From bustling cities to remote Inca ruins, this 8-day tour of Peru's highlights is perfect for adventurous and fit travelers. Discover Peru's metropolitan culture in the capital city of Lima, then continue to the imperial Inca city of Cusco. Tour the Sacred Valley and explore Inca ruins and colorful textile markets before embarking on a 4-day trek on the Inca Trail. Walk on the same stone steps that Inca engineers built in the 15th century, cross Dead Woman Pass at 13,828 ft (4,215 m), and relax in camp at night with sweeping vistas of the Andes Mountains. Finish your trek at the famed Machu Picchu ruins.

Highlights

  • Walk the streets of the ancient Incan capital of Cusco
  • Explore the beauty and culture of the Sacred Valley
  • Hike the legendary Inca Trail 
  • Spend a day immersed in the history of Machu Picchu

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Lima Lima
Day 2 Arrival in Cusco, Exploring the City Cusco
Day 3 Sacred Valley Tour: Pisac - Urabamba - Ollantaytambo Cusco
Day 4 Inca Trail Day 1/4: Cusco to Yuncachimpa  
Day 5 Inca Trail Day 2/4: Yuncachimpa - Warmihuañusca Pass - Chaquicocha  
Day 6 Inca Trail Day 3/4: Chaquicocha - Phuyupatamarca - Wiñayhuayna  
Day 7 Inca Trail Day 4/4: Wiñayhuayna - Machu Picchu - Cusco Cusco
Day 8 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: 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. 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: 

  • 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: Sacred Valley Tour: Pisac - Urabamba - Ollantaytambo

Llama and alpaca wool is used for textiles
Llama and alpaca wool is used for textiles

Meet your driver in the morning and head to the Sacred Valley, which contains many historical and archaeological sites, as well as small towns and famous textile markets. 

Your first stop is Pisac, famous for its bustling textile market. The textile artists in this area are renowned for their skill and craftsmanship. From cleaning and harvesting the wool, to creating intricate designs, the level of detail and attention in their work is unparalleled. Select from a wide assortment of colors, styles, and designs for gifts and souvenirs to take home with you. 

Stop at Urubamba, the largest town in the Sacred Valley,  for a traditional lunch and a quick stop to see the remains of an Inca palace, located within the city. 

From here, head to the ancient Incan city of Ollantaytambo. The city's layout, streets, and some homes have been preserved since the time of the Inca empire. Look for single large lintel over a doorway, an indicator of importance which stems from the Inca.  Explore the tranquil plaza and surrounding ruins, which offer an unparalleled view into the lives of the Inca. 

In the evening, return to your hotel in Cusco to rest and prepare for the Inca Trail.

Day 4: Inca Trail Day 1/4: Cusco to Yuncachimpa

Hiking the Inca trail
Hiking the Inca trail

Start your morning early with a 5:30 AM bus departure from Cusco to the Sacred Valley. Stop briefly in Ollantaytambo for breakfast, then continue to the start of the Inca trail, located at kilometer marker 82. You will meet the rest of the group here before beginning the trek. 

Cross the Urubamba river and head uphill for an easy trek, and a good warm-up for the following days. Reach Miskay by lunchtime and stop for a picnic by a small river. After lunch, explore the nearby archaeological site of Llactapata, then continue the hike to Wayllabamba, located at 10,170 ft (3,100 m). From here, ascend 700 ft (200 m) to Yuncachimpa, your campsite for the night. Enjoy sweeping views of Willka Weqe Mountain (Mt. Verónica) and the surrounding landscape over dinner. 

Level of difficulty: Moderate.
Hiking time: 6-7 hours.
Total distance: 6.8 miles (11 km)

Day 5: Inca Trail Day 2/4: Yuncachimpa - Warmihuañusca Pass - Chaquicocha

Enjoy sweeping vistas
Enjoy sweeping vistas

During the second day of the hiking on the Inca trail, you are free to walk at your own pace. Meet back up with the group for short rest breaks and on long ascents, but walk the rest of the day at your own leisure. 

Start the day by trekking through the Valley of Llulluchapampa 12631 ft (3850 m), a steep 1.8 miles (3 km) through humid woodlands. From here, follow the path for another 2-3 hours to Warmihuañusca Pass at 11,3780 ft (4,200 m). Translated as 'Dead Woman Pass', this section of the hike is the most difficult part of the trail. After a break at the summit, continue the hike down a long and steep descent toward the Pacaymayo (Sunrise) River. Cross Runkurakay pass at 10,007 ft (3,050 m) before reaching Chaquicocha, your campsite for the night. Enjoy the stunning view of the Andes Mountains from 11,975 ft (3650 m) and relax after a hard day on the trail. 

Level of difficulty: Challenging
Hiking time: 8-9 hours.
Total distance: 9.3 miles (15 km)

Day 6: Inca Trail Day 3/4: Chaquicocha - Phuyupatamarca - Wiñayhuayna

Flowers along the trail
Flowers along the trail

The third day on the trail brings you through a variety of landscapes and Inca architecture. You will see a change in the ecosystem as you walk into the tropical forest of Wiñaywayna. Pass by several small lakes, through small Inca tunnels, and over a couple of 12,000-13,000 ft (3,700-3,950 m) passes before reaching the Wiñaywayna ruins. Translated as 'Forever Young', this elaborately engineered site is built into a steep hillside above the Urubamba river. Two separate building complexes are connected by a series of terraces, which were used for agriculture. 

From here the Inca stairs turn into a zigzagging trail that ascends until you reach a white, red-roofed building—your last campsite. Relax into a hot bath and let your tired muscles rest. 

Level of difficulty: Moderate
Hiking time: 5-6 hours
Total distance: 6.2 miles (10 km)

Day 7: Inca Trail Day 4/4: Wiñayhuayna - Machu Picchu - Cusco

Agricultural terraces surrounding Machu Picchu
Agricultural terraces surrounding Machu Picchu

Today you will get a very early start onto the trail to catch the sunrise over Machu Picchu. After breakfast at 4:30 AM, head back onto the trail toward Inti Punku (Sun Gate) to watch the sun come up over Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu. From here descend one hour to the archaeological ruins to arrive around 8:00 AM. 

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, explore the site on your own—walk up to the Inca Bridge, discover various buildings within the site, or climb Wayna Picchu for panoramic views. Later, catch a bus down to Aguas Calientes and soak your aches and pains away in the town's hot springs. Depart from Aguas Calientes in the afternoon. 

Level of difficulty: Moderate 
Hiking time: 2-3 hours
Total distance: 4.3 miles (7 km)

Day 8: 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!