The classic itinerary to Peru's absolute top highlights. Starting in Lima head to the southern Andes to visit the ancient capital and Inca stronghold of Cusco, followed by a night or two exploring the glorious Sacred Valley. From here round off the trip with a guided tour of Machu Picchu itself. There's no denying that this is a well-trodden route, but with the help of a quality tour operator with intimate local expertise it's still easy to get off the beaten path for a view of Peru's indigenous cultural heritage. If you've got time to extend your trip you can get truly off the beaten path with a visit to some of Peru's lesser-known archaeological sites, the Amazon rain forest, or simply spend a little longer in Lima and Cusco for a better insight into contemporary Peru, its fascinating culture and world-beating cuisine.

Key information

Destinations Destinations Lima, Cusco, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu
Activity Activity Luxury, Family, Nature & Wildlife, Culture
Physical Level Physical Level Mild
Season Season January - December

Suggested itinerary

Arrival to Lima

Arrival to 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.

Cusco, capital of the Inca

Cusco, capital of the Inca

Day 2–3 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.

Don't miss

Explore historic Cusco

Explore historic Cusco

Cusco, once the capital of the Inca Empire, combines pre-Colombian heritage with colonial-era architecture and vibrant contemporary city life. You can (and should) spend some time exploring solo, but a good quality guided tour will visit the popular sites of Sacsayhuaman, Koricancha and Cusco Cathedral, while avoiding the tourist traps and giving you an insight into the stories behind this fascinating city.

Explore the Sacred Valley

Explore the Sacred Valley

Day 4 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

Take a private tour of the Sacred Valley

Take a private tour of the Sacred Valley

The glorious Sacred Valley connects Cusco with Machu Picchu and is dotted with ruins, agricultural terraces, and historical towns, including Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Moras, Moray, as well as many lesser-visited spots. Get under the surface with a full-day private tour and explore the ruins, villages and bustling markets, all set amidst incredible landscapes.

Meet Andean culture in the Sacred Valley

Meet Andean culture in the Sacred Valley

Despite the Spanish colonial influence, Peruvian indigenous culture thrives in the Sacred Valley. The village of Ollantaytambo has been inhabited since the 13th century, and nearby Pisac has a vibrant (if somewhat touristy) market. A good guide will help you branch off the tourist trail for a better perspective.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Day 5 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

Take a guided visit of Machu Picchu

Take a guided visit of Machu Picchu

Yes it’s famous and busy, but for a perfectly valid reason: Machu Picchu remains one of the world’s preeminent archaeological sites. In spite of the crowds, an expert guide will bring the place to life and help you make sense of the Inca’s incredible ingenuity. You’ll have the option of climbing the adjacent Huayna Picchu for spectacular views, and can return for a second day exploring if you wish.

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.

Departure from Lima

Departure from Lima

Day 6 in Lima

Return to Lima to meet your flight home or, better still, stay a few days longer and get underneath the skin of Peru's fascinating capital city.

Don't miss

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 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.

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.

Superior

Isla Suasi

A luxurious eco-lodge located on the only private island in Lake Titicaca. Lodging includes all food and beverages and the opportunity for activities on the lake. The 24 rustic and appealing rooms all have expansive views of Lake Titicaca as does lunch, which is served on the bluff overlooking the lake.

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 $2,890pp. 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.

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