Day 1-3: Cusco – Plaza de Armas, Korikancha, San Blas, San Pedro Market
Day 4: The Sacred Valley – Pisac, Maras, Moray, Ollantaytambo
Day 5: Machu Picchu
Day 6: Cusco – Sacsayhuaman, Cristo Blanco
Day 7: Lake Titicaca
Day 8: Copacabana or Arequipa
For some of the best things to do and the absolute highlights of Andean Peru, you should consider including Cusco, The Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca in your itinerary. In this way you will get an excellent itinerary to gain insight into outstanding constructions created by the Incas in Peru, into fine colonial architecture erected by the Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s, as well as into modern Peruvian traditions and culture.
Our route covers a lot of the top things to do and favourite places to travel to on an 8-day trip in Peru, beginning in Cusco and continuing southbound through the Andean country. Of course you can easily spend 10 or 14 days (or even more!) on this same itinerary in Peru, but it is perfectly doable in 8 days, if that is what you have! If you start your trip by flying into Lima, you may wish to stay here for a few days exploring the capital before your flight to Cusco, where our 8-day Peru itinerary begins.
On Day 1 in Cusco you will take it easy. Cusco is situated at 3,400 m (11,000 ft) which means that there is a risk of experiencing altitude sickness, soroche. Your body needs to adapt to the Cusco altitude, before you throw yourself into too much physical activity. Most hotels offer a cup of ‘mate de coca’ which is believed to relieve the altitude symptoms.
Therefore, you will just go for a short stroll in the historical centre and maybe sit down on a bench in the heart of Cusco, on Plaza de Armas. Here you will soak up the atmosphere of the old Inca capital which thrived in the 1400s and 1500s. There are still loads of remains from the Inca era dispersed over the city. Plaza de Armas is one of the highlights in Cusco, rich in Inca history. It used to be an important ceremonial site, where the Festival of the Sun (Inti Raymi) took place.
In the plaza you will also notice the famous Cusco Cathedral in a Gothic-Renaissance style, built by the Spanish conquistadors. It is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Spend the rest of Day 1 people watching in central Cusco – and maybe taking great pictures of the historic buildings and the local life on Plaza de Armas! In particular, notice the native Peruvian women who carry their children on their backs, wrapped in a piece of cloth, an aguayo sling. They also use the colourful fabrics as bags for their goods! In the historic centre around Plaza de Armas you will find loads of restaurants and cafés!
On Day 2 and Day 3 in Cusco you will enjoy the cultural highlights of Cusco – and the vibe! You will be exploring the top sites in the historic centre of the ancient Inca capital. Of course you will also have time for spontaneous experiences such as eating in irresistible Peruvian restaurants, visiting fascinating, vibrant market streets, making unexpected local purchases, finding hidden viewpoints with panoramic views of Cusco – as well as simply indulging in people watching!
No visit to Cusco without visiting the significant Inca temple, Korikancha, or Qurikancha in Quechua, the indigenous language. This temple was at the time one of the most magnificent temples within the Incan Empire with a ton of gold panels and golden decorations inside.
As with all other Inca constructions, the stone cuts are sharp and precise and the stone blocks fit impeccably together – so well that the walls have even resisted hundreds of years of earthquakes! Another example of the ingenious Inca architecture is the Twelve Angled Stone in one of the other ancient walls in Cusco.
‘Explore Cusco – Travel – Peru Itinerary’
Explore the scenic San Blas district featuring picture-postcard colonial houses, bohemian cafés and tiny Andean shops selling Peruvian handicraft. The Plazoleta de San Blas is the navel of San Blas, and this is where you will find the oldest church in Cusco, famous for its cedar woodcarvings originating from one single tree.
Before the Spaniards arrived in Cusco, San Blas was an important Inca settlement, at the time named T’oqokachi. From the streets above you can enjoy magnificent views of the Cusco roofs!
The most famous covered market in Cusco is the Mercado Central de San Pedro, San Pedro Market. It features all kinds of basic food items such as bread, meat, vegetables and dairy products, as well as flowers, woven fabrics, key rings, alpaca clothing, handicraft and other souvenirs. Outside and in the surrounding streets you will also find numerous street vendors selling a wide variety of products, including food, fruit and drinks.
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There are numerous other small local markets to explore in Cusco. If you are looking for traditional Alpaca clothing, you may try the local Mercado Artesanal in Avenida Tullumayo or the Feria Artesanal De Productores El Marquez San Francisco just off Plaza San Francisco.
You may also want to include one or two of Cusco’s outstanding cultural museums – choose for instance between the Museo Inka, the Museo de la Coca, the Museo de Arte Precolombino or the Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporáneo.
‘Catch the Culture in Cusco’
On your 4th day in Cusco you will have found a tour taking you to the Sacred Valley – or you can opt to do it completely on your own (by bus and train). There are lots of tour operators to choose among. You may even find a combined 2-day tour covering both the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu (for Day 4 and Day 5). Your Sacred Valley tour will probably include the following destinations:
Pisac is both a modern village with a famous local crafts market twice a week – and a historic Inca site with well-preserved ruins and a highly unusual cemetery. The cemetery is built into the mountainside and consists of holes into the mountain which were used as tombs!
In the Inca period the Pisac settlement served as a military fortress, as well as an astronomical observatory. Around Pisac you will notice the andenes, agricultural terraces, which were laid out across the sloping landscape to provide the Incas with vegetables and other crops. They still appear as they have done for hundreds of years!
You will probably cross Urubamba on your way through the Sacred Valley. It is the largest town in the valley, located at the Urubamba River. Also Urubamba features important ruins from a former Inca palace, Quispiguanca.
Known as the birthplace of the rainbow, Chinchero is a small, picturesque Andean village featuring both Inca ruins, fertile Inca terraces and a colourful market. The village is especially known for its woven fabrics which are also sold at the market. Chinchero is therefore a good place to stop to buy traditional, Peruvian textiles.
Moray is the perfect example of Inca agriculture. Located at 3,500 m (11,500 ft), it consists of a number of terraced circular depressions.
The site was used as an outdoor agricultural laboratory by the Incas who experimented with different crops at different altitudes and different temperatures. There was presumably a temperature difference of 15 degrees Celcius between the top and the bottom of the terraces here. In particular, their elaborate experiments resulted in the development of a wide variety of potato species. Thanks to the Incas there are therefore today a large number of potato varieties in Peru (and the world)!
Another must-see in the Sacred Valley is Maras. The site contains the most scenic salt pans you can image in the landscape, the Salineras de Maras, which is an area of salt basins located down the hillside. Right since the Inca era, salt has been produced here by letting the brine from a subterranean source run through an intricate system of channels, filling the basins on its way. When the water evaporates, the finest salt is left behind!
As the last site in the valley you can reach by road – before jumping on the train to Machu Picchu, you will find Ollantaytambo.
Today, it is believed that when the Spaniards arrived, the Incas pretended that the fortress was Machu Picchu! They made the fortress appear so extraordinary that the Spaniards were convinced that it was Machu Picchu they had found (which the conquistadors were really after)! The Spaniards therefore stopped here, believing that they had conquered the greatest treasure, Machu Picchu! Besides visiting the ruins of the old fortress, you can also visit the ancient Inca village here, which is actually still partly being used as homes by the local population.
Read more about the Sacred Valley: Sacred Valley, Maras, Moray and Inca Ruins in Pisac
From the Sacred Valley you will continue to Machu Picchu by train through the lush Amazon rainforest and subtropical jungle. It is important to buy the train ticket and the ticket to Machu Picchu well in advance (probably months in advance to be sure!) since they often sell out!
Aguas Calientes is the name of the small town at the foot of Machu Picchu, and it is named after the hot springs found there. If you have arrived on Day 4 in the evening, this is where you will find a hotel for the night (if you haven’t already got one). Get up early in the morning to be among the first visitors to the ancient Inca citadel and experience the sunrise up there! It is popular with people hiking the Inka trail to arrive at the Sun Gate, Inti Punku, at dawn! Don’t be disappointed if Machu Picchu is partly covered with fog – it is often so due to the tropical cloud forest climate here.
Machu Picchu became known to the world in 1911, when the university professor and explorer Hiram Bingham found and revealed the old Inca citadel. It soon became clear that the complex had astronomical importance in the Inca society. The structures of Machu Picchu have been erected such that significant astronomical events (summer and winter solstice) enable the light to enter specific windows at precisely these moments.
To make the most of your Machu Picchu visit, you should consider a guide up here if that is not already included in your tour! And if not, at least study the archaeological area thoroughly before coming! When returning to Cusco at the end of the day, you will most certainly be totally exhausted from climbing around the ruins of Machu Picchu for half a day – but it is absolutely worth it!
Read more about Machu Picchu: See the Mythic Inca Culture on Machu Picchu Mountain
‘Peru – Travel – Itinerary’
Day 6 is your last day in Cusco, where you will visit all your favourite places once again – and maybe find a new local market to explore. Try some of the streets a little bit off the beaten path to have lunch together with local Peruvians.
In the afternoon you will walk up to the other amazing Inca construction (besides Korikancha) in Cusco, Sacsayhuaman, overlooking the city. The walk may be a bit strenuous since the citadel is situated on a hilltop just outside Cusco. The huge Inca temple from the 13th century was originally dedicated to the sun and had the shape of a puma head, the puma being one of the symbolic animals in Inca mythology.
While walking around between the ruins, you will also here note the amazingly sharp and precise stone cuts, allowing them to fit together as perfectly as glued to each other.
If you still have a bit of energy left, you may also consider walking to Cristo Blanco, a large statue visible from most of Cusco – and located on the same side of the city as Sacsayhuaman. At least you will be able to view Cristo Blanco from many places around the city! The enourmous statue may well remind you of the Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro!
In the evening of Day 6 you may want to catch an overnight bus towards Lake Titicaca and Puno (make reservations for it beforehand!). During the night it will take you through the Andean landscape right up to the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca!
(In case you had more days to spend in the Cusco area, you might additionally decide to go on a day tour to the the Rainbow Mountain before your onward journey.)
Lake Titicaca is located at a much higher elevation, namely at 3,812 m (12,507 ft), than Cusco at ‘only’ 3,400 m (11,200 ft). One of the real unique things about Titicaca is the existence of a people, the Uros people, who have literally lived on the lake for hundreds of years. They are the native people of Peru and Bolivia, and in the Inca era they had to flee from their usual homes and establish themselves in totora reed communities on the Lake Titicaca.
Since then the floating reed islands have been the permanent homes for the Uros population, and there are currently more than a hundred reed islets! The residents still live in traditional reed houses and use canoe-shaped reed boats to get around on the lake. Anyway, they are also to some extent influenced by the modern world and have included some modern technology and materials in their way of life.
If you for instance travel with Bolivia Hop or Peru Hop, you can buy a tour to the islands through them, and it is coordinated with the arrival/departure time in/from Puno. Read more about Lake Titicaca: Call at the Lake Titicaca Floating Islands and the Uros People
Panorama B&B is located only 200 m from the town market. Offers a buffet breakfast, WiFi access as well as mountain and river views.
Cusco Hotel Boutique has both family rooms and features a terrace and a garden. Located about 800 m from Cusco main square. Choice between continental or a la carte breakfast. A hot tub is available at the hotel for the guests.
Tariq Hotel Boutique is located in the heart of Cusco, just 300 m from the small San Blas Church. The hotel features a garden, a terrace and a bar. There is a restaurant at the property. Family rooms are available. Paid airport shuttle service available.
You will have to decide whether to return from directly to Lima from Puno (by bus or by plane) and end your trip with Puno/Lake Titicaca being your last destination, or whether to continue your trip from Puno. You may plan to continue towards La Paz. In that case you can continue by bus via Copacabana, Bolivia, this being a convenient stopover. In Copacabana you can enjoy Lake Titicaca from the Bolivian side and take a tour to Isla del Sol, which is considered the birthplace of the Inca legend. Another option (in case you have more than 8 days in Peru) is to continue to Arequipa, Colca Canyon and the Nazca Lines.
Get more inspiration for Copacabana and La Paz: By bus Cusco – Copacabana – La Paz
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Things to Do in Peru – Where to Travel – Itinerary 8 Days:
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