This three-week itinerary is ideal for avid hikers looking for a unique adventure. Explore the ancient Incan capital of Cusco before embarking on the 5-day Ausangate trek, a beautiful and off the beaten path trek to Machu Picchu. During the trek, you’ll discover the beauty and rugged highlands of the Ausangate region, hike past glacial lakes, and wander amidst herds of alpacas. After completing the trek, venture to Machu Picchu citadel to explore Peru's most iconic ruins. Next, head out to explore the colonial city of Arequipa, then travel to Colca Canyon, one of the world's deepest canyons. After trekking through the canyon, depart for Lake Titicaca to spend a few days hiking, kayaking, and exploring the region's rich history, culture, and natural beauty. 

Highlights

  • Challenge yourself on the Ausangate Trek to Machu Picchu
  • Spend a day exploring the famed 15th-century Machu Picchu ruins
  • See Andean Condors soaring overhead as you hike through one of the world's deepest canyons
  • Explore the culture, history, and beauty of Lake Titicaca

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Lima Lima
Day 2 Arrival in Cusco, Exploring the City Cusco
Day 3 Cusco City Tour Cusco
Day 4 Ausangate Trek Day 1/5: Cusco - Tinqui - Upis Upis
Day 5 Ausangate Trek Day 2/5: Upis to Jatun Pucacocha Jatun Pucacocha
Day 6 Ausangate Trek Day 3/5: Jatun Pucacocha to Ausangate Base Camp Ausangate Base Camp
Day 7 Ausangate Trek Day 4/5: Ausangate Base Camp to Pacchanta Pacchanta
Day 8 Ausangate Trek Day 5/5: Pacchanta - Tinqui - Aguas Calientes Aguas Calientes
Day 9 Machu Picchu Excursion: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu - Ollantaytambo Ollantaytambo
Day 10 Maras & Moray Tour Ollantaytambo
Day 11 Sacred Valley Tour: Ollantaytambo - Pisac - Awanakancha - Cusco Cusco
Day 12 Arrival in Arequipa & Arequipa City Tour: Cusco - Arequipa Arequipa
Day 13 Colca Canyon Trek Day 1/4: Arequipa - Chivay - Cabanaconde - Llahuar Llahuar
Day 14 Colca Canyon Trek Day 2/4: Llahuar to Fure Fure
Day 15 Colca Canyon Trek Day 3/4: Fure to Sangalle Oasis Sangalle
Day 16 Colca Canyon Trek Day 4/4: Sangalle - Cabanaconde Cabanaconde
Day 17 Arriving in Puno: Cabanaconde - Puno Puno
Day 18 Lake Titicaca Kayaking & Hiking: Puno - Llachon - Amantani Amanti Island
Day 19 Lake Titicaca Kayaking & Hiking: Amantani to Taquile Taquile Island
Day 20 Lake Titicaca: Taquile - Uros Floating Islands - Puno Puno
Day 21 Departing Puno  

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: Arrival in Cusco, Exploring the City

Cusco from the Sacsayhuamán ruins
Cusco from the Sacsayhuamán ruins

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: 

  • 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 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: 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 4: Ausangate Trek Day 1/5: Cusco - Tinqui - Upis

The mountainous region around Ausangate
The mountainous region around Ausangate

You'll depart from your hotel in Cusco early this morning for a scenic 3-hour drive to the village of Tinqui (3,800 m), located at the base of the Bilcanota mountain range. Along the way, you'll observe local farmers and herders with their alpaca flocks. In Tinqui, you'll meet your crew of mules and their handlers, and start your trek by heading towards your campsite in Upis (4,400 m). 

The first day of trekking is relatively smooth and passes through hilly grasslands where you may encounter vizcachas (chinchilla-like rodents), condors, and foxes. Once you arrive in Upis, you will be rewarded with views of the Ausangate glaciers rising above the site. End the day with a refreshing soak in the nearby hot springs.

Accommodation: Camping

Day 5: Ausangate Trek Day 2/5: Upis to Jatun Pucacocha

A herd of llamas in front of Ausangate mountain
A herd of llamas in front of Ausangate mountain

Get ready for a day of more intense trekking. From your campsite in Upis, you will climb through the Arapa pass (4,800 m) before reaching Uchuy Pucacocha (“little red lake”), one of the several dazzling mountain lakes in the region. Marvel at its waterfalls, and continue onwards to Jatun Pucacocha (“big red lake”), where you will camp along its shores.

Accommodation: Camping

Day 6: Ausangate Trek Day 3/5: Jatun Pucacocha to Ausangate Base Camp

A lone llama in front of the Ausangate peak
A lone llama in front of the Ausangate peak

After a hearty breakfast in Jatun Pucacocha, you'll start your journey to Ausangate Base Camp. You will cross two different passes today. The Apuchata pass (4,900 m) comes first, followed by a descent to the turquoise Laguna Ausangate Q'ocha

After taking some time to rest and enjoy the scenery, you will continue up Palomani pass. At 5,200 m, this is the highest pass of the trek. The ascent is challenging and steep, but well worth it. Upon reaching the summit, you'll be treated to spectacular views of the snowcapped peaks of Tres Picos and Puka Punta.

Now, you'll start the descent toward Ausangate Base Camp (4,510 m). Here, amidst the highlands meadows and icy moraines, you'll set up camp for the night. 

Accommodation: Camping

Day 7: Ausangate Trek Day 4/5: Ausangate Base Camp to Pacchanta

Sun setting over Ausangate
Sun setting over Ausangate

The last day of pass crossing begins with a tranquil hike from Ausangate Base Camp to Lake Ticllacocha. Along the way, more vizcachas and perhaps even rare camel-like vicuñas may be roaming the green grasses of the valley.

Then, rise up for your final challenge: Q'ampa pass (5,050 m). You'll see some strikingly beautiful glaciers as you tread over the snowy scree to summit the pass. Once you reach the top, you can see the towering Apu Salkantay.

After descending the pass, you'll set up camp for the last time at Pacchanta (4,360 m), and rest in the soothing waters of the site’s hot springs.

Accommodation
: Camping

Day 8: Ausangate Trek Day 5/5: Pacchanta - Tinqui - Aguas Calientes

Ausangate mountain shrouded in clouds
Ausangate mountain shrouded in clouds

This morning, enjoy an easy 3 to 4-hour hike downhill from Pacchanta back to the village of Tinqui (4,237 m) where you will have lunch. After lunch, bid farewell to the muleteers, and transfer to Ollantaytambo and catch the train to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu.

Upon arrival in Aguas Calientes, transfer to your hotel for some well-deserved rest.

Day 9: Machu Picchu Excursion: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu - Ollantaytambo

View of Machu Picchu citadel from Machu Picchu Mountain
View of Machu Picchu citadel from Machu Picchu Mountain

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 your hotel and enjoy a relaxing evening in the Sacred Valley.

Day 10: Maras & Moray Tour

Terraces at Moray
Terraces at Moray

This morning, you'll depart from your hotel in Ollantaytambo for your journey to Moray. Along the way, you'll enjoy views of the Andes' snow-capped peaks, lush yellow fields of wheat, and small villages. Upon arrival in Moray, you'll see the three famous amphitheater-like terraces made by the Incas. These terraces are carved deep into the earth in the shape of a bowl. It is believed that the Incas once used these terraces as agricultural laboratories to determine the optimal conditions for growing crops.

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 carved into the mountainside, that are filled daily by a stream of water. This spectacular area is perfect for you if you wish to see something different than the ruins.

After exploring Maras, return to Ollantaytambo for the evening.

Day 11: Sacred Valley Tour: Ollantaytambo - Pisac - Awanakancha - Cusco

Local vendors in Pisac
Local vendors in Pisac

You will be picked up from your hotel in Ollantaytambo for another day of adventures in the Sacred Valley.

First, you will head to one of the most important archaeological sites in the region, Pisac, to see Inca burial grounds, ancient irrigation systems, and religious centers. Upon arriving in Pisac, visit its ruins and terraces, then head down the valley to the visit the town. Here, you'll walk through the cobblestoned streets to the plaza to see locals selling produce and souvenirs in their stands. You will have some free time to browse and do some shopping.

After exploring Pisac, travel to the Awanakancha Llama Sanctuary where you will see llamas, alpacas, and a weaving demonstration. After, make your way back to Cusco for a relaxing evening.

Day 12: Arrival in Arequipa & Arequipa City Tour: Cusco - Arequipa

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

This morning you will be transferred to the Cusco 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 13: Colca Canyon Trek Day 1/4: Arequipa - Chivay - Cabanaconde - Llahuar

Condors flying over Colca Canyon
Condors flying over Colca Canyon

Get an early start for your 3 am pick up from your hotel in Arequipa. After driving through scenic mountain scenery, you'll arrive at Cruz del Condor by 10 am. You'll have the chance to take a break and walk to a viewpoint to see condors in flight. You'll continue driving for a couple of hours as you take in views of the canyon on your way to Cabanaconde. From the mountain town of Cabanaconde, you will begin your trek at the trailhead.

Your hike will take you to spectacular vantage points of the Colca Canyon and also to the spectacular Oruro waterfalls. After a 5-hour trek, you will arrive at Llahuar, a typical village perched at 2,100 meters. In the afternoon, relax in the village's thermal baths, or take advantage of the surrounding alpine lakes and go fishing at sunset. After dinner, rest in camping tents.

Accommodation: Camping

Day 14: Colca Canyon Trek Day 2/4: Llahuar to Fure

Terraces leading down into the Colca Canyon
Terraces leading down into the Colca Canyon

After breakfast, you'll begin a 4-hour trek towards Fure where you'll pass by the small town of Llatica. Once you arrive at Fure (2,800 m), you'll stop for lunch. In the afternoon, it's another 2.5 hours of hiking to the base of the Oruro waterfalls. This is a great place for photos and a quick rest. After dinner, you'll spend the night in camping tents.

Accommodation: Camping

Day 15: Colca Canyon Trek Day 3/4: Fure to Sangalle Oasis

Sangalle Oasis in Colca Canyon
Sangalle Oasis in Colca Canyon

After breakfast, you'll begin a trek to Sangalle, known as "the Oasis". Along the way, you'll have the chance to stop and look at the local plants with your guide and learn more about Andean vegetation. You'll arrive at Sangalle, a place built by a small community of Andean farmers, to have lunch.

After lunch, enjoy a refreshing dip in the natural swimming pools. The temperature in the pools is around 64ºF (18ºC). After a relaxing afternoon, take a walk at sunset while dinner is prepared for you. Camp overnight in tents to experience Andean mountain life.

Accommodation: Camping

Day 16: Colca Canyon Trek Day 4/4: Sangalle - Cabanaconde

Scenery near Cabana Conde
Scenery near Cabana Conde

Today, you'll leave from Sangalle to start your ascent to Cabanaconde. Today is your most challenging day of hiking because you'll be following a steep zigzag path that takes approximately 3 hours to climb. It is a long but rewarding journey. Once you reach the lookout mountain peak, begin walking down a steep trail that leads you to the town of Cabanaconde.

Upon arrival in Cabanaconde, take the opportunity to relax and take in the beautiful scenery - you've earned it!

Day 17: Arriving in Puno: Cabanaconde - Puno

Lake Titicaca is the largest high-elevation lake in the world
Lake Titicaca is the largest high-elevation lake in the world

This morning, we'll hop on a bus for our journey to your Puno hotel. Puno is located about 6 hours from Colca Canyon by car, and you will be able to enjoy spectacular views of the Andes on the way.

Upon arrival, take the rest of the day to relax and take in the beautiful views of Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America. Although many bodies of water exist at higher elevations, Lake Titicaca's surface elevation of 12,507 ft (3,812 m) makes it the highest lake in the world that is navigatable by large commercial vessels.

Lake Titicaca is a hotbed of ecological diversity, archaeological ruins, tourism, and modern-day farming communities. The coastline outside of Puro is home to the Uros people, who live on floating reed islands made from the totora plant, a thick buoyant reed. Totora is used to make everything from homes and boats to the islands nearly half the size of a football field. The Uros people offer guided tours to their homes and sell traditional handicrafts to supplement their traditional hunting and fishing economy. 

Several other ethnic groups, most notably the Quechua and Taquileños, inhabit several of the other larger islands on the lake, the majority of which have no electricity or paved roads. Visitors are welcome to select homes on this island for homestays. 

Photographers and naturalists will enjoy seeing some of the many hundreds of aquatic and bird species, many of which are found nowhere else on earth. 

Be sure to check out some of the town's restaurants and cafes for a fresh and local dining experience.

Day 18: Lake Titicaca Kayaking & Hiking: Puno - Llachon - Amantani

Traveler exploring Inca trails at sunset on Amantani Island
Traveler exploring Inca trails at sunset on Amantani Island

The best way to experience the islands is by kayak: You get to feel the vastness of the lake and connect with it in the same way that people have been doing so for centuries. Your local guide will arrange the transport, kayaking gear, and lead you through the history of the area during the paddling trip, as well as arrange accommodations and meals for you on the islands.

Start your journey in the village of Llachon, a small fishing and farming community on the Capachica Peninsula and a great launch point for kayaking to the islands. The peninsula can be reached overland or by a short motorboat ride from Puno. Leave early (7:00 am) so you have time for breakfast in the village before gearing up for your journey.

From Llachon, it is about a 3-hour paddle (10 km) to Amantani Island. Upon arrival, tie up the kayaks and enjoy a well-deserved rest on the beach. Have a picnic lunch and enjoy a swim if you don’t mind the brisk water temperatures.

From the beach, walk up terraced fields to a small cluster of homes where you’ll spend the night in simple, friendly, family accommodations. After meeting with your host family, feel free to relax and take some time to learn about the local way of life.

In the afternoon, hike to the top of one of the two peaks on the island for magnificent sunset views of the lake from a pre-Incan temple. Return to your host’s home and enjoy a home-cooked dinner of fresh fish and locally-grown vegetables from the terraced gardens.

Day 19: Lake Titicaca Kayaking & Hiking: Amantani to Taquile

View of the coast from Taquile Island
View of the coast from Taquile Island

Enjoy a simple, hearty breakfast with your host family on Amanti Island before you embark on another paddle from to Taquile Island (3 hours, 10km). If you time your trip well, there may be a local festival underway on Taquile.

The local community on Taquile has several annual celebrations that they have been leading for hundreds of years. Colorful costumes, scary masks, and choreographed dancing characterize the festivals and provide a taste of how life is celebrated on the island. Best to check in advance with your local operator if any festivals are scheduled for your visits. 

Upon arrival, travel to your local homestay, and meet with your host family to learn about the local culture and traditions. Before dinner, be sure to hike to the island’s peak for another spectacular sunset view over the Andes.

Day 20: Lake Titicaca: Taquile - Uros Floating Islands - Puno

Explore the famous Uros Islands
Explore the famous Uros Islands

Wake up early on Taquile Island to witness sunrise over the Andes. Enjoy breakfast with your homestay family, then leave the kayaks behind with your guide (who will take them back to Llachon), and take the ferry to the Uros floating islands.

Here, you’ll have a chance to tour the islands with a local guide. The floating islands provide a fascinating glimpse into life on the lake as well as the impact of tourism on cultural heritage, both positive and negative.

After the tour, hop on the ferry to return to Puno. The ferry takes about an hour, and you’ll land in Puno with enough time to explore the narrow cobblestone streets before settling in to your hotel for the night.

Day 21: Departing Puno

View of Puno mountains from Lake Titicaca
View of Puno mountains from Lake Titicaca

Today is your last day in Peru! You will be met at your hotel for a transfer to Juliaca Airport, where you will transfer to your departure flight. ¡Buen viaje!

Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Mar 18, 2019