From metropolitan cities and ancient Inca ruins to remote jungle lodges, this 16-day exploration of Peru's history and nature is perfect for the adventurous traveler. Start in Lima, Peru's capital city, then continue to the Amazon rainforest. Spend a few days deep in the Amazon exploring the jungle and seeing rare wildlife. Next, head to the imperial Inca capital of Cusco to explore narrow cobblestone streets and 15th-century archaeological sites. Then, embark on the Salkantay Trek to get some breathtaking views of the Sacred Valley. End your trek at Machu Picchu, and spend a day immersed in the beauty and history of its ancient ruins. Reward your hard work with two relaxing days exploring the villages and historical sights of the Sacred Valley. Finally, head back to Cusco and summit the colorful Rainbow Mountain.

Highlights

  • Explore metropolitan Lima and ancient Cusco
  • Spot fascinating Amazonian wildlife like macaws, cayman, giant river otter, and tapir
  • Challenge yourself on the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu
  • See the famed 15th-century Machu Picchu citadel
  • Summit the colorful Rainbow Mountain

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Lima Lima
Day 2 Lima City & Food Tour Lima
Day 3 Lima - Puerto Maldonado - Corto Maltes Lodge Puerto Maldonado
Day 4 Wildlife Viewing at Tambopata Reserve & Lake Sandoval Puerto Maldonado
Day 5 Native Community Visit Puerto Maldonado
Day 6 Puerto Maldonado - Cusco, Transfer to Hotel Cusco
Day 7 Cusco City Tour Cusco
Day 8 Salkantay Trek Day 1/4: Cusco to Soraypampa Soyrococha
Day 9 Salkantay Trek Day 2/4: Soyrococha to Chaullay Chaullay
Day 10 Salkantay Trek Day 3/4: Chaullay to Lucmabamba Lucmabamba
Day 11 Salkantay Trek Day 4/4: Lucmabamba to Aguas Calientes Aguas Calientes
Day 12 Machu Picchu Excursion: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu - Ollantaytambo Ollantaytambo
Day 13 Maras & Moray Tour: Ollantaytambo - Urubamba Urubamba
Day 14 Sacred Valley Tour: Urubamba - Pisac - Chinchero - Cusco Cusco
Day 15 Rainbow Mountain (Mount Vinicunca) Hike Cusco
Day 16 Departing Cusco  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Lima

¡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 City & Food Tour

Peruvian ceviche
Peruvian ceviche

Spend the day discovering Lima through its food. With a vibrant combination of Indigenous American, African, Asian, and European culinary influences, Lima is one of the world's most impressive gastronomic and cultural centers. 

Start the day early in Lima's Historical center to visit a local mercacado—a fresh food market—to taste the local produce and sample spices, fruits, and various baked bread. Taste different types of Piscos—a high proof brandy produced locally in the wine-making regions of Peru and Chile. Attend a cooking class and learn how to make ceviche, a fresh seafood dish marinated with salt and lime juice, and the traditional pisco sour—a Peruvian classic.  

Stop for lunch at one of Lima's top restaurants and enjoy a delicious meal on a patio overlooking the Pacific ocean. Stroll to the bohemian district of Barranco—a popular oceanside neighborhood for artists, tourists, and locals alike—for a relaxed afternoon drinking coffee and sampling Peruvian desserts.

Day 3: Lima - Puerto Maldonado - Corto Maltes Lodge

Peaceful sunset on the river
Peaceful sunset on the river

Take a short flight from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado, the gateway to the southern Amazon rainforest. Take a short motorized canoe trip down the Madre de Dios River to the Corto Maltes Lodge deep in the jungle, where you will stop for a traditional, delicious meal.  

After lunch, take a walk around the trails, where you will discover and learn about the rainforest and local wildlife.  At dusk navigate the river by outboard motorized canoe with a guided twilight river excursion. Learn about the Amazonian river ecosystem, nocturnal wildlife behavior, and the southern constellations.

Day 4: Wildlife Viewing at Tambopata Reserve & Lake Sandoval

Macaws gather in the early morning
Macaws gather in the early morning

Wake up early to see the macaws flock to the clay bluffs in the dawn light. After a 20-minute walk, you will reach the cliffs. Hidden from view in a concealed blind, you will see hundreds of colorful birds gather to get minerals and vitamins from the clay.

Return to the lodge for breakfast, then head back onto the Madre de Dios River for a trip to Monkey Island, a reserve dedicated to helping captive monkeys adjust back to life in the rainforest. Here, the monkeys get a chance to live free lives, away from cages and poachers. 

Continue to the Tambopata National Reserve to explore Lake Sandoval. Navigate by dugout canoe across this mirror-like oxbow lake that is home to the endangered giant river otter, the blue-and-yellow macaw, the red howler monkey, the black caiman (a member of the alligator family), and one of the world's biggest freshwater scaled fish, the paiche

Travel by canoe back to the lodge, enjoying a stunning sunset on the water on the way. 

Day 5: Native Community Visit

A capuchin monkey in the Tambopata Preserve
A capuchin monkey in the Tambopata Preserve

After breakfast, head back on the river to visit a native community. Along the way, keep an eye on the dense vegetations on the bank to spot turtles sunning themselves, caimans, and various bird. 

The "Project for the Rescue of Cultural Values" supports the local native community of Palma Real. It is one of the biggest, with approximately 200 families of the Ese’eja tribe. You will visit Gamitada Island and spend the day with two families who will introduce you to the cultural values of their ancestors, their language, customs, garments, and dances. In an era of globalization where traditional societies are being pressured to change, this community visit is an opportunity to have direct contact with the local people. Bring money and peruse the local handicrafts for gifts, ensuring financial support for the families. 

After, visit a chakra (local farm) to see a variety of cultivated tropical plants, such as cocoa, bananas, café, and cocona—a local fruit that is described as a cross in taste between a lemon and a tomato. Spend time talking with the chacarero, the farmer, about the growing process and taste some of the produce. Stay for a typical Amazon lunch then return to the lodge. 

Enjoy a refreshing dip in the swimming pool and relax with a cocktail before dinner. Afterward, hang out in the reclining seats situated on the central terrace and enjoy the evening sky before a restful night.

Day 6: Puerto Maldonado - Cusco, Transfer to Hotel

In the morning, transfer to the Puerto Maldonado 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.

Day 7: Cusco City Tour

View of Cusco's Plaza de Armas
View of Cusco's Plaza de Armas

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 8: Salkantay Trek Day 1/4: Cusco to Soraypampa

Trekking on the Salkantay trail
Trekking on the Salkantay trail

Get an early start to the day with a 6:00 AM pickup from the hotel for your trip north to the town of Mollepata. Stop here for breakfast in a local cafe, then continue on the road to Soraypampa. This car trip transfer shortens your walking time by one day. Arrive in Soraypampa after a scenic 3-hour drive and break for lunch while enjoying sweeping views of Mt. Huamantay. 

The Salkantay trail is a popular alternative to the highly-regulated Inca Trail and boasts stunning panoramas, remote campsites, and babbling mountain streams. Start your hike after lunch and continue for 2-3 hours before reaching your campsite at Soyrococha, located at 13,450 ft (4,100 m). Enjoy stargazing in the clear mountain air before refreshing with a good night's sleep.  

Maximum Altitude: 14,715 ft (4,485 m)
Minimum Altitude: 10,722 ft (3,268 m)
Distance Travelled: 3.10 miles (5 km) 
Approximate Walking Time: 3 hrs

Day 9: Salkantay Trek Day 2/4: Soyrococha to Chaullay

View of the surrounding glaciers
View of the surrounding glaciers

Begin your second day of hiking with a 2-hour uphill trek to Nevado Salkantay Pass, which at 15,745 ft (4,800 m) is the highest point of the trek. Stop here for a quick rest and to appreciate the panoramic views of the Salkantay and Humantay glaciers. After a chance for photographs, continue downhill to Huaracmachay, where you will find a small shop and bathroom facilities. From here it's a 2-hour trek to the neighboring villages of Colcapampa and Chaullay

You will experience a dramatic change in vegetation as you descend from the High Puna grasslands into the cloud rainforest and bamboo stands. Camp tonight at Chaullay* and enjoy views of the Santa Teresa River and the surrounding valley. 

*Alternately, you may camp at Colcapampa

Maximum Altitude: 15,340 ft (4,650 m)
Minimum Altitude: 9,372 ft (2,840 m)
Distance Traveled:  6.83 miles (11 km)
Approximate Walking Time: 7 hrs

Day 10: Salkantay Trek Day 3/4: Chaullay to Lucmabamba

Descending on the trail
Descending on the trail

Depart from your campsite in Colcapampa (or Chaullay) for another beautiful day on the trail. The third day on the trail brings a welcome break from uphill hiking, as today you will be mostly trekking downhill. As you descend to lower altitudes the temperature warms and the landscape becomes more tropical. There are many lovely spots to pause along the trail and enjoy the river that follows the trail. Enjoy the colorful variety of orchids, bromeliads, insects, and snakes as you hike. Reach the Playa campsite around lunchtime and stop to rest. From here, continue hiking to your campsite at Lucmabamba

Optional:
Take a 45-minute car trip to the Canopy Cola de Mono in Santa Teresa, and tap into your adventurous side with a ride on the zip line in the Cola de Mono. Or visit the Colcamayo Hot Springs before returning to your campsite. 

Maximum Altitude: 9,372 ft (2,840 m)
Minimum Altitude: 6,850 ft (2,088 m) 
Distance Travelled: 6.21 miles (10 km)
Approximate Walking Time: 7 hrs

Day 11: Salkantay Trek Day 4/4: Lucmabamba to Aguas Calientes

Llactapata ruins
Llactapata ruins

Trek uphill from your campsite in Lucmabamba for 3 hours to reach the Llactapata ruins. Stop here to explore, then continue down the trail for your first views of Machu Picchu. From the top of the hike, it's a 2-hour descent to the town of Hidroeléctrica

From Hidroeléctrica you can walk along the train tracks for 2 hours to reach the town of Aguas Calientes, or take the half-hour train trip. When you reach Aguas Calientes, check into your hotel and enjoy a celebratory dinner followed by a relaxing soak in the hot springs. Get a good nights rest for tomorrow's adventure—visiting Machu Picchu! 

Maximum Altitude: 9,240 ft (2800 m)
Minimum Altitude: 6,233 ft (1900 m)
Distance Travelled:  5.59 miles (9 km)
Approximate Walking Time: 7 hrs

Day 12: 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 13: Maras & Moray Tour: Ollantaytambo - Urubamba

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, you'll travel to Urubamba and check in to your hotel.

Day 14: Sacred Valley Tour: Urubamba - Pisac - Chinchero - Cusco

Local vendors in Pisac
Local vendors in Pisac

You will be picked up from your hotel in Urubamba to begin your second day adventure 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, you will head to Chinchero, the small rustic Andean town where you will get to explore the ruins before making your way back to Cusco.

Day 15: Rainbow Mountain (Mount Vinicunca) Hike

Rainbow Mountain
Rainbow Mountain

Today will begin with an early pick-up from your hotel in Cusco for the 3.5-hour drive to the start of the trek.

When we reach the trailhead, we'll enjoy some breakfast before starting the hike. After breakfast, we will begin the hike from Chillca, at 3,700 m/12,139 ft elevation. From here, it will be a 4-hour, uphill hike to reach the famous Rainbow Mountain.

Along the way, you will enjoy amazing views of the Andes, glacial peaks, red mountains, rocky hills, along with llamas and alpacas grazing along the valley. Once you arrive at the top of Rainbow Mountain, you will have enough time to absorb the majesty of the red mountains that surround this area. You will also see amazing views of the valleys and Ausangate Glacier Peak in front of you. Ausangate is the tallest mountain of the Cusco region (just under 21,000 ft elevation) and is part of the Cordillera Vilcanota Range.

After taking in the view, we'll descend back to our car and driver for the drive back to our hotel in Cusco. 

Day 16: 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 homeward-bound flight. ¡Buen viaje!

Deborah
Published by Deborah Hayman, updated Mar 18, 2019