by Lynn Kim Do

5 Days in Peru From Cusco

I’ve been to numerous countries. Experienced numerous lands. People. Foods. And I don’t always leave a country feeling as “brand new” as I would like. It comes with the territory of “experience” of any kind, actually. And in honesty, I had my own hesitations with Peru. For whatever reason, I was never drawn to it. My spirit was never particularly called there. Not until a good friend’s wedding forced my hand did I book the flight and to then began to build an idea around it.

And now…in New York City…as I think back on my trip to Peru, I realize I was such a fool. How small minded of me to even hesitate to go. Numerous countries and experience of these so-called lands, people, and foods were nothing compared to the realities Peru had in store for my boyfriend and me. I now see that some greater hand made Peru with a lot of love in mind. You can tell by the way the mountains, the colors of its soil, and the water shapes the land adoringly. You can smell it in its street food and puffed churros. You can hear it in the peoples’ song, in their morning chatter, and evening dance. Peru is and will always be a gift to me. It was generous, too, as if it’s never been scorn before. Naïve, it was, to give me such benevolent love. But maybe, I was the naïve one to think love can ever have a limit. Thank you, Peru, for showing me natural grandeur in all its glory. For showing me how strong I was when I felt like I was breathing my last gulp of air 17,000 feet above sea level on the side of the mountain…only to be able to keep breathing. For the morning mountain views and the accompanying bloomed flowers dripped in fresh dew. For the bare feet dancing in a tent full of loved ones. For everything.

Do yourself a favor and go.  Hike Rainbow Mountain. Stroll through Machu Picchu where the Inca Civilization once thrived. Taste the salt crystals in the Salt Mine. Feel the soft Alpaca hair strands through your fingers as you pet a real one. (I tried to kidnap one!) And taste the puffy empanada's savory goodness.

On to the good stuff:
Planning wise, I will have to say that Peru is one of the more difficult trips to plan. Pre-planning is a must and thank god for El Balcon/El Albergue because they were instrumental to our entire trip from the stay to the activities. I will provide my day-to-day itinerary starting and ending in Cusco, Peru.  As for flights, there are really zero options for nonstop flights, so be prepared for a long trip! This itinerary is for a 5 day trip starting in Cusco, Peru. I would suggest staying longer to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or visit other parts of Peru or just to take it slower. But 5 days are a good minimum to experience Peru.

Itinerary –


It is vital that you take it very slow on the first day in Cusco, Peru. You will most likely experience elevation sickness right away. Buy some elevation sickness pills in the airport when you land. It’s entirely natural and will help a ton. We certainly experienced headaches, nausea, and fatigue during the trip. Drink tons of cocoa leaves tea which your hotel will likely serve. An Uber driver I once met in Washington D.C. who happen to be Peruvian advised that we lay down instantly for 30-45 minutes when we land so our body can acclimate to the altitude.

- Land in Peru.

- Take an Uber (which works and is very reliable) or taxi to your hotel. Check into your hotel.
Suggested stay – El Balcon

- Spend the day exploring Cusco. Visit Plaza De Armas, Cusco Cathedral, and then make your way to San Pedro Market. We found great scarves, blankets, and even delicious street food at the San Pedro Market.  Have lunch in the market. You can also walk to the San Blas neighborhood that is the bohemian part of Cusco with many stores, art galleries and more.

- Have dinner at Chicha por Gaston. (Make reservations ahead)


A highlight of our trip was the hike on Rainbow Mountain. We booked our tour through Airbnb Experience, which was very simple to do. We booked the experience just a few days before leaving NYC for Peru. They picked us up very early in the morning from our hotel and drove a few hours to a quaint local breakfast spot. Be prepared for a very bumpy ride. Rainbow Mountain is a relatively new offer because Rainbow Mountain was essentially revealed about a decade ago due to melting snowcaps aka Climate Change. Thus, the path from Cusco to Rainbow Mountain is rough. I got car sick on the way back from Rainbow Mountain to lunch.

Included in the Airbnb Experience
- pick up and drop off to and from hotel
- transportation to Rainbow Mountain
- breakfast and lunch and a cute snack bag which was vital to our survival / includes water
- a tour guide during rainbow mountain
- oxygen tank is available (but you won't need it!)

Okay, so what was hiking Rainbow Mountain like?
Wow, literally one of the most challenging hike I’ve ever done. 3 weeks prior to this, I hiked Angel’s Landing at Zion National Park and that’s easy compared to this hike. The challenge is mostly from the elevation and the consistent steepness. The air is THIN up there. Your muscles will burn from its need for oxygen and so will your lungs BUT you will be okay. At the end of the day, we did it. We made it all the way to the top and it was the most rewarding experience. Take your time. I can’t stress that enough. TAKE YOUR TIME. And if you’re lucky, you’ll also have a good friend next to you just pushing you onward and upward. Strangers in the same struggle with you will also encourage you. After all, we’re all a community of strugglers at this moment and the pain is real. There was 10 of us in the tour guide. And all 10 of us made it to the very top. The view is absolutely worth it. The alpacas at the top are super soft, cuddly, and are the only faces you want to see after that entire life-hazing-experience. For a small tip of your choice, you can take a picture while smooshing your face against the alpacas’ face. Yes. I definitely did that. And then spend as long as you like relishing on the fact that YOU JUST DID THAT YOU BAD ASS! Another option, too, is to rent a horse to take you close to the top where you’ll only have to climb the tippy top since horses aren’t allowed up there.

- Bring some cash for Alpaca pictures and if you were underdressed like we were, we bought some alpaca gloves and hats at the start of the climb
- Adopt a very positive mindset; you’re going to need it.
- Don’t give up! You got thissssss!
- And then thank your body for carrying you all the way up.


So Machu Picchu is one of the most difficult activity to plan. BUT it was also one of the most rewarding experience of our lives. Luckily, our hotel (El Balcon/El Albergue) made it very simple for us by providing a whole itinerary including a tour on the next day for a private tour guide of Maras, Moray & Chinchero. We paid under $300 for Machu Picchu and the Maras, Moray, and Chinchero tour including train tickets but not hotels. I suggest booking a similar tour because there are so many moving parts to Machu Picchu. You would need a train to get you to Machu Picchu (plus a taxi to the train station), ride the train for 3 hours, then a 20 minute bus ride from the train to to the Machu Picchu gate (which require a separate ticket), you'll also need a tour guide which I highly recommend, and then the whole thing again heading back home.

Machu Picchu is a space that feels holy the moment you step on their soil. It's magical. It almost feels invasive to be there but at the same time, overwhelming welcoming. I honestly can't put into words the feeling of the Lost City of the Inkas. I strongly urge everyone to go here once in their life. I'm also now incredibly obsessed with the Inca culture.

- Eat before you arrive at Machu Picchu. For our tour, a lunch box was made for us which really came in handy.
- Bring water. It's going to be hot. Also, sunblock!
- Machu Picchu is a ONE WAY tour. That means you won't be able to circle back so if you want to take a photo or sit and relish in a spot for a moment, take your time to do so.
- Book a tour guide! Machu Picchu is more than a pretty landscape. The story behind it is even more mind-blowing.
- If you're flying out of Cusco and plan to have more nights in Cusco, leave your suitcases at your Cusco hotel so you don't have to carry everything with you on the trip to Machu Picchu and Ollantaytambo. We brought a small book bag each.

We had also decided to stay a night in Ollantaytambo at El Albergue which is El Balcon's sister hotel and the original one. We wish we could've stayed here a night longer because it was one of the best hotel experiences we've had. It is such a thoughtful hotel. The food was DIVINE and all locally farmed right in their hotel. Their coffee was phenomenal and apparently Ollantaytambo has some of the best restaurants in the world (which we missed out on). After a long day at Machu Picchu, it was so nice to get off the Ollantaytambo train stop (one stop before Cusco) and be face to face with El Albergue hotel. It's literally right near the train tracks (but no annoying train sounds at night, trust me!). We had dinner that evening in the hotel -- fresh cheese, organic wine, local meats and veggies. And then slept on a large comfortable bed with an indoor fire pit.


We had a slow morning in Ollantaytambo which was very needed. Our tour began at 1pm so it gave us plenty of time to sleep in, tour the farm grounds in El Albergue, enjoy breakfast, visit the coffee shop, and take in the agriculture and beauty of the hotel. The view is INSANE from our suite.

At 1pm, our tour guide arrived who was very friendly. He told us that 1pm was perfect because we missed the morning rush of tourists. And we couldn't agree more. It felt like we were the only ones there at the Salt Mines (Maras), Moray, and Chinchero. The Maras Salt mines were our favorite. The landscape is nothing we've seen before (which seems to be the trend of this trip -- unbelievable views). In Moray, we casually strolled the green beautifully crafted landscape, and then met the sweetest locals in Chinchero. At the end of our tour, our private driver/guide drove us to Cusco and our hotel El Balcon.

- Bring Sols to pay entrance fees.
- Also water and sunblock.
- In Chinchero, you can use credit cards to pay for souvenirs.


Your trip is arriving to an end and your entire existence have changed from the trip. Soak it all in. Take the time to wander the beautiful city, eat your last meals, and buy your friends, family, or yourself something that can hopefully capture 1% of the imagination of Peru.

Restaurant Recommendations:
Organika - Our favorite restaurant in Cusco. Order the ceviche!
Limo - Great views!
Pachapapa - Traditional food, very casual. They have guinea pig.
Los Toldos Chicken - Arguably the best pollerias in town.

Here is a free downloadable travel guide - link here - so you can save it, print it, share it!