For as long as I can remember I’ve been wanting to visit South America. So when Acanela Expeditions invited me on a 7-day trip to Peru with an amazing group of girls, I couldn’t say no! Our trip to Peru was an adventure of a lifetime. The friendly locals, vibrant culture and breathtaking landscapes we got to see are what made my trip to Peru feel so memorable. Now I can definitely see why so many people say Peru is one of their favorite countries in the world!
While the 7 day itinerary Acanela Expeditions organized for us was filled to the brim with adventures and cultural experiences, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. There’s so much to see in this beautiful country that makes it hard to fit everything into one trip. I really enjoyed traveling with Acanela because they took us to some of the best locations in Peru while still ensuring that we had an authentic experience that also benefited the local communities. In case you’re planning a trip to Peru yourself or interested in visiting, I’ve put together a complete “7 Day Itinerary for Peru” that goes into detail about some of my favorite Peruvian experiences.
Day 1: Arrival in Cusco
I arrived to the charming city of Cusco early in the morning after a short flight from Lima and made my way to our hotel for the night, Casa Andina. After a quick nap to recover from the long flight over from Zurich, I set out to explore the city and meet the rest of the group I would be traveling with for the next week. We decided to take the first day easy, grabbing a quick lunch at Jack’s Cafe, a popular restaurant among backpackers and tourists looking for a hearty, western style meal with plenty of veg options. In the evening we made our way to the Cristo Blanco statue, which offers panoramic views over Cusco’s main square – Plaza de Armas as well as the rest of the city. It’s a great place to take pictures in front of the 26ft tall statue of Jesus Christ as well as with llamas and women dressed in traditional Peruvian wear. Nearby is also the Church of San Cristobal, which offers equally stunning views of the city especially at night when everything is lit up. We finished off with dinner at Nuna Raymi, a restaurant within walking distance from our hotel that serves traditional Peruvian cuisine.
Day 2: Salinas De Maras, Chinchero and Aguas Calientes
The next morning we left the hotel early to catch sunrise at the ancient salt mines known as Salinas De Maras. I was blown away by the sight of thousands of pastel colored pools scattered across the hillside, where locals still work to harvest and carry heavy bags of salt up the hill to be processed and sold. Afterwards, our group visited the small town of Chinchero, where local women demonstrated the intricate process of weaving. Chinchero also features an incredible artisan market with plenty of beautiful, vibrant handicrafts for purchase – I opted to buy a traditional Peruvian sweater that cost about 30 soles.
The afternoon was spent enjoying a private lunch experience at Mama Mary’s home and restaurant in the middle of the Sacred Valley. Then, with full stomachs we departed on a 2-hour picturesque train ride to Aguas Calientes, passing by rushing rivers through the surrounding mountains and trees. Aguas Calientes is a magical little town that can only be accessed by train. While small, it gets incredibly busy since it’s the ideal point to stay if you’re visiting Machu Picchu, so plan ahead when booking your hotel. We stayed at Tierra Viva, which was a modern hotel and well located.
Day 3: Machu Picchu
Situated at 7,972 ft (2,430m), surprisingly lower than Cusco, is the 15th Century Incan citadel known as Machu Picchu. Visiting Machu Picchu has been on my bucket list forever and I was so excited to finally see it with my own eyes! We were determined to visit it at sunrise however, visiting at this time required a lot more logistics and planning than I thought. If you’re planning to visit at sunrise here’s some important tips you need to know:
- You must wake up early (I set my alarm for 3:30am)
- Get in line around 4:00-4:15am, this will ensure that you are one of the first 100 people that will be allowed to take the bus up for sunrise. We learned that in order to catch sunrise at the summit on time, you must take one of the first 4 busses that go up the mountain. It was also shocking to see how many others were already in line when we arrived at 4:15am, so I can’t stress enough how important it is to get there as early as you can!
- Make sure to bring breakfast and warm clothes while you wait, but dress in layers as it gets warmer once the sun rises (although food is technically not allowed within the grounds of Machu Picchu)
- There are no bathrooms within Machu Picchu, therefore make sure to go before you enter and limit how much water you drink beforehand
- Take your time. The path through Machu Picchu is only one way, therefore make sure you spend enough time at the viewpoint above before heading down to the ruins since you can’t go back up. It’s an easily made mistake that could really ruin the experience.
Although we didn’t quite get the sunrise we anticipated due to clouds, this wonder of the world surely did not disappoint with its beauty. We also got to learn about Machu Picchu’s fascinating, yet mysterious history. It’s believed to have been constructed in the mid 1400’s and abandoned at the onset of the Spanish Conquest, where it remained unknown until 1911.
Once we left the ruins, the rest of the day was spent taking the train back to Ollantaytambo, a historic town with cobblestone streets, historical homes and bustling markets. We decided to explore around the town before settling into the beautiful Hotel Pakaritampu.
Day 4: Llama Blessing Ceremony
The next morning we all climbed into the van and drove for an hour to Latis Valley where we would partake in a traditional llama blessing ceremony. The village that we visited was located at an impressive 17,000ft, the highest point we had been so far on the entire trip. While I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, I can say that this experience was by far the highlight of the entire trip because of how culturally rich and special it was.
This ceremony only happens twice a year when new llamas are born, therefore it is something that most tourists don’t get to experience. The reason behind this ceremony is that it is believed to bring good luck and health to the herd, which the locals rely heavily on for wool and food. While there was plenty of ceremonial singing and dancing, one of the most memorable moments was when they actually married two young llamas together!
Day 5: Pisac market and ruins
The next day on our way back to Cusco, we stopped at the charming town of Pisac. Pisac not only boasts a rich Incan history, but also a famous textile market. The market is a great place to pick up vibrant colored blankets and patterned sweaters all handmade by the locals. I couldn’t help but buy a few of the alpaca blankets to bring back home, as well as a turquoise ring, scarf, and another sweater. Some of the girls even bought rugs and pillow covers that reminded me a lot of Morocco. We also spent some time wandering the grounds of the local Incan ruins and enjoyed a traditional lunch in town before our journey back to Cusco.
Day 6: Exploring Cusco
We set off on our last full day in Peru with our tour guide Simon, who gave us an incredible walking tour of the city. We spent hours wandering the cobblestone streets and marveling at the city’s character and architecture. On the tour we stopped by Cusco’s main square, Plaza de Armas, the Church La Compañía de Jesús and the Cusco Cathedral, where we were able to learn more about the region’s Incan history and the Spanish Conquest. I would highly suggest doing the same if you have some extra time in Cusco.
We ended our tour at the San Pedro market where you can find everything including local fruits, chocolate medicinal herbs, handmade blankets and bags all under one roof. We all enjoyed some fresh pressed orange juice from the fruit stands and also picked up some tasty dried fruit and other snacks for the plane ride home.
In the evening we headed to Rooftop Kitchen where we learned how to cook gourmet local cuisine including quinoa risotto and trout ceviche, whilst watching the sun go down over the rooftops of Cusco. It was an incredible experience that I would recommend to anyone since I believe it’s one of the best ways to experience the culture.
Day 7: Rainbow Mountain and Travel Home
In recent years Rainbow Mountain has become extremely popular because of images that have been popping up all over Instagram. Our tour guide opted to take us to a less popular part of the “Rainbow” for a more unique experience without the crowds. We woke up extremely early, around 1am, to begin our 4 hour drive to the mountains. With a fairly short hike we were greeted with incredible panoramic views of both Ausangate and the colorful hillsides that Rainbow Mountain is famous for. It was an unreal experience being able to see the “rainbow like” mountains in person once and for all without a single soul in sight. It made for the perfect last adventure before heading to the airport and flying back home!