Explore the essential highlights of Peru, including visits to Cusco, Machu Picchu, and Rainbow Mountain, on this weeklong adventure. Begin with a night in Lima and head to the Sacred Valley, where you'll enjoy cultural experiences and a tour of the Maras Salt Flats. Hike part of the famed Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, where you'll spend a day immersed in Inca history. End your trip with a special hike to the brilliantly-hued Rainbow Mountain.

Highlights

  • Tour the cultural highlights of Cusco and the Sacred Valley
  • Visit the Incan amphitheaters of Moray and the Maras Salt Flats
  • Trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, where you'll enjoy a full-day tour
  • Spend a day hiking to the candy-striped hills of Rainbow Mountain 

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: Cusco - Chinchero - Ollantaytambo Ollantaytambo
Day 4 Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: Ollantaytambo - Aguas Calientes Aguas Calientes
Day 5 Machu Picchu Excursion: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu - Cusco Cusco
Day 6 Rainbow Mountain (Mount Vinicunca) Hike Cusco
Day 7 Fly from Cusco to Lima, Depart Peru  

Detailed Itinerary

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

Cusco from the Sacsayhuamán ruins
Cusco from the Sacsayhuamán ruins

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: 

  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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: Cusco - Chinchero - Ollantaytambo

Maras Salt Flats
Maras Salt Flats

Today you will depart from your hotel in Cusco 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 Salinerasthe Maras 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. 

Spend the night in the small historic town of Ollantaytambo, high in the Sacred Valley. Explore the surrounding stone fortresses, archeological ruins, and cobblestone streets of the town, which remain remarkably intact similar to their original appearances after construction by the Inca.

Day 4: Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: Ollantaytambo - Km 104 - Aguas Calientes

The Inca ruins of Winay Wayna
The Inca ruins of Winay Wayna

Early in the morning, we will take the train from Ollantaytambo to Km 104 where the short Inca Trail starts. By train, we see how the valley turns into a canyon and the scenery begins to alter as the cloud forests appear on our approach to Machu Picchu. We will disembark the train at Km 104 and start the hike along a challenging uphill path. 

Start the trek to your first archeological site—Chachabamba. This beautiful site is very well preserved thanks to its location in the valley and was likely used for religious purposes and as a gatekeeping point for this entrance to Machu Picchu. 

From here ascend for 3 hours to the ruins of Wiñay Wayna (2732 m / 8964 ft), an ancient rest area for travelers on the Inca trail. Here, we'll stop to enjoy our delicious boxed lunch, with superb views of the massive green mountains and native orchids.

The trail then becomes gentler and continues through the semi-tropical cloud forest to Intipunku (Sun Gate) where you'll enjoy your first panoramic views of Machu Picchu. Descend half an hour to the citadel for a short break and an opportunity for photos.

We won't be exploring the ruins today, as it will be getting dark. After passing through the Sun Gate, we'll cross the site to take the bus down to Aguas Calientes, where you'll check into our hotel to rest and relax in anticipation of a full-day visit to Machu Picchu tomorrow.

Maximum Altitude: 2732 m / 8964 ft                     
Minimum Altitude: 2088 m / 6850 ft
Distance Travelled: 10.79 km / 6.67 ml (to Inti Punku)  
Approximate Walking Time: 7 hours

Day 5: 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 6: 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 7: Fly from Cusco to Lima, Depart Peru

A pretty street view in Lima
A pretty street view in Lima

Today is your last day in Peru! You will be met at your hotel for a transfer to the Cusco Airport, where you will catch your flight back to Lima and then transfer to your international departure. Alternatively, stay and extend your time in Peru — there's so much to see and explore. ¡Buen viaje!

Map

Map of Short Inca Trail & Rainbow Mountain Adventure - 7 Days
Map of Short Inca Trail & Rainbow Mountain Adventure - 7 Days
Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Sep 12, 2019