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Explore the Heart of the Inca Empire - 7 Days
Day 1: Arrival in Lima, Transfer to Hotel
Lima's Plaza Mayor
¡Bienvenidos! Welcome to Lima, Peru's largest city and central metropolitan hub, and home to one-third of the country's population. Located at the site of a pre-Columbian indigenous Ychsma settlement, which was conquered by the Inca empire in the 15th century and later by the Spanish conquistadores, Lima has a fascinating history and a diverse mix of cultures. Amerindian, European, Afro-Peruvian, and Asian—especially Chinese and Japanese—influences make Lima a dynamic and exciting city to explore.
Lima's breezy location on the Pacific Ocean and mild desert climate make it the perfect city for exploring on foot. Head downtown to mingle with locals, stretch your legs, and grab a bite to eat in one of the many award-winning restaurants.
Suggested activities include:
• Explore the historic center of Lima, a UNESCO World Heritage Site packed with fascinating Spanish architecture. Start with a scenic tour of the colonial downtown, which emanates from the main square. Stroll over to the 16th-century Cathedral, which took 80 years to construct and was built in the grandiose style of the Spanish Empire.
• Visit the Casa Aliaga, a colonial mansion granted by chief conquistador Francisco Pizarro to Jerónimo de Aliaga, one of his captains, in 1535. This is the only house from that era that still belongs to the same family.
• Stroll around the Pueblo Libre district to the privately owned Larco Museum of pre-Columbian art, housed in a beautifully restored viceregal mansion built over a 7th-century pre-Columbian pyramid. The museum boasts a vast pre-Colonial collection of gold and silver artifacts, as well as pieces of erotic art.
• In the evening, head to the eclectic "Love Park" in the upscale coastal district of Miraflores, where you can admire a huge kissing statue and beautiful mosaic walls. The park is built on the cliffs of Chorrillos and is a perfect place to enjoy a spectacular sunset over the Pacific.
• Enjoy a nightcap at an open-air cafe or restaurant in the diverse Miraflores neighborhood.
Day 2: Cusco exploration
An aerial view of Cusco and surrounding hills
Head to the Lima airport for your transfer flight to Cusco. This ancient city is the former capital of the Inca empire, which reigned from the 13th to 16th centuries after conquering the Killke settlement in the same location.
Remember: you will be 11,000 feet (3,000 m) above sea level, so take it easy and remember to drink lots of water. Since Cusco was designed by the Incas as a city for walking, start your exploration of the narrow stone alleyways on foot. Take a walk through the plaza—if the weather is beautiful, it's a perfect place to sit on a balcony and have a cup of coca tea while adjusting to the elevation.
Suggested activities include:
Visit the Coricancha, also known as "The Temple of the Sun." The temple was built by the Incan Emperor Pachacutec (1438 - 1572), and after the arrival of the Spaniards became the basis for the construction of the Santo Domingo Convent.
• See the Cathedral, the most imposing monument in the central Plaza de Armas and a repository for Cusco's colonial art. Its construction lasted for almost 100 years, beginning in 1560 and ending in 1654.
• Walk to Sacsayhuamán and next-door Quenqo, both archaeological complexes used mostly for religious and agricultural rituals, located 2.5 miles (4 km) from the city of Cusco. Built by the Killke people, Sacsayhuamán is a marvel of ancient architecture, a monolithic fortress built from giant blocks of stone, the origins and assembly of which remain a mystery.
• Discover the elaborate Puca Pucara ruins—an architectural complex of alleged military use with multiple plazas, baths, aqueducts, walls, and towers. It is believed that the entourage of the Incan emperor used it while he stayed at Tambomachay, the elaborate estate and baths nearby.
• Explore San Blas, an old bohemian quarter famous for its picturesque white walls, blue doors, and creative artisan community.
• Experience the legendary Mercado Central de San Pedro, a large and diverse market famous for its mouth-watering fruit juices, home-style meals, medicinal herb stalls, and rows of various meats, bread, vegetables, and other necessities.
• Eat lunch at a local Peruvian restaurant and sample local flavors and cooking techniques—crackling pork, pickled vegetables, seasonal flavors, bread baked in earthen ovens, roasted vegetables, and sweet donuts make for a delicious and filling meal.
Day 3: Exploring the Sacred Valley
Your first stop today is Pisac, where you'll visit the ruins of the town and a market where you can pick up some handicraft souvenirs. Then head to Moray, where you'll see the three famous amphitheater-like terraces made by the Incas. These terraces are carved deep into the earth in the shape of a bowl. It is believed that the Incas once used these terraces as agricultural laboratories to determine the optimal conditions for growing crops.
When you are done exploring Moray, you will head about two miles away, to the salt mines of Maras. This village is known as a former salt-producing center and is thought to date back to pre-Incan times. There are over 3,000 salt pools carved into the mountainside, that are filled daily by a stream of water.
Once you are done with the visit, you will arrive in Ollantaytambo to stay the night.
Day 4: Machu Picchu - Aguas Calientes - Cusco
Explore the ruins at Machu Picchu
Today you'll get to explore Machu Picchu exploration after a brief, 25-minute bus ride. Your guide will lead you on a 2-hour tour of exploration and discovery, learning about the many curious corners within the enigmatic citadel.
Afterward, you will still have some time to visit other places that you did not see with your guide. For example, heading west from the center of Machu Picchu, the Inca bridge is a 30-minute walk along a narrow path. If you feel like an uphill challenge, you have the option to climb the infamous Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu mountain. Ask in advance if you'd like to climb these peaks, as tickets need to be purchased ahead of time.
At the end of our visit, head down to Aguas Calientes for lunch and board the train to Ollantaytambo. On arrival, we will be met by our driver who will transfer us to our hotel in Cusco.
Day 5: Cusco - Puno: The Route of the Sun
The "Sistine Chapel of America"
After breakfast in your hotel, make your way to the bus station to board a tourist bus to Puno—the ride lasts for about 10 hours with different stops along the way. Enjoy the Andean landscape out the window between stops at Pukara, La Raya, the border between Puno and Cusco, Raqchi, and Andahuaylillas, the "Sistine Chapel of America."
Arrive in Puno around 5:00 pm, and transfer to your hotel.
Day 6: Uros & Taquile Floating Islands
In the morning, head to Lake Titicaca. You'll board a motorboat heading to the Uros Island, one of the most visited islands of the Titicaca Peruvian side, as well as Taquile Island. You'll be welcomed by Uros natives and given a taste of local life and culture.
Walkthrough the reed villages and interact with the locals before taking a ride on a typical handmade boat. Afterward, return to Puno and transfer to your hotel.
Day 7: Departing Juliaca
View of Puno hills from Lake Titicaca
Your trip to Peru is coming to a close. This morning, transfer from Juliaca to the airport for your flight home. Buen viaje!