Hero 2

THE PERFECT CUSCO & MACHU PICCHU 5-DAY ITINERARY

Cusco and the ancient Incan city of Machu Pichu are the highlight of trips to Peru. You want to make sure your time in the city and visit to the site are effortless so here are several different ways you can approach it. We’ve laid out our preferred 5-day itinerary along with 3 alternatives so there’s something to suit every traveller.

HOW MANY DAYS DO YOU NEED FOR CUSCO & MACHU PICCHU?

If you’re planning to visit Machu Picchu by bus or train, you will need 2 days and 1 night added on to any nights you wish to stay in the city.

 

Therefore we’d recommend 3 days minimum (one day in the city and two travelling and seeing Machu Picchu).

 

However, there’s a hell of a lot to do in and around Cusco so we think 5 days is perfect to spend a bit longer in the city, doing some of the other activities around Cusco such as Rainbow Mountain and not having to be in a mad rush all the time.

CUSCO & MACHU PICCHU ITINERARIES

We’ve hashed out 4 different itineraries to help you decide how to plan your trip, so just pick the one which works best for you.

 

The 4 itineraries are:

 

  • The ‘In and Out’ – 3 Day Cusco & Machu Picchu Itinerary
  • The ‘Standard’ – 5 Day Cusco & Machu Picchu Itinerary
  • The ‘Easy Going’ – 7 Day Cusco & Machu Picchu Itinerary
  • The ‘Hiking Nerd’ – 9 Day Cusco & Machu Picchu Itinerary

There should be something for every traveller in these itineraries, but the best part is you can simply alter them to fit your schedule as you see fit. Enjoy.

THE 'STANDARD - 5 DAY CUSCO & MACHU PICCHU ITINERARY

Who is this for? This itinerary will be spot on for your average traveller who wants to see the best Cusco has to offer without spending too many days there.

 

Breakdown

 

  • Day 1 – Walking Tour, Chocolate Museum and Dinner at Limbus Resto Bar
  • Day 2 – Sacred Valley Tour
  • Day 3 – Rainbow Mountain
  • Day 4 – Train to Aguas Calientes
  • Day 5 – Machu Picchu / Return To Cusco

Day 1 - Walking Tour & City Day

We’ve started with the ‘Standard’ as we feel that this is the best all round itinerary which covers the best things to see without spending too long in the city.

 

Begin your first day with a walking tour around the city. Not only will you learn the local history, but you’ll gain some local secrets and find out the best places to eat and drink.

 

Inkan Milky Way run tours three tours each day at; 10 AM, 1 PM and 3:30 PM, except on Sunday when there is only one tour at 10 AM.

After this, head to the Choco Museum. You can either buy some from the shop or go on their ‘From Bean To Bar’ tour to learn how to make chocolate yourself.

 

In the evening, you should make a reservation at Limbus Resto-bar which has one of the best views in the city. Try to get a booking around sunset and a seat out on the terrace.

Day 2 - Visit The Sacred Valley

Located 12 miles (20kms) from Cusco in the Urubamba Valley. This area was ruled by the Incan empire until the Spanish conquest of 1533.

 

A full-day tour will take you to Pisac market, Ollantaytambo and a small village called Chinchero – all located in the Sacred Valley. The tour will lead you on a trip through time, visiting archaeological sites and the spectacular agricultural terraces which the Incas were famous for.

 

Tours online cost around £30 but does not include the 70 soles entrance to the valley (c.£15).

Day 3 - Rainbow Mountain

Your first two days in Cusco and the Sacred Valley should have be enough time for you to acclimate to the altitude before Rainbow Mountain. It’s time for a 4AM start, full day tour and a short but intense trek up to 5200m.

 

Read our full guide here for everything you need to know about the famous mountain and which company to go with.

 

If a tough trek isn’t for you, you can swap this out form the easier Rainbow Mountain, another activity from our Cusco guide or head to Aguas Calientes a day early.

Day 4 - Travel To Aguas Calientes

Whilst you may be shattered from the Rainbow Mountain trek, today is an easy day and once you are in Aguas Calientes, you can relax and have an early night.

 

The train takes 3 hours from Cusco to Aguas Calientes so there really isn’t much of a rush. You can take the morning in Cusco to get in another activity if you want or just go for a nice breakfast. We recommend the Bagel Café or Qura Bowl Bar.

 

If you are getting the bus then best to leave as early as possible as it takes around 8 hours and you then have to trek along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes which takes another 3 hours. We’ve covered this and the other ways of getting to Machu Pichu in detail in our guide here. 

Day 5 - Machu Picchu

Try to get the earliest entry ticket for Machu Picchu available (6AM) if you can. Getting up to the top for sunrise an amazing experience and you will miss most of the big tourist crowds.

 

This does mean however, that you will have to be awake and queuing at the gates for between 5:00-5:30AM.

 

If you can’t, then going later in the day is fine. You only get two hours at the site anyway.

 

After you are done at Machu Picchu, you have the choice to return to Cusco for a party on your last night, or you can always stay for one more in Aguas.

 

Again, returning by train is quicker but more expensive. Returning by bus takes longer and you will have to walk back to Hidroelectrica, so make sure you are back there before 3-4PM to catch the last bus.

 

The only downside of this itinerary is it is a little busy, and you may feel rushed off your feet. If so, then we recommend getting rid of one of the tours (Rainbow Mountain or Sacred Valley) as these are full-on days and slowing down a bit.

THE 'IN AND OUT' - 3 DAY CUSCO & MACHU PICCHU ITINERARY

Who is this itinerary for? The backpacker who is struggling for time and on a whistle-stop through Peru.

 

Breakdown

 

  • Day 1 – Arrive, City Day
  • Day 2 – Travel to Aguas Calientes
  • Day 3 – Machu Picchu (morning), return to Cusco (evening)

Travelling is often restricted by time rather than money. If you are speeding through Peru and need to fit in Cusco & Machu Picchu in the shortest amount of days possible then this is for you! Although you should check out our Peru itinerary first to see if there’s a better way.

This is a relatively straight forward plan. Once you arrive in Cusco, spend the day on a walking tour exploring the city, visit the Choco Museum and try some Andean food at one of the many great restaurants in town like we laid out previously.

 

The next day, you can either take the train or bus to Aguas Calientes and stay the night there.

 

Early the next morning, climb the 1,600+ stairs up to Peru’s most popular tourist attraction.  After you have made your way back down you can either stay the night again in Aguas Calientes or return to Cusco via train or bus.

 

It is possible to do this all in one day however we wouldn’t recommend it as it’s a lot to do and expensive.

 

Here’s how to do it: Arrive by train in the morning, see Machu Picchu (you’re only allowed two hours in the ruins with your ticket) and then get the train back to Cusco.

 

This can’t be done on the bus as it’s a 6-7-hour drive so you will just need to stick to the 2 days/1 night plan.  

THE 'EASY GOING' - 7 DAY CUSCO & MACHU PICCHU ITINERARY

Who is this for? For those of you with spare time and don’t want to cram everything in the ‘Standard’ itinerary into 5 days.

 

Breakdown

 

  • Day 1 – Walking Tour, Chocolate Museum and Dinner at Limbus Resto Bar
  • Day 2 – Sacred Valley Tour
  • Day 3 – Rainbow Mountain
  • Day 4 – Massage and City Day 
  • Day 5 – Travel to Aguas Calientes (train or bus)
  • Day 6 – Machu Picchu / Stay in Aguas Calientes
  • Day 7 – Return To Cusco

This itinerary just throws in a day either side of the big activities to slow things down.

 

Add in another city day and massage after Rainbow Mountain to recover and decompress. Two tours in two days can be a bit much.

 

And to make your week calmer, stay an extra night in Aguas Calientes after visiting Machu Picchu. This means you can get up the next day without having to rush, head back to Cusco, and then on to your next destination.

 

This option is better for saving money as well.

 

Getting the train to Aguas Calientes is expensive, so the bus is often the preferred choice for travellers. The bus journey takes around 6-7 hours and will take up most of the day.

 

With 7 days in the city you should also have time for a night out and a hangover recovery day the next day. Check out our Cusco nightlife guide for more.

THE 'HIKING NERD' - 9 DAY CUSCO & MACHU PICCHU ITINERARY

Who is this for? The name says it all. This is for hiking lovers who want longer in Cusco to complete one of the epic multi-day hikes such as the Salkantay or Inca Trail which take you to Machu Picchu.

 

Breakdown

 

  • Day 1 – Walking Tour, Chocolate Museum and Dinner at Limbus Resto Bar
  • Day 2 – Rainbow Mountain
  • Day 3 – Rest Day / Salkantay Meeting / Evening Prep for Salkantay
  • Day 4-8 – Salkantay Trek / Machu Picchu
  • Day 9 – Massage / Recovery Day

Hopefully, you’ve spent some time in Arequipa or at Lake Titicaca so you will need less time to acclimatise in Cusco.

 

If so, you can hop on a Rainbow Mountain tour on your second day and see how you get on at altitudes over 4,000m.

 

If all is good, then you’re clear to start the Salkantay Trek. You will have a briefing the day before you leave and will need some time that day to stock up on a few final bits (mainly water, some medicine etc. – check out our packing list here) and pack your bag.

 

On day 4 you have a 5 AM start in Cusco, a long drive and then a short but intense trek up to 4,200m at Humantay Lake.

 

We won’t go into the details of each day of the Salkantay Trek here. Everything you need to know about the other days is covered in our Salkantay Trek Guide for more information.

 

One of the great things about signing up for the Salkantay Trek is your Machu Picchu ticket is included. You will be up at 4 AM on the 5th and final day of the trek to reach the top for sunrise.

And if you can’t spare 5 days, then consider a 3-day or 4-day trek instead.

 

This itinerary is based mainly on how we spent our two weeks in Cusco (we had an extra few days of celebration and revelry as it was Christmas).

 

Trust us; you will want an extra day planned in after the Salkantay Trek for several reasons: general rest and recovery, a massage, and also travel admin such as washing your clothes.

 

The 5 days are intense, and you will come back feeling fantastic but also in need of a bit of R & R.

 

All our clothes needed washing, and we hadn’t had a lie in for 4 days. Getting on a plane or bus the next day is not what you want to be doing – trust us.

Our Cusco guide has everything you need to know about the city from  the best things to do and how to get there.

 

Or if you need some accommodation, check out our list of favourite hostels.

 

Where’s your next stop in Peru? If your heading north then check out our Lima guide or you could stop off at the desert oasis of Huacachina or Parcas National Reserve. 

Leave a Comment