This tour focuses on the heart of Peruvian culture, in Lima and Cusco. If you have more time for an in-depth exploration we suggest that you extend your trip with one our other unique Peru cultural tours, particularly the Southern Cultural Loop, or the Northern Cultural Circuit.
Lima is the fifth largest city in the Americas with a population approaching 9 million- and it sometimes gets overlooked as a great destination in Peru, in favor of some of the smaller and more charming cities. However we disagree, as a city this large has a lot to offer. For those who are interested in the cultures of Peru, Lima offers great museums as well as some excellent, though lesser known ruins, and cultural attractions.
Cusco city, believed to be built in the shape of a Puma, was built by the Inca civilization after 1200 AD though the fortress of Sacsayhuaman is thought to have preceded the city itself, being established as a fortress at the head of the Valley by a pre-Incan People. The Spanish conquistador Pizarro sacked much of the Inca city in 1535, but remains of the palaces of the Incas, the Qoricancha, (the Temple of the Sun), and the Temple of the Virgins of the Sun still stand.
Due to its antiquity and importance, the city centre retains many buildings, plazas, streets and churches of pre-Columbian times and colonial buildings, which led to his being declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983.
Depending on your travel dates, our cultural tours allow us the chance to focus on traditional religious processions and celebrations that abound in this colorful country. If possible, we will always try to organize your itinerary so that you can feel the sound and color of one of these typical celebrations.
Finally, our Peru cultural tours have a special focus on the textile and weaving traditions through our connections with not for profit Threads of Peru.
Today is an an excellent introduction to Peruvian history and your Peru cultural tours.
Old Andean civilizations believed Pachacamac was the creator of the universe, and the citadel comprises of temples, pyramids and palaces, such as the Temple of the Sun, Temple of Pachacamac, and Acllahuasi (Palace of the Virgins of the Sun).
From the Pachacamac ruins we continue to the Ichimay Wari, which is the artisan neighbourhood made up of displaced people from the Ayacucho region after the Shining Path conflict in the 1980s. In this neighbourhood you can visit the artists, learn how to make crafts, and see a wide range of typical handicrafts produced in fair trade conditions.
From here we continue to a traditional hacienda, owned by an old Limeno family who have opened their home to the public to offer horse exhibitions and educate visitors on the Peruvian Paso Horse. Their passion for this breed shows in their horse show and ambiance they have created especially for these beautiful animals
You enjoy an unparalleled show with the best selection of Peruvian folklore: marineras, festejos, huaynos and diabladas, and then a delicious Peruvian meal.
Cusco city, is often treated as the jumping off point for Machu Picchu, but it is so much more than that. A diverse, cosmopolitan city, it incorporates colonial and Inca culture at every turn with some fantastic architecture and stories. As a modern Peruvian city it has been influenced by the tourism industry – and as a result offers world class accommodation and five star dining, plus creature comforts like luxurious spas. This co-exists with an indigenous population that still speaks Quechua, the language of the Incas and lives a traditional lifestyle high in the Andes mountains. These great contrasts come together to make a fascinating place to spend some time.
After settling in your hotel, and lunch with your guide, we will set off on a 3 hour exploration of the City of Cusco.
This walking tour of the city allows you to get yourself oriented and to be introduced to this amazing World Heritage city and its history. From the hotel you will visit the San Blas artist quarter, one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods where you will be treated to spectacular views of the city and have the chance to visit a small local gallery. From here we walk to the Qoricancha or Sun Temple but not before stopping to see the 12-angled stone, an amazing example of the Quechua’s architectural prowess.
The Qoricancha was the most sacred building within the entire empire and here you will be able to appreciate the finest architecture in Cusco in the remaining Inca temples however as was customary, the Spanish built a church over this place of worship and allowing you to appreciate the contrast in the construction styles. We also visit the San Pedro market where they sell everything from exotic fruits to live frogs, medicinal plants and tourist souvenirs. This is the city’s oldest market and despite the many tourists who now visit it is still the most important local market in the centre. Our last stop today is the Cathedral. Built over a 100 year time frame, the cathedral is not only important because of its religious significance but because of the huge collection of religious artwork of the Cusquenian style which is a blend of Spanish art from the 17th century with Andean iconography.
(Option: this tour can be done on foot or by horse, please discuss with us if either of these options appeals to you.)
Option A: exploration of chocolate
You can choose from two workshops. In the “The cacao bean to the chocolate bar” workshop you roast cacao beans, peel them, and grind them into a paste. This cacao paste is used to prepare the first known cacao drink (invented by the Mayas), the traditional chocolate. In the end, from refined chocolate you will prepare your own chocolate that you can take back home. In the second workshop, “Chocolate truffles and ganache” you learn how to prepare chocolate truffles or filled chocolate with flavored chocolate ganache.
Option B: A final cooking class
We head off the local market in order to better understand the “why?” behind the recently growing popularity in Peruvian gastronomy. You can try various fruit such as chirimoya, lucuma, granadilla, aguaymanto, tumbo, pepinillo, etc. depending on the time of year and season. From here you explore the market in search of aji peppers, potatoes, avocado and more vegetables and staples that you will safely prepare and eat.
The menu varies depending on the season. For example, you might prepare Causa with chicken as a starter and as a main dish Alpaca Saltado. Then you sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labour!
The Pisac ruins are some of the finest and largest in the entire valley. Despite the excellent condition of many of the structures, little is conclusively known about the site’s actual purpose. It appears to have been part city, part ceremonial center, and part military complex. After visiting the ruins, we will descend to the village of Pisaq, famous for its market, where hundreds of stalls crowd the central square — marked by a small church, San Pedro el Apóstolo, and massive pisonay trees. We will have our lunch here.
From here we travel for about 1.5 hours to a pre-Inca site, though used by the Incas, Moray. It is a series of agricultural terraces which were believed to be an experimental agricultural station for different crop strains. We spend about one hour exploring these huge ampitheatres and we recommend that during this time, you find a quiet space to absorb the energy of the site which can be quite magical.
We visit sleepy, charming Maras before heading downhill for a short walk (optional) to Salineras, sometimes meeting large numbers of donkey trains carrying the salt uphill. Salineras is a collection of watered terraces that take salt from an underground stream, which is collected by locals through a fascinating process of evaporation. The pools and salt embankments are an incredible sight against the stunning mountain backdrop. From here we will travel to our accommodation in the village of Ollantaytambo.
From your Sacred Valley hotel you will have an approximately 1-1.5 hour drive up hill deep into the remote mountains above the Sacred Valley. We will visit the village of Rumira Sondormayo, which is one of three villages that the NGO Threads of Peru works with on weaving revitalization with the women. See also http://www.threadsofperu.com/weaving-culture/communities/
The women will prepare a weaving demonstration and also give you the chance to buy their weavings. Clients of this tour have already contributed to the Threads of Peru project by purchasing your tour, but if you feel inclined, a purchase of a weaving is a way of directly supporting the people and getting a handmade souvenir to take home!
We will then have a picnic lunch, before returning to the Sacred Valley and Ollantaytambo. In the remaining afternoon you can visit the impressive archaeological site if you like or can spend some time wandering the quaint streets of the only remaining town that follows the original Inca plan.
Our dinner tonight will be at Hearts Café, operated by an inspirational English woman, Sonia Newhouse. Hearts Café sells mainly wholefood dishes with fish, chicken and vegetarian options. The primary purpose for Hearts Café is to raise awareness of the plight of the native people in the highlands to all those who pass through. In 2007, the then 76 year old Sonia moved to Ollantaytambo, opened Hearts Cafe and used the benefits to help start the NGO Living Heart with the aim of supporting highland communities in a holistic manner and having a specific goal to open a home for abandoned children.
In the afternoon you will take the train to Machu Picchu. We’ll dine at one of the renowned restaurants in Aguas Calientes prior to getting an early night in preparation for our Machu Picchu visit tomorrow.
Adventure Option- for those interested in cultural Peru tours with a difference.
Wake early to start the Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Hike for 5 to 6 hours from the archaeological site of Chachabamba through beautiful cloud forest and along original Inca Trail to impressive site of Wiñay Wayna where we will have lunch. After our break, we will continue the last hour and a half to the Inca site of Machu Picchu before taking the bus into town. Note, Inca Trail permits need to be purchased 3-6 months prior to travel. All trekkers need a good level of fitness and ability to hike about 6 hours uphill.
Evening: Dinner in the town of Machu Picchu
Active people: We offer the option to hike the Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. (see separate itinerary) Note. This requires permits to be purchased 4-6 months in advance and all trekkers need a good level of fitness and ability to hike about 6 hours uphill.
Note: for people that want to do some longer trekking, this itinerary can be adapted to include the Classic Inca Trail 4 day hike, or if permits are not available we highly recommend the 4 day Lares and Machu Picchu trek for cultural interaction, or the 5 day Salkantay trek for spectactular scenery!
After an early start, appetites are often ferocious and we include the buffet lunch at the Tinkuy restaurant. Once everyone is revived and tanks filled, we encourage the everyone to take another look at Machu Picchu before taking the bus back to Aguas Calientes, where we board our return train to Ollantaytambo or Poroy just outside of Cusco.
For Active Travellers: We recommend hiking up Huayna Picchu. Meaning ‘Young Peak’ in Quechua, Huayna Picchu is the steeply sloping hill that serves as the backdrop in which most iconic shots of the Machu Picchu ruins are framed. Temple remnants sit atop the mountain’s summit, which can be reached via a steep trail that climbs over 1,000 feet higher than the ruins. The hike to the summit is achievable, taking most fit travelers about 2 hours roundtrip, though parts of the trail are exposed with unguarded drop-offs. Children under 12 are not permitted by the government, people in poor physical condition or those with a fear of heights or vertigo. Permits should be purchased at the time of booking.
In the evening we visit the very interesting Planetarium of Cusco where we will learn more about Andean cosmology and view of the universe
The Cusco Planetarium are a private stellar project, that organises a unique experience for you to approach to a different perception of the universe. Nature, meanings and facts of the amazing Inca culture, southern skies, workshop of constellations, stargazing and more!
We recommend Northern Peru Highlights. Alternatively you might like to do our Southern Peru Cultural Loop.
We can also customise your tour by adding unique Day Tours in either Cusco or Lima, or Short Trips to Lake Titicaca or the Amazon Jungle.
Travelling with Children to Peru?
Discounts apply for Children 17 and under. Please advise the age of your child when travelling and we will let you know the price. A copy of their passport will be required when booking, as proof of age.
Want to know more about our Peru cultural tours?
We love the diverse and rich culture of Peru. Please email us for more information.