One of the most famous civilization was the Inca Empire. Centered around Cusco and along the Andean Mountain range, this pre-Columbian massive empire sprawled thru out most of the western South American continent, extending from what is today Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Bolivia. This itinerary is a great way to spend some time exploring Peru and its culture, history and amazing sights, including the magnificient Machu Picchu. While it had a short existence of about a hundred years, the Inca Empire's past can easily be felt everywhere you go. It is the proud heritage of a country that embraces its roots that has allowed the preservation of many historical sites which can still be visited to this day.
Day One :
The best way to get to Peru is to fly to its capital, Lima. It is a major metropolis that a third of Peruvians call home. Thanks to its nearby modern Airport, Jorge Chavez International, the city is easily accessible from many cities around the Americas and Europe. Most likely you will arrive mid to late afternoon. This will give you enough time to go to the hotel and start enjoying your vacation right away. For the three night stay in Lima, I recommend "Arawi Miraflores Prime Hotel" ( Calle Colon 223, Lima 18, Lima ). It offers all the amenities you may need and has the benefit of being in the highly thought after neighborhood of Miraflores. Between nearby amazing scenery including cliffs and parks ; and a thriving local life, the area is very popular with tourists and locals alike. It offers a wide choice of restaurants and shops. I recommend spending the evening around Barranco district, just south of the hotel. The more artsy and colorful neighborhood of Lima, including Its must see Bridge of Sighs ( 12°8'56.730"S 77°1'21.570"W ), is a people pleaser with plenty of eateries available.
Day Two :
After a restful night and a local breakfast, it is time to spend the first full day in Lima. You will be exploring the downtown part of the city. There, you will quickly notice that regardless of where you look, it is easy to stumble on some building of historical significance. The best way to discover downtown is to grab a cab from the hotel and head straight to Plaza San Martin ( St Martin Square ). From there you will be able to stroll all day and visit one place after another. Labeled as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this square showcases the towering statue of Jose de San Martin, a general widely considered to be the liberator of Peru. Part of the statue is also a lady standing with a Lama on her head. Try to find out why. From the square, you can walk Union Street for about 10 minutes before reaching the next square. This is a pedestrian street that used to be a center for the most affluent people. Thru the years, it has changed to a busy path surrounded by older buildings turned into stores. You will quickly arrive at the most popular square of the city, Plaza de Armas, also called Plaza Mayor. Located in the historical center of the city, it is a beautiful square that is surrounded by centuries of history. On the left side, The Palacio Municipal de Lima serves as City Hall. While this is not the original building, the council has been located here since 1548. Continue your walk just 300 ft further down the street, to Aliaga House. I recommend you visit this museum. The house has been owned by the same family for 17 generations, with the first one having arrived here with the Spanish conquistadors. To visit, click here. You will also need to hire a local guide ( list available here ). Afterward, walk back toward the square, along the Palacio Nacional de Gobierno. This is the seat of the Peruvian government as well as the presidential residence.It was built by Pizarro, the well known Spanish conquistador who invaded the Inca Empire. A number of ceremonial guard units of the Peruvian arm forces are stationed at the Palace, and participate in the daily changing of the guards ceremony, as well as other official duties, at noon. Visiting can be arranged but it's a little bit complicated as it requires going thru the tourism office. On the right side of the square is the Archbishop's Palace. It houses the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Lima. Before exploring further, now would be a good time to stop for lunch. There are numerous local restaurant around the square or along side streets. Just a few minutes from the square you will come across the museum of Peruvian Literature ( 12°2'39.895"S 77°1'43.519"W ). The facade is worth stopping for a few minutes. The building used to be a railroad station. Within a couple minutes your walk will take you to the Parque de la Muralla ( 12°2'40.013"S 77°1'33.151"W ). It is a park that sits on top of walls and bastions that made the fortification of Lima during the 17th century. From there you can easily reach the next visit, The Monastery of San Francisco ( 12°2'43.483"S 77°1'37.695"W ). Its tour include a visit of the library and catacombs. The library has a collection of more than 20000 antique books including an edition of the bible from the 16th century. To finish the day, walk less than ten minutes to the Torre Tagle Palace ( 12°2'55.492"S 77°1'45.264"W ). In a Spanish baroque style, the palace was built in 1715 to house the treasurer of the royal Spanish fleet. The coat of arms can still be visible above the main door. Unfortunately, a visit is unlikely as it requires an authorization from the government.
Day Three :
For your second day in Lima, time will be spent mainly around the neighborhoods of Miraflores and San Isidro. Walk a mile down to Parque Del Amor ( Love Park ) ( 12°7'37.021"S 77°2'11.642"W ). A small touristic park that the offers incredible views of the boardwalk and the Pacific Ocean. However, its main attraction is the numerous love quotes found on the walls. From this park, you can walk for miles along successive parks or the boardwalk and discover why so many people love Miraflores. From the area, grab a cab for a quick ride to the first visit. Huaca Pucllana ( 12°6'40.400"S 77°2'1.557"W ) is a 1500 year old clay pyramid that was built by The Lima Culture, a pre-Inca civilization. You can tour the ruins and learn about the life of this indigenous culture thanks to its museum full or artifacts. Next, head to another ruin, located nearby in the San Isidro district. Huaca Huallamarca ( 12°5'50.256"S 77°2'25.631"W ) is a pyramid that is in a better condition than Pucllana. It has been restored and truly demonstrates how advanced ancient civilizations were in construction techniques. It is believed to have been used as a ceremonial center and a cemetery by early civilizations such as the Huallas. For the afternoon, head to the national Museum of Archeology ( 12°4'38.519"S 77°3'44.206"W ). Located in a colonial estate, it is an impressive museum that displays thousands of recovered pieces retracing centuries of Peruvian history. It is well worth the time thanks to neatly organized displays. For the evening, head to Park of the Reserve and admire the Magic Water Circuit ( 12°4'15.731"S 77°2'1.539"W ). It is said to be the largest fountain show in the world. With incredible colors, this 13 fountain interactive display has become a very popular attraction for people of all ages.
Day Four :
It is time to leave Lima and head to the Andes. It is better to try and book a morning or early afternoon flight. This will allow you to go straight from the hotel to the airport and get to Cusco early enough to enjoy part of the day there. LAN Peru flies between the two cities a few times a day. It takes about an hour and a half to get to Cusco. For the next two nights, I recommend staying at the Sonesta Hotel ( Av. El Sol, 954, Cusco ). Centrally located in the city, it is a comfortable hotel that offers a shuttle service from the airport, free WiFi and a delicious complimentary breakfast. Its location Allows for a great and easy afternoon of strolling along the charming streets of the city, ideal to slowly acclimating to the high altitude. Don’t forget to ask the hotel for the nearest office that sells the famous “Boleto Turistico”. This is the ticket that allows entry to numerous ruins and museums in and around Cusco. There are different variations but I recommend getting the full one that is valid for 10 days and will allow entry to all the attractions on this itinerary. While you are at the office, buy your tickets for Machu Picchu but you should really have done that online weeks ago to guarantee a ticket. Once the Boleto turistico is taken care of, head to the Qoricancha site museum. It is a temple dating back to the Inca Empire that was dedicated to Inti, the Sun God. Next walk to the 12 angled stone. On one of the wall that used to be part of an Inca palace, the stone shows how advanced the Inca were with construction, neatly shaping rocks to fit perfectly like a puzzle. Afterward, walk down to San Pedro Market but beware that it closes at 6pm. Along the mile walk to get there, there is a lot to see. You will walk by the Cusco Cathedral, Plaza de Armas, Plaza de Regocijo and Plaza San Francisco. It is a great walk to soak up the Peruvian atmosphere and eventually explore a market that is mostly used by the locals, helping understand and enjoy the day to day life of the city. For the evening, San Blas District, just a few blocks north of the angled stone, is a great artistic neighborhood to grab dinner.
Day Five :
Today will be a day of hiking and exploration. It will take you around the northern edge of the city where you will discover ruins that are some of the most incredible remnants of the Inca Culture and previous civilizations. With a quick cab ride, start the day at the Sacsayhuaman walled complex. A UNESCO heritage site, these are ruins that once were part of a citadel considered to be the largest structure built by the Incas. It is said that the complex was used for ceremonies and storage for ceramics, arms and tools among other things. Following the Spanish invasion, the stones were taken to build colonial facilities in Cusco and the site was covered in dirt, only to be rediscovered in the mid 1980’s. From there, walk less than a mile to Q’enco archeological site ( 13°30'37.246"S 71°58'18.304"W ). On the way stop by the giant white stone Christ statue, built by Palestinians in 1945. Q’enco is believed to have been used for rituals and other religious ceremonies. To complement this site, walk another 20 minutes to the Temple of the Moon ( 13°30'18.909"S 71°57'52.407"W ). Made up of a stones, inside a cave, this religious site was built by a pre-Inca tribe and was possibly used to store mummies. Later, spend the rest of the afternoon walking the 2 miles back to the hotel, while enjoying the view of the valley and Cusco.
Day Six :
Start your day early and head to Aguas Calientes, a tiny town at the foot of Machu Picchu. There are different options to get there but taking a train is the most efficient way. Between different rail companies, schedules, and services you will have a lot of choices. I recommend taking IncaRail for a departure around 8:30am. It will allow for an afternoon visit of the citadel. That morning schedule is usually a bimodal service meaning the first 2 hours of the trip are by bus from the San Pedro Station ( 13°31'15.882"S 71°58'59.710"W ) in Cusco to the town of Ollantaytambo than from there it is a 2 hour train ride to Aguas Calientes. Thanks to the wide windows, the local music, the scenery of the Andes and of the Sacred Valley, this train ride is quite an unforgettable experience. If you want an even more special trip, you can book the luxury train Hiram Bingham, operated by Belmont, the same company that operates the Orient Express Train. It is named after the archeologist that made public the existence of the site. Once you make it to the town, check into the hotel to drop your bags and grab lunch if you haven’t done so on the train. From the town, catch the bus that goes up the hill to the Machu Picchu entrance. It takes about 40 minutes. By entering the site around 3pm, you will have about 3 hours to explore the ruins. An afternoon visit usually makes for a less crowded and better weather tour. As the most well known Inca ruins, Machu Picchu as been the subject of many studies by many experts. Its location and its size reflects how ingenious and advanced Incas were with construction skills. It is believed that Machu Picchu was a royal compound where close to a thousand people might have lived. The site also showcases the hundred of step terraces that were used for farming. The citadel is well worth the long journey to come here and its presence on the UNESCO heritage list as well as the new seven wonders of the world list are easily justified. Thanks to a continuous restoration program, visitors can visually understand the immensity of the citadel. I recommend either hiring a local guide or buying a book to get all the explanations as you walk around. Afterward, head back to the small town for a much deserved relaxing evening. The town has not much to offer and everything tends to be well overpriced so avoid any souvenir purchases here. I recommend the hotel Casa del Sol ( 13°9'18.396"S 72°31'29.927"W ). Very comfortable hotel with good food, modern amenities, great views and a pool and wellness center, which makes for a great evening after hiking all afternoon. For a cheaper alternative, try Tierra Viva or one of the numerous hostels.
Day Seven :
Before heading back to Cusco on the early afternoon train, you can either enjoy a lazy morning strolling thru the town and the overpriced “artisan” market ( 13°9'19.327"S 72°31'28.081"W ) or bathing in the hot springs ( 13°9'2.748"S 72°31'16.350"W ) that are less than 10 minutes walk from the hotel. If you still feel motivated, you can also hike to a lookout point ( 13°9'18.757"S 72°32'2.744"W ) that offers a full view of the whole city and Machu Picchu. Afterward, head to the train station for the return trip to Cusco. With a departure of around 2pm, you will arrive around 6:30pm. Just enough time to head to your hotel, Sonesta Hotel, and hit the town for an evening of local cuisine at one of the best local restaurant, Uchu ( 135 Calle Palacio ).
Day Eight :
First thing on the agenda is to head to the town of Pisac. Located just 30 miles north, it takes about 45 minutes to an hour to get there. You can either grab a regular cab for around 30$ or instead give the “colectivo” a try. The colectivos are small buses that go from Cusco to surrounding areas. They are located throughout the city and, for a much cheaper cost than a cab, are an efficient yet unique way to get around. They wait to be full and than leave for the destination. It usually doesn’t take very long. If that is an experience you are interested in, ask the hotel for the nearest one going where you want to go. From Pisac it is about a mile and half walk to the Písac ruins ( 13°25'8.745"S 71°50'59.268"W ). The ruins sit on top of a hill offering amazing views into the Sacred Valley. Formed from four distinct areas, the site includes a temple, a citadel, religious buildings as well as numerous layered terraces. It is believed that the site served primarily as a military structure to protect the valley leading to the Inca Empire and was unfortunately destroyed by Pizarro and other Spanish conquerors during the 16th century invasion. Afterward, walk back to town for a lunch before discovering the very popular local market. The market is on Tuesday, Thursday and even bigger on Sunday, so make sure to organize your trip accordingly. While you can find a lot of common souvenirs, Písac market also has a lot of unique things for sale as many local Peruvians come here to sell their handmade goods like painted ceramics. It closes around 5:30pm so plan on spending an hour or so walking around the alleys of the market and surrounding area. You can head back to Cusco for your final evening on this Peruvian holiday or stay a little longer in Písac for dinner before the hour long drive back to the hotel.
Day Nine :
It is time now to head back home. From Cusco, the most convenient and efficient way is usually to first fly back to Lima and from there to connect to a flight home. A mid to late morning flight to Lima usually works better since flights from there to far destinations like Europe and North America tend to be later in the afternoon therefore minimizing the wait time in Lima.
While this itinerary covert some important parts of Perú, it is worth noting that 8-10 days here is a minimum to be able to enjoy the incredible sites. Perú has a lot to offer and you could easily do a month long circuit around the country yet not see it all. I would also add that it is not a cheap experience by any mean. Just going to, and visiting, Machu Picchu from Cusco can easily set you back 250$ per person with just the transportation and ticket. If instead of following this individual, slower paced itinerary, you want to book a comprehensive tour I urge you to do a lot of research before choosing a company because a lot of them schedule too many things in a day and you end up really missing on the Peruvian experience.
Expert tourist, I love visiting new places, discovering new cultures and meeting new people. With this blog, and my business "Itinerary of a passport", I want to share my passion, ideas and experience.