Last updated on December 31st, 2018 at 12:01 pm
While the pyramids of Egypt have been visited by tourists for millennia, the stone citadel of Machu Picchu has barely known fame for a century. Even so, Peru’s most famous destination now draws travelers of all ENGINEs, and getting there and back in style can be easily arranged. Time-wise, visiting Machu Picchu can be done in as few as four days, or as long as 10. Below I highlight the best options for each stage along your route to Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu is open year-round. To visit, most travelers stay a minimum of one night in Lima, and two nights in Cuzco or the Sacred Valley. Reaching Lima from the US can take fewer than seven hours coming from Houston, and flying Business on those longer routes can be quite enjoyable. We have an office in Lima, which means our local operators are available 24/7 if any issues were to arise. It also means our local English speaking guides know all the secrets about Peru.
Youve reached Lima, and you can either fly an hour and a half to Cuzco the next morning or take advantage of what Peru’s capital has to offer. If you wish to move on to Cuzco, we recommend staying at the Costa del Sol Wyndham Lima Airport Hotel. That way, you avoid any 45-minute transfers into the city. But most people spend a day or two in Lima, and there are several popular tours worth including in your itinerary.
Lima City Tour & Larco Museum
This is for those interested in history and culture. As you begin in the famous Plaza de Armas, you will recall Lima used to be the center of the Spanish Empire. From there you visit the oldest library in Latin America, the catacombs, the San Francisco Monastery and the Larco Museum. With over 45,000 objects and the finest precious metals collection in Peru, this is one of those museums you dont want to miss. You finish with a view of the Pacific Ocean, in modern Miraflores.
Lima Culinary Tour with Dinner
This ones for the foodies. Lima today is known for its world-class gastronomy, with African, European, Chinese, and Japanese influences. In the past five years, several restaurants in Lima have been recognized as among The Worlds 50 Best Restaurants. You will learn to make a pisco sour, prepare an Amazon-inspired ceviche, and enjoy dinner in an archaeological complex. You finish with the desert in the bohemian Barranco district.
Nazca Lines from Lima (Full Day) In Group
This is a great tour for ancient culture aficionados. Lima exists along Peru’s desert coastline, and further south you will find the gigantic geoglyphs known as the Nazca Lines. These mysterious designs can be identified from the air, which is intriguing considering they were created over 1,500 years ago. This is a full day tour, and if you have time we recommend spending a night in Nazca to break up the driving and so you can continue from there up to Arequipa, Peru’s most beautiful city.
Recommended Lima Hotels
The JW Marriott is exquisite, with panoramic views of the capital. For a more boutique feel, Hotel B is your best bet. Located in the up and coming Barranco district, and doubling as an art gallery, you will not want to leave.
Youve made it to the high Andes at over 11,000ft, where travelers used to sea level are wise to drink lots of water as well as the local coca tea. If youre not sure how youll do at altitude, we recommend spending at least your first night almost 2,000ft lower in the nearby Sacred Valley. Most people do fine, however, and learn to take it all in (a slower) stride. Many hotels offer oxygen bars to help you acclimate.
Keep in mind its easy to visit other fascinating parts of Peru from Cuzco. The Amazon rainforest is a mere 45-minute flight to the east. For train lovers, the elegant Andean Explorer takes you on a day-long journey, lunch included, to the highest navigable body of water in the world: Lake Titicaca. While youre in Cuzco, here are a couple of must-do tours.
Cuzco City & Nearby Ruins
This half-day tour is perfect for your first day in what was the capital of the Incan Empire. With Spanish and Incan architecture at every turn, you will visit some of the most spectacular buildings in all of Peru. Moving outside of Cuzco, you will explore the site of Saksaywaman, an Incan complex that enthralled the conquistadors. They were amazed by the precision and scale of the stonework, describing how they were so close together that the point of a pin could not have been inserted in one of the joints.
Pisac Market & Ollantaytambo
Halfway between Cuzco and Machu Picchu lies the Sacred Valley, a region of many fascinating Incan sites, and where Peruvians still live today. Your first stop is Pisac, famous for its market where locals from around the region sell their wares, including clothing made from alpaca wool. After lunch, visit the town of Ollantaytambo. The abandoned ruins are impressive, and the town just below them has been in continuous operation since the time of the Incas.
Recommended Cuzco & Sacred Valley Hotels
The Aranwa Cusco Boutique Hotel fits in with its surroundings, built in a colonial mansion from the 16th century with unique art. It is half a block from the main plaza, and there is plenty for you to see within walking distance. The Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel & Wellness is also in a colonial hacienda, but this one is at a lower elevation in a peaceful neck of the valley. Everything about this place is exceptionally comfortable.
Trains to Machu Picchu
You are nearly at Machu Picchu, but the only easy way there is first to arrive in Aguas Calientes by train. We arrange two different engines of trains: The Vistadome and the Belmond Hiram Bingham. The Vistadome is a two-hour journey along the Urubamba River from the high Andean plateau in Cuzco to the cloud forests surrounding Aguas Calientes. The train has a glass ceiling and is a lovely ride. But for a silver service affair on the Hiram Bingham, it is well worth the extra cost. You will enjoy brunch on the outbound journey and dinner on the return of this luxury experience. There is live music, two dining cars, a bar car, and an observation car.
You step off the train in Aguas Calientes, the closest town to Machu Picchu. If you are on a day trip from Cuzco to see the ruins, you will be whisked up the mountain to the entrance of Machu Picchu. Many travelers prefer to spend a night in Aguas Calientes, to allow an extra day at Machu Picchu. That extra day can be spent a number of different ways, one of which is so you can hike or bus to the entrance to view Machu Picchu at dawn. Imagine arriving as the mists still encircle the mysterious, stone citadel. This place was never discovered by the Spanish.
Recommended Aguas Calientes Hotel
At the enchanting Hotel Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo, you will find interesting flora and fauna. There is an orchid garden, information for birders, and a tour to see rescued spectacled bears on the property. There is also a jacuzzi, pool, and sauna.
Recommended Machu Picchu Hotel
There is no better hotel in all of South America which better exemplifies the phrase location, location, location. The 5-star Belmond Sanctuary Lodge is the only hotel overlooking Machu Picchu, and one of those rare places totally worth the splurge. Located mere feet from the entrance to Machu Picchu, This the site where researchers stayed in the years after Machu Picchus rediscovery. A stay at the Sanctuary Lodge includes all meals as well as select drinks. Even if you choose to stay down in Aguas Calientes, you can still include lunch at the Sanctuary Lodge during your extra day at Machu Picchu.
You made it! Upon your first view, you will understand why Machu Picchu was voted one of the new seven wonders of the world. This is arguably the most fascinating place in all of South America. If you have time, there are several treks which bring you through the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu by foot, including the historical Inca Trek and the lesser known Salkantay Trek. You can visit as a day trip from Cuzco, but to make the most of your trip to we recommend spending an extra day. Here are a few ways to get the most out of that extra day.
Hike Huayna Picchu
For the most exciting hike, consider Huayna Picchu. Follow the Incan trail an hour and a half to the top, over 1,000ft above Machu Picchu and one of the best 360 degree views period. This should be arranged several months in advance, as spaces fill up quickly.
Hike Machu Picchu Montaña
This is a more gradual climb than the steep trail to Huayna Picchu. Machu Picchu Montaña leads you an hour and a half to the mountain peak. Incan priests once performed rituals here on special dates. Needless to say, its a once-in-a-lifetime view overlooking Machu Picchu and the surrounding Andes. You can muse on the history of the Incas and wonder at how this place remained undiscovered for so long, or simply think back over what a memorable trip youve had.