Andes, alpacas, and a gazillion other reasons to get to the Cusco region now.
If your most recent reference to Peru is from watching The Emperor’s New Groove, it’s time to update that. An absolute bucket list trip that may have never crossed your mind before right now is the Sacred Valley in Peru. You’ll be surrounded by views on views: of Machu Picchu, of ancient Incan ruins, of the city of Cusco…Note that you are about to hike your 🍑 off to reach said views, and you should make sure your body is ready for that altitude (maybe cut back on the wine the night before that particular excursion). But don’t worry, there’s a candelit spa on our must-visit list to hit afterward so you can get a post-hike massage.
And whether this is your first international trip post-vax or you’ve been back to travel for a while now, prepare to fully immerse yourself in Peruvian culture, which means wandering around bustling markets, historic sites, and cathedrals. You’re also not allowed to leave without trying some spicy stuffed peppers and having soup for breakfast at least once (just trust us on that one).
Before we get down to business with our very detailed, very efficient seven-day itinerary, you should know it’s not quick or easy to get here. But that—along with fluffy baby alpacas, spiritual-awakening-level views, and would-eat-this-forever dishes—is part of what makes this vacation one you’ll brag about forever. Keep scrolling for a top-notch Sacred Valley Peru travel guide you can follow for the true Peruvian experience.Day 1: Arrive and acclimate
Let’s back up a bit: Weeks before you land in Cusco, a city casually located approximately 11,150 feet above sea level, you’ll want to make a reservation at StarDome Peru, an aptly named hotel in Ollantaytambo featuring a glass dome perfect for stargazing, if that’s your thing. On the 90-minute bus ride from Cusco, enjoy the mountain views and dream about the four-course Andean tasting menu waiting for you at the hotel’s Apu Restaurant. (Pro tip: Skip the booze tonight for quicker acclimation to the altitude.)
Day 2: Explore the Sacred Valley
This region in the Andes Mountains is home to the ancient Inca Empire and photogenic marvels like the pastel-hued Salt Mines of Maras and the terraced hills of Moray (worth a google). You could book a tour with a local guide, but public transit, like a combi (shuttle van) or a colectivo (shared taxi, pretty much equivalent to an Uber pool), will also get the job done. Buy the fancy pink salt on-site or sample it on the extremely sought-after (ahem, make a reservation) eight-course tasting menu by chef Virgilio Martínez at Mil. After lunch, traverse the mind-blowing ancient terraces, then head back to Ollantaytambo to wander the archaeological park. Be sure to squeeze in some dinner and stargazing before packing up for your next hotel.
Day 3: Wander through the town of Machu Picchu Pueblo
As you wait for the train to Machu Picchu Pueblo (aka Aguas Calientes), spend some time at Sunshine Cafe (get the breakfast bowl) or sip on a cup of locally roasted coffee from Café Mayu—or both. Bring those chill vibes with you on the less-than-two-hour ride past a raging river, quiet villages, and Inca sites. Check into Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, where you’ll spend the next two nights, right away so you can roam the hotel’s stunning 12 acres suitcase-free. Then head into town to sip Inca Kolas from open-air cafés and treat yourself to a laid-back dinner at the Tree House Restaurant.
Day 4: Hike around (and in) Machu Picchu
This ancient Inca citadel was abandoned around the time of the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, but its energy is undeniable. More than a million people visit the sacred grounds each year now (meaning: you should book tickets at least three months in advance) to marvel at the precisely hand-cut stones dating back to 1400 CE. That’s just part of why catching the early bus to start a morning hike along the Inca trail to the top of Huayna Picchu is worth it (your hiking ticket grants you access to explore parts of Machu Picchu too). Once you’ve had your fill of strolling historic sites, stave off hunger with a post–Machu Picchu cerveza and burger at the Machu Picchu Snack Bar, tucked to the side of the exit. Save room though: You’ll end the night with a Peruvian feast—like lomo saltado or rocoto relleno—at Inkaterra’s dining room.
Day 5: Spa day, then Cusco!
Sleep in and enjoy a late breakfast buffet at the hotel because most trains don’t depart for Cusco until the afternoon, which gives you plenty of time for pampering. The steamy, candlelit eucalyptus Andean sauna at Inkaterra’s Unu Spa is a great way to spend 15 minutes, but real relaxation comes with the spa’s signature massages or exfoliations with coca leaves. Then pack your bags, check out, and get lunch before departing on the roughly four-hour train ride to Cusco. But not just any train ride: Splurge on a ticket for the luxury Hiram Bingham train if complimentary cocktails, entertainment, and fancy food are your things (they are). Check into the historic monastery-turned-hotel-and-art-gallery Belmond Hotel Monasterio and sleep hard.
Day 6: Explore the city of Cusco
The San Pedro Market opens early as locals line up for fresh-pressed juices and caldo de gallina (a traditional breakfast soup). Grab some cancha (corn nuts) for your 10-minute walk to Cusco’s main square, Plaza de Armas, where you’ll hop inside the Cusco Cathedral for an art history immersion, keeping an eye out for the Last Supper painting in which the supper is a guinea-pig-like chinchilla. Trade churches for bohemians as you shop the cobbled streets of the San Blas neighborhood, stopping briefly for a bowl of the famous chairo (Andean stew) or cuy chactado (fried guinea pig) at Quinta Eulalia.
Cusco nightlife is unexpectedly wild, with a mix of backpackers, expats, and locals drinking pisco sours and dancing in high-altitude bars. It’s best to start with a chill dinner at Chicha por Gastón Acurio before ending up at either Paddy’s Irish Pub(the highest-altitude 100-percent-Irish-owned pub in the world) or the dance floor at Mythology. Remember, what happens at Mythology stays at Mythology.
Day 7: Shop the market in Písac before departure
Písac, approximately 45 minutes from Cusco, is home to a lowkey-famous Sunday market people travel to from all over the region. You’ll find crafts, fruits, spices, and artwork in this hyper-local shopping spot. Scout out hand-spun blankets and alpaca-fleece clothing, then book it back to Cusco to pack and check out. Make sure to leave just enough time for a final meal: tamales from Tamales Josefina, sold from a nondescript corner of the Portal de Belén. Eat the savory one on the spot and save the sweet one for the taxi ride to the airport, where you’ll begin your journey back home. Kawsaypaq! (“For life!”)