The Wonders of Machu Picchu, Cusco and the Sacred Valley


Peru is an amazing destination that many travelers consider a ‘bucket list’ trip, and I will be the first to say that is really IS a once in a lifetime experience. It offers a fascinating ancient Pre-Colombian, Incan and colonial Spanish history, an extremely rich and colorful culture steeped in tradition, and gorgeous topography including arid deserts, the majestic Andes mountains, beautiful beaches and the dense tropical rainforest. It’s highlight, Machu Picchu, is a site not to be missed and you’ll see that I’ve put together a suggested 7 day itinerary below that focuses on Lima and the Machu Picchu area.

As far as accommodation within Peru, I highly recommend the Casa Andina hotel chain, a Peruvian chain that incorporates the local culture, architecture, decor and even gastronomy into each hotel property. They offer 3 brands (standard, select and premium) depending the travelers’ needs and are well known for their service and responsiveness to guests’ needs. Many properties also offer adjoining rooms as well for families traveling with children.

Day 1: Lima – Arrive and check into your hotel (flights from the US arrive around midnight), the Casa Andina Miraflores Centro (prices from $73 per night per room).

Catedral, Lima
Plaza de Armas, Lima
Colonial building

Day 2: Cusco – Spend the morning discovering colonial center of Lima before catching your short flight to Cusco later this afternoon. Check in to your Casa Andina Cusco San Blas Hotel located in a lovely area (prices from $80 per room per night, or choose one of the other Casa Andina options – Cusco Catedral or Premium Cusco) and settle in. Begin to explore this magical Incan city, one of my absolute favorites for its beauty, color and history. Your first stop should be a visit to the market to see amazing bounty that the region offers, from fruits and vegetables to meats to stalls specializing in homemade remedies of herbs and spices and even dried llama fetuses which locals believe bring good luck. For dinner tonight you may want to try Incanto which offers an Italian Peruvian fusion experience that many rave over.

Cusco market

Day 3: Cusco – Today, discover the main Plaza de Armas with its beautiful cathedral, before venturing to the Santo Domingo Convent which was built atop the once opulent Incan Temple of the Sun, Korikancha. The Temple was covered in sheets of gold before the colonists plundered the temple and began construction of the convent on the ancient Incan foundation. Then head to Sacsayhuaman, the Inca citadel or fortress overlooking Cusco, which is famous for its huge ancient stones that were cut and designed to fit together without any mortar. Make sure to wander the downtown later this afternoon and evening and explore the narrow streets on your own – you’ll be sure to see Incan architecture and stones in many of the foundations of the city, and a special spot for dinner tonight.

Plaza de Armas, Cusco
Incan walls, Cusco

Day 4: Sacred Valley – Today, join an excursion or hire a private guide/driver and head to the colonial town of Chinchero built atop Incan ruins and famous for its textile history and colorful market before visiting the town of Maras known for the many salt pools built in the hillside dating back to the Incan Empire. Then continue on to Moray, an ancient Incan ruin known for its round terraces. While the purpose of the site is not fully known, many believe that it was used as a sort of laboratory to test crops and experiment with the different microclimates at each level likely resulting in the more than 2000 varieties of potatoes that Peru cultivates today. You may prefer to organize a bike tour in this area which I would highly recommend. End your day with a splurge at the luxurious Sol y Luna Hotel in the Sacred Valley with beautifully appointed casitas dotting the property (family rooms from $340 per night) or the Casa Andina Premium Valle Sagrado, another beautiful hotel in the area at more affordable rates (rooms from $123 per night).

Chinchero weaver

Maras salt pools
Maras salt pools
Sacred Valley views
Sol y Luna Casita
Sol y Luna Hotel, Sacred Valley
Sol y Luna

Day 5: Aguas Calientes – Today, head to Ollantaytambo set on the Urubamba River, and climb the Inca fortress ruins built into the hillside before boarding your train to Aquas Calientes. Enjoy some time to discover the fantastic ruins of Machu Picchu this afternoon. Be sure to hire a guide to get a much deeper appreciation for this “Lost City of the Incas,” and for those most fit, I highly recommend the strenuous hike up Huayna Picchu (now limited to 400 people per day) to get a great overview of the area. Rest your heads at the comfortable Casa Andina Machu Picchu hotel tonight (rates from $103 per night) and enjoy dinner at the Full House Peruvian Cuisine restaurant for a fabulous pisco sour and ceviche.

Machu Picchu

View from Huayna Picchu

Day 6: Cusco – Head back into Machu Picchu before dawn today and watch the sun rise and the clouds dissipate for some amazing photo ops. I highly recommend a hike to the Gate of the Sun this morning. You’ll have the place to yourself before the first trains arrive with more visitors. Enjoy the buffet lunch at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge at the entrance of Machu Picchu before you catch your train back to Cusco later this afternoon and check into your Casa Andina hotel of choice. Enjoy your final evening in Peru with dinner at Pachapapa conveniently located in the San Blas neighborhood and specializing in delicious Andean cuisine. Perhaps you’ll try the cuy al horno (roasted guinea pig), a Peruvian specialty!

Machu Picchu

Day 7: Fly Home – Today, you’ll fly from Cusco back to Lima and depending on your flight time, you may have some time to explore Lima (perhaps visit the gold museum) or catch your flight home later this evening (flights to the US depart around midnight).

I hope this 7 day itinerary whets your appetite to return again and visit some of the other spectacular regions within this amazingly diverse country…perhaps Lake Titicaca, the Amazon river basin area of Tambopata, the Colca Canyon and Arequipa just to name a few of my favorites. Machu Picchu always steals the show, but each of these unique regions deserves a trip in its own right.

As an estimated budget for this 6 night/7 day itinerary for a family of 4 would be as follows:

Accommodation: $1200

Food: $980

Transportation (taxis, trains, internal flights): $1800

Activities/Excursions/Entrances: $620

Total: $4600

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Originally from the Chicago area, Cara has most recently relocated to the Central Valley of Costa Rica with her husband and two energetic little ones to slow down and enjoy the ‘Pura Vida’ life. Since traveling to Mexico as a child with her family and studying abroad in Spain as an undergrad, she is always looking for the next adventure. Her favorite life experiences to date include working in a deli in Grand Teton National Park, teaching English to toddlers in Japan, connecting with her local community as a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay, backpacking with her husband in Patagonia and putting down some roots in the Boston area. With over 10 years of experience in the travel industry, she is passionate about sharing her love of travel with others and helping them make the most of their time overseas with authentic, extraordinary experiences. To learn more about Cara’s adventure in Costa Rica, visit her blog at


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