From metropolitan cities and ancient Inca ruins to remote jungle lodges, this 14-day exploration of Peru's history and nature is perfect for the adventurous traveler. Start in metropolitan Lima then continue to the imperial Inca capital of Cusco. Explore 15th-century archaeological sites, zip line through the Sacred Valley, and spend a day exploring Machu Picchu before continuing to the Amazon rainforest. Spend 4 days deep in the Manu National Preserve exploring the jungle and seeing rare wildlife. With luck, you might see the reclusive jaguar—king of the Amazon.

Highlights

  • Explore metropolitan Lima and ancient Cusco
  • Visit remarkably well preserved 15th-century Inca ruins
  • Experience the beauty and mystery of the Amazon Rainforest
  • See the famed Machu Picchu citadel
  • Spot rare Amazonian wildlife like macaws, cayman, giant river otter, and tapir

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Lima Lima
Day 2 Arrival in Cusco, Exploring the City Cusco
Day 3 A Taste of Cusco Cusco
Day 4 Tour the Sacred Valley: Cusco - Pisac - Ollantaytambo Ollantaytambo
Day 5 Via Ferrata & Ziplining Ollantaytambo
Day 6 Machu Picchu Excursion: Ollantaytambo & Machu Picchu Ollantaytambo
Day 7 Sacred Valley Tour: Ollantaytambo - Moray - Maras - Cusco  Cusco
Day 8 Cusco - Manu National Park - Bambu Lodge Manu National Park
Day 9 Bambu Lodge to Hummingbird Lodge Manu National Park
Day 10 Hummingbird Lodge - Manu National Park - Casa Matshiguenka Manu National Park
Day 11 Manu National Park - Lake Salvador & Lake Otorongo Manu National Park
Day 12 Casa Matshiguenka - Maquisapayoj Lodge Manu National Park
Day 13 Clay Lick - Boca Colorado - Cusco Cusco
Day 14 Departure from Peru  

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.
  • 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: A Taste of Cusco

Hot brewed cacao drink, raw cocoa fruit, cacao beans, and caco nibs
Hot brewed cacao drink, raw cocoa fruit, cacao beans, and caco nibs
 

Depart from your hotel and head to the city center to start your Cusco culinary experience. 

Today you will learn about three key Peruvian specialties: chocolate, coffee, and pisco. Your journey begins at the Coffee Museum where you will learn about what makes Peruvian coffee so delicious and unique. At the end of your tour, you'll have the opportunity to sample several different varieties of Peruvian coffee. 

Continue your exploration of Peru's gastronomic delights at the ChocoMuseum. Here, you will learn about the chocolate production process starting with the cacao tree, and ending with a rich dessert. You'll also learn how to prepare cacao tea and hot chocolate, both of which played important roles in Incan culture. Finish up your tour by learning how to prepare your own chocolate! 

To cap it all off, pay a visit to Pisco Republic where you'll learn all about Pisco, Peru's signature drink. Conclude your tour with a pisco tasting accompanied by typical Peruvian dishes served as snacks. 

After your tour, return to your hotel and enjoy a relaxing evening in Cusco. 

Day 4: Tour the Sacred Valley: Cusco - Pisac - Ollantaytambo

Shopping in the market in Pisac
Shopping in the market in Pisac

We'll leave our hotel in Cusco around 8:30 am for our drive into the Sacred Valley en route to Pisac, a village known for its traditional market and immense Inca fortress. During our visit, we will have plenty of opportunities to stop for photos as we pass terraces, irrigation canals, and picturesque mountain views.

In the afternoon, we will depart Pisac for the town of Ollantaytambo, which contains some of the best-preserved Inca architecture in the entire Sacred Valley. Roam the winding alleys and vast plazas and gaze upon a marvelous llama-shaped ruin before heading to a local hotel for the night.

Day 5: Via Ferrata & Ziplining

Traveler climbing the Via Ferrata
Traveler climbing the Via Ferrata

Today is an adventurous day full of unexpected views and fun challenges. This morning you will be picked up from your hotel in Ollantaytambo to begin your journey to the Sacred Valley. You will arrive in Pachar where you will start by climbing 1,312 ft (400 m) up the side of the cliff on the via ferrata—a series of metal steps built into the wall. From the top, descend into the valley on a series of exhilarating zip-line rides. You will then have lunch at the Skylodge Adventure Suite while enjoying the beautiful views of the Sacred Valley. After lunch, you will descend the mountain by ziplining or rappelling your way down before arriving safely at the valley floor far below you. 

Later, head back to Ollantaytambo to relax for the evening.

Day 6: Machu Picchu Excursion: Ollantaytambo & Machu Picchu

Agricultural terraces surrounding the ruins
Agricultural terraces surrounding the ruins

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 your tour, take the bus back to Aguas Calientes to connect to your train back to Ollantaytambo.

Day 7: Sacred Valley Tour: Ollantaytambo - Moray - Maras - Cusco 

Agricultural terraces of Moray
Agricultural terraces of Moray

Today you will depart from your hotel in Ollantaytambo for a visit to the village of Chinchero, believed by the Inca to be the birthplace of the rainbow. You will see extensive Inca terraces and several small colonial-era churches, before exploring Chinchero's famous textile production and weaving crafts. Tour a weaver's studio and learn about the process of cleaning and producing the wool, then browse the selection of vibrant textiles for the perfect handmade gift. 

Continue to Moray, a series of incredible stone amphitheaters built by the Inca. Considered one of the world's most innovative and architecturally advanced cultures, the Inca likely used these stone complexes for experimental agriculture in micro-climates.

From Moray walk (or take a bus) to the Salineras—the Moray Salt Flats—an intricate network of stone pools developed by the Inca to harvest salt through evaporation. These salt flats are still in use today and are carefully maintained by a close community with regulations and rules that date back to the time of the Inca. 

Afterward, continue back to Cusco to spend the night.

Day 8: Cusco - Manu National Park - Bambu Lodge

Cloud forest in Manu National Park
Cloud forest in Manu National Park

Get an early start this morning with a 5:30 AM pickup from your hotel in Cusco. Today you will drive 8-9 hours into the Amazon rainforest. Stop along the way at several architectural ruins and small towns to rest and eat lunch. 

Your first stop is the Cullpas of Ninamarca, a Pre-Incan cemetery. Continue from here through alpine meadows to the town of Paucartambo, which sits at 9,510 ft (2,900 m). Paucartambo is a small town with lots of history and tradition and is known as the folklore capital of Peru. After a short stop in the picturesque town center, continue to Acjanaco, which marks the entrance to Manu National Park

You will notice the landscape change as you enter the park. Keep a look out for vibrant rainforest birds, such as the Resplendent Quetzal, Toucans, and Tangara. Stop in San Pedro at the observation platform to spot the national bird of Peru—the Andean cock-of-the-rock. If you're lucky, you might see the charismatic monkeys and quiet spectacled bear that call the park home. 

Continue on to the Bambu Lodge, where you will spend the night.

Day 9: Bambu Lodge to Hummingbird Lodge

A quiet morning on the river
A quiet morning on the river

After an early breakfast, head out by bus to Atalaya, located 2 hours away. Once you arrive, switch to a motorboat and head down the Alto Madre de Dios River for a 5-hour peaceful ride to reach the Hummingbird Lodge. Enjoy spotting local wildlife along the way—monkeys, capybaras, birds, and Cayman are plentiful on this stretch of the river. Eat lunch on the boat as you travel downriver. 

Arrive at the lodge around 3:00 PM with enough time left to explore. The lodge is located close to the reserve and offers many trails and paths to explore the jungle.

Day 10: Hummingbird Lodge - Manu National Park - Casa Matshiguenka

Lush rainforest surrounding the lodge
Lush rainforest surrounding the lodge

Head out in the morning for an early 4-hour boat ride toward the Manu River and Limonal, the entry point into the Manu Reserve. Here the park rangers will check the permits and give helpful tips and advice for visiting the park. The rainforest here is full of fascinating wildlife—lucky travelers might see the shy tapir or reclusive jaguar. 

Arrive at Casa Matshiguenka on the bank of the Manu River and stop for the night. In the evening, spend time with the Mattshiguenka family, who live around the lodge, and experience the rainforest lifestyle. Spend the night in the heart of the jungle.

Day 11: Manu National Park - Lake Salvador & Lake Otorongo

Red-headed poison frog
Red-headed poison frog

Head out in the morning to Lake Salvador, located upstream deep in the reserve. This lake is one of the most ecologically important bodies of water within Manu National Park. It is home to hundreds of unique species like the Giant River Otter and anaconda, as well as 13 different species of monkeys. Explore the lake aboard a small catamaran for a chance to see wildlife up close. 

Return to the lodge for lunch, then head out to Lake Otorongo in the afternoon. Check out the 66 ft (20 m) high observation platform, which gives you an unparalleled look into the forest canopy. Spend a few hours exploring the area, then head back to Casa Matshiguenka Lodge for the evening. 

Day 12: Casa Matshiguenka - Maquisapayoj Lodge

Parrots enjoying a clay lick
Parrots enjoying a clay lick

Today you travel from the reserve of Manu National Park to the buffer zone, known as the Maquisapayoj, or Manu biosphere. The ride from Casa Matshiguenka to the Maquisapayoj Lodge takes about 6 hours. Eat breakfast on the boat ride and enjoy the quiet morning river. 

Reach the lodge around 3:30 PM and settle in to rest for the afternoon. In the evening, head out to see a clay lick, which wildlife use to get vital salts and minerals from the soil. Most animals visit the clay lick at night, so head out once the rainforest starts to transition to nighttime. Keep an eye out tapir, deer, porcupines, monkeys, and hundreds of colorful birds. 

Return to the lodge for a well-earned rest.

Day 13: Clay Lick - Boca Colorado - Cusco

Brightly-colored Macaws in the rainforest
Brightly-colored Macaws in the rainforest

Get an early 5:00 AM start for the 1-hour boat trip to a clay lick to see parrots and other Amazon rainforest birds gather at the mineral-rich river bank. From a hidden platform, use binoculars and telescopes to get a good look at the birds without disturbing them. 

Return to the lodge for lunch, then head back toward Cusco. Travel 3 hours downstream to the town of Boca Colorado, and say your farewells to your boat crew for the last few days. Here you will transfer to a taxi then continue toward Puerto Carlos, where you will transfer to a car which will bring you to Cusco. Continue the journey to Cusco on a 7-8 hour bus ride, reaching Cusco around 10:00 PM. Spend the night in Cusco.

Day 14: Departure from Peru

A pretty street view in Cusco
A pretty street view in Cusco

Today is your last day in Peru! You will be met at your hotel for a transfer to the 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!

Kristy
Written by Kristy T, updated Mar 18, 2019