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Great Itineraries

If this will be your first trip to Peru, Cusco and Machu Picchu are practically obligatory. The question is "what else?" And the answer depends on how much time you have and what your interests are. You can combine Machu Picchu with a number of other Andean attractions, the Amazon rain forest, or pre-Inca archaeological sites on the coast. If this is not your first trip to Peru, the last itineraries in this section offer you something a little different.

Essential Peru

The former Inca capital of Cusco and citadel of Machu Picchu are two of the most impressive places in South America and the reasons that most people visit Peru. If you only have a week, this is where you head, but it is easy and highly recommended to combine a Machu Picchu pilgrimage with a visit to the rain forest, either in the nearby Madre de Dios province or on the Amazon River proper.

Day 1: Lima

Lima has more to see than you could possibly pack into a day. You should definitely take a three-hour tour of Lima's historic Centro, or give yourself that much time to explore it on your own. In the afternoon, head to Pueblo Libre to visit the Museo Nacional de Antropología y Arqueología and the Museo Rafael Larco Herrera, or take a taxi out to the suburb of Monterrico to visit the Museo de Oro (Gold Museum). In the evening, stroll around historic Barranco and have a drink, and perhaps dinner, there or at the Huaca Pucllana, where you have the option of exploring a pre-Inca site before you eat.

Day 2: Cusco

From Lima, take an early-morning flight to the ancient Inca capital of Cusco. Try to get seats on the left side of the plane for an amazing view of snow-draped peaks toward the end of the flight. You'll want to take it easy upon arriving in Cusco, which is perched at almost 11,000 feet above sea level. Take a half-day tour, or visit such sights as the Cathedral, Qorikancha, the Museo de Arte Precolombino, and the Museo Hilario Mendivil on your own. Be sure to visit the Plaza de Armas at night, before dining at one of the city's many excellent restaurants.

Day 3: Sacred Valley

Dedicate this day to the sights of the surrounding highlands, starting with Sacsayhuamán, the Inca ruins outside of town. You could do a day trip to the Sacred Valley, or spend this night at one of the many hotels located there. The valley holds an array of interesting sites, such as the market town of Pisac, Chinchero, and the massive Inca fortress at Ollantaytambo. It is also lower, and thus warmer, than Cusco, and lies on the route to Machu Picchu, which means you can catch a later train there.

Days 4 and 5: Machu Picchu

Start this day with the train trip to Machu Picchu, which winds its way past indigenous villages, snowcapped mountains, Inca ruins, and luxuriant forest to the town of Aguas Calientes. Check into your hotel, then spend the afternoon exploring Machu Picchu, the majestic citadel of the Incas. Head up the steep trail on the left shortly after entering the park and climb to the upper part of the ruins for a panoramic view before you start exploring. Before it gets dark, stroll up to the hot springs in the valley above Aguas Calientes, which is a lovely spot even if you don't get in the water.

On Day 5, get up early to explore a bit of Machu Picchu before it gets crowded. If you're up for a tough hike up a steep, slightly treacherous trail, climb Huayna Picchu, the backdrop mountain, for vertiginous views of the ruins and surrounding jungle. Or take the longer hike through the forest to the Temple of the Moon (be sure to slather on the insect repellent first). After all the hiking, you should be ready for a leisurely three-course lunch at the Fodor's Choice Indio Feliz, in Aguas Calientes. In the afternoon or evening, take the train back to Cusco.

Day 6: Cusco to Lima

Take advantage of the morning to visit a site you missed on your first day in Cusco, or to visit a few of the city's countless shops and markets. Fly to Lima (one hour) early enough to have lunch at one of the city's cebicherías. Use the afternoon to visit a museum or another attraction you missed on your first day there. You may want to catch a folklore show with dinner, or sample the nightlife in Miraflores or Barranco.

Madre de Dios Extension

The Essential Peru tour can easily be combined with a visit to the Amazon Basin by taking a short flight from Cusco to the adjacent Madre de Dios region on Day 6.

Days 6–9: Manu or Tambopata

Take an early-morning flight from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado, where someone from your lodge will meet you and take you to your lodging by boat. Your next three days will be filled with constant exposure to tropical nature on rain-forest hikes, boat trips on oxbow lakes, and wildlife observation at collpas (clay licks), from towers that let you ascend into the rain-forest canopy, or from the porch of your bungalow. Some lodges also offer contact with local indigenous peoples.

Day 10: Lima

Travel by boat and air back to Cusco and/or Lima. Follow Day 6 of the Essential Peru itinerary.

Amazon River Extension

An alternative to the nature lodges of Madre de Dios is to visit the Amazon River proper, with a three-night river cruise and some time in the port city of Iquitos.

Day 6: Cusco

Take advantage of an additional day in Cusco to visit some of the sites you missed on your first day there and spend more time in the city's shops and markets.

Days 7–10: Iquitos and Amazon Cruise

Fly to Lima early and catch a flight to Iquitos, a historic Amazon port city in the northeast corner of the country. Board a riverboat for a three-day cruise up the Amazon River to the Pacaya Samiria Reserve, where you'll explore Amazon tributaries and oxbow lakes in smaller boats to experience the area's exceptional biodiversity.

Day 11: Iquitos to Lima

Disembark in Iquitos and either spend a night there, to visit some of the nearby sites, or fly directly back to Lima. Follow Day 6 of the Essential Peru itinerary.

Classic Andean Journey

Day 1: Lima

Follow Day 1 of the Essential Peru itinerary.

Day 2: Arequipa

From Lima, take an early-morning flight to Arequipa, a lovely colonial city with a backdrop of snowcapped volcanoes. Explore the city's historic center with its rambling Monasterio de Santa Catalina and the Museo Santuarios Andinos, home of a pre-Columbian mummy known as "Juanita." Be sure to enjoy some traditional arequipeña cooking, such as rocoto relleno (a hot pepper stuffed with beef), or chupe de camarones (river prawn chowder).

Days 3: Colca Canyon

Rise early for the drive to Colca Canyon, the deepest canyon in the world and one of the best places in Peru to spot an Andean condor. After lunch, take a hike along the canyon's edge or go horseback riding.

Days 4 and 5: Puno and Lake Titicaca

Rise early and head to Cruz del Condor, the best place to spot those massive birds. Spend the rest of the day traveling overland through a series of Andean landscapes to Puno, on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. Puno's 3,830-meter (12,500-feet) altitude can take your breath away, so have a light dinner and rest for the day ahead.

Rise early on Day 5 and take a boat tour of Lake Titicaca, stopping at one of the Uros Islands, man-made, floating islands that hold small communities, and Isla Taquile, a naturally occurring island whose indigenous inhabitants are famous for their weaving skills. In the afternoon, visit the pre-Inca burial ground and stone chullpas at Sillustani.

Days 6 and 7: Cusco

Catch the early morning train from Puno for a full-day trip across more Andean landscapes to the ancient Inca capital of Cusco, a 330-meter (1,083-foot) drop in altitude. Follow Days 2 and 3 of the Essential Peru itinerary.

Days 8 and 9: Machu Picchu

Follow Days 4 and 5 of the Essential Peru itinerary.

Day 10: Cusco to Lima

Follow Day 6 of the Essential Peru itinerary.

Apurimac River and Inca Trail

Adventurous travelers in good physical condition can combine two of Peru's top outdoor tours—white-water rafting on the Apurimac River and the hike on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu—for two weeks of adrenaline, exercise, and phenomenal scenery.

Day 1: Lima

Follow Day 1 of the Essential Peru itinerary.

Day 2: Cusco

Follow Day 2 of the Essential Peru itinerary.

Days 3–6: Apurimac River

Spend the next four days paddling down the legendary Apurimac River (Class III–IV), one of the Amazon's main tributaries and Peru's premier white-water route. The trip begins with a four-hour drive from Cusco to Naihua, where the river trip begins. You'll spend the next three days navigating rapids, admiring the surrounding rain forest, and camping near the riverbank. The last day on the river ends around noon, after which you'll have lunch and be driven to Cusco (five hours).

Day 7: Cusco

You'll probably want to relax this day, but Cusco has plenty of sights to tempt you. Or follow Day 3 of the Essential Peru itinerary.

Days 8–12: Inca Trail and Machu Picchu

Rise early this morning and catch the train to Machu Picchu, but get off at Km 82, where the four-day trek on the Inca Trail begins. You'll start by following the Urubamba River to the ruins of Llactapata, from which you climb slowly to the first campsite, at 9,691 feet. The next day is the toughest; you'll hike over Warmiwanusca pass (13,776 feet) and camp at 11,833 feet. On Day 3 of the trek, you hike over two passes and visit several small Inca ruins. The last day is short, mostly downhill. You may have the option of rising early to reach Machu Picchu's Inti Punku (Sun Gate) by sunrise. Spend the morning or day exploring Machu Picchu, then bus down to Aguas Calientes for a hot shower and a sumptuous meal at El Indio Feliz.

Rise early on the morning of Day 12 to explore Machu Picchu before it gets crowded. Be sure to climb Huayna Picchu, if you didn't the day before. Catch an afternoon train to Cusco, where great restaurants and nightlife await.

Day 13: Cusco to Lima

Follow Day 6 of the Essential Peru itinerary.

North Coast and Machu Picchu

This trip lets you trace the development of Lima's indigenous cultures by combining the pre-Inca archaeological sites of northern Peru with the classic Inca sites of southern Peru. It also lets you explore several colonial cities and sample Peru's geographic diversity, starting in the coastal desert, moving into the Andes, and then descending to the edge of the Amazon Basin.

Day 1: Lima

Follow Day 1 of the Essential Peru itinerary.

Days 2 and 3: Chiclayo

Catch an early flight to the northern city of Chiclayo, which lies near some of the country's most important pre-Inca sites. A small, pleasant city near several excellent museums and a dilapidated beach town called Pimentel, Chiclayo is noticeably warmer and sunnier than Lima. Spend two days visiting the nearby pyramids at Túcume, the Museo Nacional Sicán, the Museo Brüning, and Museo Tumbas de Sipán.

Days 4 and 5: Trujillo

Catch an early flight (40 minutes) or travel by land (3-4 hours) south to Trujillo, an attractive colonial city near the ancient structures of two other pre-Inca cultures. After checking into your hotel, explore the old city, which holds some well-preserved colonial and 19th-century architecture. In the afternoon, head to the rambling ruins of Chan Chan, with its lovely bas-relief adobe walls. On Day 5, visit the archaeological sites of Huaca de La Luna and Huaca del Sol, and the beach/fishing port of Huanchaco, where fishermen still use the tiny, pre-Columbian reed boats called caballitos de totora.

Day 6: Lima

Take a quick flight back to Lima and visit some of the sights you didn't have time for on Day 1. Be sure to hit Barranco, a lovely area for an evening stroll, cocktail, or dinner.

Day 7: Cusco

Follow Day 2 of the Essential Peru itinerary.

Day 8: Sacred Valley

Follow Day 3 of the Essential Peru itinerary.

Days 9 and 10: Machu Picchu

Follow Days 4 and 5 of the Essential Peru itinerary.

Day 11: Cusco to Lima

Follow Day 6 of the Essential Peru itinerary.

Southern Coast and Cordillera Blanca

This tour combines cultural and natural wonders and takes you through an array of landscapes—from the desert to offshore islands to snowcapped mountains.

Day 1: Lima

Follow Day 1 of the Essential Peru itinerary.

Days 2 and 3: Ica

Head south on the Pan-American Highway for four hours to Ica. Try to visit the archaeological site of Tambo Colorado en route. After checking into your hotel, head for the Huacachina oasis for a dune buggy ride or sand-boarding, or arrange a tour of one of the nearby wineries.

Day 4: Nazca and Paracas

In the morning, board a small plane for a flight over the enigmatic Nazca Lines. Then transfer to Paracas, on the coast. In the afternoon, take a boat tour to the Ballestas Islands, where you'll see thousands of sea lions, birds, and tiny Humboldt penguins, as well as the massive candelabra etched on a hillside.

Day 5: Lima

The next day, return to Lima, stopping at the pre-Inca site of Pachacamac on the way. Sightsee and shop in the afternoon, then enjoy a memorable meal at one of the city's great restaurants.

Days 6–10: Huaraz

Travel overland to Huaraz, in the country's central Andes, where you'll want to take it easy while you acclimatize. Visit the nearby Wari ruins of Wilcahuaían. If you're up for it, spend the next four days trekking on the Santa Cruz circuit, a gorgeous route into the heart of the Cordillera Blanca. If you aren't up for the trek, spend a couple of days doing less strenuous hikes to one of the Cordilleras turquoise lakes and the ruins of Chavín de Huantar.

Day 11: Huaraz to Lima

Travel overland back to Lima. Follow Day 6 of the Essential Peru itinerary once you arrive.

Northern Andes and Cultures

The Northern Andes have some of Peru's most spectacular landscapes, the second most impressive Inca site after Machu Picchu (Kuelap), and the ancient city of Cajamarca. However, the precipitous terrain and bad roads dissuade some travelers from going there, and the big tour companies tend to ignore the region. Peruvian tour operators, on the other hand, can help you explore this remote but fascinating region.

Day 1: Lima

Follow Day 1 of the Essential Peru itinerary.

Day 2: Chiclayo

Catch an early flight to the northern city of Chiclayo, which lies near some of the country's most important pre-Inca sites. Spend the day visiting the nearby Museo Nacional Sicán, the Museo Tumbas de Sipán, and the pyramids at Túcume.

Days 3 and 4: Chachapoyas

Rise early for a long but impressive overland journey deep into the Andes. You'll wind your way up out of the coastal desert into the mountains and through various semi-arid valleys until you reach the lush Uctubamba Valley. You'll arrive in the picturesque mountain town of Chachapoyas around dusk, as the air grows chilly. Check into your hotel and enjoy a hearty dinner.

After breakfast on Day 4, travel up the beautiful Uctubamba Valley to Karajia and "Pueblo de los Muertos" to see the funerary statues of the Chacapoya culture. Look for birds and other wildlife and enjoy the lush scenery en route. Return to Chachapoyas in the late afternoon and explore its small historic center.

Day 5: Kuelap and Leymebamba

After breakfast, drive for approximately four hours up the Uctubamba Valley to the massive Inca fortress of Kuelap. Spend several hours exploring that vast site, which contains more than 400 structures and is hemmed by lush vegetation. From Kuelap, continue up the valley to the timeless town of Leymebamba, known for its handicrafts.

Days 6–8: Cajamarca

Travel to Cajamarca via Balzas, where you can stop at a museum with a large collection of mummies and an orchid garden. From there you'll head over two cordilleras and through the Marañon Canyon, passing some phenomenal scenery. Early in the evening you'll arrive in the historic city of Cajamarca, where the Spanish conquistadores captured and killed Atahualpa, the last Inca. Cajamarca is perched at 2,650 meters (8,612 feet), so it is quite cool.

Start Day 7 by climbing to the top of Cerro Santa Apolonia for a panoramic view of the city. Then explore the old part of town with its colonial churches and other structures. Be sure to visit the rambling Complejo de Belén and the Baños del Inca, where you can soak in the same mineral waters that the Inca enjoyed. On Day 8, visit the pre-Inca site of Cumbe Mayo, and hike a section of the Inca Road, such as the stretch to Combayo.

Day 9: Lima

Fly back to Lima in the morning. Once there, follow Day 6 of the Essential Peru itinerary.

Updated: 06-2013

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