- The giant desert inscriptions of the Nazca Line s are one of Peru's great unsolved mysteries.
- Wake early and observe Andean condors taking to the sky during their morning routine as the sun rises in the spectacular Colca Canyon
- Cusco is a great city to explore by foot
- A trip through Peru wouldn't be complete without a visit to Machu Picchu
- Spending a night with a local family on Lake Titicaca takes you right into the heart of preserved island traditions
- Peer through the shop window of the Witches’ Market in La Paz and witness a world of unique, curative traditions
- 20 breakfasts, 5 lunches, 4 dinners
- All transportation via train, public bus and private vehicle
- 20 nights accommodation
- Camping 3 nights, homestay 1 night, hotel 15 nights, overnight bus 1 night
- Lima - Leader-led walking tour
- Colca Canyon - Guided tour
- Cusco - Orientation Walk
- Sacred Valley - Local community visit and lunch
- Lake Titicaca - Boat tour & Homestay
Day 1: Lima
Welcome to Lima, Peru. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm. If you arrive early, perhaps take a walk around Miraflores and head from Central Park (Parque Kennedy) to the entertainment complex of LarcoMar. Alternatively, stroll along to Parque del Amor (Love Park) for a great view of Lima's beaches.
Day 2: Lima
Take a half-day walking tour of downtown Lima, starting at around 9 am. Flanked by streets of ornate mansions, palaces and churches, Plaza Mayor is the best place to start any exploration of Lima. Take a walk through the old streets to get a feel for colonial life. On one side of the plaza is the Cathedral of Lima, which houses the remains of Lima's founder, Francisco Pizarro. Nearby is the San Francisco Monastery, with its catacombs containing some 70,000 human remains (entry is optional and at travellers' expense). The afternoon is free for you to explore the city on your own. In the evening, perhaps try some ceviche for dinner.
Day 3: Paracas
Head off at around 6 am travel by taxi or minivan to Lima's bus station and take a local bus to Paracas (approximately 4 hours). During this journey it's unlikely the bus will make any stops, so please ensure you prepare yourself with water, snacks and anything else necessary. The small fishing town of Paracas is the gateway to the Islas Ballestas and the Paracas National Reserve. You'll have the option of visiting Paracas National Reserve today with a local guide. The duration of the tour is around 2–2.5 hours, allowing you to enjoy the beautiful Maritime landscapes and desert. For some local food specialities back in town, head to the boulevard near the beach and try some tejas, which are small sweets made from nuts and dried fruits.
Day 4: Nazca
Islas Ballestas makes for a great (optional) day trip today. Here there will be lots of opportunities to see wildlife such as penguins, sea lions and flamingos from a speedboat. Later in the morning continue onto Nazca, which takes around three hours (it's likely there won't be any stops). Arrive in the early afternoon. The Nazca Lines are enormous designs inscribed into the desert. Who drew them, how and why is unknown, but most scientists believe the Nazca people created them about 2,000 years ago. Consider an optional scenic flight to see them from the air – this lasts 30 minutes and covers most of the 26 impressions (planes turn sharply from one side to another to facilitate viewing from both sides of the plane, so this is not for those with a weak stomach!)
Day 5: Arequipa / Colca Canyon
Early afternoon, take a transfer to the bus station. Board a local bus to Arequipa, the bus ride is long (approximately 11 hours, with no stops). Lunch will be served on the bus, and later around dinner time there will be a small snack. Don't forget to pack plenty of water, snacks and perhaps a good book! Arrive into Arequipa around midnight and transfer to the hotel. Standing at the foot of El Misti volcano and exuding Spanish colonial charm, Arequipa vies with Cusco for the title of Peru's most attractive city.
Day 6: Arequipa
This morning your leader will take you on an orientation walk in which you will visit the main square and Mercado San Camilo. The remainder of the day is free day to explore Arequipa. Perhaps start at Monasterio de Santa Catalina for a glimpse into a bygone way of life. The 16th-century convent has a unique history, having once only accepted women from high-class Spanish families. From here, call by the Juanita Museum and take a look at the ‘Ice Maiden’, the Incan mummy of a young girl who died in the 1440s. During your walk around Arequipa, you'll come to understand why it’s referred to as the ‘White City’. Built out of the pale volcanic rock, the old buildings shine brightly in the sunshine. While away the rest of your day in the cafes and restaurants on the main plaza.
Day 7: Colca Canyon
In the morning, at around 8 am, venture out by minivan to Chivay (approximately 5 hours). Stop to take pictures along the way, as you're likely to see llamas, alpacas and vicunas. After around two hours of driving, you'll have the chance to try some coca tea from local tea stalls. After a third stop at Patapampa (the highest place of the trip at 4,800 metres above sea level), descend to Chivay town. In the afternoon (weather permitted) your local guide will organise a short trek through the spectacular Colca Canyon, before finishing at the local hot thermal baths. Choose to spend your evening soaking in the baths, dining on Alpaca steak or listening to live Andean music at a pena (music hall).
Day 8: Arequipa
Early in the morning take a short drive into the canyon to witness the morning routine of the Andean condor. This is an amazing opportunity to see the world's largest flying bird in predator mode. Depending on weather conditions there will be a short walk around the area (approximately 45 minutes) before you return to Chivay. In the afternoon travel back to Arequipa (approximately 5 hours). Enjoy a free evening to do as you wish.
Day 9: Arequipa / Overnight bus to Cusco
Use your last day in Arequipa to get under the skin of the city. For a bit of culture, stroll down to Casa Museo Villalobos for a look at the extensive art collection that’s housed there. If you’re looking for something a bit more hands-on, there are regular cooking classes in the city. For more ideas on what to do, please speak with your trip leader. This evening at about 7.30 pm transfer to the bus station. Soon after, board an overnight bus to Cusco (approximately 11 hours with no stops; please consider that there is only one road out of Arequipa so it's possible there could be delays at the beginning of the journey). The bus has comfortable reclining seats and a toilet on board. Dinner will be served on board, however it's recommended to pack some water and snacks.
Day 10: Cusco
Your overnight bus should arrive in Cusco between 6.30 and 7. 30am. Head to the hotel in town for breakfast. Your leader will then give you the choice of heading straight out for an orientation walk; alternatively the group may decide to have some time to rest for a few hours, in which case the orientation walk will be done in the afternoon. During the walking tour you’ll visit the facade of Qoricancha temple, the local San Pedro market, the main square, past the 12 Angled Stone, Regocijo Square and San Blas Square. The order of visiting these locations, may vary according to hotel location and your tour leader’s preference. In your free time may want to book some of the optional activities available in Cusco. In the evening, attend a briefing on the Inca Trail hike which begins tomorrow.
Day 11: Inca Trail, Inca Quarry or Train Option
Depending on your pre-arranged travel arrangements, during the next four days you may: hike the Classic Inca Trail, hike the Inca Quarry Trail or stay in Cusco for another two days before taking the train to Aguas Calientes. While away from Cusco, the bulk of your luggage will be stored at your hotel. If you’re hiking the Inca Trail or the Inca Quarry Trail, the evening before you leave Cusco you'll receive a small duffle bag to carry your clothes in for the next four days (5 kg maximum).
Your team of porters will carry these bags for you, together with the food and equipment for the trail. Please note that you won't have access to these items until the end of each day, as the porters will always be ahead of the group. If you’re travelling to Aguas Calientes by train, you'll be able to leave most of your luggage at the hotel in Cusco and only travel with the necessary items for the next few days.
Route 1 Classic Inca Trail:
Travel by minivan to the 82 km marker and meet your crew of local porters, cook and guide. The first day includes uphill trekking to the campsite, which is at 3,100 metres above sea level. On the way you’ll see the ruins of Llactapata, which was burnt to the ground by the last Inca emperor to discourage Spanish pursuit down the trail. In the evening, set up camp while the cook makes dinner.
Notes: The Inca Trail is within the abilities of most reasonably fit people, but please come prepared, as the trail is 45 km long and often steep. Each day's journey generally consists of seven hours of walking (uphill and downhill), with stops for snacks and lunch. Trekking usually begins at 7 am (except on the fourth morning) and you reach the campsite around 5 pm. Accommodation on the trek is camping (three nights). Double tents (twin-share) and foam camping mats will be provided. The porters will set up the tents while the cook prepares meals.
Route 2 Inca Quarry Trail:
Make an early start today and drive to Choquequilla, a small ceremonial place where Incas worshipped the moon. Drive to the starting point of the trek, Rafq'a, and meet the horsemen who join us on the hike. After an hour’s walk, reach the small community of Socma. Carry on to the Perolniyoc cascade lookout, an opportunity to stop for photos and a food break. Continue to the campsite, which is 3,700 meters above sea level. You should reach the campsite around lunchtime. After lunch, set off to explore the Q'orimarca archaeological site, which once served as a checkpoint to the Incas.
Notes: The Inca Quarry Trail is within the abilities of most reasonably fit people. The hike is 26 km long in total and its highest pass is at 4,450 meters above sea level. Throughout the trek, horses will carry your gear and camping equipment. The first two nights are spent camping and the third night you will stay at a simple hotel. Double tents (twin-share) and foam camping mats will be provided. The porters will set up the tents while the cook prepares meals.
Route 3 Train:
For those travellers disinterested in hiking the trail or who are unable to, spend two extra nights in Cusco before travelling by bus to Ollantaytambo. From here take a train through the winding Urubamba Valley to the town of Aguas Calientes where you’ll spend a third night.
Please note: Included lunch and dinner on this day is for people trekking the Inca or Inca Quarry Trail only.
Day 12: Inca Trail, Inca Quarry or Train Option
Route 1 Classic Inca Trail:
This is the most challenging day of the trek, as we ascend a long steep path (approximately 5 hours) to reach the highest point of the trail. Colloquially known as 'Dead Woman's Pass', Warmiwanusca sits at a height of 4,200 meters above sea level, providing amazing views of the valley below. The group will then descend to the campsite in the Pacaymayo Valley at 3,650 metres.
Route 2 Inca Quarry Trail:
This is the most challenging and rewarding day of the hike. A three-hour walk takes us to the top of the first pass of Puccaqasa (approximately 4,370 meters high). After enjoying picturesque views of the valley, it’s a short walk before stopping for lunch. Afterwards, make the hike to Kuychicassa (approximately 2 hours); this is the highest pass of the trek at 4,450 meters. From here, descend to the sacred site the Incas called Intipunku (Sun Gate), with views of the Nevado Veronica mountain. Head to the campsite, which is only a stone’s throw away at Choquetacarpo.
Route 3 Train:
Today, perhaps use your free day indulging your inner foodie in the eateries of Cusco. Head to lunch at the arty Fallen Angel restaurant, and if you still have room for dessert, the ChocoMuseo offers tastings and chocolate-marking workshops.
Day 13: Inca Trail, Inca Quarry or Train Option
Route 1 Classic Inca Trail:
Start the day with a climb through the Pacaymayo Valley to Runkuracay pass (3,980 metres). Enjoy views of the snow-capped mountain of Cordillera Vilcabamba before descending (approximately 2–3 hours) to the ruins of Sayacmarca. Continue over the trail’s third pass to the ruins of Phuyupatamarca (3,850 metres), also known as 'Town Above the Clouds'. Start the descent down the Inca steps (approximately 2 hours), which takes you to the final night's campsite by the Winay Wayna archaeological site.
Route 2 Inca Quarry Trail:
Today’s hike will all be downhill. The first stop is the incomplete Kachiqata quarry, where the Incas were intercepted by the Spanish. Around midday, come to the end of the trek. Explore the cobbled streets of Ollantaytambo before taking the short train journey to Aguas Calientes. This is where you’ll meet up with the travellers in your group who didn't hike. Spend the night in a comfortable hotel before tomorrow’s visit to Machu Picchu.
Route 3 Train:
In the morning take the train to the town of Aguas Calientes (approximately 3 hours), which is nestled in the hills at the foot of Machu Picchu. For those who want to, there’s time to visit Machu Picchu independently before the guided tour the next day. If you’d like to do this, please advise your group leader at the welcome meeting at the start of the trip.
Day 14: Machu Picchu
Route 1 Classic Inca Trail:
The day starts before dawn with breakfast at 4 am. Say farewell to the porters as they descend to the train station and then begin hiking by 430 am (the final checkpoint opens at 5 am). The walk to Intipunku (the Sun Gate) takes approximately 2.5 hours meaning arrival time is not until approximately 7. 30am. Weather permitting, enjoy unforgettable views over the ‘Lost City of the Incas’ as you enter Machu Picchu through the Sungate.
Route 2 Inca Quarry Trail:
Depending on weather conditions, take a bus at 5.30 am along the winding road to Machu Picchu (30 minutes). At Machu Picchu, join up with the travellers in your group who took the train. If skies are clear, enjoy a spectacular views over the ancient city from the Sun Gate, before going on a guided walk around the ruins.
Route 3 Train:
In the morning, usually between 5.30 and 6.30 am, we take one of the first buses up to Machu Picchu. The city was built around 1440 AD as a country retreat for Inca nobility, but there’s evidence that the land had been a sacred Incan site for much longer. Take a guided tour around the ruins of temples, palaces and living quarters, and enjoy some free time afterwards to wander around on your own before heading to Ollantaytambo for the night.
Day 15: Sacred Valley / Cusco
Known as Wilcamayo to the Incas, this fertile valley has long been the main source of food for the high Andes. Venture to a community in the valley to learn about the local lifestyle, visit multiple community businesses that may include a pottery workshop, a chocolate making demonstration or a local chicha brewery where you will learn about the traditional techniques that are still used to this day. Whilst in the community you'll enjoy an included lunch, prepared and cooked by local community members themselves. If your visit coincides with market day (Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday), spend time browsing the stalls in search of hand-painted beads or warm ponchos. In the afternoon take a bus back to Cusco.
Day 16: Cusco
Enjoy free time to relax, shop or explore more of Cusco's sights. Perhaps head to a cafe on the Plaza de Armas, or for those seeking an active adventure, try mountain biking in the Sacred Valley. In the evening, you might like to head out for dinner with the group for your final night in Cusco.
Day 17: Puno / Lake Titicaca
In the morning, travel by local bus through the Altiplano plateau to Puno (approximately 7 hours). There will be one brief stop along the way at La Raya mountain range where there will be opportunities for photos. Here you'll also have the chance to buy some snacks and or go to the toilet. Puno is known as the folklore capital of Peru and is famous for its traditional dances. If you're lucky, your visit might coincide with an evening parade, when the streets fill with costumed dancers and musicians.
Day 18: Puno
Puno sits on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. Enjoy a tour of the lake by slow motorboat (8 knots per hour), stopping off to visit the Uros floating islands. The Uros people built these islands to isolate themselves from rival tribes in ancient times. They're built completely from multiple layers of totora reeds, which grow in the shallows of the lake. In the evening, enjoy a homestay in a local community on the Llachon Peninsula. Your homestay is in a mudbrick house, with shared drop toilets but no shower. It can get quite cold here. The homestay will provide plenty of blankets, but remember to pack thermals and ample layers. Help your host family with their daily activities or perhaps play a game of soccer or volleyball in the village with the local kids.
Day 19: Puno
In the morning, board the boat for a visit to Taquile Island, which is a great place to pick up some locally knitted goods. On the island knitting is strictly a male domain, while women do the spinning. An hour’s uphill trek brings you to the main area of the island. Explore the local markets before descending the 500 steps back to the boat. Return to Puno (approximately 3 hours) arriving around 3 pm. The remainder of the day is free. Consider visiting Kusimayo, a terrific local organisation that works towards improving the living condition of children and adults affected by poverty and malnutrition in this part of the world.
Day 20: La Paz
At around 7 am travel by local bus to Desaguadero (approximately 3 hours) and cross the border into Bolivia. Say goodbye to your Peruvian leader meet your Bolivian leader, who will take lead of the group from that point on. You'll be asked to leave the bus to proceed through Peruvian migration. The group will then walk across a bridge, submit passports at the Bolivian migration office, and reboard the bus for La Paz. Approximately 30 minutes after crossing the border into Bolivia, there's another stop where the army will check your documents again. The journey to La Paz takes 6–9 hours (depending on the border crossing time). In the evening, perhaps head out for an optional group dinner.
Day 21: La Paz
Your 'Essential Peru' adventure ends today, as there are no more activities planned. You're free to leave the accommodation at any time. If you have some more time in La Paz before flying out, take a walk around the city's famous Mercado de Hechiceria (Witches' Market). Browse the weird and wonderful stalls selling everything from aphrodisiac potions to dried frogs and llama foetuses. If that’s not for you, there are plenty of markets selling goods made of alpaca wool, leather and other traditional materials.
Start: Lima, Peru
Finish: La Paz, Bolivia
Countries Visited: Bolivia and Peru
- This trip involves a lot of travel on local buses, including some long trips and an overnight bus. Bus travel can be tiring, but is also a great opportunity to relax, rub shoulders with the locals and enjoy the scenery.
- There will be a lot of hiking and walking on this trip (especially on the Inca Trail which can be quite challenging), so this requires a moderate level of fitness. There are a few different trail options to suit your interests and physical capabilities. Please bring durable footwear suitable to hiking. See the ‘What to Take’ section of the trip notes for more information.
- You’ll be staying in some very basic group accommodation with shared facilities, especially along the Inca Trail, in the Amazon and on Lake Titicaca (where there are drop toilets and no showers). This is all part of the adventure of being among nature.
- This trip visits places that are at high altitude, and as a result some people can suffer from altitude sickness, regardless of age or physical health. Please see the ‘Health’ section of the trip notes for more important information on this.