Private touring in Peru year round... three related itineraries, based on our own travel experiences and coordinated with local specialists.
Peru invites the visitor to step back in time, and be amazed. Who hasn’t heard of Machu Picchu and the lost city of the Incas? This enormous mountaintop citadel was founded around 1450, abandoned a century later, and only rediscovered in 1911. Visitors marvel at Machu Picchu as researchers puzzle over it. Machu Picchu is however far from the only amazing Inca site in the area, with the Sacred Valley dotted with extraordinary ruins. Not far away is the Spanish colonial city of Cuzco – once the capital of the Inca empire – and a wealth of Spanish Colonial architecture and Inca ruins on a grand scale.
After the wonders of the Galápagos, Machu Picchu is the highlight of South America for many people, although for very different reasons!
Beyond Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley and Cusco there is still much to see and do...
Lake Titicaca, straddling the border with Bolivia, is the highest navigable lake in the world, and the traditional home of the Uros Indians who live on floating totora reed islands.
Even more mysterious are the Nazca Lines. These 300+ geoglyphs depicting animals, plants and geometric shapes are scraped into the desert on a scale so immense they can only be appreciated from the air. Their origins and purpose remain a mystery, likely dating back roughly 2,000 years.
Peru is also home to a wonderful range of flora and fauna, including the second most northerly penguin in the world (the most northerly being the Galápagos Penguin of course!); the Humboldt Penguin. A visit to the Ballestas Islands nature reserve presents a staggering array of birdlife along the jagged cliffs. In the subtropical cloud forests surrounding Machu Picchu colorful orchids proliferate, while forest birds and hummers compete for our attention.
Lima, the capital of Peru, is located on the Pacific Coast amid arid plains. With a UNESCO-recognized historical center Lima is today a vibrant city known for fine dining and wonderful museums.
The following three itineraries - in 11, 7 or 5 day options - are private touring options, with expert local guides joining you in each area, plus accommodations, transportation, and some meals included.
Peru itinerary #1: 11-day expanded Peru
This is our most in-depth Peru program, taking in the best of the cultural and historical highlights (with the exception of the Amazon jungle region, and we can do that too if you want...).
Day 1: International arrival – Paracas
International arrival in Lima today. You will be met at the airport and transferred south along the Pan-American Highway to the seaside town of Paracas (a roughly 3.5 hour journey). Remainder of day at leisure to enjoy the seaside views and surroundings. Overnight Paracas. Meals on your own.
Day 2: Nazca Lines & Ballestas Islands
Primarily located between the Ica and Nazca Valleys, in an area just 1 mile wide and 37 miles long, we find the cryptic Nazca Lines. A collection of hundreds of lines (some miles long), often depicting animals and plants, in addition to geometrical designs, are etched into the desert of southern Peru. The scale is so immense that they can only be appreciated from the air.. Considered the greatest collection of geoglyphs in the world, they continue to confound archeologists and anthropologists to this day. Theories abound, from Inca roads, celestial representations, to a landing site for alien spacecraft! A Nazca Lines over-flight by small plane from the Pisco airport is scheduled for today.
The schedule today also includes a short cruise across Paracas Bay to the Ballestas Islands Wildlife Reserve (nicknamed by some the "poor man's Galapagos"). Accessible only by boat, the islands are home to thousands of birds, including Humboldt Penguins, Peruvian Pelicans, Peruvian Boobies, Inca Terns, Guanay Cormorants, and Red-legged Cormorants, plus innumerable sea lions and fur seals. Visitors are not allowed to land on the Ballestas so we will cruise the rugged coastline for the best views of the wildlife spectacle. On the way to the islands we have the perfect view looking back of the famous three-pronged Candelabra geoglyph. Etched into the sandy hills, at over 450 feet high, and 150 feet wide, the Candelabra remains a mystery. Was it a navigational aid, or somehow related to the Nazca lines...?
This afternoon we return to Lima. The city is today known for its bustling dining scene, with countless possibilities for your dinner this evening. Overnight Lima. [B] Lunch & dinner on your own.
Day 3: Lima to Cuzco
Transfer to the Lima airport for a morning 90-minute flight to Cuzco. Here in the historic capital of the Inca Empire you will be met on arrival and transferred to a centrally located hotel. Following a short break for lunch you will meet again for a 3-hour walking tour of the Inca and colonial highlights of Cuzco.
The Cuzco Plaza de Armas was the site of many great festivals in the past. The cathedral anchors the spectacular architecture of the plaza. One block south is the Plaza Regocijo, with city hall, central fountain and lovely queuñal trees with their sinuous trunks and red bark. This open space was connected to the main plaza during Inca times as a huge open heart of the capital city; the Spaniards subdivided it and filled in what are now two blocks of hotels and commerce. Here in the center of the city we also find the Inca street Hatun Rumiyoq as well as Koricancha temple. Overnight Cuzco. [B] Lunch & dinner on your own.
Day 4: Sacred Valley; Pisco & Ollantaytambo
Overlooking Cuzco is the citadel of Sacsayhuaman, and your first stop today. Expanded by the Inca in the 13th century the site is remarkable for the central plaza area built to accommodate thousands of people, and the immense terrace walls framing it. Built without mortar the tightly-fitted stones used to create the terraces are among the largest used anywhere in prehispanic America.
We now leave Cuzco behind in favor of the rural countryside and lower elevations of the Sacred Valley. Visits include the villages and archeological ruins of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, including a sun temple, sacred fountains, astronomic calendar, and much more. Overnight Ollantaytambo at Hotel Pakaritampu. [B,L] Dinner on your own. The town square is a good walk or trivial “mototaxi" or "taxi cholo" (3-wheeled motorcycle taxi) ride away, and the hotel also offers a restaurant.
Day 5: Sacred Valley; Chinchero, Moray & Maras
We continue touring the Sacred Valley today, starting with the village of Chinchero, known as “the birthplace of the rainbow.” The market (Sundays) attracts stallholders and browsers from near and far. It has multiple photogenic attractions: Inca ruins, Andean village houses of mud brick construction, and an elaborate colonial (seventeenth century) church built on Inca foundations. Locals visit the market to buy vegetables while tourists gravitate towards the Andean handicrafts from the Quechua stallholders. The hand-woven textiles are a particular highlight, and a proudly preserved Inca tradition. The highlanders trade their woven crafts for the fruit and vegetables grown at lower altitudes.
Next visit the unique and wonderfully mysterious sites of Moray and Maras. Here at Moray, on a high plateau (3,500 meters /11,500 feet), are some of the most unusual Inca ruins in the form of enormous circular terraced depressions, some as deep as 30 meters / 98 feet. The temperature difference between the surface and the protected lowest terrace can be as great as 15 °C (27 °F). Nearby the village of Maras is known for its salt evaporation ponds which have been in use since Inca times. Overnight Hotel Pakaritampu. [B,L] Dinner on your own.
Day 6: Machu Picchu
The Ollantaytambo train station is an easy 2 block walk from your hotel. The 9am Vistadome train traverses the breathtaking gorge of the Urubamba River to Aguas Calientes, and the lost city of Incas at Machu Picchu. Upon arrival in Aguas Calientes (10:30am) you will be met by a locally-based guide who will escort you across the street to your hotel; the wonderful Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo. After checking luggage in (the rooms typically aren’t ready until 1pm) your guide will join you on the shuttle bus up the mountain (30 minutes) to Machu Picchu for a full day of guided exploration. The setting on top is a spectacular green mountain plateau, high above the Urubamba River, and surrounded by three towering peaks. Your guide will share the many mysteries of this most extraordinary of Inca sites. Mid-day we take a short break for an independent lunch outside the citadel entrance gate at either the snack bar or Sanctuary Hotel restaurant (no food is allowed inside the citadel). From roughly 2pm the ruins are at their quietest (the “day-trippers” will have left to catch the train). The Machu Picchu preserve is also a birdwatchers paradise, due in part to the wide range of climate zones within a relatively small area. Everything from Andean Condors, to hummingbirds, to the Cock of the Rock (the national bird of Peru) is possible. Orchids and bromeliads also proliferate along many of the trails. Take the shuttle bus back down to Aguas Calientes when you are ready – the citadel closes at 5pm. Dinner and overnight at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo hotel in Aguas Calientes. [B,D] Lunch on your own.
Day 7: Machu Picchu to Cuzco
Your morning & early afternoon are free for further independent exploration. Shuttle busses begin running between Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu at 5:30am, with the citadel gates opening at 6am. These early morning hours are wonderfully tranquil as few visitors seem to make it there at opening. Explore at your own pace, maybe including the lovely upper levels where llamas often roam the ruins, or perhaps a challenging hike up the neighboring peak of Huayna Picchu for the spectacular views down on Machu Picchu (separate entrance tickets are included today for Huayna Picchu). You might also prefer to simply return to a favorite spot within the main city to contemplate the beauty and mysteries of this extraordinary site. Other easier walks include climbing to the Sun Gate, or walking out to see the Inca Bridge.
If you prefer to stay closer to the hotel there are several options open to you, including complimentary guided walks amid their 12 acres of lushly landscaped grounds, highlighting the birds, butterflies, orchids and more found there. For a small fee they also offer an excursion to a neighboring Spectacled Bear reserve. Allow approximately 2 hours, if returning to the Machu Picchu site, to get to the train station for your afternoon return to Cuzco by Vistadome train. On arrival in Cuzco you will be transferred to your hotel for the night. Overnight Cuzco. [B] Lunch & dinner on your own.
Day 8: Cuzco to Puno/Lake Titicaca
Early morning transfer to the Cuzco bus station for the first-class Turismo Mer full-day bus tour to Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca. This beautiful mountain route includes several stops, often including the pre-Inca site of Piqillacta, the colonial chapel at Andahuaylillas, and the enormous Inca-period Viracocha Temple complex at Raqchi. On arrival in Puno (6pm) you will be met and transferred to your Puno hotel for the night. [B,L] Dinner on your own.
Day 9: Lake Titicaca
A full day group excursion on Lake Titicaca today. Visit the iconic floating man-made reed islands of the Uros Indians, as well as enjoying a scenic hike on Taquile Island in the main body of the lake. Return to Puno late afternoon. Overnight Puno. [B,L] Dinner on your own.
Day 10: Lake Titicaca to Lima
Depart the hotel early today with a private birding guide, spending the morning amid the totorales (sedge wetlands) in the Reserva Nacional de Titicaca in Puno Bay. Following lunch in town continue south across the altiplano to to the burial tower site of Cutimbo, sited on a mesa overlooking the Lake Titicaca basin. Continue to the Juliaca airport for a late afternoon flight to Lima. Transfer in on arrival. Overnight Lima. [B,L] Dinner on your own.
Day 11: Lima - international departure
This morning explore Colonial and Modern Lima on a private tour, taking in the central plazas, parks and landmarks. If your schedule allows additional free time you might enjoy the renowned Larco Herrera Museum. Enjoy free time in Lima to explore this vibrant city as you choose. Transfer to the airport for your international flight out. [B]
* Option: add a second night at the Machu Picchu Inka Terra hotel for a more relaxed visit. With this you have the option of a full second day atop the mountain, from sun up to close if you wish, for the maximum quite time. On the third day you could have the morning free to explore Aguas Calientes or enjoy a couple of the hotel's exploratory adventures in the valley, all before returning to Cuzco on an afternoon train.
Peru itinerary #2: 7-days - basic Peru
This is our most popular itinerary. It explores the Spanish colonial cities of Cusco and Lima, plus the best of the Inca sites. It also takes in a couple of the "off the beaten path" sites for a more serene experience. For more information on the specific days refer to the longer 11-day itinerary.
Day 1: International afternoon or evening arrival into Lima. Welcome transfer in on arrival. Overnight Lima.
If your arrival flight is in the morning there is an option of a Lima city tour this afternoon.
Day 2: Early morning flight to Cuzco. Cuzco city tour. Overnight Cuzco.
Day 3: Full day tour of the Sacred Valley, including Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Overnight in Ollantaytambo.
Day 4: Full day tour of the Sacred Valley, including Chinchero, Moray & Maras. Overnight in Ollantaytambo.
Day 5: Early morning train to Machu Picchu. On arrival meet your local guide for a full day tour of the mountaintop ruins. Overnight Machu Picchu.
Day 6: Free morning in Machu Picchu followed by a afternoon train back to Cuzco. Overnight Cuzco.
Day 7: Independent morning in Cuzco. Midday return flight to Lima to coordinate with your international flight out.
Peru itinerary #3: 5-days - just the highlights
This itinerary is designed for the traveler with a tight schedule but a desire to quickly see the best-known sites. For more information on the specific days refer to the longer 11-day itinerary.
Day 1: International afternoon or evening arrival into Lima. Welcome transfer in on arrival. Overnight Lima.
If your arrival flight is in the morning there is an option of a Lima city tour, or transfer directly to Cuzco.
Day 2: Early morning flight to Cuzco. Cuzco city tour. Overnight Cuzco
Day 3: Full day tour of the Sacred Valley, finishing with an overnight in Ollantaytambo.
Day 4: Early morning train to Machu Picchu. On arrival meet your local guide for full day tour of the mountaintop ruins. Overnight Machu Picchu.
Day 5: Free morning to enjoy the hotel gardens. Midmorning train back to Cuzco, and transfer to the airport for your flight to Lima, and international flight out.
Galapagos Travel does not operate these Peru tours. Working with local specialists we have created these custom programs to share what we view as Peru's best highlights. Typically all tours are private, with an expert local guide (Puno, Lake Titicaca and Ballestras Islands tours are small group tours).
We do not offer options that include hiking the Inca Trail. Trail reservations must be made months ahead, and participants must be very confident of their physical abilities. If the hike is a "must do" for you we can refer you to a specialty operator to help you.
We request accommodations in a variety of properties, typically chosen for their ideal locations and comfort. Typically they are 3 or 4 star, with the exception of the 5-star Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel. Hotels might include:
Paracas: Hotel Hacienda Paracas or Hotel San Agustin Paracas
With beautiful coastal views, and large swimming pools, both hotels are well located and a perfect base for relaxation.
Cuzco: Hotel Rumi Punku
A charming small hotel in central Cuzco. Non-smoking throughout, with a health center, spa and jacuzzi.
Ollantaytambo: Hotel Pakaritampu
A very comfortable country hotel, located on the edge of the village and just a 2 minute walk from the train station. Beautiful gardens surround the rooms and restaurant.
Machu Picchu: Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo.
This glorious hotel is set on 12 acres of riverfront property, with stone pathways connecting 81 whitewashed adobe casitas tucked into the forest. Amid this exquisite natural beauty a record 372 orchid species have been registered, and a staggering 214 bird species. The property features in-house excursions, a spa, and two first class restaurants featuring the best Peruvian cuisine.
Puno: Royal Inn
Located just steps away from the town's main plaza, this 4* hotel is convenient to everything.
Lima airport: Costa del Sol Hotel
The Costa del Sol is located in the heart of the Lima airport, connected to the terminals by an easy pedestrian bridge. Perfect to an overnight or making connections, yet only a few minutes from the city center too. To unwind before or after flights they offer a pool as well as spa services.
Lima central: Hotel Antigua Miraflores
Located in the charming Miraflores neighborhood the Hotel Antiqua merges all the comforts and amenities of a fine hotel with the warmth and charm of a colonial B&B. Many local sights and some of the city's best restaurants are within walking distance, although the temptation can be to linger at the hotel and savor their delightful cuisine.
All hotels are subject to final confirmations, which can often be slow to come back.
Rates, flights & availability:
Tour rates are based on the number of participants (if you are a single, couple, or group of friends). Please contact us for current rates.
No airfare is included in these itineraries (with the exception of the Nazca overflights). We will however be happy to assist with the Lima/Cuzco/Lima flights if you wish.
While it might be possible to schedule Peru at the last minute we strongly suggest booking several months in advance - hotels tend to book up early.