- Discover the Southern Amazon's wildlife from rainforest canopy and riverbank
- Explore beautiful time-lost towns and breathtaking ruins in the Sacred Valley
- Hike the Short Inca Trail to the most famous Inca site of all, Machu Picchu!
- Be amazed by the geological wonder of Rainbow Mountain
|Day 1||Arrive in Lima - Bienvenidos!||Lima|
|Day 2||Refugio Amazonas 1/4: Fly to Puerto Maldonado, Boat Ride to Lodge, Canopy Tower Visit & Night-time Jungle Hike||Refugio Amazonas|
|Day 3||Rainforest Refugio Amazonas Classic 2/4: Oxbow Lake Canoe Trip, Brazil Nut Plantation Visit & Rainforest Research||Refugio Amazonas|
|Day 4||Rainforest Refugio Amazonas Classic 3/4: Macaw Clay Lick Visit & Rainforest Mountain Biking||Refugio Amazonas|
|Day 5||Rainforest Refugio Amazonas Classic 4/4 & Arrive in Cusco||Cusco|
|Day 6||Sacred Valley Tour of Pisac, Ollantaytambo & Chinchero||Cusco|
|Day 7||Moray & Maras Salt Mines Tour||Cusco|
|Day 8||Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: Cusco-Ollantaytambo-Km 104-Aguas Calientes||Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town)|
|Day 9||Explore Machu Picchu & Return to Cusco||Cusco|
|Day 10||Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain Trek||Cusco|
|Day 11||Adiós: Fly to Lima, Depart Peru|
Day 1: Arrive in Lima - Bienvenidos!
¡Bienvenidos! Welcome to Lima, Peru's largest city and central metropolitan hub, and home to one third of the country's population.
Upon your arrival at Lima Airport, you will be welcomed and taken to your hotel in the neighborhoods of either Miraflores or San Isidro. You will have the remainder of the day free to relax and get acquainted with the city at your own pace.
Depending on your arrival time, suggestions to make the most of your day in Lima 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, Plaza Mayor. Stroll over to the 16th-century cathedral, which took 80 years to construct and was built in the grandiose style of the Spanish Empire. And be sure to visit Casa Aliaga, a colonial mansion granted by conquistador leader Francisco Pizarro to Jerónimo de Aliaga, one of his captains, in 1535. This is the one of the best-preserved houses from that era, and the only one still belonging to the same family!
- Browse the Larco Museum of pre-Columbian art, a splendid privately-owned museum in Pueblo Libre and 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.
- Wander along the cliff tops in Miraflores, heading to the Parque del Amor or "Love Park" where you can admire a huge kissing statue and beautiful mosaic walls. The walk, known as the "Malecón" runs along the high and dramatic cliffs of Chorrillos and is a perfect place to watch sunset dip over the Pacific.
- Enjoy a drink or meal in Miraflores at the neighborhood's great selection of highly-regarded bars and restaurants. See here for a list of the best places to eat in Lima.
Day 2: Refugio Amazonas 1/4: Fly to Puerto Maldonado, Boat Ride to Lodge, Canopy Tower Visit & Night-time Jungle Hike
This morning, you will leave coastal Lima behind for a foray into the vast, humid Amazon Basin of Peru. You will be exploring the south of the Peruvian jungle and therefore, following your transfer from your hotel to Lima Airport, you will begin this trip with a flight to Puerto Maldonado, capital of the Southern Peruvian Amazon and of the Madre de Dios region. From here, it is a 2-hour journey by bus and then boat along the River Tambopata to reach Refugio Amazonas Lodge, your jungle base for the following three nights. The lodge impresses visitors from the beginning with one of the most stunning entrances and lobbies of any accommodation in the southern jungle. It is located within the buffer zone of the extremely biodiverse and protected Tambopata National Reserve, a region you will get opportunity to explore over the coming days.
After your arrival, when you will have the chance to relax, your first suggested Amazonian activity is the 30-minute walk from the lodge to the 111-foot / 34-meter canopy tower. Here, a secure staircase ascends spectacularly to the platforms overhead, located above canopy level which thus opens up some far-reaching panoramas of the surrounding jungle. The tower has also been built upon high ground, therefore maximizing your views across continuous primary (virgin) forest extending out to the Tambopata National Reserve proper. Sightings of toucans, macaws and other avian species are likely.
Later on, you will have the option of taking a night hike. It is on this that you end the day in true Amazonian explorer style as you roam with your guide to locate frogs, tarantulas, insects and other nocturnal species, serenaded by the sounds of the many rainforest animals that become active at this time.
Then return to your lodge to relax.
Day 3: Refugio Amazonas 2/4: Oxbow Lake Canoe Trip, Brazil Nut Plantation Visit & Rainforest Research
Today's first activity is a paddle around the nearby Condenado oxbow lake by canoe. This still, murky body of water is frequented by many rainforest species, including the comical hoatzin, also known as the stinkbird because of its digestive system with similarities to that of a cow, which means the food digesting in its gut can be smelt from afar. You could also spot caiman and, if you are lucky, giant river otters.
Next on your itinerary, and only a few minutes hike from the lodge, is a visit to a beautiful old-growth patch of Brazil nut forest that has been harvested for decades (if not centuries). You will get to see the remains of a camp used only for two months per year by Brazil nut gatherers, and the whole process of cultivation of this, the rainforest's only sustainably-harvested commercial product, will be explained to you.
Your entire stay at Refugio Amazonas helps further rainforest research through the money you spend on your trip. Camera traps are a vital piece of rainforest research, as they allow researchers to observe and collect data on the natural behavioral patterns of creatures. Your next activity will see you directly helping researchers as you help make sure cameras are working correctly, and check to see what footage the cameras have captured: often, this is how the movements of rarer and more timid fauna that you would seldom spot in person can be observed. You will also get to study moth species than the monitoring traps have caught. Who knows: you might have helped discover a new species unknown to science! This happens quite often in the jungle, where such a huge number of species exist.
After this activity, return to your lodge to relax.
Day 4: Refugio Amazonas: 3/4: Macaw Clay Lick Visit & Rainforest Mountain Biking
Today you will take a boat trip some two hours from the lodge, deep into the Tambopata National Reserve, stopping at the Chuncho clay lick. A clay lick is a place where you can observe dozens of large macaws feeding on the special nutrient-rich clays of the riverbank. Because of the rigorously protected area in which it is located, the Chuncho clay lick probably attracts more large macaws than any other clay lick in the world. The sight of dozens of macaws taking flight is truly unforgettable, but be warned that the birds do not visit the clay lick when it is raining, and so the time and duration of this activity is subject to weather conditions.
After this, the actively inclined might like to try Amazon mountain biking, experiencing the beauty of the rainforest along 6.2 mi / 10 km of trails. You will get your very own mountain bike guide to show you the way along the trail system.
After this, return to your lodge to relax.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 5: Refugio Amazonas 4/4: Return by Boat to Puerto Maldonado, Fly to Cusco & Free Afternoon
This morning, after your last breakfast at the lodge, you will head back by boat and then by bus to to Puerto Maldonado Airport for your flight to the ancient Inca capital of Cusco! Upon your arrival, you will be welcomed and then transferred to your hotel.
You now have the rest of the day at leisure to relax and adapt to Cusco's lofty elevation. The city lies at 11,000 feet (3000 meters) above sea level, so take it easy and remember to drink lots of water!
Cusco was designed by the Incas as a city for walking, so start your exploration of the city's ancient, narrow stone alleyways on foot. Take a stroll through the Plaza de Armas, taking time to see its stunning cathedral; if the weather is beautiful, the plaza is the ideal place to sit on a balcony or bench and enjoy a cup of coca tea while adjusting to the elevation.
If you feel like doing something more active, Cusco is one of Peru's most cosmopolitan destinations, and full of museums, galleries and historic sights. Other suggestions for activities today include:
- Visiting the Qoricancha complex, also known as the Templo del sol (Temple of the Sun). The temple was built by the Incan Emperor Pachacutec (1438-1572), and became one of the Inca Empire's major centres of worship. After the arrival of the Spaniards, it then became the basis for the construction of the Convento de Santo Domingo (Santo Domingo Convent), a 17th-century Baroque Church that is a telling example of the clash between Andean and western cultures.
- Walking up above the city to Sacsayhuamán and next-door Quenqo, both archaeological complexes used mostly for religious and agricultural rituals, located 2.5 miles (4 km) from central 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 shrouded in mystery.
- Discovering 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. The ruins are further along the same road (to Pisac) that Sacsayhuamán and Quenqo are on.
- Taking a walk uphill from the Plaza de Armas to the district of San Blas, one of the city’s most attractive areas. Here are beautifully restored buildings, artesanía (handicrafts) workshops and stores. You will find high-quality crafts, comely cobbled streets and quaint little restaurants serving traditional Andean cuisine.
- Experiencing the legendary Mercado Central de San Pedro (central San Pedro Market), 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.
- Eating lunch (and perhaps dinner too!) at a local Peruvian restaurant to sample the distinctive local flavors and cooking techniques of the Peruvian Andes. See here for more on the best places to eat in Cusco.
Day 6: Sacred Valley Tour of Pisac, Ollantaytambo & Chinchero
Today, you will take a day trip from Cusco to explore the heart of the Sacred Valley. Your first stop will be Pisac, one of the most important archaeological sites in the region. Here, at Pisac Citadel, you will get to explore ancient Inca burial grounds, irrigation systems, and astronomy centers. Next, you will descend to the town of Pisac at the bottom of the valley, famous for its bustling textile market. Here, select from a wide assortment of colors, styles, and designs for gifts to take home with you to remember your Andean adventure by.
You will next make a lunch stop, enjoying traditional Peruvian Andean cuisine at a restaurant in Urubamba, located in a beautiful setting overlooking the Urubamba River.
From here, you then head to the ancient Incan settlement of Ollantaytambo, one of the few remaining places in the Sacred Valley that has retained its original Inca grid plan. Walk streets lined with Inca-era canals, view ancient Inca houses still in use today and climb the agricultural terraces, from where you can enjoy an Inca’s-eye-view of the valley. At the latter, you will be able to see some of the quarries from where the stone for Ollantaytambo was sourced.
After this, you will head to Chinchero, a small but comely rustic Andean town and your final stop of the day. You will get to explore the ruins here before making your way back to Cusco.
In gastronomic hotspot Cusco, a fantastic selection of places to eat and drink await. Sample one of these (or more than one!) independently this evening.
Day 7: Moray & Maras Salt Mines Tour
This morning, you'll depart on a day trip to a different region of the Sacred Valley.
Your first stop today will be Moray. This is an incredible and utterly distinctive complex amongst the Sacred Valley's myriad Inca ruins: a series of stone terraced amphitheaters. These terraces are carved deep into the earth in the shape of a bowl. The exact reason for their construction is unknown; however, historians believe the Incas built Moray to experiment with crop production in different micro-climates.
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 here, strikingly carved into the steep mountainside over a millennium ago.
Finally, after seeing these two incredible ancient sights, return to Cusco and have the rest of the day to rest or further explore the city. Do not pass over an opportunity to sample another of the city's wonderful places to eat this evening, independently and away from your itinerary.
Day 8: Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: Cusco-Ollantaytambo-Km 104-Aguas Calientes
Today, after breakfast, you will be picked up from your hotel and transferred to Ollantaytambo train station in readiness for hiking along the Short Inca Trail towards Machu Picchu. At Ollantaytambo, your train will take you to the trailhead at Km 104 where the Short Inca Trail, a 1-day version of the famous 4-day hike, begins.
You will now begin hiking the trail, enjoying the scenery of the valley as it gets more dramatic and becomes a canyon. The first archeological site you will visit on your hike is Chachabamba: a beautifully situated and especially well-preserved construction likely used for religious purposes and as a gatekeeping point for this entrance to Machu Picchu.
From here, you will ascend for three hours to the ruins of Wiñay Wayna at 8,964 ft (2732 m). This site was an ancient rest area for travelers on the Inca trail and you too will stop here to relax and enjoy your packed lunch surrounded by superb mountain views.
The trail then becomes gentler and continues through semi-tropical cloud forest to Intipunku (the Sun Gate) at which you will arrive at around 3 pm. Here, you will get to enjoy your first panoramic views of Machu Picchu. You will descend for 30 minutes towards Machu Picchu citadel where there will be time for a short break and, of course, opportunity for photos.
Afterwards you will take the bus down to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town) and check into your hotel to rest in anticipation of your visit to Machu Picchu tomorrow!
Maximum Altitude: 8964 ft (2,732 m)
Walk Distance: 6.67 miles (10.79 km)
Walk Time: 7 hours
Day 9: Explore Machu Picchu & Return to Cusco
As you have stayed overnight in the town closest to the wonder of Machu Picchu, it is time to take advantage and get up early to beat the crowds that will later arrive at the site. You will take a 25-minute bus up from Machu Picchu Town through cloud forest to reach the entrance to Machu Picchu Citadel, hopefully before many other visitors are there.
This superlative 15th-century Inca complex 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 a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as being one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Yet the citadel was abandoned just 100 years after construction and remained largely hidden to the outside world until the early 20th century.
Your guide will lead you around the site, explaining the different buildings and hidden corners of the complex. Approximately one-third of the site has been reconstructed into its original structure, giving visitors a sense of the grandeur and artistry of the original citadel. You will also have time after the guided tour to explore the sanctuary of Machu Picchu independently.
See here for more on the best time to visit Machu Picchu.
After the tour, you take the bus back to Machu Picchu Town and have a chance to grab your own lunch in the lively town center. Next, connect to your train to Ollantaytambo and then your connecting transfer back to your hotel in Cusco.
Cusco is full of fantastic places to eat and drink: consider independently sampling some traditional Peruvian food at one of these this evening, under your own steam and away from the itinerary schedule. Recharge your batteries this evening for another early start tomorrow!
Day 10: Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain Trek
The Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain is a multi-coloured mountainous massif full of wild desert landscapes, snow-capped glaciated peaks and wandering herds of alpaca, once almost unknown to travelers but now one of the most sought-after excursions in the Cusco area. Today is your chance to see this fantastic geological wonder for yourself.
You will be picked you up early from your Cusco hotel around 3 am to set out on the three-hour drive to the trailhead for the Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain hike at Quesiuno (14,189 ft / 4326 m), stopping for breakfast along the road from Cusco.
You then embark on a 2-hour hike to the summit. The route passes herds of alpacas and llamas and tiny villages where you and your group will have chance to interact with local residents. Views of one of Peru's highest peaks, Ausangate Mountain, will stun you as you climb. Upon reaching the summit and the spectacular panorama of Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain (16,466 ft / 5,020 m), you will have time to explore the mountaintop area for approximately 30 minutes.
It is then time to go back down the way you came, with the return leg taking approximately 1.5 hours. Your transfer will be waiting for you when you return, and you will then embark on the 3-hour return drive to Cusco, stopping along the route back for a buffet lunch.
You will be dropped off back at your Cusco hotel at about 5:30 pm. As Cusco is renowned for its fantastic Andean cuisine and tonight is your last night in the city before heading home, it could be time to toast your trip by heading to one of the many atmospheric places to eat and drink here. These include the Museo del Pisco, a classy museum and bar dedicated to the national spirit that also serves well-regarded food such as beef sautéed in pisco!
Day 11: Adiós: Fly to Lima, Depart Peru
Today is your last day in Peru! You will be met at your hotel for a transfer to Cusco Airport, where you will catch your flight back to Lima and then connect to your international departure.
¡Buen viaje! Have a good trip!
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