Ah, Machu Picchu. It's the trip you've been dreaming about for years. A classic vacation that everyone should do at least once in their life. We've put together an itinerary that is fun, easy and safe. You'll see all of the sites in a carefree, enjoyable way.
Before your trip starts you should be prepared and know what to pack. Make sure to read our tips on visiting Cusco and Machu Picchu to get a packing list, flight advisories, and restaurant/tour/hotel recommendations. Buen viaje!
Day 1: lima to cusco
Take an early flight from Lima airport to Cusco. Our friends at Mava Travel (experts on planning a trip to the Lost City) say “Our clients usually pick LATAM, Star peru or Peruvian Airlines. Us personally recommend the first two options because they barely have cancellations or delays. If you want to save some money and good service, we recommend Star Peru for that matter.”
Have a private driver pick you up from the airport. Since we hired a tour company, Mava Travel, to learn more about the area they provided a driver that was waiting for us at the airport with a sign. It was easy and efficient.
Check into your hotel and go to sleep as soon as you can to acclimate to the altitude. We stayed at Palacio del Inka. This historic hotel was once part of the Inka Temple of the Sun, the most sacred site in the Inca religion and at the time considered the very centre of the Inca world. For more photos and details about our experience check out this article.
Explore the shops around Plaza de Armas and have dinner at Papacho's, famous for their hamburgers. It's important to note that alcohol can have a stronger affect here because of the altitude. Be careful with how much you drink especially if you're hiking the next day!
Day 2: sacred valley & ollantaytambo
We had quick breakfast at the hotel to start the day.
The guide from Mava Travel met us in the hotel and brought us to our private van to begin the tour. As the car traveled along the Sacred Valley, our guide told us about the local culture, history of the area and its people.
The area is named "Sacred Valley" because the Urubamba River, which runs through it, gives the area life. The Incan people were polytheistic and prayed to natural objects such as mountains, boulders, streams, etc. Therefore to them, this made the river sacred.
First stop is Awana Kancha, literally translated to "the place where they weave" in the indigenous Quechua language. Here we got the chance to pet and feed llamas. It was a wonderful moment for a classic Peruvian photo opportunity!
Further along the path, we stumbled upon local women weaving colorful textiles and eventually ended in a charming shop filled with high-quality clothing, gifts and fabrics; all authentic to the area. Interestingly, the local women did not speak Spanish, they only spoke the indigenous Quechua language. Our guide told us this was not out of the norm for the area and that 32 languages are spoken across Peru.
As we drove to our next stop the guide told us about the area and its history. While we were driving through the village of Pisac, we learned an interesting (and welcoming) piece of information. Along the dusty streets, we noticed large sticks with red bags on them coming out of some of the stone homes. Our guide told us that this is a sign for Chicha, a beer made from fermented corn. Later we were able to try some!
For lunch we stopped at the strikingly beautiful Restaurant Tunupa. This local spot has a massive buffet for only $20 a person and mesmerizing views of the Amazon river and Andes mountains. Before our meal, I took a moment to walk through the gardens and pet some of the llamas grazing in the grassy fields. While we were eating, local musicians performed to the flow of the close by Amazon River. It was an incredible price for such a beautiful place!
After a hearty meal, we hopped back in the car and drove to Ollantaytambo; a charming village in the Sacred Valley, set on the Urubamba River amid snow-capped mountains. It's known for the Ollantaytambo ruins, a massive Inca fortress with large stone terraces on a hillside.
Our guide took us on a brief tour of the Inca-era grid of cobblestoned streets and adobe buildings. Since Luis wanted to try the chicha, our guide found a local spot for us to taste some. It was tart, yet sweet, with a slight vinegary after taste. Luis said he throughly enjoyed it!
Sadly, it was time to leave our beloved guide. He was fantastic and told us that in his free time he enjoys discovering new ruins. It was inspiring!
The guide brought us to the Vistadome train entrance and gave us all of the information we needed to board. There are several train options to take to Aguas Calientes (the town that Machu Picchu is in), however, I recommend the Vistadome with it's panoramic views.
The 2.5 hour train ride is gorgeous and follows the Amazon river as it winds along the Sacred Valley. Also, the train has a light meal and unique entertainment included in the ticket price. Tickets are around $150 round-trip per person.
Upon arrival to Aguas Caleintes we checked into our hostel and after relaxing and reviewing photos captured during the day, our new Mava Travel guide met us to prep for our trip to Machu Picchu the next day. He went over what we should bring, wear, eat and where we should meet the next day. Our guide recommended early in the morning because the temperature would be most enjoyable and there would be less tourists.
After our guide departed for the night, we headed to dinner in town. I was surprised to learn that the food scene in Aguas Calientes isn't very good but it is cheap which is nice!
Day 3: Macchu Picchu & aguas calientes
After a great night sleep, I woke up feeling refreshed and excited to finally go to Machu Picchu. After all it was the main highlight of our trip!
Machu Picchu is an Incan citadel set high in the Andes Mountains in Peru, above the Urubamba River valley. Built in the 15th century and later abandoned, it’s renowned for its sophisticated dry-stone walls that fuse huge blocks without the use of mortar, intriguing buildings that play on astronomical alignments and panoramic views.
Our Mava Travel guide met us at the hotel at 6:00am and we took the 20 minute bus ride to Machu Picchu. Our guide already had our bus and entry tickets ready to go which made our lives easy!
We arrived at the top of the mountain where we were pleasantly surprised to learn that we could get our passports stamped with a special Machu Picchu stamp. As an avid traveler, this as exciting! I always love getting more stamps on my passport and this was no exception. After we got that done, he recommended that we use the bathroom before entering because there is no bathroom inside the ruins. This was definitely an insider tip that you wouldnt want to learn once inside Machu Picchu!
Once the tour started, it was about 2 hours and was filled with ancient history about the culture, religious beliefs and the inhabitants. I was surprised to see llamas at the top but our guide assured us that llamas are always here and that they are one of the few animals that can live in practically any climate and altitude.
He also told us that there were several hikes that we could do. If you're interested in checking out some of the hikes, read my article here.
After an awe-inspiring morning on Machu Picchu we said goodbye to the Lost City and headed back down the mountain to Aguas Calientes town to have lunch at Mapacho Craft Beer & Restaurant. This is a new restaurant that has a wonderful craft beer selection in addition to tasty food. What brings this spot to the next level is their stunning views of the Amazon river. It's definitely worth stopping by on your trip (plus it's one of the few good restaurants in town!).
Once lunch was over we had a few hours to explore the town before hopping back on the Vistadome train to Ollantaytambo. While I was walking through the cobblestone streets, I noticed that there were tons of massage parlors. Since my feet were killing me from the morning hike, I stopped in and got a 30 minute foot massage for about $7. What a deal!
After taking the Vistadome train to Ollantaytambo, then a car to Cusco, I was ready to call it a night. We went to Restaurant Pachamama for a quick dinner. The restaurant has a charming atmosphere and delicious Peruvian cuisine at a low price. With a full belly, I headed back to Palacio del Inka to get a good nights sleep.
Day 4: exploring cusco, Salineras de Maras, and moray
We hired a private driver for the day for only $60. He took us to Moray, an archaeological site on a high plateau that is often overlooked by visitors. It's defintely worth visiting though! The full purpose behind these concentric terraces isn’t fully known. However, it is widely believed that the ruins were once an agricultural laboratory used by the Incas. The circular terraces that lie here are thought to have been used as an agricultural research station.
Next we went to the Salineras de Maras. Strategically dug into the mountainside, thousands of shallow pools are filled with salt water that eventually evaporates and leaves behind the crystallized salt, a process that has been practiced for more than 500 years. Today there are over 6,000 salt pans near Maras, and each one is no more than 13 square feet and less than 1 foot deep. Each pan is owned and mined by a local family of the Maras community, and the salt is collected and sold in local shops or nearby towns.
For lunch we stopped in Chinchero, a town often passed over by tourists. Known to the Incas as the birthplace of the rainbow, this traditional Andean village combines Inca ruins with a colonial church, some wonderful mountain views and a colorful Sunday market.
This is the place to buy gifts as the prices are significantly lower than they are in Cusco for the same items. I picked up a nice alpaca sweater and was very tempted to buy a rainbow Peruvian hat (seen in the photo above).
For dinner we treated ourselves to the chefs 6-course menu at Inti Raymi Restaurant. It was a meal I'll never forget. Every course was unique, tasty and beautifully presented.
Day 5: cusco to lima
We took an 11am flight back to Lima and said goodbye to Cusco taking our memories with us!