Lima, Cusco, and Machu Picchu Itineraries

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Lima, Cusco, and Machu Picchu

Lima, Cusco, and Machu Picchu at a Glance

Peru beckons travelers from around the world to discover its vibrant city life and relics from centuries past. In Peru's capital city of Lima, you can take a stroll along the shimmering water of the Pacific and explore the colonial architecture that surrounds the Plaza de Armas. You can also make your way to the birthplace of the Inca Empire in present-day Cusco, immerse yourself in the fervor of local markets, and step inside the Qorikancha Sun Temple. Visit the internationally acclaimed ruins of Machu Picchu and settle in for a soothing dip in the base town's thermal waters. Along the way, you can explore each city's lesser-known neighborhoods and experience the country’s magic in a unique way.

Lima

Peru's national capital of Lima offers the very best of metropolitan life with hints of ancient innovation. Along the way, visitors can sample exquisite seafood and enjoy spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean.

  • Miraflores: Miraflores is regarded as the most prestigious neighborhood in all of Peru. The neighborhood is flanked by white skyscrapers and lush parkways. Here, visitors can enjoy 360-degree views along the shore and sample delicious cuisine, including Peru's beloved ceviche.
  • Plaza de Armas: This is the epicenter of Lima's pre and post-colonial history. Visitors can admire the elaborate Spanish facades of the San Francisco Basilica and Government Municipal Palace in addition to sitting beneath the shady palm trees in the main square. Nearby, Huaca Pucllana pyramid lies, which was built by the ancient Limans in the region.
  • The Barranco District: This is a trendy neighborhood that has been decorated with colorful street art and bold facades. Tourists can cross the famous Puente de los Suspiros bridge and step inside quirky bars and restaurants that were originally built as colonial mansions to serve the Spanish elite.

Cusco

Cusco is well-regarded as the birthplace of the ancient Inca Empire. Here, Spanish aesthetics fuse with the impressive artifacts of indigenous cultures. In Cusco, local cultures shine brightly, from the local markets and elaborate stonework to Andean music and gastronomic excellence.

  • Plaza de Armas/Avenida del Sol: This is Cusco's main square. The Plaza de Armas is flanked by the city's ornate cathedral and local shops. Just beyond downtown, you can visit the Qorikancha Sun Temple, which is among the proudest of Inca constructions in the region.
  • San Blas: San Blas is a beautiful colonial neighborhood that is revered for its white stucco facades and cobblestoned streets. Stone fountains mark the center of plazas, narrow alleys lead the way to art galleries, markets burst with vibrant textiles, and breathtaking miradors offer scenic views of the city.
  • Saqsayhuaman and Tambomachay: Saqsayhuaman and Tambomachay are prime examples of Inca ingenuity. Tourists can venture beyond the confines of Cusco to explore these historic gems. Saqsayhuaman is known as the city's stoic fortress that was built with expert stone engineering. At Tambomachay, visitors can walk among the ancient baths of the Inca nobility.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu boasts the internationally acclaimed UNESCO ruins. Millions of tourists flock to  the region every year to experience the history and breathtaking landscapes. During a visit, travelers can also explore Huayna Picchu’s peak and the thermal baths of Aguas Calientes.

  • Huayna Picchu: Huayna Picchu is the iconic mountain peak to the rear of Machu Picchu. Huayna Picchu, the backdrop of photos of Machu Picchu, is not only iconic but offers an adventurous climb. At the summit, you can enjoy panoramic views of the Andes Mountains and UNESCO ruins.
  • UNESCO World Heritage Site: The UNESCO World Heritage Site is the ruins of the ancient Inca citadel. The internationally acclaimed ruins of Machu Picchu provide a unique glimpse into the daily lives and ceremonial practices of the Inca Empire. Upon your arrival, you can visit key features, such as the Sacred Rock, Temple of Three Windows, Principal Palace, and Temple of the Moon.
  • Aguas Calientes: Aguas Calientes is a sleepy mountain town at the base of Machu Picchu's ruins. Here, visitors can board shuttle buses to the ruins and train rides back to Cusco through the Sacred Valley. Additionally, as the name suggests, this town is famous for natural thermal springs that are perfect for unwinding after a day at the ruins.

Best Time to Visit Lima, Cusco, and Machu Picchu

Peru is located in the Southern Hemisphere. In general, seasons can be divided into the dry and rainy season. However, each region of Peru experiences these seasons at a slightly different time. You should plan your trip according to these weather variations.

Lima

  • The best time to visit Lima is between December and April. During these months, visitors can enjoy outdoor activities because the days are mild and the evenings are cool.

Cusco

  • The best time to visit Cusco is from late April through October. This is when precipitation levels are lowest, and you can easily explore the relics of the ancient Inca Empire.
  • During the last week of February, Cusco participates in vibrant carnival celebrations. Come during this time to witness the customary festivities ensue. It's important to note that during this time, downtown Cusco will be very crowded, and some roads will be closed.

Machu Picchu

  • The dry season at Machu Picchu spans from April to October. This will provide the best experience for exploring the UNESCO ruins. The looming Andes peaks are also most visible during this time.

How to get to Lima, Cusco, and Machu Picchu

A variety of transportation options are available throughout Peru. In all cases, cost and efficiency will play an important factor. The east of Peru is very mountainous. It's important to consider this when planning ground versus air transportation.

  • Lima to Cusco: By far, the best option is to board a short flight from Lima to Cusco. Each airport is located within a 30-minute drive of the respective cities' downtown. Ground transportation is possible but should be avoided. Due to the rugged terrain of the Andes Mountains, an average bus ride takes nearly 20 hours.
  • Cusco to Machu Picchu: Travelers have several options when transferring between Cusco and Machu Picchu. Some visitors enjoy a challenging yet scenic hike along the Inca Trail. Trips range from 2-4 days and include overnight camping or lodge accommodations. Others can board a luxury train car that will lead them through the Sacred Valley with stops at Cusco's neighboring city of Poroy and Ollantaytambo. The ride offers scenic views and snack or dining options, depending on the trip package. Budget travel by train is also possible

Essential Experiences in Lima, Cusco, and Machu Picchu

The cities of Lima, Cusco, and Machu Picchu offer a variety of activities for all visitors to enjoy. Sightseeing attractions range from ancient pyramids and citadels to bustling markets and an illustrious coastline.

Lima

  • Larco Museum: Step inside this 18th-century building to experience 5,000 years of Peruvian pre-Columbian history.
  • Parque del Amor (Miraflores): Stroll through the Parque del Amor and tour La Marina lighthouse.
  • Huaca Pucllana: Behold the grand construction of the Huaca Pucllana Pyramid, which was originally built by the ancient Lima culture between 200 AD and 700 AD.

Cusco

  • Qorikancha Sun Temple: Explore the grand halls of Cusco's Qorikancha Sun Temple, which was originally constructed by the Inca Empire prior to the Spanish invasion.
  • Tambomachay and Saqsayhuaman: Walk among the ancient noble baths at Tambomachay and the stoic fortress of Saqsayhuaman.
  • San Pedro Market: Banter with locals at one of the city's most vibrant markets as you barter for fresh fruit and souvenirs.

Machu Picchu

  • Huayna Picchu: Climb the impressive peak that sits to Machu Picchu's rear for impeccable views of the Andes.
  • Thermal Baths: Dip into the soothing medicinal hot springs in Machu Picchu's base town of Aguas Calientes.
  • Winay Wayna: Marvel at this ancient citadel that is nestled along the Inca Trail and enjoy marvelous views of the Sacred Valley.

Travel Considerations

Consider the following weather, transportation, packing, and other tips to ensure smooth travel experiences while exploring Peru.

Weather

  • In terms of temperature, the Peruvian cities of Cusco, Lima, and Machu Picchu tend to be mild. Nights in the Andean region of Cusco and Machu Picchu can be chilly.
  • Most importantly, visitors should be aware that the Andes become foggy and wet during Peru's summer and from November to April. During these rainy months, ground transportation may be delayed, and views at the ruins of Machu Picchu may be obstructed.
  • In the case of rainy weather, Cusco and Lima offer a wide variety of indoor activities, including history museums, historic cathedrals, authentic markets, trendy bars, and restaurants. Refer to a Zicasso trip specialist at this time as your go-to in the event of inclement weather.

Transportation

  • Ground transportation in and around Lima is easy to access. Private transport vehicles are readily available in addition to public taxis and buses. Many visitors choose to explore the coastline on foot or by bike.
  • Trains frequently travel between Cusco (Poroy) and Aguas Calientes (the base city of Machu Picchu). Travelers can also choose to travel by bus or private transport to Ollantaytambo to view the impressive citadel before boarding a shorter train ride to the ruins.
  • As of 2019, Machu Picchu is wheelchair accessible.

Packing

When packing for Peru, it's important to consider weather limitations (especially during the rainy season) and proper footwear (especially in the rugged regions of the Andes).

Weather Considerations

  • Consider bringing heavy-duty hiking boots and backpacks if you choose to hike the Inca Trail from Cusco. If you plan to take the shuttle bus, you can wear hiking boots or sneakers. Waterproof boots are suggested during the rainy months. It's a good idea to pack a light raincoat that can fit inside a small day pack.

Electrical Considerations

  • Peru operates on a 220 volt, 60-cycle of electricity. Outlets use a two-pronged system, and plugs can be flat or rounded, so converters may be necessary. It is wise to bring one just in case.

Pharmaceutical Considerations

  • Bring all medications with you. Prior to travel, speak with a physician about necessary vaccinations and medications.
  • Pharmacies are readily available in the cities of Cusco and Lima but may be more difficult to find in Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu.

Cultural Considerations

  • Restrooms are free and open to the public. Travelers may choose to travel with toiletry items in smaller towns where bathroom amenities are limited.
  • It's best to travel with a money belt or a coat with inside pockets to prevent pickpocketing. It is also suggested to carry minimal amounts of cash during the day.

Travel Insurance

  • You’ve booked your dream vacation, now protect it with travel insurance. A wide range of factors can leave your vacation in limbo. Medical emergencies, inclement weather, and unexpected cancellations can cause turmoil for your trip, so in the unlikely event of a disaster, get the travel insurance coverage that provides peace of mind. To get a quote, visit our travel insurance page.

Flights Via Zicasso

  • Zicasso Air Desk is an international air ticketing service that eliminates the stress of finding and booking the right flights for your upcoming vacation by employing the same personalized service you can expect from planning a trip with Zicasso. Our competitive flight pricing, 24x7 Service & Support, and Complimentary Consultation of Routing vs. Pricing with an Expert Flight Specialist make finding the perfect flight for your trip effortless.

Travel Documents

Making sure that you are carrying the appropriate travel documents is essential for any traveler when visiting Peru. For this reason, during your trip, you should be sure to pack the proper paperwork to ensure the most pleasant and problem-free travel experience. Listed below are some of the most important documents to have on you while traveling in Peru.

  • Personal medical information (either on paper or on a smartphone app)
  • If you have a specific medical issue, you should carry pertinent information regarding your condition from your doctor, especially any medication that you are currently taking
  • Emergency contact information
  • Passport
  • Visa, if necessary
  • Proof of airline tickets and reservations
  • Customs forms and documents
  • Hotel or accommodation reservations
  • Travel and medical insurance (see above section regarding this)

Your Zicasso travel specialist will be able to provide requirements that are specific to your trip, although responsibility always lies with the traveler to ensure that all is in order. Travel requirements can and do change often with no notice, so all are wise to stay updated as your trip nears.

Finances & Tipping

  • ATMs are readily available for travelers.
  • Peru operates largely as a cash economy. The local currency is the Peruvian Nuevo Sol. Travelers should be prepared with cash but should conceal it in an inner layer of clothing.
  • Tipping in Peru is uncommon.
  • Bartering is generally accepted and expected in outdoor markets, such as the San Pedro market of Peru.

Safety & Accessibility of Resources

Pay close attention to these safety procedures and resources prior to your trip. Peru is largely a safe country, although petty crimes, such as pickpocketing, do occur.

  • Overall, Peru is a safe country. Nevertheless, minor thefts such as pickpocketing do occur. Especially when riding on public transportation, visitors should be aware of their belongings at all times.
  • The biggest health risk is altitude sickness, although visitors can take several precautions before and during their travels to ensure good health.

Crime Rate

The crime rate in Peru continues to decline. International travelers can lower the risk of pickpocketing by bringing a money belt or storing valuables in an inner coat pocket at all times.

Things to look out for

  • Visitors should avoid traveling alone at night and should pay close attention to their belongings when boarding public transportation.

Medical & First Aid

  • Travelers in need of medication can readily access medical and pharmaceutical assistance in cities such as Cusco and Lima. In smaller cities, pharmacies are limited.
  • When seeking medical assistance, visitors can speak to hotel staff for recommendations.
  • Altitude sickness is a risk when traveling to the Andean region, including the cities of Cusco and Machu Picchu. Many hotels have oxygen supplies on hand for visitors showing signs of sickness.
  • It is recommended that international travelers consult with a primary care physician prior to travel. This information is not intended as a substitute for personalized guidance from a doctor.

Water & Food Safety

  • International travelers should avoid street food because water supplies may be contaminated. Street food that contains meat should not be consumed.
  • Drink bottled water at all times or boil tap water before drinking.

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