From Lima to the Amazon, this 12-day itinerary has it all. Take in the sights and flavors of the capital city, then head east to Puerto Maldonado, a jumping-off point for a journey to the rainforest. Spend three days staying at a jungle lodge and seeing wildlife like colorful parrots and giant river otters, then travel to Cusco and the Sacred Valley to learn about Inca history. Finish with hikes to Machu Picchu and vibrant Rainbow Mountain—the perfect way to end this whirlwind trip.

Highlights

  • Take in the sights, aromas, and tastes of Lima
  • Spot Amazonian wildlife on guided jungle excursions
  • Explore the traditions of Cusco & the Sacred Valley
  • See the famed 15th-century Machu Picchu citadel ruins

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Lima Lima
Day 2 Lima City & Food Tour Lima
Day 3 Into the Amazon: Lima - Puerto Maldonado - Reserva Amazonica Puerto Maldonado
Day 4 Jungle Excursions - Tres Chimbadas, Parrot Clay Lick, Botany Tour Puerto Maldonado
Day 5 Jungle Excursions - Farm, Dugout Canoe Tour, Fitzcarrald Puerto Maldonado
Day 6 Arriving in Cusco: Puerto Maldonado - Cusco Cusco
Day 7 Cusco City Tour Cusco
Day 8 Sacred Valley Tour: Cusco - Chinchero - Ollantaytambo Ollantaytambo
Day 9 Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: Ollantaytambo - Km 104 - Aguas Calientes Aguas Calientes
Day 10 Machu Picchu Excursion: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu - Cusco Cusco
Day 11 Rainbow Mountain (Mount Vinicunca) Hike Cusco
Day 12 Fly from Cusco to Lima, Depart Peru  

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 a 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 mild climate and breezy location on the Pacific Ocean make it a great 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 seventh-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 café or restaurant in the diverse Miraflores neighborhood.

Day 2: Lima City & Food Tour

Peruvian ceviche
Peruvian ceviche

Spend the day discovering Lima through its food. With a vibrant combination of indigenous American, African, Asian, and European culinary influences, Lima is one of the world's most impressive gastronomic and cultural centers. 

Start the day early in Lima's historic center to visit a local mercado—a fresh food market—to taste the local produce and sample spices, fruits, and various baked bread. Taste different types of pisco (a high-proof brandy produced locally in the wine-making regions of Peru and Chile), then attend a cooking class and learn how to make ceviche, a fresh seafood dish marinated with salt and lime juice.

Stop for lunch at one of Lima's top restaurants and enjoy a delicious meal on a patio overlooking the Pacific. Stroll to the bohemian district of Barranco—a popular oceanside neighborhood for artists, tourists, and locals alike—for a relaxed afternoon sipping coffee and sampling Peruvian desserts.

Day 3: Into the Amazon: Lima - Puerto Maldonado - Reserva Amazonica

 Deep in the rainforest
Deep in the rainforest

This morning, you will transfer from your hotel to the Lima airport for your flight to Puerto Maldonado. Upon arrival at the Puerto Maldonado Airport, an agent will meet you and drive you to the local office for luggage storage. Here, all of your extra luggage will be locked away in a secure safe for more convenient boat travel. Begin to experience the enchantment of the rainforest as you take a 45-minute boat ride along the Madre de Dios River to Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica lodge.

After a short briefing, settle into your cabaña and enjoy lunch in the dining room. Take a siesta, then get ready for the afternoon excursion. After consulting with your Inkaterra Explorer Guide, choose from the 14 different excursions available at the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica.

On your first day, consider a guided walk along the trail system, into the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica natural area, to discover the Amazon Basin. This trail offers an excellent introduction to the forest environment, winding past impressive trees such as the Shihuahuaco, and the strangely beautiful strangler fig. There are excellent opportunities for bird-watching and observing exotic insects, too.

On the first night, try the Twilight River excursion—a guided afternoon boat ride on the Madre de Dios river. Witness the transformation to a nocturnal world: animals and birds of the daytime give way to species specially adapted to the night. As you enjoy their paradise, you will learn about their habits. Look for nightjars, owls, capybaras, and up to three different caiman species. Finish the day with dinner served in the lodge's main dining room. 

Day 4: Jungle Excursions - Tres Chimbadas, Parrot Clay Lick, Botany Tour

A brightly-colored Amazonian butterfly
A brightly-colored Amazonian butterfly

Today, you will explore the lush rainforest around you in a series of short guided adventure treks. Start by heading to Tres Chimbadas, located 30 minutes by boat from the lodge. Explore the lake to search for the resident family of nine giant river otters and other local wildlife, such as cayman, hoatzin, and colorful tropical birds. This tour is best done in the early morning, as otters are most active just after dawn. 

Afterward, walk the short 20 minutes from the lodge to the Parrot Clay Lick. Take a comfortable seat behind a secluded blind and watch hundreds of vibrant parrots and parakeets descend onto the river bank to eat the mineral-rich clay. Brightly-colored species like the Yellow-headed Amazon, Blue-headed Parrot, and Dusky Headed Parakeet love to visit this location, and late morning is an ideal time to spot them. 

Take a break for lunch, then head 20 minutes downriver to a curated ethnobotany trail tour. Designed by the staff of Centro Ñape, a community organization that creates natural medicines from plants found in the rainforest, this educational trail is designed to explain the uses of local Amazonian plants. 

After dinner, you'll the option to go for a relaxing night hike during a time when most mammals are active. Listen to the chorus of from and amphibian calls, and bring a flashlight to try and spot the small animals as they camouflage in the vegetation.

Day 5: Jungle Excursions - Farm, Dugout Canoe Tour, Fitzcarrald

A relaxing sunset in the Amazon
A relaxing sunset in the Amazon

After a beautiful sunrise and an early breakfast, visit a local farm to learn local cultivation techniques and sample some of the produce. Stop at the nearby botanical garden and discover the immense variety of medicinal plants used by the indigenous people of the Amazon. 

In the afternoon, head back to the lodge for lunch. Afterward, you'll go on a trip in a dugout canoe to see some more local wildlife. Photographers and naturalists will love spotting Amazonian species around the water, so don't forget your camera. Relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery while observing tropical birds, as well as an array of flycatchers and Gray-necked Wood-Rails.

On the way back, disembark at the remains of the Fitzcarrald steamboat, where you'll learn about its history and how it became part of the award-winning film "Fitzcarraldo."

Day 6: Arriving in Cusco: Puerto Maldonado - Cusco

Cusco from the Sacsayhuamán ruins
Cusco from the Sacsayhuamán ruins

In the morning, transfer to the Puerto Maldonado airport for your 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, which was once located on the same spot.    

Remember that you'll be 11,000 feet 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 nice, 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 dinner 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 7: Cusco City Tour

Inca ruins at Sacsayhuaman
Inca ruins at Sacsayhuaman

Today's tour will begin at the local San Pedro Market. Locals shop here everyday to stock up on produce and groceries: the market is located indoors and includes many different food stalls and vendors. Be sure to try a fresh fruit smoothie, a perfectly refreshing treat.

From the market, you'll head to the most important temple of the Inca Empire, the Sun Temple, known as Qoricancha. Here, you can observe detailed and intact architecture, and within the temple, you will see smaller temples dedicated to the moon, rainbow, stars, lightning, and thunder, among others.

From Qoricancha, you will walk to an important religious site called Sacsayhuaman, which features immense stones. Although the site was religious, the Spanish considered it a military fortress because of its location and the way it was built. After your tour, head back to your hotel for some rest.

Day 8: Sacred Valley Tour: Cusco - Chinchero - Ollantaytambo

Maras Salt Flats
Maras Salt Flats

Today, 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 9: Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: Ollantaytambo - Km 104 - Aguas Calientes

The Inca ruins of Winay Wayna
The Inca ruins of Winay Wayna

Early in the morning, take the train from Ollantaytambo to where the short Inca Trail starts. By train, you'll see how the valley turns into a canyon and the scenery begins to alter as the cloud forests appear on the approach to Machu Picchu. Disembark the train 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 there, ascend for three hours to the ruins of Wiñay Wayna, an ancient rest area for travelers on the Inca trail. Stop to enjoy a picnic 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. You won't be exploring the ruins today: it will be getting dark. After passing through the Sun Gate, 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: 8964 ft                     
Minimum Altitude: 6850 ft
Distance Traveled: 6.67 mi (to Inti Punku)  
Approximate Walking Time: seven hours

Day 10: 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 of 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 11: Rainbow Mountain (Mount Vinicunca) Hike

Rainbow Mountain
Rainbow Mountain

Today begins with an early pick-up from your hotel in Cusco for the 3.5-hour drive to the start of the trek. When you reach the trailhead, enjoy breakfast before starting the hike. After breakfast, begin the hike from Chillca, at 12,139 ft elevation. From here, it will be a four-hour uphill hike to reach the famous Rainbow Mountain.

Along the way, enjoy amazing views of the Andes, glacial peaks, red mountains, and rocky hills, along with llamas and alpacas grazing along the valley. Once you arrive at the top of Rainbow Mountain, you will have 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, descend back to the car for the drive back to the hotel in Cusco. 

Day 12: Fly from Cusco to Lima, Depart Peru

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 catch your flight back to Lima and then transfer to your international departure. Alternatively, stay and extend your time in Peru— there's so much to see and explore.

Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Oct 24, 2019