Traveling Across Peru's Inca Heartland
Cusco, Lima, Machu Picchu, Yurimaguas
Among South America’s most intriguing and advanced ancient cultures are the Inca, and among the most impressive and fascinating remnants of this once-great empire, are the cities located in the heart of the Peruvian Andes. In this five-day itinerary, travel from Lima, Peru’s lively capital to the achingly beautiful Sacred Valley and its showpiece, the mighty citadel of Machu Picchu.
Arrive at and Explore Lima
When flying into Peru’s bustling capital, Lima, you will likely be struck by the desert landscape that surround it. Far from the verdant green of the Andes, Lima is located along the dry coastal area that looks nothing like the more famous Inca cities shown in travel brochures. But that’s not a problem, as a wealth of vibrant art and architecture awaits in the Peruvian capital.
Start your tour at Plaza Mayor (also known as Plaza de Armas), which is Lima’s central square. Here, one can witness the changing of the guard at the Government Palace, along with the impressive Cathedral of Lima and the Archbishop’s Palace that is rich in intricate woodwork and architectural nuances. At the square itself, the locals hang out in droves, which makes it a great place to interact or do a little people watching.
Continuing by foot, your Lima tour guide will take you to the majestic Church of San Francisco, which also offers tours of its catacombs for those with a taste for the macabre.
Get a taste of the ruins that await by stopping by Huaca Pucllana – an ancient mound of ruins right there in the city.
After that head toward the trendy Miraflores district for some dinner.
Author tip: Try an ultra-sweet Inka Kola, a locally produced soft drink whose flavor can best be described as liquefied bubble gum.
Lima to Cuzco
Board a flight for the former Incan capital of Cuzco, which was once believed to be the center of the Earth.
Once there, get acclimated to the high altitude (over 11 thousand feet) by leisurely touring the compact city center and its main attraction – Plaza de Armas. You can tour the inside of the lavishly ornate cathedral, or just wander the stone facades of the historic buildings lining the square while snapping photos every few steps. The architecture here is impressive, with many Spanish colonial-era buildings constructed on top of the ancient Inca foundations, creating a sturdy and visually-pleasing amalgamation of Old World charm and Ancient World flavor.
For dinner, duck into one of the many cafes for some grilled alpaca and a Pisco sour, the Peruvian national drink.
Sacsayhuaman, Tambo Machay and Qenko
Now it’s time to begin your true explorations. Just outside of town (literally, right up on the hillside) are the imposing ruins of the fortress of Sacsayhuaman (pronounced like the English term: Sexy woman). Your tour guide should have arranged for your Cuzco Visitor’s Pass (an absolute must to see the sights) before you can clamber around this incredible sampling of Inca masonry which consists of irregularly shaped stones hewn to fit perfectly together – at times not even a knife blade can fit between them. The enormous monoliths will give you a greater appreciation for Incan ingenuity and the photo opportunities and meandering llamas will be pure gold for your picture album.
Not much farther out of town are a few other sights of note, such as the hillside ruins of Tambo Machay and the archaeologically rich site of Qenko, each with their own history and nuance that make them worth the time to visit. Hiring a guide ahead of time will be a great advantage, as they will not only get you to where you need to go, but give you an explanation as to the significance of these already-impressive sites.
Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes
Making your way into the stunning landscape of the Sacred Valley, the train to Machu Picchu will make a stop at the ‘living’ Inca town of Ollantaytambo. Your tour guide will spend a few hours here, to expound on this massive stronghold carved out of the steep mountain slopes that would be the main attraction itself had Machu Picchu remained undiscovered. At the top a series of mammoth monoliths rest, leading one to ponder the engineering necessary to bring them up so high. Your tour guide will also treat you to examples of Inca terracing and water management.
When you’re done exploring here, it’s time to move on to the small town of Aguas Calientes for the overnight in anticipation of visiting the star of the show the following day.
Machu Picchu and the return
Get up early and try to make it inside the World Heritage Site of Machu Picchu before sunrise. This Inca outpost set on a stunning mountain ridge was largely forgotten until the early 1900’s, when American explorer Hiram Bingham brought it back into the international spotlight. Now it is a national icon and the most popular destination in Peru along with having been voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
The grounds of this ancient wonder will take some time to explore, so leave yourself enough time to wander its stone buildings and scenic lookouts by yourself after your tour guide is done with showing you the highlights. You will visit the Torreón – thought to be an observatory – and other highlights such as the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows, which were dedicated to the Inca’s principal deity. If you’ve still got some breath and stamina to spare, hike up to nearby Huayna Picchu for some amazing views of the site – but bear in mind that only 400 visitors are allowed to climb it daily.
When you’re done visiting this amazing citadel, it will be time to take the train back down to Cuzco and onward to your home destination. But there’s no doubt that your journey into, and understanding of the Peru’s Inca heartland will leave you with a greater appreciation for this ancient culture and a trove of thrilling memories of your time in this unique part of the world.
Cusco, Lima, Machu Picchu, Yurimaguas
Contributed By : Ben PastoreTourHQ Experiences
This itinerary is contributed by Ben, an experienced traveler. If you request this tour, different guides will give you their versions of this itinerary. Be sure to confirm with them on what's included before booking.