This itinerary has a lot of 4am wakeup calls and multiple days of 3 hour drives from Cusco. See my notes at the end for alternative choices.
Day 1: Fly from SFO-Lima and Lima to Cusco. I did not spend any time in Lima but if you have the time, 1-2 days might be good. I reached hostel by noon and slept most of the day because of high altitude headache.
Day 2,3 : Cusco
Acclimatize in Cusco + see Cusco. Also look for tours. I had not booked anything online since I was not sure what tours I wanted to do. There are tons of tour companies in Cusco. See my recommendations below.
Day 4: Humantay Lake
Wake up at 4am for one day Humantay lake trek with SAS travels. 2 mile trek but at high altitude so not easy.
Day 5, 6: Inca trail
Short 2 day Inca Trail and Machu Pichu with SAS travels. Very early wakeup on both days. But it’s worth it and I recommend taking first bus to Machu Pichu from Aguas Calientes. No camping, we stayed in a hostel.
Day 7: Sacred Valley
Sacred Valley and Maras Moray tour again with SAS travels. Usually, people do this on two separate days but I did not have time. They take you to places like Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Maras. All are good, especially Maras.
Day 7,8: Ausangate trek
Two-day Ausangte Mountain trek and Rainbow Mountain with Flashpacker Connect. Very high altitude trek, slept at 16,000 ft. People usually do a 1 day trek to rainbow mountain but its very touristy and there will be thousands of people. If you want to experience the mountains in some solitude, go for atleast two days.
Day 9: Fly back to Lima and back to SFO.
1. There are 2 ways to reach Machu Pichu. First one is the classic 3/4D inca trail. Second is alternate treks like Salkantay, Ausangate and Lares trek which end in Machu Pichu. I did not want to walk and camp for 4 days continuously (they have horses to carry big luggage, you can carry a smaller personal backpack). Also, on Inca trail you don’t see snow covered mountains. Alternative treks do have them. I wanted to see both. So I decided to do a series of smaller hikes and the short inca trail. Downside of this is that you will wakeup very early and travel in small vans on multiple days. 2 day inca trail and 2 day Ausangate trek with 1-2 days in between might still be a good option.
2. There are tons of tour companies in Cusco. Do not select a cheap one because they will not treat their animals well, pay very little to guides, do not care for environment, unreliable, etc. SAS travels and Flashpacker connect were both good and medium $$. Waiki and Killa expeditions are more expensive but good too.
3. You can also skip all the hiking and just take train and bus tour to Machu Pichu and Sacred Valley. People usually combine this with Lake Titicaca and Salar Di Uyini in Bolivia. Personally though, I loved Peru and Cusco and really felt like I could stay there for some more days 🙂 There is a lot of vegetarian food, just ask.
4. You can choose to sit on a horse instead of trekking. Go on a horse riding class locally before trying it at high altitude.