Lake Titicaca, Machu Picchu, and beyond: this itinerary takes you to Peru's major highlights. Explore metropolitan Lima before heading to Colca Canyon and Lake Titicaca. Then, explore the colorful textile markets of Cusco and small towns of the Sacred Valley, hike the short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and top it off with a day exploring the iconic citadel ruins.

Highlights

  • See Andean Condors soaring over one of the world's deepest canyons
  • Explore the remarkable floating reed islands of Lake Titicaca
  • Walk the Inca Trail for a day, ending at marvelous Machu Picchu
  • Spend a day exploring the famed 15th-century Machu Picchu ruins

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Lima Lima
Day 2 Lima Bike Tour Lima
Day 3 Arrival in Arequipa & Arequipa City Tour Arequipa
Day 4 Colca Canyon Tour: Arequipa - Chivay - Cabanaconde Cabanaconde
Day 5 Colca Canyon & Puno Arrival Puno
Day 6 Lake Titicaca: Uros & Amantani Islands Amantani Island
Day 7 Lake Titicaca: Taquile Island, return to Puno Puno
Day 8 Arriving in Cusco: Puno - Cusco Cusco
Day 9 Cusco City Tour Cusco
Day 10 Sacred Valley Tour: Cusco - Chinchero - Ollantaytambo Ollantaytambo
Day 11 Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: Ollantaytambo - Km 104 - Aguas Calientes Aguas Calientes
Day 12 Machu Picchu Excursion: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu - Cusco Cusco
Day 13 Departing Cusco  

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 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. 
  • 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: Lima Bike Tour

The shaded Bridge of Sighs in Barranco
The shaded Bridge of Sighs in Barranco

Get your cycle on with this two-wheeled journey through the bohemian neighborhoods of Barranco and Chorrillos, and the modern neighborhood of Miraflores! You will explore hidden gems and spectacular views of the coast as you travel through colorful streets, peaceful parks, and lovely biking paths.

Start the adventure in Miraflores and head to Parque Kennedy, an area popular with both locals and tourists. This park is famous for its large population of cats, and visitors take the opportunity to pet the felines and take photographs.

Continue to one of the wide bike paths on Lima's main avenues to get to Miraflores and the quirky Love Park. This romantic cliffside park is full of colorful mosaics and romantic kissing statues. From here, ride along the coast to reach the bohemian district of Barranco, home to many of Lima's artists and creatives. Visit the Puente de los Suspiros—the Bridge of Sighs—where rumor has it visitors are granted a wish for crossing with closed eyes. 

Your ride will take you through 10 miles (16 km) of Lima's most picturesque neighborhoods with lots of stops to take breaks and buy water. Your tour guide will guide you through local history guide you through safe riding paths on this enjoyable and relaxing bike tour.

Day 3: Arrival in Arequipa & Arequipa City Tour

Arequipa's Plaza de Armas
Arequipa's Plaza de Armas

This morning you will be transferred to the airport to catch your flight to Arequipa. Upon arrival in Arequipa, you will be greeted and taken to your hotel to settle in.

In the afternoon, you will start your city tour with an escape to the past, walking through the Monastery Santa Catalina. Then continue the visit toward to the Compañia Church, famous because of its incredible Baroque style and the colorful Cupula of Saint Ignacio. Then head to Arequipa’s Main Square, visiting its peculiar Cathedral with their Neo-renaissance style. After, head towards the traditional district of Yanahuara, with its beautiful plaza and views of the volcanoes Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu. 

After your tour, head back to your hotel in Arequipa for the evening.

Day 4: Colca Canyon Tour: Arequipa - Chivay - Cabanaconde

Start the day early with a filling breakfast at your hotel in Arequipa before setting off on a scenic drive to Colca Canyon. This drive will last around 3 hours and will take you through spectacular landscapes featuring snowcapped volcanoes and quaint Andean villages. 

As the road climbs up to the Reserva Nacional de Salinas y Aguada Blanca, keep your eyes open for wild vicuñas (smaller cousins of the llama) and viscachas (small chinchilla-like rodents). At the highest point of your journey, you’ll reach Patapampa Pass, located at a breathtaking 15,300 feet (4,820 m) above sea level. Here, you'll visit Mirador de Los Andes (Lookout Point of the Andes) in Patapampa. This lookout point offers incredible views of the peaks of the various volcanoes surrounding Arequipa, including the Hualca Hualca, the Sabancaya, and the Ampato. 

Next, descend down into the town of Chivay, where you’ll begin to see pre-Inca agricultural terraces that characterize the landscape of the canyon. Upon arrival in Chivay, you'll stop in the main square to enjoy lunch.

After lunch, ride to the Calera Hot Springs, renowned for the therapeutic effects of its thermal waters. You can either take a dip in the natural baths or just take in the stunning scenery.

In the evening, transfer to your hotel in Cabanaconde to rest.

Day 5: Colca Canyon & Puno Arrival

Mirador Cruz del Condor
Mirador Cruz del Condor

Early this morning, you’ll meet your guide and drive to Mirador Cruz del Condor, one of the best viewpoints over the canyon and home to the famed condors that gracefully soar on the thermal currents. The road leads past picturesque villages and pre-Inca ruins dominated by the Ampato and Hualca glaciers, both visible in the distance. Once you reach Cruz del Condor, you can stand at the viewpoint and gaze into the depths of the canyon, which stretches nearly 4,000 feet below.

You will return to Chivay where you can enjoy lunch and browse the local market before starting the journey by land to your Puno hotel. Puno is located 5-6 hours from Colca Canyon by car, and you will be able to enjoy spectacular views of the Andes on the way.

Puno is at a higher altitude than Arequipa, and if you haven’t already sufficiently acclimatized, it is a good idea to take it easy after arrival.

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Day 6: Lake Titicaca: Uros & Amantani Islands

Totora, a thick reed, is the basis for constructions here
Totora, a thick reed, is the basis for constructions here

Get an early start today for your exploration of Lake Titicaca's vibrant communities. After a 7:30 AM pickup, head to Puno Bay to set sail for the floating reed islands of Uros. The Uros people, who have been constructing reed structures for hundreds of years, offer guided tours to their homes and sell traditional handicrafts to supplement their traditional hunting and fishing economy. These floating islands provide a fascinating glimpse into life on the lake as well as the impact of tourism on cultural heritage. 

After your visit to Uros, continue your journey to the island of Amantani for a delicious homemade lunch. Afterward, stretch your legs on a relaxing hike around the rocky island and enjoy spectacular views of Lake Titicaca. In the evening, join your homestay family for a demonstration of local songs, dances, and traditional clothing.

Day 7: Lake Titicaca: Taquile Island, return to Puno

The mayor of Taquile Island greeting residents
The mayor of Taquile Island greeting residents

In the morning, after a simple but delicious breakfast, depart Amantani and head to Taquile. You will have most of the morning and early afternoon to enjoy this island and exploring its beautiful landscape and communities. 

Grab lunch at a local restaurant—quinoa soup, fresh fish caught in the lake, and vegetables are a typical lunchtime meal in Taquile. This island remained mostly isolated from the outside world until the 1950s, and as a result, the Taquileños follow a very different way of life. On the island, decisions are made communally, there are no cars, and there is very little electricity - just the way the Taquileños like it. Taquile is also famous for the exquisite weavings created by local artists. Traditionally, the men spin the thread, and the women design and weave each piece. You'll have the opportunity to learn about the lives and traditions of the Taquileños and appreciate the stunning views of Lake Titicaca from the island's shores. In the afternoon, head back down the 535 stairs that will lead to the dock to board the boat back to Puno.

Arrive in Puno in mid-afternoon with enough time to explore the port city and enjoy dinner in one of the town's many cafes.

Day 8: Arriving in Cusco: Puno - Cusco

Cusco from the Sacsayhuamán ruins
Cusco from the Sacsayhuamán ruins

In the morning, transfer to the Juliaca 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 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: 

  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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 9: Cusco City Tour

Inca ruins at Sacsayhuaman
Inca ruins at Sacsayhuaman

Today's tour will begin at the local San Pedro Market. The locals shop at this market every day in order to stock up on produce and groceries making this market experience as authentic as Peru gets. The market is located indoors and includes many different food stalls and vendors. Be sure to try their endless selection of fresh fruit smoothies, which are the perfect refreshing treat.

From the market, you will 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 10: 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 11: 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, we will take the train from Ollantaytambo to Km 104 where the short Inca Trail starts. By train, we see how the valley turns into a canyon and the scenery begins to alter as the cloud forests appear on our approach to Machu Picchu. We will disembark the train at Km 104 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 here ascend for 3 hours to the ruins of Wiñay Wayna (2732 m / 8964 ft), an ancient rest area for travelers on the Inca trail. Here, we'll stop to enjoy our delicious boxed 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.

We won't be exploring the ruins today, as it will be getting dark. After passing through the Sun Gate, we'll 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: 2732 m / 8964 ft                     
Minimum Altitude: 2088 m / 6850 ft
Distance Travelled: 10.79 km / 6.67 ml (to Inti Punku)  
Approximate Walking Time: 7 hours

Day 12: 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, meet your driver for your transfer back to Cusco.

Day 13: Departing Cusco

Evening view of Cusco's Plaza de Armas
Evening view of Cusco's Plaza de Armas

This morning, depart your hotel in Aguas Calientes and make your way to the train station for your train to Ollantaytambo. Upon arrival, take some time to explore this ancient town, then transfer to the Cusco Airport for check in to your homeward-bound flight. ¡Buen viaje!

Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Mar 18, 2019