This 11-day exploration of Peru is perfect for adventurous travelers. Start in metropolitan Lima, then continue to the ancient Inca capital of Cusco. Head into the mountains to challenge yourself on the 4-day Salkantay Trek—a spectacular hike with remote camping and glacial views. End in Aguas Calientes for a relaxing night, then visit the famed Machu Picchu citadel—a marvel of ancient engineering. Finally, head to the Amazon jungle to spot wildlife like macaws, cayman, giant river otters, and tapirs. 

Highlights

  • Enjoy spectacular views of the Sacred Valley while sleeping under the stars
  • Challenge yourself on a 4-day trek to Machu Picchu
  • Spend a day exploring 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 Salkantay Trek Day 1/4: Cusco to Soraypampa Soyrococha
Day 4 Salkantay Trek Day 2/4: Soyrococha to Chaullay Chaullay
Day 5 Salkantay Trek Day 3/4: Chaullay to Lucmabamba Lucmabamba
Day 6 Salkantay Trek Day 4/4: Lucmabamba to Aguas Calientes Aguas Calientes
Day 7 Machu Picchu Excursion: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu - Cusco Cusco
Day 8 Into the Amazon: Puerto Maldonado to Refugio Amazonas Lodge Puerto Maldonado
Day 9 Jungle Excursions - Tres Chimbadas, Parrot Clay Lick, Botany Tour Puerto Maldonado
Day 10 Jungle Excursions - Farm, Dugout Canoe Tour, Fitzcarrald Puerto Maldonado
Day 11 Depart from Puerto Maldonado & Lima  

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, 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

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: 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 4: 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 5: 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 6: 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 7: Machu Picchu Excursion: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu - Cusco

Explore the ruins at Machu Picchu
Explore the ruins at Machu Picchu

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, meet your driver for your transfer back to Cusco.

Day 8: Into the Amazon: Puerto Maldonado to Refugio Amazonas Lodge

This morning you will transfer from your hotel to the Cusco airport for your flight to Puerto Maldonado.

Upon arrival at the Puerto Maldonado Airport, an agent will meet you and drive you to the local office for luggage storage. Here, all of your extra luggage will be locked away in a secure safe for more convenient boat travel. After a quick walk through the garden for a preview of rainforest plants, it’s time to pack your necessities and travel into the Amazon.

Depart from the Tambopata port on a two and a half hour boat ride, and pass through the community of Infierno Reserve. Eat a packed lunch en route, and watch as the sunlight disappears behind the dense rainforest trees. The boat will take you to your home base for the next few days, the Refugio Amazonas Lodge.

The manager will welcome you before giving you an important briefing regarding navigation and security. Then, kick back and relax for the rest of your night after a day of traveling. If you'd prefer to get in a little adventure, you can go on a night boat trip to search for caymans. From the safety of the boat, shine your headlights and flashlights onto the riverbanks to spot their red eyes reflecting in the light.

Day 9: Jungle Excursions - Tres Chimbadas, Parrot Clay Lick, Botany Tour

A brightly-colored Amazonian butterfly
A brightly-colored Amazonian butterfly

Today you will explore the lush rainforest around you in a series of short guided adventure treks. Start by heading to Tres Chimbadas, located 30 minutes by boat from the lodge. Explore the lake to search for the resident family of nine giant river otters and other local wildlife, such as cayman, hoatzin, and colorful tropical birds. This tour is best done in the early morning, as otters are most active from dawn to 8 or 9 AM. 

After, walk the short 20 minutes from the lodge to the Parrot Clay Lick. Take a comfortable seat behind a secluded blind and watch hundreds of vibrant parrots and parakeets descend onto the river bank to eat the mineral-rich clay. Brightly-colored species like the Yellow-headed Amazon, Blue-headed Parrot, and Dusky Headed Parakeet love to visit this location, and late morning is an ideal time to spot them. 

Take a break for lunch, then head 20 minutes downriver to a curated ethnobotany trail tour. Designed by the staff of Centro Ñape, a communal organization which derives natural medicines from plants found in the rainforest, this educational trail is designed to explain the uses of local Amazonian plants. 

After dinner, you have the option to go for a relaxing night hike during a time when most mammals are active. Listen to the chorus of from and amphibian calls, and bring a flashlight to try and spot the small animals as they camouflage in the vegetation.

Day 10: Jungle Excursions - Farm, Dugout Canoe Tour, Fitzcarrald

A relaxing sunset in the Amazon
A relaxing sunset in the Amazon

After a beautiful sunrise and an early breakfast, visit a local farm to learn local cultivation techniques and sample some of the produce.  Stop at the nearby botanical garden and discover the immense variety of medicinal plants used by the indigenous people of the Amazon. 

In the afternoon,  head back to the lodge to enjoy lunch. Afterward, you will be treated to a trip in a dugout canoe to see some more local wildlife. Photographers and naturalists will love spotting Amazonian species around the water, so don't forget your camera. Relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery while observing tropical birds, as well as an array of flycatchers and Gray-necked Wood-Rails.

On the way back, disembark at the remains of the Fitzcarrald steamboat, where you'll learn about its history and how it became part of the award-winning film "Fitzcarraldo."

Day 11: Depart from Puerto Maldonado & Lima

Enjoy your last breakfast at the lodge before heading back to the port in Puerto Maldonado. You will be transferred back to the local airport for your connecting flight back to Lima. From Lima, catch your flight home. Buen Viaje!

Deborah
Published by Deborah Hayman, updated Mar 18, 2019