This itinerary has a lot of 4am wakeup calls and multiple days of 3 hr drives from Cusco. See my notes at the end for alternative choices.
Nov 16. Day 1: Fly from SFO-Lima and Lima to Cusco. I did not spend any time in Lima but if you time 1-2 days might be good. I reached hostel by noon and slept most of the day because of high altitude head ache.
Nov 17, 18. 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, Nov 19: Humantay lake
Wake up at 4am for 1 day Humantay lake trek with SAS travels. 2 mile trek but at high altitude so not easy.
Day 5, 6. Nov 20, 21: Inca trail
Short 2 day Inca trail and Machu Pichu with SAS travels. Very early wakeup on both days. But I recommend taking first bus to Machu Pichu from Aguas Calientes. No camping, we stayed in a hostel.
Views along Inca trail..
Machu Pichu before sunrise! Go early…
Day 7, Nov 22: Sacred valley
Sacred valley and Maras Moray tour again with SAS travels. Usually people do this on 2 separate days but I did not have time. They take you to places like Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Maras etc. All are good, especially Maras.
Pisac on left, Maras on right. Definitely worth the visit..
Day 7,8: Nov 23, 24: Ausangate trek
2 day ausangte mountain trek and rainbow mountain with Flashpacker Connect. Very high altitude trek, slept at 16k. People usually do a 1 day trek to rainbow mountain but its very touristy and there will be 1000s of people. If you want to enjoy the mountains, go for 2 days.
1st day of Ausangate trek and out campsite.
Nov 25: 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. 2nd is alternate treks like salkantay, ausangte and lars 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 say 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 to a horse riding class locally before trying it at high altitude.