A Seven-Night Trek Through Peru - United Hub

A seven-night trek through Peru

By Nick Harper

From the Andes to the Amazon and so many points in between, Peru is a land of magical mystery, ancient Incan ruins, lost civilizations and remarkable landscapes. To most first-time visitors, however, it's first and foremost the place where you'll find Machu Picchu. Of course, Peru is much more than that, but the ancient citadel is something you have to see at least once in a lifetime. Unlike many other tourist attractions, it exceeds almost every expectation. You have numerous options to reach the summit, but our recommendation is an easy and almost essential seven-night journey, taking you from touch down in Lima to the summit and back.

Dancers dressed in traditional Peruvian clothing Dancers dressed in traditional Peruvian clothing

Lima for two nights

Your first taste of Peru should be its capital, the "City of Kings." Once little more than a stop-off en route to Machu Picchu, Lima has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years. The capital city has been revitalized by new hotels and bars, and it's fueled by museums and galleries that tell the story of a city dating back to 1535. Best of all, Lima has become the gastronomic capital of South America, with two entries inside the top 10 of the coveted World's 50 Best Restaurants list. The cuisine of Lima is inspired by indigenous ingredients, flavors and traditions from every corner of the globe. Stay at the grand, elegant and centrally-located Hilton Miraflores and get your bearings early by taking a half-day Lima Walks tour around the historic center. Then, attempt to get a table at one of those two celebrated restaurants — Central (the world's 6th best) and Maido (the 10th).

After two nights of exploration and glorious gluttony, it's time to depart and fly east.

Plaza de Armas in Cusco Plaza de Armas in Cusco

Cusco for two nights

An hour's flight from Lima lies Cusco, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and key stop-off on the way to Machu Picchu. Climbing from Lima to Machu Picchu's near 8,000-foot altitude in one trip will likely bring on altitude sickness, so head to Cusco first. It's 11,000 feet above sea level, giving you the chance to acclimate at leisure as you explore what was once the capital of the Inca Empire. Check in at the historic Marriott hotel, Palacio Del Inka, built in 1438 and once part of the Inca Temple of the Sun. It's located close to the Plaza de Armas, the square at the heart of a very walkable city. Purchase a Boleto Turistico del Cusco pass, which gives you access to most of the historic sites in Cusco and along the Sacred Valley, excluding Machu Picchu. Take the 45-minute walk out to the remarkable Inca ruins of Sacsayhuaman that overlook the city, then walk back to Cusco via San Blas, a charming neighborhood full of galleries and boutiques. You'll want to reward yourself for the effort by stopping in at the Museo del Pisco for at least one pisco sour.

Soon enough, your thoughts will turn again to Machu Picchu. It's possible to do a day trip from Cusco to Machu Picchu and back. It's also possible (and very popular) to trek along the Sacred Valley, taking the classic Inca Trail over five days. But for this vacation, we're suggesting the more leisurely route, first taking a train from Cusco to Ollantaytambo.

The cobbled streets of Ollantaytambo The cobbled streets of Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo for one night

Check out early and take a train 90 minutes northwest to "Ollanta," a beautiful small town full of cobbled streets and charming cafes deep in the Sacred Valley — the lush green valley just north of Cusco. Staying in the town will allow you to explore the incredible Inca ruins that dot the surrounding area when many of the other day-tripping tourists have gone. Apu Lodge and Casa de Wow are two excellent options for a brief overnight stay.

Peru train Peru train

Aguas Calientes for one night

From Ollantaytambo, jump back on the train that will take you to Aguas Calientes, the last stop before Machu Picchu. Book at the town's standout hotel, the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo, and from there begin your climb up into the clouds — a strenuous 90-minute walk or 25-minute bus ride.

Machu Picchu gets crowded quickly, so make sure you book your tickets via the Ministerio de Cultura's website as far in advance as possible. Basic entry will get you into Machu Picchu's main ruins, terraces and temples. For more elevated views, you'll need to upgrade your ticket to include Montaña Machu Picchu, a mountain with no ruins but fewer crowds, or the smaller Huayna Picchu, where you'll find the ceremonial Temple of the Moon. Staying a night in Aguas Calientes allows you to return to Machu Picchu when it reopens at 6:00 a.m. to see it in a different light, and with less tourists.

After lunch, and perhaps an afternoon at Aguas Calientes' open-air thermal springs, catch the train back to Cusco for the final leg of your journey.

Pisco sour cocktail

Seafood Ceviche

Lima for one night

If time and budget allow, you can keep exploring Peru's other experiences: an Amazon boat cruise, hiking Cañón del Colca or rafting the Urubamba River. Our suggestion is to return to Cusco and fly back to Lima for one final night, purely to remind yourself of the city's standing as South America's gastronomic capital. Eat well once more and sleep in luxury at Hotel B, then fly home with a happy heart.

View of Lima from Miraflores View of Lima from Miraflores

When to visit

Being a large country with many microclimates, there is no right time to visit Peru. However, if your whole journey revolves around Machu Picchu and making sure your photos have clear blue skies and sun-lit ruins, aim to visit between May and October when the weather is at its best. Avoid November through March during the rainy season.


Things to know while visiting

  • Machu Picchu translates as "Old Peak" or "Ancient Mountain," and its ruins were rediscovered in 1911 by the American archeologist Hiram Bingham.
  • The Cerro Blanco in the Sechura Desert is the highest sand dune in the world, measuring 3,860 feet at its summit. It's perfect for sand boarding, and the descent takes four minutes at top speed.
  • Peru is said to be home to more than 3,000 different varieties of potato.
  • Memorize the popular phrase: "Soy mas Peruano que la papa." Translation: "I am more Peruvian than the potato".

United flies to Lima's Jorge Chavez International Airport (LIM), located just west of the city. To find out more or begin your adventure, visit www.united.com or use the United app.

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