Explore Peru's coast, mountains, and rainforest in this 10-day highlights trip. Start in metropolitan Lima and soak in the coastal vibe, then head east deep into the Amazon rainforest. Explore the peaceful reserve, enjoy wildlife viewing, and stay in a lodge on the banks of a mighty river. Continue to Cusco to explore archaeological sites and the stunning Sacred Valley. Visit the famed Machu Picchu citadel, then keep going south to Lake Titicaca—South America's largest lake—to explore cultures who predate the Inca by millennia.

Highlights

  • Explore Lima's bustling nightlife and Cusco's ancient cobblestone streets
  • Spot Amazonian wildlife like macaws, cayman, anaconda, and tapir
  • Enjoy spectacular glacier views and sweeping vistas as you travel through the Andes mountains
  • Discover the secrets of Machu Picchu's ruins
  • Get on the water and see the famous floating reed islands on Lake Titicaca

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Lima Lima
Day 2 Lima - Puerto Maldonado Puerto Maldonado
Day 3 Wildlife Viewing at Tambopata Reserve Puerto Maldonado
Day 4 From the Amazon to the Andes Ollantaytambo
Day 5 Machu Picchu Excursion: Ollantaytambo & Machu Picchu Ollantaytambo
Day 6 Sacred Valley Tour: Ollantaytambo - Moray - Maras - Cusco Cusco
Day 7 Exploring Cusco: History & San Pedro Cusco
Day 8 Arriving at Lake Titicaca: Cusco - Puno Puno
Day 9 Lake Titicaca Tour: Uros Floating Islands & Taquile Island Puno
Day 10 Departing Puno  

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: Lima - Puerto Maldonado

Stay in a warm and welcoming hacienda
Stay in a warm and welcoming hacienda

Take a short flight from Lima to Puerto Maldonado, the gateway to the southern Amazon rainforest. Take a short motorized canoe trip down the Madre de Dios River to the Inkaterra Hacienda Concepcion deep in the jungle, where you will stop for a traditional, delicious meal.  

After lunch, take a walk around the hacienda's trails, where you will discover and learn about the rainforest and local wildlife.  At dusk navigate the river by outboard motorized canoe with a guided twilight river excursion. Learn about the Amazonian river ecosystem, nocturnal wildlife behavior, and the southern constellations.

Day 3: Wildlife Viewing at Tambopata Reserve

The dazzling Blue Morpho butterfly
The dazzling Blue Morpho butterfly

Get ready for a long trek through terra firma into the Tambopata National Reserve towards Lake Sandoval. Navigate by dugout canoe across this mirror-like oxbow lake that is home to a variety of unique wildlife. Keep an eye out for endangered giant river otter, the blue-and-yellow macaw, the red howler monkey, the black caiman (a member of the alligator family), and one of the world's biggest freshwater scaled fish, the paiche.

Head back to the lodge for lunch, then head out for a tour of the canopy walkway, where lucky visitors can spot anacondas. Take a 20-minute ride by outboard motorized canoe to an interpretation center, where you will learn about its construction and conservation projects. Ascend one of the two 98-foot towers (30 m) and cross the seven hanging bridges that connect the treetops at 91 feet high (28 m) to see a bird's eye view of the jungle. Enjoy the breathtaking vistas and catch a glimpse of white-throated toucans, woodpeckers, trogons, squirrel monkeys and three-toed sloths.

In the evening, go on a night excursion into the rainforest for a wildlife tour to observe fascinating nocturnal animals. Listen to the sounds of the rainforest at night and try to spot wildlife in the trees with the flashlights from the lodge. 

Day 4: From the Amazon to the Andes

Narrow streets in Cusco frame the dry hills
Narrow streets in Cusco frame the dry hills

After breakfast, take a boat ride back to Puerto Maldonado, and transfer to the airport to catch your flight to the imperial Inca city of Cusco, where you'll be welcomed by a tour representative. Enjoy a scenic ride through the valley to your hotel in the Sacred Valley

For lunch, sit down to a traditional Peruvian meal at a restaurant overlooking the Urubamba River. Afterward, continue on to Ollantaytambo, an old Inca village with many surrounding ruins and archaeological sites. Explore the citadel and stone structures of the town, then settle into your hotel for the night. 

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Day 5: Machu Picchu Excursion: Ollantaytambo & Machu Picchu

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

Day 6: Sacred Valley Tour: Ollantaytambo - Moray - Maras - Cusco

Maras Salt Flats
Maras Salt Flats

Today you will depart from your hotel 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 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. 

Afterward, continue back to Cusco to spend the night.

Day 7: Exploring Cusco: History & San Pedro

Picturesque San Blas
Picturesque San Blas

Today is a free day to explore Cusco and the surrounding ancient ruins. Since Cusco was designed by the Incas as a city for walking, start your exploration of the narrow stone alleyways on foot. 

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 juices, home-style meals, medicinal herb stalls, and rows of various meats, loaves of bread, 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 8: Arriving at Lake Titicaca: Cusco - Puno

Lake Titicaca is the largest high-elevation lake in the world
Lake Titicaca is the largest high-elevation lake in the world

Today you will embark on a scenic trip of the Peruvian Andes. On board a comfortable bus, you will pass various Andean villages, snow-capped mountains, and herds of llamas. Stop along the way at Andahuaylillas, also known as the Sistine Chapel of America, and Racchi, the ruins of an Inca temple to the god Wiracocha. Pass through La Raya Pass, which is the highest point of the Peruvian Altiplano. Pause for lunch at a traditional Andean restaurant before arriving in Puno, a port city on Lake Titicaca's shore. 

Although many bodies of water exist at higher elevations, Lake Titicaca's surface elevation of 12,507 ft (3,812 m) makes it the highest lake in the world that is navigatable by large commercial vessels. The largest lake in South America is a hotbed of ecological diversity, archaeological ruins, tourism, and modern-day farming communities. The coastline outside of Puno is home to the Uros people, who live on floating reed islands made from the totora plant, a thick buoyant reed. Totora is used to make everything from homes and boats to the islands nearly half the size of a football field. The Uros people offer guided tours to their homes and sell traditional handicrafts to supplement their traditional hunting and fishing economy. 

Several other ethnic groups, most notably the Quechua and Taquileños, inhabit several of the other larger islands on the lake, the majority of which have no electricity or paved roads. Visitors are welcome to select homes on this island for homestays. 

Photographers and naturalists will enjoy seeing some of the many hundreds of aquatic and bird species, many of which are found nowhere else on earth. 

It's a good idea to take it easy on your first day and acclimatize the elevation. Drink lots of water and make sure to rest. After arrival, check out some of the town's restaurants and cafes for a fresh and local dining experience.

Day 9: Lake Titicaca Tour: Uros Floating Islands & Taquile Island

Uros floating island on Lake Titicaca
Uros floating island on Lake Titicaca

Be sure to fuel up at breakfast this morning, as this full-day experience will last around 9 hours. 

Your first stop will be to one of the floating Uros islands. It is believed that the Uros were one of the first ethnic groups to populate the Andean region. The Uros people live on man-made floating islands, which are constructed out of the totora reeds that grow in abundance around the lake. During your visit to these islands, you'll learn about their everyday life and traditions.

After your visit to the floating island, you'll head to lunch at a local restaurant on Taquile Island*. Quinoa soup, fresh fish caught in the lake, and vegetables are a typical lunchtime meal in Taquile. After lunch, explore Taquile Island. This island remained mostly isolated from the outside world until the 1950s, and as a result, the Taquileños follow a very different way of life. On the island, decisions are made communally, there are no cars, and there is very little electricity - just the way the Taquileños like it. Taquile is also famous for the exquisite weavings created by local artists. Traditionally, the men spin the thread, and the women design and weave each piece. You'll have the opportunity to learn about the lives and traditions of the Taquileños, and appreciate the stunning views of Lake Titicaca from the island's shores. 

In the evening, walk back to the main dock in Taquile and board a boat back to Puno. Upon arrival in Puno, transfer to your hotel for the evening. 

*Note: Visiting Taquile requires a strenuous climb up 500 steps to the main part of the island. Elevation ranges from around 12,000 ft (3660 m) at the lakeshore up to 13,000+ ft (3960 m) at the highest point.

Day 10: Departing Puno

Two Andean condors catch a breeze
Two Andean condors catch a breeze

In the morning you will be transferred to the Juliaca airport to take your flight back to Lima and connect with your international flight home. Travel safe, and come again soon!

Map

Map of Best of Peru: Amazon, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca - 10 Days
Map of Best of Peru: Amazon, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca - 10 Days
Deborah
Written by Deborah Hayman, updated Oct 29, 2019