Cusco & The Sacred Valley
Self-guided tours of the main cities and Incan historical sites. Guided adventure sports. Optional volunteer projects and language classes.
Dates & Costs
Choose your start date & travel companions. 2-week core itinerary from $770/week. 2-10 week volunteer & language extensions from $570/week.
Ages & Availability
Open to ages 18+. Book now for 2022.
From modern-day Cusco to the ruins of Machu Picchu to the rushing rivers of the Sacred Valley, Peru is a wonderland for the active traveler. This popular adventure combines flexible, self-guided exploration with adrenaline-pumping guided adventure tours to balance independence and safety. You’ll have a chance to hike, bike, raft, and horseback ride amidst the stunning scenery of the Andes, then dive deeper into Peruvian culture through intensive Spanish language classes and locally-led volunteer projects.
Travelers from most nations, including the U.S., can visit Peru but must present a molecular (within 72 hours) or antigen test (within 24 hours) with a negative result before boarding their flight. The CDC strongly advises COVID-19 vaccination before any international travel. Health screenings are in place at Peruvian airports, and many establishments require double face masks. For more information, visit the embassy website.
Arrival & Orientation
The adventure begins! You’ll spend your first day in Cusco getting acclimated to the altitude and your new environment. You’ll have a chance to meet with your in-country Host for a comprehensive orientation session, where we’ll go over your Trip Information Packet (TIP), review safety considerations, cultural norms, and more (new to self-guided travel? – see how it works). Of course, you may have many questions as you begin your journey. Your Host will help you feel as welcome and informed as possible!
Included: Airport transportation; Orientation session; Accommodations
Cusco Scavenger Hunt
You’ll want to take it a bit easy during your first few days in Peru. At 11,152 feet in elevation, the beauty of Cusco isn’t the only thing that may take your breath away! As a fun, go-at-your-own-pace introduction to the city, you’ll have a blast on our 2-day, self-guided scavenger hunt. On your adventures, you may find yourself gazing at towering cathedrals, sipping fresh juices in a local market, dancing with locals, and much more. And – oh yes – there will be prizes!
Included: Breakfasts; Scavenger hunt; Entrance fees to major attractions; Accommodations
Sacsayhuamán & the Devil’s Balcony
After your fun in the city, it’s time to explore the beauty of Cusco’s surrounding countryside. Get ready for some incredible views, as you’ll start with our self-guided tour of the Incan citadel of Sacsayhuamán. You’ll then have the option of joining a guided horseback ride to the Devil’s Balcony, an off-the-beaten gem for nature lovers. Or those less equine-inclined can follow our detailed hiking instructions to reach its unique cliffs and caves.
Included: Breakfast; Entrance fee to Sacsayhuamán; Horseback ride including guide, transportation, gear, and snacks; Accommodations
Rainbow Mountain & Q’eswachaka
Next, you’ll step even further outside the urban areas to the more remote and spectacular scenery south of Cusco. Depending on your fitness level and tolerance for crowds, you can choose to hike Vinicunca or Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain. The other-worldly beauty of these peaks is a highlight for many. You’ll also have a chance to walk Q’eswachaka, the last remaining Inca rope bridge (did we mention it’s woven from grass?). This less-visited yet thrilling excursion will undoubtedly get your blood pumping!
Included: Breakfasts; Transportation between sites; Self-guided tours; Accommodations
Travel Deeper: Volunteer
To truly understand Peru, you must get to know its local people and their life challenges. As an optional yet strongly recommended trip extension, consider contributing to our locally-led community service projects in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. BACK&PACK requires a two-week commitment (minimum) for the volunteer extension, yet we encourage you to volunteer longer (ten-week maximum). Projects may include a mix of humanitarian and construction work. Partner organizations have included:
Casa Mantay – A center for adolescent mothers
Santa Teresa Orphanage – A center for people with disabilities
Peruvian Hearts – A women’s empowerment project
MySmallHelp Peru – A community development project
$570/week includes: Breakfasts; Volunteer placement, projects, and materials; Transportation between project sites; Donations to partner organizations; Accommodations
Písac & Urubamba
The complexity of Incan construction was remarkable. For the next two days, you’ll dig deeper into Incan history on our self-guided tours of the main ruins near Písac, Urubamba, and Ollantaytambo. You’ll have a chance to hike more of the serene countryside and shop in local handicraft markets to practice those fine-tuned haggling skills (not sure how to haggle – don’t worry, we’ll give you some pointers). Around this time, we’ll also schedule your weekly phone check-in with our team.
Included: Breakfasts; Transportation between cities; Self-guided tours; Entrance fees; Accommodations
By this point, you’ll likely be sick of all the spectacular, mind-blowing Andean scenery (kidding!). Now it’s time to spend a little time on the water. You’ll visit Lake Piuray for some rest, relaxation (coca tea, anyone?), and quite a bit of fun. You’ll have access to paddleboards and mountain bikes to explore the natural area. And if yoga’s your thing, there’s no better place for it. We recommend that you spend one night camping by the shore, yet standard arrangements in a nearby hostel/hotel are also available.
Included: Breakfasts; Transportation between sites; Paddleboarding & biking gear; Accommodations
Travel Deeper: Language
¿Hablas español? You should learn! There’s no better way to get in deep with a country than learning the local language. For this optional 2-10 week extension, you’ll work with professional instructors at a Spanish language school in Cusco. No prior experience is necessary – just a willingness and excitement to learn one of the greatest of the Romance languages. You’ll be placed in a class that matches your experience level, whether that’s the most beginner of beginners or somewhere more advanced.
$570/week includes: Breakfasts; Spanish language instruction (10-20 hours/week); Course materials; Accommodations
No trip to Peru would be complete without a visit to Machu Picchu! Yet we say from experience, not every tour is alike. Our carefully planned excursion helps you get ahead of the day-tripping tourists for a quieter and more personal view of this “City in the Clouds.” You’ll have time to hike to great heights (taking that selfie you’ve been dying for) and explore nearby Aguas Calientes, where you can shop for souvenirs, take a dip in the local hot springs, or even visit a pristine nature preserve.
Included: Breakfasts; Train & bus tickets; Machu Picchu entrance fee; Accommodations; ~$30 surcharge for Huayna Picchu (a world’s “best hike”), depending on availability
You’ll cap off your adventures in the Sacred Valley with a guided whitewater rafting trip on the Rio Urubamba. Depending on the time of year, you’ll have a blast tackling class II, III, even IV rapids. Your professional guides make it safe and fun for all, and stunning views of the “sacred river” and surrounding cliffs punctuate another fantastic adventure. At the end of your fun-filled day, you’ll be transported to your accommodations in Cusco for your final night and dinner.
Included: Breakfast; Rafting tour including guides, transportation, gear, and lunch; Accommodations
At the end of your trip, you’ll have a chance to meet with your in-country Host to participate in our closing activities. We’ll be sad to see you go, yet the end of one journey is simply the beginning of another. Whether you continue to another destination from here (Ecuador and the Galapagos, anyone?!) or head home, we hope you’ve enjoyed your stay in the timeless Land of the Incas.
Included: Breakfast; Airport transportation; Closing program & farewell gift
Start Your Adventure
After completing this short form, we’ll reach out to discuss your trip options in more detail, as well as our booking and payment process. Submitting this form is not a booking obligation – simply a starting point for our discussion!
Your journey will begin and end at Cuzco’s Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport (CUZ). Flights to CUZ typically route through Lima’s Jorge Chávez International Airport (LIM) and may require an overnight near the LIM airport.
As we welcome travelers from all over the world, our pricing does not include the cost of flights. You may book flights on your own or inform our team if you wish to add air transportation to your booking. Often, we can source fares as low as $700-$1,400 depending on your origination point and dates of travel.
Note that many variables influence the cost of flights. Differences between high/low season travel, how far in advance you look, the booking service you use, even the time of the week you search can impact the fares you’ll find. That said, we recommend that you start to look for flights at least 3-6 months before your departure day. Typically, more of the cheaper seats will be available the further out you book, plus this offers some wiggle room to monitor price trends. Again, we are happy to navigate the process and find a great deal for you, all for a relatively small service fee ($35 per traveler).
Whether you book independently or with our team, coordinated air travel is of utmost importance. For those booking independently, please ensure you have e-mailed a copy of your itinerary to firstname.lastname@example.org. Then if there are any changes to your itinerary before or on travel days, inform our team immediately by e-mailing us or calling +1.720.340.1139.
One of our core goals at BACK&PACK is to deliver high-quality travel experiences at an affordable price. Our fees cover major expenses while abroad, yet we also believe in giving travelers some flexibility during the trip (the point of self-guided travel!). To assist with your budgeting, please ensure you’ve reviewed the following.
BACK&PACK fees typically cover:
- International SOS membership
- A professionally planned trip, personal mentorship, and 24/7 travel support
- Your Trip Information Packet (TIP) – delivered in an easy to access digital format – which includes detailed travel instructions, maps, in-country contacts, and medical/emergency information
- A virtual or in-country orientation focused on safety, cultural norms, travel tips, and personal goal setting
- Weekly check-ins with our U.S.-based team or in-country representatives
- Accommodations (we price based on a tiered system – BUDGET, COMFY, or SPLURGE – see our FAQ for more information)
- Some meals (see the itinerary above for specifics)
- Ground transportation (see the itinerary above for specifics)
- Guides and equipment for the included adventure excursions
- Entrance fees for cultural sites able to be booked in advance
- Closing activities and farewell gift
BACK&PACK fees do not cover:
- Health/travel insurance
- Flight costs to/from Cuzco (CUZ)
- Airport/airline taxes, baggage fees, flight upgrades, meals, etc.
- Passport, visa, vaccinations, COVID testing requirements, etc.
- Any costs incurred due to medical needs/emergencies
- Personal spending money (see the “Money” note on the “Packing List” tab for more specific information on money needs)
- Meals/snacks not specified in the TIP
- Activities, excursions, or transportation not specified in the TIP
- Cell phone and internet usage
- Laundry expenses
Local time – Peru is in the Peru Time (PET) zone. To calculate the time difference between Peru and your area, we recommend timeanddate.com as it takes into account daylight savings rules and accepts present as well as future dates.
Currency – The official currency of Peru is the Sol (symbol: S/; code: PEN). For current currency conversion rates, we recommend visiting xe.com.
Weather – Cusco and the Sacred Valley tend to be busy year-round, though many consider June to mid-September as the best months for travel. There are fewer rain showers during this time of year, yet that also means swells of tourists. If you prefer to avoid crowds, consider visiting during May or between late September and early November. For your convenience, we have compiled the following chart of key cities with the average ranges for highs (°F) / lows / rain days per month.
|Cusco||66-67° / 44-45° / 13-16||67-68° / 33-42° / 1-7||67-69° / 33-39° / 0-3||68-70° / 42-44° / 8-13|
|Urubamba||72-73° / 50-51° / 13-16||73-74° / 39-48° / 1-7||73-75° / 39-45° / 0-3||74-76° / 48-50° / 8-13|
|Aguas Calientes||58-59° / 47-48° / 20-22||57-58° / 43-46° / 11-20||56-58° / 41-44° / 11-20||58-59° / 46-48° / 21-22|
Dress code – Whatever you wear at home is likely equally acceptable in Peru. That said, if you want to look less like a tacky tourist and avoid unwanted attention, you should note that locals tend to dress more conservatively. We recommend you keep things simple, don’t show too much skin, and stick to classic combos (jeans/shorts and t-shirts, skirts and sweaters, etc.). It’s also important to dress for the weather, as swings in temperature, rain, etc. can catch even the most seasoned travelers off guard!
Language – Spanish is the dominant language in Peru. Quechua (the language of the Inca Empire) is still widely spoken as well, especially in the highlands. Note that English is not widely spoken in Peru. In major urban centers and areas that cater to tourists, you will encounter other English speakers. However, there will be times where you should be prepared to navigate with a friendly smile, some basic gestures, and whatever Spanish you may already know. While that may be intimidating for some, do not be shy or afraid! We encourage you to jump right in, as locals are very welcoming and friendly. You may find yourself picking up the basics very quickly.
Safety – Peru is generally considered to be safe for travelers. However, risk is inherent to travel, and there are always safety concerns regardless of where you go in the world. For a complete and thorough lists of concerns and safety recommendations, please visit Peru’s “Safety and Security” section at travel.state.gov. Note that while violent crime is rarer in Peru, tourists are often the target of petty theft, pickpocketing, etc. Exercise good judgement and common sense, though, and you are likely to have an incident-free travel experience.
Food – Exploring all the unique foods and flavors of Peru can be positively delightful. Meat, rice, and potato dishes are a mainstay, in addition to regional specialties such as cuy (guinea pig). As part of your TIP, we will provide recommendations on things to eat and eateries to try. Additionally, your trip booking will include some meals (noted above), so please be sure to inform our team if you have any dietary restrictions or allergies. We will forward this information along to our in-country partners.
Water – The tap water in Peru is not safe to drink. You should drink only bottled water, which is widely available. Do not drink tap water, even in major hotels, and try to avoid drinks with ice. Additionally, you’re safer only eating fruits that you can peel or salads and fruits washed with purified water.
Electrical outlets – Depending on the difference between your home country and Peru’s electricity systems, you may need to bring a travel plug adaptor (changes the plug/outlet type) and an electric converter (changes the voltage/frequency) for your electronics to work. Peru’s voltage/frequency is 220V/60Hz. Voltage/frequency in the U.S. is 120V/60Hz. Thus, if you are coming from the U.S., you will need to ensure your electronics can be charged at 220V/60Hz (i.e., “dual-voltage”) or bring along an electric converter and plug adapters (types A and C), such as you see here.
Cell phone – Many major cellular carriers have broad coverage overseas. Please check with your carrier for rates and coverage before travel, as many plans require you to activate international roaming before use. Alternatively, it’s often the best deal to purchase a local SIM card and calling credits, especially for extended stays in Peru. You’ll need to ensure your phone is “unlocked” (check with your carrier for instructions) and that it’s GSM compatible. As part of your TIP, we will provide further guidance on this process.
Wi-Fi – You will find Wi-Fi in most cities and towns in Peru. Many cafes, restaurants, and hotels/hostels offer free Wi-Fi – though be prepared for sometimes painfully slow connections!
Laundry – Laundry services are available in many of the accommodations we use. Typically, you drop off a load at the front desk, pay by the pound, then receive your fresh and crisp clothing the next day. Very convenient! As such, we recommend packing light then doing your laundry every week or so.
BACK&PACK can not apply for passports or visas on your behalf, yet the information below should help guide you through the process. As always, contact our team if you have questions or run into any issues.
Travelers with U.S. passports – For the most up-to-date information, please visit Peru’s page at travel.state.gov. Travelers with U.S. passports do not need a visa for stays less than 183 days but must have 6+ months of validity on their passport after the entry date to Peru. If you need to apply for or renew your passport, please submit your application as soon as possible.
Travelers with non-U.S. passports – Please verify passport and visa requirements for your nationality by contacting your local Peruvian embassy or consulate. The websites embassypages.com and embassy-finder.com operate handy directories of embassies and consulates around the world. If you’re required to obtain a visa and need specific information for the application process, please let us know at email@example.com. We will be happy to assist you.
Keeping your documents safe – Please be aware that passports are quite valuable abroad. Guard your important documents as you do your credit/debit cards, and keep these items in concealed locations. Additionally, we suggest you make copies of your important documents (passport, visa, etc.) before travel. Having these copies is very useful in the event of loss or theft. You can make photocopies or scan documents into a secure yet accessible computer file (a password-protected file stored in the cloud, for example). If photocopying, we suggest you make two copies of your documents. Leave one copy at home with a close friend or family member. Keep hold of the other copy while abroad, separate from the original.
BACK&PACK can not offer specific medical advice, yet please use the steps below to guide your decision-making process regarding travel vaccinations. Note, we’ve included country-specific requirements regarding COVID-19 in the “Trip Overview” section above.
- Go to the Travelers’ Health section for Peru on the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) website.
- Read through the information carefully and consider which precautions you may want to take.
- Schedule an appointment with your physician or travel health professional. For assistance locating a travel clinic in your area, you may wish to try the Find A Clinic service on the CDC website. Please allow plenty of time before your trip to see your health care provider (CDC suggests 4-6 weeks). Let your provider know before your appointment that you are coming in for travel vaccinations. They might ask for the areas where you may visit. Our Peru itineraries typically include urban and rural areas in/near Lima, Cusco, Písac, Urubamba, Ollantaytambo, and Aguas Calientes. The Amazon basin and lowlands are not part of the core itinerary.
Mosquito and other vector-borne illnesses – It’s important to note that protecting yourself from insect bites can significantly reduce your risk of vector-borne diseases (Zika, Malaria, Dengue, West Nile, etc.). On your packing list, we have included insect repellent with DEET along with long sleeve shirts/long pants. We recommend you use these items during your trip when contact with mosquitos and other insects is possible (excursions in outdoor settings, etc.).
Below you will find a detailed list of our recommended items for Peru. Above all, remember you will be responsible for carrying your luggage from place to place. Do not skimp on essentials but know that you’ll likely feel every ounce of weight over time. Thus, the lighter you can pack, the better. As a general rule, if your pack is more than 30-35 pounds, you’ve overpacked. Strive for less! You will have the ability to do laundry every week or two (see the “Laundry” note on the “Country Info” tab).
- Main bag (35-70 liter capacity, depending on your packing habits) – Many travelers prefer wilderness-style backpacks for ease of use in various environments abroad. Wheeled luggage or duffel bags are okay but should be easy to carry over long stretches of rough terrain (cobblestone streets, stairs, etc.).
- Smaller bag for day trips, sightseeing, and weekend excursions
- Valid passport and visa (see “Travel Docs” tab)
- Electronic or physical copy of travel documents (see “Travel Docs” tab)
- Electronic or physical copy of flight documents/itinerary
- Debit/credit cards and cash (see “Money” note below)
- Insurance cards (see our FAQ for more information)
- Student ID or other identification (optional – student IDs can sometimes get you discounts abroad)
- Electronic or physical list of phone numbers, addresses for postcards, etc.
- Lightweight short sleeve shirts, casual dresses, etc.
- Long sleeve shirts, casual dresses, etc.
- Lightweight pants or long skirts
- Nicer outfits for going out
- Warm pants
- Warm upper layers/sweaters/jackets
- Raincoat/outer shell
- Thermal underwear
- Warm hat
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Flip flops or sandals
- Sun hat or cap
- UV protected sunglasses
- Mesh laundry bag labeled with your name
- Travel plug adaptors and/or electric converter (see the “Electrical outlets” note on the “Country Info” tab)
- Cell phone and charger
- Tablet or laptop (see “Valuables and electronics” note below)
- Headphones (optional)
- Camera (optional)
- eReader (optional)
- Locks for luggage (optional)
- Journal (optional)
- Water bottle (see the “Water” note on the “Country Info” tab)
- Quick-dry towel and washcloth
- Soap or body wash (see “Eco-friendly products” note below)
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss
- Lip balm
- Eye care supplies (glasses, contact lenses, etc.) and spares
- Hairbrush or comb
- Any necessary razors, trimmers, and shaving cream
- Nail clippers and tweezers
- Medications (see “Medications” note below)
- Personal first aid kit (see “First Aid” note below)
- Waterproof sunscreen (SPF 30+)
- Small bottle of insect repellent with DEET (25-30% concentration)
- Earplugs and/or sleep mask (optional)
- Any personal items you need not on this list (feminine hygiene products, etc.)
Valuables and electronics – Note that BACK&PACK is not responsible for lost, stolen, or damaged items. You are free to bring a tablet, laptop, camera, jewelry, watch, etc. – but if you are concerned about losing/damaging an item, then it’s best to leave it at home.
Eco-friendly products – For your toiletries, please consider traveling with reputable “green” brands to help reduce environmental impacts. For soap/body wash, we’re fans of Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap, for example.
First Aid – We recommend that all travelers come with a basic first aid kit for personal use. Supplies may include Band-Aids, antiseptic cream, pain/fever medication, cold medicine, antidiarrheals, mild laxatives, Pepto Bismol, anti-itch cream, decongestants, cough drops, etc. While you can purchase premade first aid kits, these products tend to be bulky and don’t always contain sufficient quantities of certain items. Alternatively, you can think about what you like to have on hand when you get a cold, the flu, upset stomach, bug bites, etc. Purchase necessary items (in sufficient quantities!) at your local pharmacy, then pack everything together in a ziplock bag.
Medications – You are responsible for the proper administration of any prescription and over-the-counter medications. Note, some prescription medications are difficult to find in pharmacies abroad. Please consider taking precautions to reduce the risk of loss. For your flights, ensure prescription medications are in your carry-on bag, NOT checked baggage. They should be clearly labeled in their original packaging/with instructions, as required by the airlines. Then when in Peru, you may wish to err on the side of caution by securing prescription medications in a bag with luggage locks. Luggage locks can be purchased at your local Walmart, Target, travel store, etc.
Money – Peru is a largely cash-based society. As such, we recommend traveling with a few days worth of cash from your home country, then converting upon arrival in Peru. Note that money changers in Peru are notoriously picky. All cash you bring must be in excellent condition – without tears or blemishes (even tiny ones!) – as many vendors and exchange houses abroad will not accept “damaged” bills.
We also recommend traveling with a debit/ATM (for additional cash withdrawals) and a credit card (kept in separate, concealed locations). Each offers distinct advantages abroad, plus having two cards is very useful in the event of loss, theft, or denial of one by a particular vendor.
Visa is the most widely accepted card in Peru. While not as common, some establishments will accept MasterCard as well. Your cards will need chip technology and a 4-digit PIN. If you have questions or concerns regarding your debit/credit cards, contact your card provider. Also, be aware that some cards charge significant fees while traveling (e.g., 2-3% foreign transaction fees), so please budget for your card’s total cost of use. It is also critical to inform your debit/credit card providers of your international travel plans before departure to avoid suspension of your account (i.e., fraud protection).