Start your trip in Lima, sampling modern Peruvian cuisine before travelling to Cusco to begin your Incan adventure. Explore the lofty citadels of Pisac and Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, before spending a magical day at Machu Picchu exploring its ruin and peaks. Head back to Cusco, making sure to visit Plaza de Armas and Santo Domingo convent, before leaving Peru and flying to Ecuador’s capital of Quito and its colonial architecture. From here, you’ll travel to the Galapagos Islands, starting on Isla Santa Cruz at the Charles Darwin Research Centre. Next, visit nearby Isla Fernandina to see the unique marine iguana and sea lions, Isla Isabela for giant tortoises and hawks, and Isla Santiago for lava fields and swimming with sea lions. End your trip back on the mainland in Quito.

Key information

Destinations Destinations Isla Santa Cruz, Isla Isabela, Isla Fernandina, Isla Santiago
Activity Activity Cruise & Sailing, Luxury, Nature & Wildlife, Culture
Physical Level Physical Level Easy
Season Season January - December

Suggested itinerary

Arrive in Lima

Arrive in Lima

Day 1 in Lima

Many tourists arrive in Lima only to fly straight out to Cusco, Arequipa or other popular tourist destinations in Peru. But the country’s sprawling capital deserves a chance to impress, and travellers who stick around for a few days are rewarded with a fascinating mix of history, culture, food and drink in this metropolitan melting-pot of all things Peruvian.

Lima is increasingly recognised as the culinary hotspot of South America, and foodies flock here to dine at world-renowned restaurants owned by Peruvian celebrity chefs such as Gastón Acurio and Virgilio Martínez. The city is also packed with lively cafes, bars and nightclubs, spread across bohemian districts, chic upscale areas, and places where regular Peruvians grab a cold beer.

The city is also home to most of Peru’s best museums and art galleries, while the historic centre – all of which is a UNESCO World Heritage site – is packed with mansions, churches and palaces from Peru’s colonial period and the Republican Era. You’ll also find archaeological sites right in the heart of the city, such as Huaca Pucllana in Miraflores, as well as the vast complex of Pachacamac just south of Lima’s urban boundary.

Don't miss

Explore Lima's arts scene

Explore Lima's arts scene

Frequently seen as little more than a transit hub for Machu Picchu, Lima is in fact one of Latin America's great cities. World-leading gastronomy jostles with a flourishing arts scene, easily filling several days of deep cultural immersion.

Eat like a king in Lima

Eat like a king in Lima

Lima’s chefs cook up a storm with the fruits of the sea, mountains and jungle. But it’s not all fine dining and exclusive restaurants: Peru’s is an egalitarian cuisine and you’ll find excellent food at street stalls, local markets and neighbourhood cantinas.

Explore the Sacred Valley

Explore the Sacred Valley

Day 2–3 in Sacred Valley

The Urubamba River descends from Cusco, eventually connecting with tributaries of the mighty Amazon. Over immense periods of time, this river has carved out a deep valley whose beauty defies the imagination. Little wonder then that the Inca chose this stunning and fertile location as their spiritual and agricultural heartland. Scattered with ruins, towns and villages where Quechua is still commonly heard, the Sacred Valley is much more than a mere stop-off before Machu Picchu. It’s a destination in its own right, and one that is easily explored from Cusco or by staying in the valley itself.

Standout attractions in the Sacred Valley include the Inca citadels of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, and the towns that sit beneath them. Here you’ll find traditional markets selling beautiful textiles and handicrafts made by the locals. Two other popular sites, located in close proximity to each other, are Maras and Moray. Moray features a series of terraced circular depressions, used by the Inca for crop experimentation at different altitudes and microclimates. Maras, meanwhile, is home to thousands of salt evaporation ponds that have been in use since Inca times. In more recent years, the Sacred Valley has become a destination for trekking, rafting, rock climbing and paragliding.

Don't miss

Trekking in Huaraz

Trekking in Huaraz

There are some fine and justifiably world-famous treks in the Cusco and Sacred Valley region, including the Inca Trail, Lares, Salkantay and Ausangate. But for something completely different consider hiking a portion of the Qhapaq Ñan, the 'original' Inca Trail, or head to the Cordilleras Blanca and Huayhuash around the city of Huaraz.

Marvel at the Inca heartland of Machu Picchu

Marvel at the Inca heartland of Machu Picchu

Day 4 in Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is the top attraction in Peru and, in 2007, was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. More than 1.5 million tourists visit Machu Picchu each year, and for good reason. It’s an archaeological gem and one of the finest examples of Inca architecture, stonework and planning. Adding to that is the citadel’s breath-taking location atop a lush mountain ridge, between the two peaks of Machu Picchu Mountain and Huayna Picchu, with the steep sides of the mountain plunging down into the misty river valleys below.

The most famous route to Machu Picchu is the classic Inca Trail, a four-day trek through the mountains, cloud forest and alpine tundra. Alternative treks have become increasingly popular over the last decade or so, and trails like Lares and Salkantay offer different experiences, both geographically and culturally, to the classic trail. Or you can take the train to Aguas Calientes, the lively town below Machu Picchu, and from there a short bus ride up a zigzagging road to the Inca citadel.

Don't miss

See another side to Machu Picchu

See another side to Machu Picchu

For a different perspective of the ruins and a bird’s eye view of the surrounding mountains and valleys, try the moderate hike up adjacent Huayna Picchu. Additional permit is required, our recommended tour operators will be happy to assist.

Sightseeing in Cusco

Sightseeing in Cusco

Day 5–6 in Cusco

Once the capital of the mighty Inca Empire, Cusco is today the beating heart of Peru's tourism industry. Millions of tourists arrive each year en route to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, and most stay at least a few days in Cusco. With layers of archaeology built on top of each other (often literally), the city is a stunning mix of Inca architecture and later colonial constructions. Packed with excellent restaurants serving both traditional and international cuisine, as well as hostels and hotels for every budget, Cusco has something for everyone.

Some of the most important Inca sites lie within or just outside the city. The most revered temple in the Inca Empire, the Qurikancha (or Coricancha), sits in the historic centre, a short walk from the lively Plaza de Armas with its seemingly endless parades and traditional activities. And overlooking the city is Saksaywaman, a huge complex with some of the most impressive Inca stonework you’ll see, its massive carved blocks interlinking with incredible precision. Then there are the colourful markets of Cusco, where locals sell fresh produce and intricate crafts brought in from across the region, just as they did back in the days of the Inca Empire.

Explore colonial Quito

Explore colonial Quito

Day 7–8 in Quito

Perched between Andean mountain peaks, dramatic Quito is the perfect introduction to laidback Ecuador. Check out the UNESCO World Heritage old town, packed with colonial architecture, art-filled churches and buzzy plazas.

Don't miss

Climb Pichincha Volcano

Climb Pichincha Volcano

Take the cable car up to the 4,000m high lookout for magnificent views over Quito and the snow-capped mountains that surround it. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can book an organised bike up to 4,500m for even more impressive views.

Follow in Darwin’s footsteps on Isla Santa Cruz

Follow in Darwin’s footsteps on Isla Santa Cruz

Day 9 in Isla Santa Cruz

Almost all visitors to the Galapagos Islands will touch down in Isla Santa Cruz at some point. From beach walks at Tortuga Bay to giant tortoises at El Chato Reserve, there is plenty to see — but make sure to visit the Charles Darwin Research Centre to learn more about the wildlife you’ll encounter on your trip.

Don't miss

Walk in the hills with giant tortoises

Walk in the hills with giant tortoises

The endangered giant tortoise is making a comeback on the Galapagos thanks to a concerted conservation effort. Head to the highlands of Santa Cruz to see these gentle giants shuffling around the hills.

See the unique marine iguana on Isla Fernandina

See the unique marine iguana on Isla Fernandina

Day 10 in Isla Fernandina

The third largest — and youngest — of the Galapagos Islands, Fernandina has a unique environment which makes it a haven for thousands of slowly-moving marine iguanas, Galapagos penguins, flightless cormorants and sea lions. This is also the island where you’re most likely to see a volcanic eruption, with the last happening in 2009.

Don't miss

Explore Punta Espinosa colourful sea life

Explore Punta Espinosa colourful sea life

Punta Espinosa on Isla Fernandina is home to some of the most interesting sea creatures in the archipelago. Enjoy watching lazy marine iguanas mingling with sea lions and colourful Sally Lightfoot crabs.

Go volcano climbing on Isla Isabela

Go volcano climbing on Isla Isabela

Day 11 in Isla Isabela

Isabela is the largest of the Galapagos Islands and is made up of five (sometimes) active volcanoes. Check out Volcan Wolf — the highest point in the entire Galapagos and Volcan Alcedo, home to hundreds of giant tortoises and juvenile hawks.

Don't miss

Snorkelling at Los Túneles

Snorkelling at Los Túneles

A maze of submerged lava tubes formed by Isabela Island’s numerous volcanoes, Los Túneles is refuge to sea turtles, reef sharks, mantas, seahorses, and numerous other species. Snorkelling here is akin to swimming in a giant aquarium.

Swim with sea lions

Swim with sea lions

Sea lions are abundant across the islands and are generally fearless around humans. Go for a swim on any of San Cristobal’s beaches and you’re bound to encounter a colony sunning on the beach or playing in the water.

Visit a pirate hideaway at Tagus Cove

Visit a pirate hideaway at Tagus Cove

Tucked away Tagus Cove was historically used by pirates and whalers as a hiding point. Today, visitors can still see their graffiti carved into Isla Isabela’s cliffs on their hike to the nearby salt-water Darwin Lake.

Explore the underwater caves of Punta Vicente Roca

Explore the underwater caves of Punta Vicente Roca

Take a panga ride to Punta Vicente Roca to snorkel two shallow underwater caves where you can see bullhead sharks, seahorses, batfishes and schools of barracuda.

Visit the black lava fields on Isla Santiago

Visit the black lava fields on Isla Santiago

Day 12 in Isla Santiago

Once a hideout for smugglers and pirates, Isla Santiago is now best-known for Sullivan Bay, where century-old lava has solidified into bubbles and caves, and Puerto Egas, a wet landing where you can see seals, sea lions and sea birds.

Don't miss

Snorkel at Puerto Egas

Snorkel at Puerto Egas

Snorkelling at Puerto Egas allows you to get in the water with sea lions, sea turtles, tropical fish and even sharks – this is one of the archipelago’s premier places to get in the water.

Return to Quito

Return to Quito

Day 13 in Quito

Head to Baltra airport for your return flight to Quito and make your international connection.

Where to stay

Classic

Casa San Blas

Right off the main pedestrian fare in the San Blas district and less than three blocks to the main square, Casa San Blas Boutique offers exceptional location and comfort. Inside, the well-appointed rooms make for a great night's rest, and the family-style suites are perfect for families.

Classic

Coral 1 & 2

The perfect cruise vessels for charter groups where comfort is guaranteed. Equipped with two terraces, a dining area, lounge, library, jacuzzi and restaurant serving Ecuadorian and international cuisine.

Capacity: 36 passengers.

Superior

Sea Star Journey

Boutique yacht offering a wide range of itineraries for those wanting visit the Galapagos Islands in comfort. Featuring 8 air-conditioned suites and spacious social areas with all the luxuries and facilities of a superior first class motor yacht.

Capacity: 16 passengers.

Superior

Sonesta Posada del Inca Yucay

Located in the heart of the Sacred Valley and surrounded by beautiful gardens, the Sonesta Posada del Inca Yucay is a remodelled eighteenth-century monastery that retains its original colonial charm.

Deluxe

M/V Evolution

This ship features stylish staterooms and suites, indoor and outdoor dining areas, a library cabin, an observation deck, a sundeck with a small hot-tub, a canopied roof-deck bar, and a medically staffed infirmary.

Capacity: 32 passengers.

Deluxe

Machu Picchu Pueblo

Hidden in 12 acres of seclusion, the Pueblo Hotel provides a paradise of individual bungalows with stone paths leading you through the gardens and natural fountains. The Pueblo is laid out in the traditional Andean Village style and consists of 85 luxury cottages, a naturalist centre, a natural Andean sauna, and an exquisite restaurant that overlooks the Vilcanota river below.

Book this itinerary

This route booked with one of our specialist tour operators would cost from $4,760pp. Pricing varies by accommodation class, and can be tailored to suit your budget.

Pricing is typically inclusive of hotels, transfers, meals, and all guided excursions and activities.

Other itineraries you might like

Why Horizon Guides?

Impartial guidebooks

Impartial guidebooks

Our travel guides are written by the leading experts in their destinations. We never take payment for positive coverage so you can count on us for impartial travel advice.

Expert itineraries

Expert itineraries

Suggested itineraries and routes to help you scratch beneath the surface, avoid the tourist traps, and plan an authentic, responsible and enjoyable journey.

Specialist advice

Specialist advice

Get friendly, expert travel advice and custom itineraries from some of the world’s best tour operators, with no spam, pressure or commitment to book.

Loading...