On this 10-day itinerary, get a taste of Peru's metropolitan capital Lima, then head south to to Nazca for an aerial view of the world-famous geoglyphs, and to Paracas for a marine wildlife tour. Afterwards, travel to Cusco, ancient center of the Inca Empire, and explore the beautiful surroundings of the Andes in the Sacred Valley, visiting pretty, historic towns like Ollantaytambo and tackling the Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. End your trip by visiting one of Peru's geological wonders, Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain.

Highlights

  • Try unlocking the mysteries of the vast, ancient Nazca Lines
  • Experience the wildlife-rich Ballestas Islands by boat
  • Explore the historic sights of Cusco and the Sacred Valley
  • Trek the Short Inca Trail to the storied Inca citadel of Machu Picchu
  • Hike to the geological marvel of Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Lima - Bienvenidos! Lima
Day 2 Arrive in Paracas & Nazca Lines Flight Paracas
Day 3 Ballestas Islands & Paracas National Reserve Tour Paracas
Day 4 Transfer to Lima, Fly to Cusco Cusco
Day 5 Sacred Valley Tour of Pisac, Ollantaytambo & Chinchero: Hiking to Inca Sites Cusco
Day 6 Moray & Maras Salt Mines Tour Cusco
Day 7 Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: Cusco-Ollantaytambo-Km 104-Aguas Calientes Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town)
Day 8 Explore Machu Picchu & Back 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
Lima coastline in the evening

¡Bienvenidos! Welcome to Lima, Peru's largest city and central metropolitan hub, and home to one third of the country's population.

Upon your arrival at Lima Airport, you will be welcomed and taken to your hotel in the neighborhoods of either Miraflores or San Isidro. You will have the remainder of the day free to relax and get acquainted with the city at your own pace.

Depending on your arrival time, suggestions to make the most of your day in Lima 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, Plaza Mayor. Stroll over to the 16th-century cathedral, which took 80 years to construct and was built in the grandiose style of the Spanish Empire. And be sure to visit Casa Aliaga, a colonial mansion granted by conquistador leader Francisco Pizarro to Jerónimo de Aliaga, one of his captains, in 1535. This is the one of Lima's best-preserved houses from that era, and the only one still belonging to the same family!
  • Browse the Larco Museum of pre-Columbian art, a splendid privately-owned museum in Pueblo Libre and 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 along the cliff tops in Miraflores, heading to the Parque del Amor or 'Love Park' where you can admire a huge kissing statue and beautiful mosaic walls. The walk, known as the "Malecón" runs along the high and dramatic cliffs of Chorrillos and is a perfect place to watch sunset dip over the Pacific. 
  • Enjoy a drink or meal in Miraflores at the neighborhood's great and lively selection of highly-regarded bars and restaurants. See here for a list of the best places to eat in Lima.

Day 2: Transfer to Paracas (El Chaco) & Nazca Lines Flight

One of the epic geoglyphs etched in the desert at the Nazca Lines

Today, in the morning, you will be taken to the bus station for the 3-hour ride to Paracas (El Chaco). This bustling settlement is the gateway to the Paracas National Reserve, one of Peru's most important marine reserves, and you will get the chance to further discover this wildlife haven tomorrow, but there are also many other attractions in this area.

After you have checked in to your hotel, in the afternoon you will head to the Pisco aerodrome in order to take a 90-minute flight to view the sprawling Nazca Lines. These world-famous geoglyphs are an epic series of vast line drawings in the desert. These massive images, the longest of which are 1,200 ft (370 m), vary from geometric shapes to figures of animals and people. Due to the stable environment of the Nazca desert, these geoglyphs—which were created by removing the top layer of iron-oxide coated pebbles to reveal the light-colored clay underneath—have been remarkably well preserved. Their exact origins, however, are subject to much speculation. It is necessary to take a flight to truly appreciate this incredible sight due to the scale of the site - which can only be properly seen from the air. 

You will get a chance to see many of the most famous geoglyphs on your flight, including those in the shapes of a hummingbird, dog, tree, whale, lizard, and more. 

After you land, it is time to return to your hotel to relax or to explore the town of Paracas (El Chaco).

Day 3: Ballestas Islands & Paracas National Reserve

Wildlife-watching fun at the Islas Ballestas

Today you will get an early start to board your speedboat trip to the Ballestas Islands, also known as the little Galapagos because of the great variety of marine wildlife that inhabits them.

On the route out, your boat will stop to observe the Paracas Candelabra, a prehistoric geoglyph that dates back to 200 BC, thus pre-dating the Inca Empire by some 1600 years. Dug several feet into the ground, this 595 ft (181 m) tall motif can be seen 12 miles (19.3 km) out at sea, and might have served as a beacon to sailors. You then continue to the Ballestas themselves. This group of small rocky islands provide vital nesting grounds for marine birds like the guanay guano bird and the distinctive blue-footed booby. The place is also home to seals and sea lions and Humboldt penguins, which live along the Pacific coast of Chile and Peru.  You will get to explore caves and rock formations that have been carved by the sea, wind and time, besides observing the marine fauna.  

Your tour will carry on with a trip to the stunning coastal desert of the Paracas National Reserve, considered one of the largest and most important marine reserves in Peru. The reserve hosts more than 200 species of birds and a wide variety of marine species, some of which you will likely spot on your tour, but also harbors a fascinating prehistoric human past, which you will discover more about as well.

After your wildlife-watching trip, you will return to your hotel.

Day 4: Transfer to Lima & Fly to Cusco

Cusco by night

Today, in the morning, you will be transferred to the bus station for your 3-4-hour trip back to Lima in order to take your transfer to Lima Airport for your flight to Cusco. Once in Cusco, you will be welcomed and transferred to your hotel, and have the rest of the day to spend at your leisure.

Remember that Cusco lies at 11,000 feet (3000 meters) above sea level, so take it easy and remember to drink lots of water!

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, the plaza 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, Cusco is one of Peru's most cosmopolitan destinations, and full of museums, galleries and historic sights. Other suggestions for activities today (and over the subsequent days you will spend time here) include:

  • Visiting 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.
  • Walking 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. 
  • Discovering 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.
  • Taking a walk uphill from the Plaza de Armas to the district of San Blas, one of the city’s most attractive areas. Here are 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.
  • Experiencing 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.
  • Eating lunch (and perhaps dinner too!) at a local Peruvian restaurant to sample the distinctive local flavors and cooking techniques of the Peruvian Andes.

Day 5: Sacred Valley Tour of Pisac, Ollantaytambo & Chinchero: Hiking to Inca Sites

Inca terraces flanking the sides of the beautiful Sacred Valley

Today, you will take a day trip from Cusco to explore the heart of the Sacred Valley. Your first stop 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 will 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, enjoying 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.

After this, you will head to Chinchero, a small but comely rustic Andean town where you will get to explore the ruins before making your way back to Cusco.

In gastronomic hotspot Cusco, a fantastic selection of places to eat and drink await. Sample another of these (or more than one!) independently this evening.

Day 6: Moray Terraces & Maras Salt Mines Tour

Maras Salt Flats
Maras Salt Flats

This morning, you'll depart on a day trip to a different region of the Sacred Valley. 

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 amphith

This morning, you'll depart on a day trip to a different region of the Sacred Valley. 

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, strikingly carved into the steep mountainside over a millennium ago.

Finally, after seeing these two incredible ancient sights, return to Cusco and have the rest of the day to rest or further explore the city. Do not pass over an opportunity to sample another of the city's wonderful places to eat this evening: you will need to fuel up before tomorrow's hike!

Day 7: Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: Cusco-Ollantaytambo-Km 104-Aguas Calientes

Hiking along the Short Inca Trail

Today, after breakfast, you will be picked up from your hotel and transferred to Ollantaytambo train station in readiness for hiking along the Short Inca Trail towards Machu Picchu. At Ollantaytambo, your train will take you to the trailhead at Km 104 where the Short Inca Trail begins.

You will now begin hiking the trail, appreciating the scenery of the valley as it gets more dramatic and becomes a canyon. The first archeological site you will visit on your hike is Chachabamba: a beautifully situated and especially well-preserved construction likely used for religious purposes and as a gatekeeping point for this entrance to Machu Picchu. 

From here, you will ascend for three hours to the ruins of Wiñay Wayna at 8,964 ft (2732 m). This site was an ancient rest area for travelers on the Inca trail and you too will stop here to relax and enjoy your packed lunch surrounded by superb mountain views.

The trail then becomes gentler and continues through semi-tropical cloud forest to Intipunku (the Sun Gate) at which you will arrive at around 3 pm. Here, you will get to enjoy your first panoramic views of Machu Picchu. You will descend for 30 minutes towards Machu Picchu citadel where there will be time for a short break and, of course, opportunity for photos.

Afterwards you will take the bus down to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town) and check into your hotel to rest in anticipation of your visit to Machu Picchu tomorrow!

Maximum Altitude: 8964 ft (2,732 m)                   
Walk Distance: 6.67 miles (10.79 km) 
Walk Time: 7 hours

Day 8: Explore Machu Picchu & Return to Cusco

The beautiful mountain-backed ruins of Machu Picchu citadel

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.

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 of Machu Picchu 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

Hiker at 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 south, it could be time to toast your trip by heading to one of the many atmospheric places to eat and drink 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: Fly from Cusco to Lima, Depart Peru

Andean children in traditional dress

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 and then connect to your international departure.

¡Buen viaje! Have a good trip!

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