The ruins of Machu Picchu and the natural paradise of the Galapagos Islands are two of South America’s most stunning treasures, and both can be visited as part of a tour to Machu Picchu and Galapagos Islands. Itinerary options vary, depending on the amount of time available. The link above is to a 15 day “suggested itinerary,” which can be converted to 12 days by simply switching the 8 day cruise to a 5 day cruise.
Two Weeks: A minimum 15 day tour is an ideal option if it works in your time frame and budget, as it will allow for sufficient time to do both an 8 day cruise (the ideal cruise length) and to have about 6 days in Peru to see the main highlights of that country. More time is always well spent in Peru, but less than this would start to feel like you were missing some highlights and you might feel rushed.
A typical two week itinerary begins in Lima, Peru’s capital, from where you will take a connecting flight to the ancient city of Cusco. We typically have our travelers go into the Sacred Valley directly upon landing in Cusco, as the Valley is about 2 to 3,000 feet lower than Cusco (8,000 to 9,000 feet of elevation as opposed to 11,000 in Cusco), and is a better place to acclimate to the altitude. We recommend at least 2 nights in the Valley to appreciate the wide variety of things to see and do there, including the town and ruins at Ollantaytambo, which is one of the very few towns to remain in its current layout since Incan times. The ruins at Pisac are another highlight of the Valley. The market at Pisac can be hit or miss for some travelers. We understand that some people love markets, while others find them too crowded with other tourists. If you have preferences, just let us or your guide know. Our private guides are there to make sure you are making the most of your time and understand that travelers with Vaya Adventures like to keep things flexible so as to take advantage of local circumstances.
It is also possible to extend your visit to the Sacred Valley by one or two extra days. There are many options for exploring and getting off the beaten path in the Sacred Valley, from mountain biking past the unique Incan site of Moray and the ancient salt pans at Maras, to hiking past the traditional communities of Willoc and Patacancha in the upper valleys. If you want to get off the beaten path, just let us know and we’ll get you there.
From the Sacred Valley, you will then either take the train to Aguas Calientes and board a shuttle up to the ruins of Machu Picchu, or you can do the 1 day “Inca Trail Express” hike to Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail Express is a 5 hour hike that is moderately strenuous and highly recommended as a way to get to Machu Picchu without taking the shuttle. You arrive via the Sun Gate as do the people doing the longer, classic Inca Trail (also an option if you are interested in camping for 3 nights; an exceptional trek).
After Machu Picchu our travelers generally return to Cusco for 2 nights. You’ll usually arrive fairly late in the day after returning by train from Machu Picchu, and then you’ll have the entire next day to explore the city and its surrounding areas. Cusco is a highlight of a trip to Peru. Formerly the capital of the Incan empire, massive foundations of erstwhile Incan palaces line many of the streets of the city center. The ruins of the fortress of Sacsahuaman above the city are astonishing. Today, the city is a mix of the traditional and the new, with charming colonial homes converted to first class boutique hotels, many excellent restaurants, and lively nightlife.
After Cusco, you’ll take your connecting flights to Quito via Lima (you can also fly to Guayaquil instead of Quito, but Quito has a lot more to offer the visitor, both in and out of the city). The colonial center of Quito is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and we often include a visit to the Fundacion Guayasamin, formerly the home of Ecuador’s most famous 20th century painter and now a museum housing his extensive collection of pre-Columbian, colonial and modern art. It’s a great way to combine seeing the modern part of Quito along with the colonial center.
After Quito, you fly out to the Galapagos Islands and board your vessel that same morning to start your cruise. We can help you choose the right vessel given your budget and time frame. The vessels all have different itineraries and varying trip lengths, as well as varying plusses and minuses that we can discuss with you to make sure you get the most of the experience. After the cruise, our travelers typically fly back to Quito for a night before taking their international flight out the next day. Extensions in mainland Ecuador to see the Ecuadorian Andes, Cotopaxi Volcano National Park, or the Amazon, are also possible.
Less than 2 weeks: for those with less time to spare, it is possible to see all the same sights but on a faster schedule. One consideration is that some of the very best boats don’t offer shorter cruises; they only offer the 8 day cruises, or in some cases 8 day and 6 day cruises, but there are some top quality options that offer the 5 day options.
Reducing the Galapagos Cruise to five days helps to save some time. A typical 5 day cruise will typically hit a few of the highlight locations of the Galapagos, offer several opportunities for snorkeling, and will give a good overview of the ecosystem. A 4 day cruise is an option on some boats but we don’t recommend it. The cruise can seem short to many people, because the reality is that you will only have 2 full days in the islands, with travel days on either end.
Shorter cruises have advantages and disadvantages. A short cruise can give you the flexibility to visit other locations in mainland Ecuador or to combine with Machu Picchu and Peru without the trip getting too long. Many people simply don’t have the time to fit in an 8 day cruise and nearly a week in Peru. If you know you want to see these locations together and have less than 2 weeks, then you should go with a 5 day cruise. If you can stretch it out, an 8 day cruise is ideal. In the Galapagos, the more time you have, the more opportunity you have for the types of chance encounters that can really stand out on a trip. From an environmental perspective, it is also in the long term interest of the Galapagos that there are fewer visitors taking longer cruises rather than more people taking shorter cruises.
One Week: It is really not possible to squeeze a visit to the Galapagos plus a tour of Machu Picchu into one week in any way that we could recommend. We really don’t like to put together this trip in less than 12 days, simply because we don’t think it will serve your best interests. There is too much moving around involved and not enough time to really settle in a bit and appreciate the places.
Please see our full list of Machu Picchu and Galapagos Tour Packages here.