With a single week in Peru, it’s best to concentrate on a manageable regional trip. For first-timers, there’s one place almost everyone has absolutely got to see: Machu Picchu. I certainly have no problem with that; it’s spectacular and on everyone’s bucket list. In one week, you can also experience Cusco, the Inca capital that’s become a dynamic travelers’ hub; the empire’s once-thought-lost imperial city; and the serene Urubamba Valley that the Incas held sacred.
Day 1: Through Cusco to the Sacred Valley
All international flights arrive in Lima, but try to arrange it so that an overnight flight gets you there very early in the morning, with time enough to get an 8 or 9am flight to Cusco (note that flights are occasionally delayed by weather in Cusco, so the earlier the flight, the better). With only a week in Peru, there’s little need to linger in Lima unless you want a day to take it easy and see the colonial quarter of Lima Centro and have lunch at a cevichería.
Because the altitude in Cusco (more than 3,400m/11,000 ft.) is so daunting, head first to the lower Sacred Valley and save the capital city for the end of your trip. Relax at a country hotel in the Sacred Valley (most can arrange a pickup at Cusco airport).
Day 2: Pisac’s Market & Inca Ruins
If possible, schedule your trip so that Day 2 is a market day (Tuesday, Thursday, or, best of all, Sunday). Take a combi or taxi to Pisac and check out the lively artisans’ market in the Plaza de Armas. Have lunch at Ulrike’s Café, right on the main square. After lunch visit the great Inca ruins looming above town; either hike up to them (this may be very challenging for those who’ve just arrived) or take a taxi. Pisac’s ruins will give you a taste of what you’re about to see in Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu. Head a little farther along in the valley (again by taxi or combi) to a rustic country hotel near Urubamba or Yucay, where you’ll have dinner and spend the night.
Day 3: On to Ollantaytambo
Wake early and take a combi or taxi to Ollantaytambo to explore the spectacular Fortress Ruins before the busloads arrive. Then grab lunch at Chuncho on the plaza and wander the Inca Old Town. Energetic travelers can climb the path up to old Inca granaries for great views of Ollanta and the valley. Or take a taxi back toward Urubamba and hike along the river to Salineras de Maras, the ancient salt mines, or catch a combi and then taxi to Moray, an enigmatic Inca agricultural site.
If you don’t mind moving around, you could transfer to a hotel in Ollanta to enjoy it at night when there are few tourists (and be there early for the train the next morning to Machu Picchu). Otherwise, head back to your hotel in the valley around Urubamba.
Day 4: What You Came for: Machu Picchu
Catch an early-morning train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. Immediately catch the bus up to the ruins and spend the day exploring the site (hiking up to the Huayna Picchu peak for panoramic views, if you’re in shape. Have lunch at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge beside the ruins and stay until late in the afternoon, after the large tour groups have left. Spend the night either next to the ruins (if you’ve got very deep pockets) or back down in Aguas Calientes (which is actually more fun). Hit the bars along the railroad tracks to share stories with some of the backpackers who’ve survived the Inca Trail.
Days 5 & 6: Colonial Cusco
Sticking to the area near the Plaza de Armas, visit the Cathedral and the Santa Catalina Convent in the morning. After lunch, see the stunning Qoricancha (Temple of the Sun), the site that best illustrates Cusco’s clash of Inca and Spanish cultures. Take a walk along the Calles Loreto and Hatunrumiyoc to see some more magnificent Inca stonework. In Plaza Nazarenas, check out the beautifully designed Museo de Arte Precolombino (MAP) and some of the upscale alpaca goods shops on the square. Then stop for a celebratory dinner at MAP Café, the chic restaurant in the museum’s courtyard, or Limo, for Nikkei food and superb views of the Plaza de Armas. End the evening with a pisco sour at one of the lively cafes or bars near the Plaza de Armas.
The next morning, pop into a few alpaca and silver jewelry shops around the Plaza de Armas and Plaza Nazarenas. Hike up to the hilly San Blas neighborhood, site of dozens of cool shops and art galleries, and do some shopping for handicrafts, souvenirs, and art. Have a relaxing lunch at Jack’s Café Bar, a popular gringo hangout. After lunch, catch a cab (or walk) up to Sacsayhuamán, the fantastic ruins overlooking the city. For dinner, try Cicciolina or ChiCha, a star chef’s take on local Cusqueña cuisine. Later, get a taste of Cusco’s hopping nightlife at one of the pubs or nightclubs around the Plaza.
Day 7: To Lima & Home
Have a final stroll around Cusco before catching a flight to Lima. You’ll probably have an evening flight back home, so you may have enough time for a ceviche lunch in Lima and, if you’re ambitious, a short tour of colonial Lima Centro in the late afternoon.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.