If you have an adventurer's heart, this 8-day excursion of Peru's rivers and ruins is perfect for you. Start in Lima and enjoy a diverse mix of architecture, world-renowned restaurants, and eclectic neighborhoods. Continue to Cusco—the capital of the ancient Inca empire—and explore narrow cobblestone streets, colorful markets, and the monolithic ruins left by the Killke and Inca. Spend three days rafting Class III and IV rapids and camping on remote canyon beaches. Explore the living Inca village of Ollantaytambo and the Machu Picchu ruins—the iconic 15th-century royal Inca citadel.

Highlights

  • Explore metropolitan Lima's eclectic neighborhoods and markets 
  • Visit the famed 15th-century Machu Picchu ruins 
  • Spend three days rafting exciting rapids in remote canyons 
  • Hike the Inca trail to see ancient ruins 
  • Experience local culture in the imperial Inca city of Cusco

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Lima Lima
Day 2 Arrival in Cusco, Exploring the City Cusco
Day 3 River Rafting Day 1/3: Black Canyon—Rocoto Bridge—Apurimac River  
Day 4 River Rafting Day 2/3: Encountering Santo Tomás River  
Day 5 River Rafting Day 3/3: Huallpachaca Bridge—Cusco Cusco
Day 6 Half Day Hike: Chinchero—Urquillos—Ollantaytambo Ollantaytambo
Day 7 Machu Picchu Excursion Cusco
Day 8 Departure  

Day 1: Arrival in Lima

The Plaza Mayor in the historic center is a great place to people watch and see the local government buildings 
The Plaza Mayor in the historic center is a great place to people watch and see the local government buildings 

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: Arrival in Cusco, Exploring the City

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.
  • 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 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: River Rafting Day 1/3: Black Canyon—Rocoto Bridge—Apurimac River

Tap into your adventurous side today with some heart-pounding rapid descents
Tap into your adventurous side today with some heart-pounding rapid descents

Today is the first day of your rafting trip. Your guide will collect you from the hotel early in the morning before driving you to the Apurimac River canyon, located at 7300 ft (2,200 m). The drive there is spectacular, winding through open grassy sierra and dry, scrubby hills. 

Your destination is Rocoto, the sandy beach which serves as the launch point for the river trip. Your English-speaking guides will provide you with all the proper equipment and deliver a detailed safety briefing. 

Enjoy a packed lunch before embarking on the trip. Once on the water, you will encounter several Class III rapids, as well as ancient Inca bridges and towering waterfalls. Let yourself fall into the rhythms of the river—the sounds of the birds, the rushing rapids, and the powerful water below your boat. Stop for the night at a beach campsite and relax with a delicious meal around a campfire. End the night by stargazing in the crisp and cool mountain air. 

Accommodation: Camping

Day 4: River Rafting Day 2/3: Encountering Santo Tomás River

Once the Santo Tomás tributary joins with the main river flow, you will encounter larger rapids
Once the Santo Tomás tributary joins with the main river flow, you will encounter larger rapids

Begin your morning with an early wake-up call, followed by a filling breakfast of fruit salad, oats, yogurt, and coffee and tea. 

After breakfast, go for a walk with your guide near the camp to admire the local plants and learn about their historic medicinal uses. 

Back on the river, you will experience more Class III rapids before stopping to explore a small creek and the magnificent rock formations of the Black Canyon

In the afternoon you will encounter the Santo Tomás tributary river, which joins the main flow and creates several Class IV rapids. Pass by several hanging bridges and keep an eye out for local wildlife—ducks, foxes, Andean gulls, and condors are all local residents of this river. 

Camp tonight on a sandy beach underneath the stars of the Southern Hemisphere. 

Accommodation: Camping

Day 5: River Rafting Day 3/3: Huallpachaca Bridge—Cusco

As the river flow becomes calmer, take a chance to look up and spot birds nesting on the rocks above you
As the river flow becomes calmer, take a chance to look up and spot birds nesting on the rocks above you

After another early morning followed by a filling breakfast, you are back on the river for your third day of rafting. Today you cross the most intense Class IV rapids yet, such as the infamous "Trinchera", "El Encuentro", and the humorously named "The Other Right." 

You'll have more time to explore waterfalls, remote beaches, and creeks that flow into the river from the surrounding hills. Arrive at Puente Walpachaca around noon and break for lunch on the beach, then depart for the four-hour drive back to Cusco, where you'll spend the night at a local hotel.

Day 6: Half Day Hike: Chinchero—Urquillos—Ollantaytambo

The terraced gardens served two functions: to optimize limited growing space and to prevent landslides 
The terraced gardens served two functions: to optimize limited growing space and to prevent landslides 

Your morning today begins half an hour from Cusco in the small town of Chinchero, famous for its textiles and weaving arts. You will join Paulino and his family who will demonstrate the complex process of using local plants and minerals to clean and dye the wool, spinning the wool, and weaving it on a loom. Afterward, enjoy a hot coca tea with Paulino's family before exploring the rest of Chinchero. 

Visit the central plaza and explore the rustic church, then continue onto the ancient Inca trail that leads to Urquillos, located below you in the Sacred Valley. The hike is an enjoyable and easy 1.8 miles (3 km)—mostly downhill on a well-paved rock trail, with spectacular views of the valley below and the snow-capped mountains in the background. 

As you descend the surrounding area becomes more populated, and small tile-roofed houses and corn fields dot the landscape. Your walk finishes in the central plaza of Urquillos, where you will find private transportation to nearby Ollantaytambo

Once an Incan city, the modern-day small town of Ollantaytambo is surrounded by huge mountains on all sides. In the afternoon, hike up to the Sun Gate to see views of the spectacular 19,000-foot-tall (5,900 m) Willka Weqe Mountain (Mt. Veronica) and its huge glaciers. Alternately, explore the tranquil plaza and surrounding ruins and Inca Fortress, which offer an unparalleled view into the lives of the Inca. 

Maximum altitude: 12,000 ft    (3,700 m)                            
Minimum altitude: 9,514 ft (2,900 m)
Distance traveled: 2 miles (3 km)
Approximate walking time: 4 hours 
Difficulty: Moderate

Day 7: Machu Picchu Excursion

The agricultural terraces surrounding the ruins were brilliantly designed to optimize water use
The agricultural terraces surrounding the ruins were brilliantly designed to optimize water use

After breakfast, take the local 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. Stop here for lunch before taking the 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 two-hour tour, take the bus back to Aguas Calientes to connect to your train to Ollantaytambo and your connecting transfer to Cusco.

Day 8: Departure

There are a variety of historical and cultural museums in Cusco — it's hard to choose which ones to see!
There are a variety of historical and cultural museums in Cusco — it's hard to choose which ones to see!

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. Alternatively, stay and extend your time in Peru — there's so much to see and explore. ¡Buen viaje!

Hayley
Written by Hayley W, updated Mar 18, 2019