruins of the Kuélap fortress. Your journey begins with an hour-long drive to the town of Tingo. Here you will board a cable car to get to Kuélap. From the top of the cable car, you will hike 25 minutes to Kuélap itself.

This ancient citadel of the Chachapoyas people pre-dates the Inca empire by half a millennium. The entire complex is surrounded by 65 ft (19.8 m) walls, which served as protection against invasions. This site was inhabited until the conquest by the Inca in 1470 and later the Spanish in 1534. The ruins sit majestically above a mountain ridge at 9,500 ft (2,895 m), and its towering walls and round stone houses have earned it the nickname "Machu Picchu of the North". From here, there are stunning views of the nearby valley. The guided visit will last approximately two hours, after which you will head back down the mountain and return to your hotel in Chachapoyas in the afternoon, with the remainder of the day to spend as you wish.

Day 5: Transfer to Jaén; Fly Jaén-Lima & Lima-Cusco

The cloisters of Iglesia de Santo Domingo at the Qoricancha ruins, Cusco

It will be a long day of traveling today as, at the appointed time, you will take the 4-hour transfer to Jaén Airport, followed by a flight to Lima and then another flight from Lima to Cusco.

Upon arrival in Cusco, you will be welcomed and transferred to your hotel close to the historic center, where you will be able to take a deserved rest! The city is one of the gastronomic capitals of Peru, and so, if you have energy and inclinations, try sampling one of the fantastic places to eat and drink independently this evening.

Day 6: Moray Terraces & Maras Salt Mines Tour

Maras Salt Flats
Maras Salt Flats

This morning, you will depart on an exciting day trip to the Sacred Valley of the Incas, to see some of the stunning archaeological sites here. 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, carved into the steep mountainside over a millennium ago.

After visiting these two stunning sights, you will return to Cusco and have the rest of the day to rest or go around the city. You will likely have more time in Cusco today than you did after your arrival yesterday. Cusco was designed by the Incas as a city for walking, so start your exploration of the city's ancient, narrow stone alleyways on foot. Take a stroll through the Plaza de Armas, taking time to see its stunning cathedral; if the weather is beautiful, it is the ideal place to sit on a balcony or bench and enjoy a cup of coca tea while adjusting to the elevation.

If you feel like doing something more active, suggestions for activities include:

  • Visit 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.
  • Walk 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. 
  • 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. The ruins are further along the same road (to Pisac) that Sacsayhuamán and Quenqo are on.
  • Take a walk uphill from the Plaza de Armas to the district of San Blas, one of the city’s most attractive areas with beautifully restored buildings, artesanía (handicrafts) workshops and stores. You will find high-quality crafts, comely cobbled streets and quaint little restaurants serving traditional Andean cuisine.
  • Experience 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.
  • Eat lunch (and perhaps dinner too!) at a local Peruvian restaurant to sample the distinctive local flavors and cooking techniques of the Peruvian Andes. See here for more on the best places to eat in Cusco.

Day 7: Pisac & Ollantaytambo tour: Arrive in Machu Picchu Town

The impressive ruins at Pisac

Today, you will depart your hotel in Cusco on a further exploration of the Sacred Valley. Your first stop this morning will be Pisac, one of the most important archaeological sites in the region. Here, at Pisac Citadel, you will get to explore ancient Inca burial grounds, irrigation systems, and astronomy centers. Next, you descend to the town of Pisac at the bottom of the valley, famous for its bustling textile market. Here, select from a wide assortment of colors, styles, and designs for gifts to take home with you to remember your Andean adventure by.

You will next make a lunch stop, enjoy traditional Peruvian Andean cuisine at a restaurant in Urubamba, located in a beautiful setting overlooking the Urubamba River. 

From here, you then head to the ancient Incan settlement of Ollantaytambo, one of the few remaining places in the Sacred Valley that has retained its original Inca grid plan. Walk streets lined with Inca-era canals, view ancient Inca houses still in use today and climb the agricultural terraces, from where you can enjoy an Inca’s-eye-view of the valley. At the latter, you will be able to see some of the quarries from where the stone for Ollantaytambo was sourced.

From Ollantaytambo, it is then time to take the train to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu town), where you will be staying tonight. Take advantage of one of the many lively places to eat and recharge your batteries before you embark on one of South America's greatest adventures−a visit to Machu Picchu−tomorrow.

Day 8: Explore Machu Picchu & Return to Cusco

The stunning remains of the citadel of Machu Picchu

As you have stayed overnight in the town closest to the wonder of Machu Picchu, it is time to take advantage and get up early to beat the crowds that will later arrive at the site. You will take a 25-minute bus up from Machu Picchu Town through cloud forest to reach the entrance to Machu Picchu Citadel, before most other visitors have got there.

This superlative 15th-century Inca complex 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 a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as being one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Yet the citadel was abandoned just 100 years after construction and remained largely hidden to the outside world until the early 20th century. 

Your guide will lead you around the site, explaining the different buildings and hidden corners of the complex. Approximately one-third of the site has been reconstructed into its original structure, giving visitors a sense of the grandeur and artistry of the original citadel. You will also have time after the guided tour to explore the sanctuary independently.

After the tour, you take the bus back to Machu Picchu Town and have a chance to grab your own lunch in the lively town center. Next, connect to your train to Ollantaytambo and then your connecting transfer back to your hotel in Cusco.

Cusco is full of fantastic places to eat and drink: consider independently sampling some traditional Peruvian food at one of these this evening, under your own steam and away from the itinerary schedule. Recharge your batteries this evening for another early start tomorrow!

Day 9: Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain Trek

Gazing at the beautiful Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain

The Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain is a multi-coloured mountainous massif full of wild desert landscapes, snow-capped glaciated peaks and wandering herds of alpaca, once almost unknown to travelers but now one of the most sought-after excursions in the Cusco area. Today is your chance to see this fantastic geological wonder for yourself.

You will be picked you up early from your Cusco hotel around 3 am to set out on the three-hour drive to the trailhead for the Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain hike at Quesiuno (14,189 ft / 4326 m), stopping for breakfast along the road from Cusco.

You then embark on a 2-hour hike to the summit. The route passes herds of alpacas and llamas and tiny villages where you and your group will have chance to interact with local residents. Views of one of Peru's highest peaks, Ausangate Mountain, will stun you as you climb. Upon reaching the summit and the spectacular panorama of Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain (16,466 ft / 5,020 m), you will have time to explore the mountaintop area for approximately 30 minutes.

It is then time to go back down the way you came, with the return leg taking approximately 1.5 hours. Your transfer will be waiting for you when you return, and you will then embark on the 3-hour return drive to Cusco, stopping along the route back for a buffet lunch.   

You will be dropped off back at your Cusco hotel at about 5:30 pm. 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 10: Adiós: Depart Peru

Andean children in traditional costume

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 ready to connect to your international departure.

Hasta la proxima vez! Until the next time!

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