Peru in 10 days - a hybrid itinerary for active travelers
Updated: Sep 3, 2021
Peru is one of those places that I could honestly explore for a month. The culture is intriguing, and if you are an active traveler like I am, your head will spin from the hiking and backpacking options within the incredible mountain ranges that pervade the horizon. But since we had just finished a six-week road trip in our sprinter van prior to leaving for Peru, we decided to mix in some luxury accommodations on this trip. So the itinerary below is for the hybrid traveler – someone who enjoys both being active outdoors, as well as soft bed and a glass of fine wine, and someone who enjoys local guesthouses as well as luxury lodges. Ten days is really not enough time to see all that Peru has to offer. So my husband and I sat down, prioritized the sites that we really wanted to see, looked at the transportation required to connect them all and discussed how many days that we wanted to hike.The result included Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, Maras salt mines, Moray ruins, Cusco and Rainbow Mountain (Vinicunca).
So, let’s go to Peru!
We chose to stay at Explora Eco-lodge for the Sacred Valley part of our trip because we felt that they offered the most comprehensive active explorations of the land, as well as introduction to the food and the Peruvian people. Plus, bottom line - Explora just knows how pamper you at the end of a hard day of hiking. Go here to read my full Review of Explora - Sacred Valley. But in the meantime, you can learn more about Explora here from my review of our experience at their Patagonia location.
Peru has many choices for luxury accommodations throughout the country. Belmond Hotels are present in several locations throughout the country, including Cusco and at the entrance of Machu Picchu. And as I mentioned above, Explora sets the bar when it comes to providing luxurious rooms, fine dining, a full bar and excellent guide service, all included in the price of your stay. In addition, we have listed throughout this post, some of the fabulous restaurants we dined at along the way.
TIP - I use this booking site frequently as it often does not require deposit and has lenient cancellation policies
How to Connect
Peruvian Hearts is a 501(c)(3) organization based in the USA but founded by Ana Dodsen, a Peruvian woman who was adopted from Cusco as a baby and founded this program when she was only 11 years old. “Our programs are designed to help women of all ages to reach their potential through education, mentorship, and community leadership. Our girls’ education and empowerment program empowers Peruvian young women to break the cycle of poverty through secondary-school graduation and continued education at the post-secondary level in vocational institutes, colleges, and universities. We support three different girls’ homes, or hogares, in the Cusco and Sacred Valley of Peru through volunteers and in-kind donations.” Go here to read more about their programs and how you can help through donation or volunteerism.
Trip Rating – L2 – English is spoken in most tourist places, but may be limited. You will get a lot further with conversation if you speak, or try to speak some Spanish. The food, although comprised mostly of familiar ingredients such as fish, beef, and potatoes (a LOT of potatoes), will also include opportunity to try alpaca, guinea pig and foreign seasonings unique to the area. Read more about our trip rating system here.
Length of trip – 10 days on the ground, excluding flights. We flew from the west coast of the USA, so in total our trip required 12 days.
Month of travel – September, sunny days, very little rain, cooler at night due to elevation but 60’s (F) during the day. It always felt warmer on clear days, as the sun is very intense at elevation. So bring sunscreen as well as a down ‘puffy’ jacket.
Arriving in Peru
Flight – we took a night flight on LATAM airlines from the west coast, USA. We flew LAX to Lima (9 hours), then Lima to Cusco (~2 hours), arriving at 11:30am the following day.
Transportation – Since US currency was strong, for this itinerary we chose to use taxi’s for intercity connections. Explora includes pickup and drop-off from either Cusco or Ollantaytambo. And trains and buses are the most common way to get to Machu Picchu. Go here to read more about transportation details in How to get to Machu Picchu.
Day 1 - Ollantaytambo
We arrived at the Cusco airport and headed straight to Ollantaytambo.
We decided to see Machu Picchu on our own, although Explora offered it as one of their day trips (extra $, NOT included). Since my husband is a professional photographer, we wanted to visit the site twice at different times of day. Plus, since we were only planning a four night (3 day) stay at Explora, we wanted to use our time there to take full advantage of the unique explorations that they offer.
Ollantaytambo is a quaint little village and the second closest train stop to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu (only a ~90 minute ride). It also has two of its own ruins to explore, has a small plaza and offers several enjoyable options for dining. We arrived around 2pm, took a quick nap and then went to explore the ruins.
NOTE - Be aware that the main archeological site closes at 5pm!
Accommodation suggestion – Parwa Guesthouse (en suite bathrooms, breakfast incl, ~ $75USD for King bed corner room)
Transportation – arranged easily by Parwa Guesthouse owner. Taxi driver picked us up with name sign in hand and drove us the two hours to Ollantaytambo for $50 USD.
Day 2 – Getting to Machu Picchu, afternoon tour
Transportation – The train station in Ollantaytambo is about a 10 minute walk from the village center. We took the 9:15 Perurail Vistadome train to Aguas Calientes and then the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu.
Activity suggestion – afternoon tour of Machu Picchu.
The afternoon pass allows entry from 1pm until 5pm. Since most travelers spend on average only ~ 2 hours at the ruins, I’d recommend checking in, have lunch, then enter around 3pm. This is when most tourists leave and you will feel like you have the place to yourself.
Accommodation suggestion – Belmond Sanctuary Lodge
We would make this same choice again. Although pricey, it included two meals and was a 3 minute walk from the entrance to Machu Picchu. We were easily able to go twice to the ruins and avoid the crowds. Go here to read why we think it’s worth the money in my full Review of Belmond Sanctuary Lodge.
Dinner suggestion - Tampu at the Belmond.
There are no other evening restaurants up near the archeological site if you stay overnight. When you book a room, you can select the Half Board option. This includes a full breakfast and your choice of lunch OR dinner. We chose dinner and enjoyed a fabulous three-course meal, including wine. It priced out much better than if we had paid for the room and food separately.
Day 3 – Machu Picchu sunrise, Huaynapicchu climb and back to town
Activity suggestion – get up early to be first in line for the 6am opening. Busloads of people start arriving from Aguas Calientes at 5:45am. Spend a few hours there, then head back to the hotel for a nap, breakfast, then head over for your 10-11am entry to climb Waynapicchu. Go here to see how to plan for and purchase tickets for this adventuresome addition.
Transportation – take the bus back to Aguas Calientes before 2pm, then catch the 3:30 PM train back to Ollantaytambo (arrives ~ 5pm).
Accommodation suggestion – Parwa Guesthouse, Ollantaytambo (en suite bathrooms, breakfast incl)
TIP - since we stayed here two nights, on either side of our Machu Picchu visit, the guesthouse stored our large luggage for free until our return. That way we could simply pack a smaller overnight duffle bag for the one-night stay at the Belmond.
Day 4 – The Sacred Valley
Transportation – Explora Eco-Lodge includes transportation from Ollantaytambo or Cusco with your stay.
Activity suggestion – check in, eat lunch, then go on an afternoon hike.
Explora does a great job at assessing, and gradually working up, your altitude tolerance. They have explorations designed for every hiking ability. Go here to read my full review of Explora Sacred Valley. But if you are motivated to do their higher elevation hikes, I’d recommend acclimatizing in Peru for at least 5 days prior to your arrival.
Dinner suggestion – meals and full bar are included at Explora
Day 5 – Moray Ruins and Maras Salt Flats (Explora)
Activity suggestion – this a full day downhill hike that is a good assessment of your altitude tolerance prior to taking on the more challenging high alpine hikes.
Day 6 – Tayastoc (Explora)
Activity suggestion - we are fit and experienced hikers, so we were able to do this hike on our second day at Explora . We had also acclimatized by arriving five days earlier to our arrival at the lodge. This is a challenging hike with incredible vistas. But you will be hiking between 13,000' and 15,400’ for 5-6 hours.
TIP - ask your doctor about possible use of Diamox to help you acclimate. Or we took chlorophyll supplements, twice daily, starting 1-2 weeks before the trip. I believe it was helpful.
Day 7 – Incañan (Explora)
Activity suggestion – this is the most difficult hike offered by Explora. It’s at high altitude like Tayastoc, but three miles longer and over more uneven, rocky terrain. If you plan for it, acclimatize, and are a fit hiker, you will love it. Views are incredible.
TIP - use trekking poles for this one, even if you typically do not! They make you far more efficient as a hiker, put less strain on your quads and makes downhill hiking much safer.
Day 8 – Sleep in, Spa, then Cusco
Activity suggestion – sleep in today! If you do those last two hikes that I mentioned, you will be getting up at 5am for each one. So on this last day, before you check out, enjoy your morning, go to the spa for a massage, eat lunch, and have a midday glass of wine on the deck. The drive back to your Cusco hotel takes less than two hours. Explora can arrange this for any time on your departure day.
Once in Cusco, check in to your hotel, then go for a walk on the historical square
TIP – We were planning to do the full day Rainbow Mountain tour, plus our flight back to the USA was another overnight flight. So we opted for El Mariscal, a bargain at $50US a night. We booked three nights, although we only slept there twice. That way on our last day we could use the room until we left for the airport at 6pm. At that price (nice room, great wifi, nice bathroom and breakfast included), it didn’t feel like we were wasting money.
Dinner suggestion – The Ceviche Kitchen (on the main square in Cusco) – try the ceviche (of course) and the Tacu Tacu Picante de Mariscos!
Day 9 – Rainbow Mountain
Activity suggestion – if you want to see Rainbow Mountain but don’t have time to hike to it over two or three days, Flashpacker Connect is a terrific company that offers a 1-day option. It was a LONG day. And we got picked up at 2:30 AM! But we slept en route, hiked to the viewpoint, and were back to Cusco by 4pm. Check back for my upcoming full review of this tour company.
We had friends who stayed at the Cusco Belmond. It’s gorgeous! But we chose the less costly option as we spent so little time there on this trip.
Dinner suggestion – don’t leave Cusco without having a meal at Cicciolina’s! Fantastic modern fusion fare, the Beet Root ravioli is exquisite. You can thank me later. Reservations are recommended, especially for dinner. They are also open for lunch.
Option - Pachapappa – popular, has a nice courtyard patio with heater lamps and the menu includes a lot of classic Peruvian dishes.
Day 10 – Shopping the market, then fly home
Activity suggestion – sleep in if you did the Rainbow Mountain in one day. Then do some last minute haggling at the street markets for some alpaca wear and go to lunch. Did you eat at Cicciolina’s yet? If not, go now.
Transportation – a cab to the airport from downtown Cusco takes about twenty minutes and costs ~10 soles ($3USD).
Suggestion – giveaway your last soles/local currency to street vendors who work hard at their craft or tip generously at your last meal or cab ride to airport. You will put a big smile on someone’s face.