This classic loop starts off in the lush Sacred Valley, where you will explore ruins, experience indigenous culture, and adjust to the altitude. Then you take the train to enjoy the cloud forests and magnificent stonework of Machu Picchu.
At the end of the trip, allow at least two days to take in Cusco, the Spanish Renaissance city built atop Inca foundations.
Begin by flying into Lima, the capital of Peru. Most planes arrive here at night, so you’ll have the choice of either staying at a Lima hotel or hanging out at the airport for an early-morning flight to Cusco. Arrange with your hotel ahead of time for transport from Cusco to Pisac, a well-preserved Inca village in the Sacred Valley that is lower in elevation than Cusco, making it better for adjusting to the altitude.
On Day 2 settle in, acclimatize, and explore your surroundings. In Pisac, see the Inca ruins, which include a sun temple and fortress complex. Then hike down the mountain back into town to take in the market and dine in the main square. Spend the night in Pisac.
Now that you understand your immediate surroundings, head out and explore farther afield. An excellent option is to explore the weaving village of Chinchero before hiking or mountain biking from the enigmatic circular Inca terraces at Moray to the crystallized salt mines at Salineras. Descend to the Sacred Valley for transport to Ollantaytambo, which has plenty of good restaurants for dinner. Spend the night in Ollantaytambo.
In Ollantaytambo, explore the ruins in early morning to beat the rush. Head first to the sun temple above town. It’s a great place to understand the layout of both Ollantaytambo and the Sacred Valley, and you can see where the Inca and Spanish battled for control. In the late afternoon, catch a train to Aguas Calientes and stay overnight.
Take an early-morning shuttle bus to Machu Picchu. Wander around the ruins in the morning before the crowds arrive. Then head off midmorning to climb the nearby peak of Huayna Picchu and explore the Temple of the Moon. Alternatively, walk to the Inca bridge or up to Inti Punku, the Sun Gate. In the afternoon, return to Aguas Calientes for a late lunch and a mug of coca tea. Then board the train to Ollantaytambo and board a comfortable tourist bus back to Cusco.
Now that you’re used to Cusco’s altitude, you can walk this city’s cobblestoned streets all day long. Start with a morning walk through the neighborhood of San Blas and see the Inca sun temple of Coricancha. Save the afternoon for visiting other museums and art galleries.
Today you choose between shopping, exploring more museums and churches in Cusco, or taking a walk above town and visiting the ruins of Q’enqo and Sacsayhuamán, the Inca fortress overlooking Cusco.
Fly from Cusco to Lima early in the morning. Since most planes depart for North America around midnight, you’ll have a day in Lima to explore. Start in central Lima on the Plaza de Armas to see the Catedral de Lima, Palacio Arzobispal de Lima, Palacio del Gobierno, and the catacombs at Santo Domingo. If you’re hungry and want to shop, skip downtown Lima and head straight to the swanky neighborhood of Miraflores for a ceviche lunch overlooking the Pacific Ocean and an interesting variety of museums, shops, and art galleries. In the evening, head back to the airport for the flight home.
Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Machu Picchu.