Machu Picchu is one of the world’s most remarkable places, a mysterious Incan city surrounded by towering cliffs, unknown to westerners for hundreds of years until Hiram Bingham rediscovered it in 1911 as part of a Yale archeology expedition. On all of our trips we strongly recommend spending a night near the ruins, so that you can come to fully appreciate this magnificent site, and have the opportunity to see it in the early morning when there are far fewer people around. In all of our suggested itineraries, we include an overnight stay at a beautiful hotel located just down from the ruins.
We offer a variety of trips that include Machu Picchu. On the Peru Highlights trip, you take the train to Machu Picchu. On the Incan Explorer, you do a one-day hike along the last part of the Inca Trail. and on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu trip you do the traditional multi-day trek. Longer trekking options are also available, such as the Salkantay & Inca Trail Combo Trek. We can customize any of the above trips to suit your interests and dates.
Cusco is the former capital of the Inca Empire, a beautiful colonial city whose streets are lined with the still-standing foundations of Incan palaces. Cusco is the gateway city to Machu Picchu, and is a remarkable destination in its own right. Things to see in the area of Cusco are the temple of the Qoricancha and the ruins of Sacsahuaman, along with great shopping for truly beautiful authentic textiles in the San Blas neighborhood.
If you plan to visit Cusco and Machu Picchu, we strongly recommend that you plan to spend at least a day, ideally two or three, in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. It is a long valley between Cusco and Machu Picchu, surrounded by snow capped peaks and containing some of the most impressive Incan ruins outside Machu Picchu. It is an excellent place to see how local people continue to live in the traditional manner. A visit to the Sacred Valley will help put Machu Picchu into perspective and will greatly enrich your experience in Peru. We include the Sacred Valley in all of our trips, either as a day trip from Cusco or an overnight trip before continuing to Machu Picchu.
Almost all trips to Peru begin and end in Lima, the sprawling Peruvian capital. A couple days in Lima can be a good way to experience modern Peru, eat some great food, and see some of the country’s best museums and colonial monuments. If your flight into Peru arrives early in the day, we can arrange any number of tours to visit some of the highlights of the City, before flying off to Cusco the following morning. Please keep in mind that flights out of Lima back to the U.S. often leave at night, while flights from Cusco to Lima fly in the morning or early afternoon. With several hours between flights, many travelers opt to take out a hotel room for the day in Lima so they can relax before taking their overnight flight, or they take a tour of Lima on their last day, returning to the airport in time to catch their flights.
An excellent way to extend a trip to the Cusco/Machu Picchu area is to experience Peru’s Amazon jungle. The Peruvian Amazon is the most bio-diverse place on earth, with an astounding variety of wildlife. Among the thousands of different species are black and red howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, capuchin monkeys, toucans, scarlet macaws, and parrots, and the elusive and endangered jaguar. We work with a lodge that has been funded and assisted by Conservation International due to its innovative and exemplary approach to ecotourism. Please see our suggested itineraries for trips that include the Amazon. We can also add a trip to the Amazon to any other itinerary, as a 3 to 5 day extension.
Arequipa is one of the cultural capitals of Peru, situated alongside towering mountains, including El Misti Volcano. There are some beautiful historical buildings in Arequipa, including the Santa Catalina Monastery, a remarkable place that is like a self-contained town in the center of the city. Part of the complex continues to function as a monastery.
Arequipa is also the beginning of any trip to the Colca Canyon, one of the deepest in the world, and lined with thousands of agricultural terraces that have been built into its steep sides over many centuries. The Colca Canyon is a great place for viewing the magnificent Andean condor, with a wingspan of up to 11 feet. There are also some outstanding inns and lodges, and very lovely hot springs in the area. We can include a 2 to 5 day trip to this part of the country into any Peru itinerary.
The enigmatic Nazca lines, about 200 miles south of Lima on the desert coast, have fascinated people for centuries. Theories abound on the true significance of the massive figures inscribed into the earth. In the same general area of the Nazca lines is the ancient home of the Paracas culture, known for creating some of the very finest textiles in the pre-Colombian Americas. Another highlight of this corner of Peru is the Ballestas Islands, a mini-Galapagos right off the shore, where you can observe unbelievably massive colonies of seabirds, sealions, penguins, and other wildlife. To see the Nazca lines, you can fly over the mysterious lines in a small plane as a day trip from Lima, or you can travel down by bus as a 2 or 3 day trip.
Lake Titicaca and its surroundings make a great extension to a trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu. There is nothing else quite like this place, said to be the birthplace of the Incan Empire, with its mesmerizing azure waters. It is the highest navigable body of water in the world, and has been home to various civilizations throughout the ages. Your options include a trip to Puno, on the Peruvian side of the lake, or a stay on the Island of the Sun on the Bolivian side, with the truly massive peaks of the Bolivian Royal Range directly to the east. From Puno, you can make trips out to visit islands on the Lake, including Taquile, Amantani, and the floating islands of Uros. Another highlight of the area is a visit to the ancient ruins of Sillustani, with their unique funerary towers set on a hill surrounded by the vastness of the Altiplano. We can add a two or three day trip to the Puno area to any Peru itinerary and include all of these activities.
If you have the time and are feeling adventurous, a great option is to add in a few days to visit the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca, and the Island of the Sun (where you can spend the night), and then continuing on to see La Paz and a few of the highlights of Bolivia.
One of our most popular combination trips is our Machu Picchu & Galapagos Islands itinerary, spending about 6 days seeing Machu Picchu and the nearby highlights in Peru, and then going to the Galapagos Islands for 5 to 8 days. This is a combination of both archeological and natural sites that is difficult to match. The biggest challenges with this trip is not short changing either place, and being sure to take enough time to appreciate them both without rushing. Ideally, the trip takes about 16 or 17 days to appreciate everything that Peru and the Galapagos have to offer.
Bolivia is a dramatic place, with dazzling landscapes and extreme contrasts, and it gives a feeling of walking back in time. With just a few extra days from Peru, you can visit the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca and the capital city of La Paz. Close by are the remarkable ruins of Tiawanaku, a highly advanced precursor civilization to the Incas. If you have a few more days, you can visit the colonial mining town of Potosi, the city of Sucre, and the otherworldly Salt Flats of Uyuni. Another option is to go at the time of Carnival to the town of Oruro, known for having one of the wildest celebrations on the continent for a few days each year. Options also exist to visit the Bolivian Amazon, an enormous and less visited region of the Amazon rainforest.
There are many additional options for active and adventure pursuits in Peru, such as longer treks, mountain biking, rafting, and sea-kayaking. In the Cusco area, there are great options for mountain biking in the Sacred Valley. You can add a day rafting trip on the Urubamba River in the Sacred Valley to any trip to the Cusco area. More ambitious 10 day rafting trips down the Tambopata River also exist. You can also do sea kayaking trips on Lake Titicaca, exploring less visited parts of the lake and seeing how people live in traditional ways along the lake. Ask us about any of these options if you are interested.