Machu Picchu

The ultimate Peru itinerary – from Lima to Machu Picchu

The legendary site of Machu Picchu, lost city of the Incas. Traditional villages high in the Andes. Top-end gastronomy in Lima. The chance to explore the Amazon – both river and rainforest. The country’s long list of attractions means holidays in Peru are sure to become mainstream any time now. Get there first with our 10 day Peru itinerary.

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Rainbow Mountain | Photo: Mckayla Crump

LGBT+ life in Peru

There’s little point hiding the fact that Peru remains socially conservative. It is yet to follow the lead of other South American countries in legalising same-sex unions, and open displays of affection are rare. Rainbow flags fly, but as the banner of Cusco and the Inca Empire rather than in solidarity with LGBT+ populations. Gay clubs do exist, particularly in and around the capital Lima, though homosexuality is largely seen as something foreigners ‘do’, to the detriment of Peruvians identifying as LGBT+. Fingers crossed the situation changes soon.

Machu Picchu

Photo: Ray Berry

Photo: Eduardo Flores

Climate and the best time to visit Peru

Planning a trip to Peru means keeping an eye on the climate. The coastal and hill regions (including Machu Picchu) are generally cooler. Like rainforests throughout the world, the Amazon is warmer, stickier, and of course wetter than other regions.

There are no de facto no-go months, with the southern hemisphere winter months of May to September the driest and therefore the best for Peru holidays aiming to include the famed Inca Trail Machu Picchu hike. The skies are clear, but it’s also peak season, so book early. The summer months of December to March are warmer but wetter, while spring and autumn have more unpredictable weather conditions.

Photo: Aarom Ore

Travel tips for your Peru itinerary

Visitors looking to spend 10 days in Peru have no need to worry about obtaining a visa if you come from the EU, UK, US or Canada. Other nationalities may require one – check before travel.

You’ll also want to book tickets for hiking the Inca Trail as far ahead of time as possible. Only 500 permits for the trail are released each day – including accompanying porters and guides.

Those not hiking will still need to purchase a ticket and transport to the site. Only 2,500 people are permitted to visit each day, with timed entry of four hours maximum duration.

On public transport in big cities, keep a close eye on your belongings, or better yet, opt for the slightly more expensive luxury buses and trains instead.

Lastly, Peru’s altitude means you should be extra careful with the strength of the sun, and be sure to acclimatise for a couple of days before tackling any strenuous activity. Altitude sickness is not related to overall fitness.

Photo: Willian Justen de Vasconcellos

Peru in 10 days

That’s the basics! Now for our recommended 10 day Peru itinerary.

Days 1 and 2 - Lima

One of South America’s largest cities, the Peruvian capital judders to a halt on crumbling Pacific-facing cliffs. It’s a city that is often overlooked with those looking to get from the international airport in Lima to Machu Picchu as quickly as possible, but it’s also a city of surprises should you give it a chance.

Here it’s possible to stumble upon ancient pre-colonial temples amid the traffic and high-rises, and the UNESCO recognised Plaza de Armas beside gallery-worthy works of street art. The museums also are second to none, but it’s the city’s food scene, its ceviche stands and restaurants serving the likes of lomo saltado (stir-fried beef) that will linger on your tongue and in your memory. So check out our Lima Travel Guide, and discover what everyone else is missing!

Photo: Giancarlo Revolledo

Photo: Jaroslav Devia

Day 3 - Cusco, Pisac and Sacsayhuamán

A massive 21 hours east of Lima by road, flights are the best option for reaching Cusco and provide superb vistas across the lofty peaks of the Andes from the left-hand side of the plane. The city’s altitude of 11,000 feet above sea level means you should take your first hours easy by hiring a car and driver (via your hotel) and taking the short journey to Pisac. Here Incan ruins sit on the hillside above town and a thriving market takes place on Sundays. Next, direct your driver to the ruins of Sacsayhuamán – they’re bound to know them and their beautifully constructed walls of perfectly-fitting stones, some weighing several tonnes.

Photo: Davis Vargas

Day 4 - Cusco and the Sacred Valley

Spend the first hours of day 4 exploring the streets around Cusco. Like Lima, Cusco is historically centred upon the Plaza de Armas, with the alleys immediately north quickly turning to attractive streets winding over the hills should you be after a pleasurable wander. Make sure you save the bulk of your time for the Sacred Valley, once believed to have a cosmic link with the Milky Way. Important to the Incas as a result, this valley stretches 40 miles and ends with Machu Picchu. Today, however, concentrate on the ruins around Ollantaytambo. Once the imperial seat of the empire, there’s an impressive array of relics to explore before getting ready for your hike along the shorter version of the Inca Trail, which begins in the town.

Day 5 - Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

The one-day version of the Inca Trail begins, ironically, with a train ride to Aguas Calientes. From here, it’s just nine miles to Machu Picchu, but with the ascents and descents across several mountains from the Urubamba River Valley it will take most of the day. Don’t worry about seeing the ruins themselves, we’ve reserved an entire day tomorrow for their exploration. Check out the experience of Nomadic Boys as they underwent trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu to see what to expect. Above all though, hire a guide, who will be able to relay heaps of information on the ruins you’ll pass before reaching the famed Sun Gate, and book six months in advance if possible to ensure you get a permit!

Day 6 - Machu Picchu

Join the queue for the bus from Cusco to Machu Picchu safe in the knowledge you did the mileage on foot yesterday. It’s an early start, with buses leaving before dawn, but well worth making the effort to capture the sunrise over the ruins, which also gives you plenty of time to explore the entire citadel.

Photo: Willian Justen de Vasconcellos

Day 7 - Day trip to the Rainbow Mountain

Its another early start from Cusco in order to reach Vinicunca – the Rainbow Mountain – whose flanks are shaded in a series of bright colours resulting from the mountain’s shifting mineral composition. If your legs are still struggling after following the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, be warned the trip to Rainbow Mountain includes a sometimes-steep walk at its end, so you might prefer to linger in the attractive sunny plazas of Cusco instead.

Days 8 and 9 - The Amazon

Another short flight will get you from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado, a gateway to the Amazon. Though not widely known, it’s from the snowmelt in Peru’s high Andes that the mighty Amazon River starts its course across the continent, and a boat trip along even the smallest portion of the world’s second longest river is an absolute must. Then delve into the rainforest that bears the river’s name, believed to be its most diverse region, where human cultures have lived harmoniously with the native flora and fauna since the dawn of time.

Photo: Sebastian Leon Prado

Photo: Daniel Burka

Day 10 - Fly Home

Capture those last mesmeric images of the rainforest, river, and Andes as you begin your journey home. For most, this will mean returning to Lima’s international airport, though from Puerto Maldonado the borders of Brazil and Bolivia are temptingly close.

Love this Peru itinerary, loath the planning involved?

A multi-destination Peru itinerary 10 days long invariably required a certain amount of careful planning. If this sounds like hell on earth, let us introduce Mr Hudson’s Trip Design service. Our experts will use their knowledge to create a Peru trip perfectly matching your time, budget, and interests.

Sacred Valley | Photo: Paul Daly

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