Last updated on: Apr 25, 2020
Everyone wants to visit Machu Picchu, and for good reason! This Machu Picchu itinerary will expose you to, not only Peru’s most famous attraction, but also Peru’s lesser known attractions, amazing history, culture, and food!
You should plan to spend at least seven days exploring, including at least three nights in Cusco and at least three nights in the Sacred Valley, where Machu Picchu is located.
In order to combat altitude sickness, start your trip in the Sacred Valley unless you’re transiting from a high-altitude region. Given that I transited directly from La Paz, Bolivia, I was already acclimatized.
If you don’t transit from another high-altitude destination, you will most likely arrive to Peru via Lima.
However, in 2021, the Cusco international airport will open, which will offer direct flights from select destinations. Regardless, plan to fly into Cusco (either directly or via Lima) and hire a driver to transfer to the Sacred Valley for the first night.
One reason to stay in the Sacred Valley instead of Cusco initially is to allow yourself to gradually gain elevation, as the Sacred Valley sits at about 9,800 ft. (3,000 m), while Cusco sits at 11,200 ft. (3,400 m).
Read more tips on how best to acclimatize.
Given that your international flight will likely arrive in the morning, you’ll have plenty of time to transit to the Sacred Valley at the start of your Machu Picchu itinerary.
Tambo del Inka offers a great base to explore the Sacred Valley. Waking up to gorgeous mountain views from my suite, which boasted beautiful wood flooring, warm decor, and a spa-like bathroom was truly marvelous.
There’s also a daily train each way that stops at the Urubamba train station, a five-minute walk from Tambo del Inka, which goes to and from Aguas Calientes, the town where you take the buses to Machu Picchu.
Keep in mind that it’s quicker to take a taxi to and from Ollantaytambo from Tambo del Inka than to take the train that stops near the hotel. However, the train provides a convenient way to visit Machu Picchu and you can have meals aboard the train.
Every Machu Picchu itinerary should include a stop in Pisac to explore its wonderful market and ancient Inca ruins.
The Pisac ruins contain a series of agricultural terraces, which were designed to allow farming in hilly areas and to grow a diverse range of crops from different microclimates. Such crops include many native crops that weren’t found elsewhere, like quinoa and potatoes.
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Pisac ruins are among the most well preserved examples of Incan architecture. The ruins contain a series of agricultural terraces, which were designed to allow farming in hilly areas and to grow a diverse range of crops from different microclimates. Considered one of the five cradles of civilization, which are places with indigenous civilizations that weren’t derived from others, the Incas grew many native crops that weren’t found elsewhere, including quinoa and potatoes. In fact, there are more than 4,000 varieties of potatoes in Peru and Bolivia. I got a chance to taste a few types and found that many of the Peruvian potatoes are very ‘rooty’ and much different than potatoes found elsewhere.
After visiting Pisac, head to the Maras Salt Mines, a still active mine that has been producing a variety of different salts for centuries.
A beautiful sight, the various salt pans dotting the mountainside remind me of trays of earthen watercolor paint.
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The Maras Salt Mines are a series of Incan salt pans that were strategically dug into the hillside and sourced with water from subterranean natural springs. The salt mine is still active and produces a variety of different salts, and local vendors sell some onsite. A beautiful sight, the various salt pans dotting the mountainside remind me of trays of earthen watercolor paint. Makes me want to paint something! 😉
Staying at Belmond’s Sanctuary Lodge will give you access to the park when crowds have left, while staying in Aguas Calientes will allow you to avoid the train schedule, taking only the 25-minute bus ride to and from the site. If you stay in Aguas Calientes, you can spend Day 2 and Day 3 there.
One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu is truly a marvelous sight! So, of course, it’s the highlight of your 7-day Machu Picchu itinerary.
Up to 5,200 people can visit each day, but on Sundays, local people can visit for free, independently of the quota. Thus, you should try to avoid visiting on Sundays, if possible.
Rainy season is October to March, and the most popular months for tourism are July and August, which coincides with American and European summers.
But if you go in May, June, September, or October, you can catch warmer weather than July and August due to opposite seasons, miss the rainy season (although it can rain any time), and deal with smaller crowds, although the site will be busy any time of year.
There are three ticketed options you can take when visiting Machu Picchu, and you can do two of the three in one day if staying in Aguas Calientes.
You can choose to hike either Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain in the morning followed by visiting the Machu Picchu Citadel. The times for the Huayna Picchu hike are 7 am and 10 am, while the times for the Machu Picchu Mountain hike are 7 am and 9 am.
Only 200 people are allowed on Huayna Picchu and 400 people on Machu Picchu Mountain each day, so combination tickets should be reserved well in advance, given the quotas and popularity of the hikes.
If you do opt to do two of the sites at Machu Picchu in one day, you should plan to arrive at 6 am when the site opens, as it’s far better to be early than to be late.
The Huayna Picchu two-hour roundtrip hike offers a challenging route with incredible views that allows you to visit the Temple of the Moon.
Machu Picchu Mountain also offers a challenging two-hour roundtrip route with views that arguably better than those of Huayna Picchu.
Visiting the Machu Picchu Citadel, the main attraction, allows you to walk the refurbished Inca ruins, which include the Temple of the Sun, the Principal Temple, and the Sacred Plaza.
Guides are a requirement for visiting the site, which takes approximately 2.5 hours along a set route. Despite being nearly destroyed by the Spanish, there is still so much history remaining and revealed when touring the Machu Picchu Citadel.
Upon exiting the site, don’t forget to get a Machu Picchu stamp at an unmarked post near the park entrance. I would not have known it was there had my guide not mentioned it.
While I’ve heard that some people have had issues with immigration officials during their travels because of this stamp, I had no such issues.
If staying in Aguas Calientes, you can take a bus back to Machu Picchu and do the other hike you didn’t do on Day 3; do shorter walks to other sites such as the Inca Drawbridge, Caretaker’s Hut, or Sun Gate (one hour roundtrip); and take more photographs in this amazing setting.
Whether or not you decide to visit Machu Picchu again or visit the markets of Aguas Calientes in the morning, you can make your way to Cusco in the afternoon.
I recommend getting a driver to transfer you to Cusco and visiting Sacsayhuaman, a former military citadel to the north of the city of Cusco.
Sections of this citadel were first built by the Killke culture and were expanded by the Inca, who built dry stone walls constructed of huge stones.
There are many fanstastic properties to choose from in Cusco, including Palacio del Inka (sister property of Tambo del Inka), which is where I stayed.
Palacio del Inka was once part of the Inca Temple of the Sun, the most sacred site in the Inca religion. This elegant and beautiful hotel is in the heart of the city and a short walk from Plaza de Armas.
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When visiting Peru, you should drink lots of liquids to stay hydrated and to fight altitude sickness. Coca tea was my drink of choice. 😊☕ – While I didn’t have issues with altitude sickness, I had major issues with dryness! So if you plan to visit a high-altitude region, be mindful of your skin, too, and be sure to bring along these items: 1. ѕalιne ѕpray – At high altitudes, your nasal cavity will likely dry out and using lots of tissues can make it worse. Saline can reduce the congestion while adding moisture. Thanks @paqdexter for this tip! 2. pocĸeт ғacιal тιѕѕυeѕ wιтн loтιon or aloe – This helps with dryness around the nose and can also be used for going to the bathroom in nature. (😁😁) – 3. тнιcĸ мoιѕтυrιzer – Thin lotion just won’t do! It may sound old school, but Vaseline is multipurpose and can help moisturize hands, lips, you name it! Other great options are shea butter, borage oil, and coconut oil. 4. ѕυnѕcreen – At 10,000+ feet, you are much closer to the sun. I actually got a subtle tan after only a few days at high altitude. You should bring a lip balm with SPF, too. 5. мoιѕтυrιzιng ѕoap or вody waѕн – This will lessen the amount of moisture that gets stripped from your skin when showering. Apply lotion to damp skin, and for hair, use a conditioning shampoo. 6. мedιcaтιonѕ – While these can cause dryness, it’s good to have ibuprofen or a prescription medication for altitude sickness, just in case, as well as allergy/antihistamine medication. #taryninperu
As the gateway to numerous points of interest, Cusco is the epicenter of tourism in Peru and a must-see for any Machu Picchu itinerary!
Sitting at 11,150 ft. (3,400 meters) above sea level, this former capital city of the Inca Empire has more than 400,000 people.
Once the main cultural hub for the Incas, Plaza de Armas was known as the Great Inca Square prior to the arrival of the Spanish, who destroyed most of the Incan buildings and erected churches and other buildings.
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Once the main cultural hub for the Incas, Plaza de Armas was known as the Great Inca Square prior to the arrival of the Spanish, who destroyed most of the Incan buildings and erected churches and other buildings. The plaza is always bustling with activity from local schools kids singing and dancing to tourists snapping photos. Near the plaza are many wonderful eateries, like @organika_cusco, @rucula_cusco, and Limo, a Japanese-Peruvian spot, as well as attractions like #cuscocathedral.
The plaza is always bustling with activity from local schools kids singing and dancing to tourists snapping photos.
Notable attractions to visit in Cusco include the Cusco Cathedral, Santo Domingo Convent, Mercado Central de San Pedro, and the Inca Temple of the Sun (Qoricancha).
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can do a day trip to Rainbow Mountain (Cerro Colorado Vinicunca) and visit some of Cusco’s attraction the following day or add an extra night in Cusco.
Depending on your desired Machu Picchu itinerary, you can choose a morning or afternoon flight to Lima. Generally, one night is sufficient for visiting Lima, so visiting Lima is not a requirement.
Still, the city has a wonderful restaurant, arts, and museum scene, and many tourists stay in the upscale Miraflores neighborhood, which is a popular spot for surfing and parasailing.
In contrast to Cusco and other parts of Peru, Lima has a more international feel, and its skies are often foggy and gray from April to October due to the Humbolt current and Andes mountains.
Lima has several wonderful hotels to choose from, including the Belmond Miraflores Park and Hotel B. I opted for the contemporary AC Hotel Miraflores, which offers a great value and is located next to an outdoor shopping center.
While it’s quite possible to visit the major points of interest in Peru in a week, there are so many amazing places in Peru, including Puno, Arequipa, Paracas, Huacachina, the Amazon, and El Carmen, that you should definitely return.
Have you visited Peru? What Machu Picchu itinerary did you follow?
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