From Lima to the Nazca Lines to iconic Machu Picchu, this 9-day adventure brings you to Peru's cultural and historic highlights. Start in the metropolitan city of Lima, then head south to Paracas. See the massive Nazca Lines by airplane tour and try your hand at sand boarding on the nearby sand dunes. Explore Cusco and the Sacred Valley, visiting ancient Inca ruins and bustling textile markets, and experiencing local culture. End with a visit to the famed 15th-century imperial Machu Picchu ruins located high in the Amazonian cloud forest.

Highlights

  • Get an aerial view of some of the world's most impressive geoglyphs
  • Try your hand at sand boarding and ATV riding
  • Explore Cusco's ancient heritage and modern culture
  • Spend a day touring the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Lima Lima
Day 2 Nazca Lines & Huacachina Adventure Paracas
Day 3 Free day in Lima: Paracas to Lima Lima
Day 4 Arrival in Cusco, Inca Ruins Tour Cusco
Day 5 Sacred Valley Tour: Cusco - Chinchero - Ollantaytambo Ollantaytambo
Day 6 ATV in the Valley & Train to Aguas Calientes Aguas Calientes
Day 7 Machu Picchu Excursion: Aguas Calientes & Machu Picchu Aguas Calientes
Day 8 Train to Cusco: Exploring San Blas & San Pedro Cusco
Day 9 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: Nazca Lines & Huacachina Adventure

Aerial view of the Nazca Lines
Aerial view of the Nazca Lines

Your day begins with a 6:30 AM pick up from your hotel in Lima, followed by a scenic 4-hour drive along the coast south to the seaside town of Paracas. After arriving, transfer to the nearby airport in Pisco. From here you will take a 90-minute flight south aboard a 12-passenger Cessna Grand Caravan to view the sprawling Nazca Lines. You will get a chance to see many of the most famous geoglyphs, including the hummingbird, dog, tree, whale, lizard, and more. 

These massive images, the longest of which are  1,200 ft (370 m), vary from geometric lines 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.  

After the flight head to Huacachina for an adventure in the desert sand dunes. Hop on a sandboard to surf down the larger dunes. 

Return to Paracas for the night.

Day 3: Lima Free Day - History and Museums: Paracas to Lima

The romantic neighborhood of Miraflores at sunset
The romantic neighborhood of Miraflores at sunset

After breakfast, transfer from Paracas back to Lima. Take the rest of today to explore Lima's art, architecture, and history at your leisure. Head to some of Lima's best museums, stretch your legs, and grab a bite to eat in one of the many award-winning restaurants.

Take a ramble along the Miraflores clifftops with their lovely landscaped parks and slot in an afternoon of culture with visits to either the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo (Museum of Contemporary art) or the restored pyramid of Huaca Pucllana, a monument to the pre-Inca lima culture bizarrely jutting up in the midst of leafy Miraflores.

Allow a half day at least for exploring central Lima. Focus your explorations on the impressive Plaza Mayor. Here the impressive Cathedral contains the remains of city founder Francisco Pizarro, whilst striking facades assail you from every angle: the Moorish balconies of Palacio Arzobispal and the beautiful baroque Palacio de Gobierno, home of Peru's President. Other architectural highlights include the city's most captivating church, the Iglesia de Santo Domingo.

Next, head to the exquisite Museo Larco for a spellbinding introduction to all of Peru's ancient cultures, presented wonderfully and told through some intriguing ceramics and artifacts.

End the day by enjoying a delicious dinner at one of Lima's best restaurants, then head out for a nightcap at one of the city's celebrated cocktail bars.

Day 4: Arrival in Cusco, Inca Ruins Tour

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. After settling in, head out for your day tour of 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.
  • 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. 
  • 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 5: Sacred Valley Tour: Cusco - Chinchero - Ollantaytambo

Maras Salt Flats
Maras Salt Flats

This morning you will depart from your hotel in Cusco and travel to the town of Chinchero, which the Inca believed to be the birthplace of the rainbow. In this typical Andean village you can see extensive Inca terracing and some pretty colonial-era churches. The town is also known for its weaving studios – you'll have a chance to see the weavers producing handmade products.

From Chinchero you'll continue to Moray, an incredible complex of stone amphitheaters developed by the Inca. While the exact reason for the construction of this site remains unknown, historians believe the Inca constructed in order to experiment with crop production in different micro-climates.  

From Moray, you will walk through farmlands (or take a bus if you prefer) to Salineras, an incredible patchwork of stone pools and paths developed by the Inca as a means to harvest salt. Spend the night in Ollantaytambo, a historic town in the Sacred Valley, set on the Urubamba River, overlooked by massive stone fortresses. You'll have a chance to explore this charming village, its cobbled streets, and pretty central plazas.

Day 6: ATV in the Valley & Train to Aguas Calientes

Train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes
Train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes

Tap into your adventurous side today with an exhilarating ATV ride through the valley. After, take the scenic train to Aguas Calientes, the base for most Machu Picchu adventures. The ride takes you through a valley and into the Urubamba River canyon, then into the cloud forest as you near the Machu Picchu sanctuary. 

Aguas Calientes contains the train station, a craft market, restaurants, and a variety of hotels for those who prefer to spend the night at the foot of the mountain and climb it early in the day. Explore the small town and spend some time relaxing in the hot springs before settling in ahead of your exciting day tomorrow.

Day 7: Machu Picchu Excursion: Aguas Calientes & Machu Picchu

Agricultural terraces surrounding the ruins
Agricultural terraces surrounding the ruins

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 7,970 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 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 and relax in the hot springs.

Day 8: Train to Cusco: Exploring San Blas & San Pedro

Picturesque San Blas
Picturesque San Blas

In the morning, take the train back to Cusco. Today is a free day to explore. Start by visting San Blas, an old bohemian quarter famous for its picturesque white walls, blue doors, and creative artisan community.

For lunch, head to the legendary Mercado Central de San Pedro, a large and diverse market famous for its mouth-watering juices, home-style meals, medicinal herb stalls, and rows of various meats, loaves of bread, vegetables, and other necessities.

Day 9: 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!

Kristy
Written by Kristy T, updated Mar 18, 2019