On this Peruvian adventure, you'll start in the ancient Inca capital of Cusco. Embark on a rewarding trek to the ancient ruins of Choquequirao, the “sister city” of Machu Picchu, passing through jungles and snow-capped peaks en route to Machu Picchu. If you’re up for a challenge, this is one of the most beautiful treks in the Sacred Valley.

Highlights

  • Explore the ancient ruins of Choquequirao, "Sister City" of Machu Picchu
  • Pass through the recently-uncovered ruins of Picha Unuyoc
  • Descend down to the Rio Blanco for a refreshing dip in the river
  • Climb the Abra San Juan pass (4150m) with views of Cordillera Vilcabamba
  • Finish the trek at Machu Picchu, and explore the ruins at sunrise  

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Lima Lima
Day 2 Arrival in Cusco, Exploring the City Cusco
Day 3 Choquequirao Trek Day 1/6: Cusco - Cachora - Chikiska Chikiska
Day 4 Choquequirao Trek Day 2/6: Chikiska to Choquequirao Choquequirao
Day 5 Choquequirao Trek Day 3/6: Explore Choquequirao Choquequirao
Day 6 Choquequirao Trek Day 4/6: Choquequirao to Maizal Maizal
Day 7 Choquequirao Trek Day 5/6: Maizal to Yanama, then drive to Lucmabamba Lucmabamba
Day 8 Choquequirao Trek Day 6/6: Lucmabamba - Llactapata - Aguas Calientes Aguas Calientes
Day 9 Machu Picchu Excursion: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu - Cusco Cusco
Day 10 Departing Cusco  

Detailed overview

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, 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, Exploring the City

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: Choquequirao Trek Day 1/6: Cusco - Cachora - Chikiska

Apurimac Canyon
Apurimac Canyon

Drive from your hotel in Cusco to the rustic Cachora village where your trek will begin. After having lunch, start your trek by following a switchback trail down into the Apurimac canyon. You’ll stay the night in Chikiska, a small mountainside settlement with beautiful views down into the Apurimac valley.

Accommodation: Camping

Day 4: Choquequirao Trek Day 2/6: Chikiska to Choquequirao

Choquequirao's main complex
Choquequirao's main complex

Depart from your campsite at Chikiska and continue your trek across the Apurimac River and pass through the communities of Santa Rosa and Maranpata. The steep path passes through territory which can get humid and hot depending on the season. One of the more strenuous days, with dramatic views of the canyon as you approach the ruins of Choquequirao. In the evening, we will arrive at our campsite, located right near the ruins of Choquequirao.

Accommodation: Camping

Day 5: Choquequirao Trek Day 3/6: Explore Choquequirao

Terraces below Choquequirao
Terraces below Choquequirao

After breakfast at your campsite, head out to visit the ruins. With few other tourists around, explore the main plaza, ritual bath, and inlaid stone llamas at the ruins of Choquequirao. The site sits atop a hill rising 1,600m above the Apurimac and was hidden from the Spanish for centuries until Bingham stumbled upon it before Machu Picchu. The site is yet to be completely excavated, with much of it still shrouded by jungle and cloud forest.

In the evening, return to your campsite near the Choquequirao ruins.

Accommodation: Camping

Day 6: Choquequirao Trek Day 4/6: Choquequirao to Maizal

View of the Andes along the Choquequirao Trek
View of the Andes along the Choquequirao Trek

Get ready for the toughest day of the trek. You’ll start by trekking 1,400m downhill from your campsite near Choquequirao to the newly uncovered ruins of Picha Unuyoc, then down to Rio Blanco where you can dip your feet in the refreshing water. You’ll then climb 1,200m back up to Maizal, a beautiful campsite at 3,000 m.

Accommodation: Camping

Day 7: Choquequirao Trek Day 5/6: Maizal to Yanama, then drive to Lucmabamba

Camping en route
Camping en route

Depart from your campsite in Maizal and hike past long-lost silver mines through the Abra San Juan mountain pass to the highest point of the trek at 4,150m. From here, you’ll have breathtaking views of the Cordillera Vilcabamba range, then you’ll descend down to the village of Yanama before driving over the Totora pass to the village of Lucmabamba.

Accommodation: Camping

Day 8: Choquequirao Trek Day 6/6: Lucmabamba - Llactapata - Aguas Calientes

Ancient terraces en route from Lucmabamba to Aguas Calientes
Ancient terraces en route from Lucmabamba to Aguas Calientes

On your last day of hiking, you’ll walk from your campsite in Lucmabamba through fields and cloud forests along an imperial Inca trail. Llactapata is a small, beautiful set of ruins hidden in the wilderness with a view across to  Machu Picchu. From here, you’ll continue down to the Hydroelectric power station, where you can either take a train or hike to the town of Aguas Calientes. Upon arrival, check in to your hotel and relax. Be sure to get a good night’s sleep for an early start to see Machu Picchu at dawn.

Day 9: 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, transfer to a vehicle for your transfer back to Cusco.

Day 10: 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 international departure. ¡Buen viaje!

Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Mar 18, 2019