Peru & Galápagos travel guide

2 minute summary

Every indecisive traveler’s dream; Peru and Galápagos vacations allow you to see two of South America’s most stunning highlights in a single trip, over two to three weeks. Lounge on a black sand Galápagos beach surrounded by barking sea lions, snorkel with the world’s only equatorial penguins, and learn all about the iconic giant tortoise – just days before stepping through the Sun Gate and setting eyes on the magnificence of Machu Picchu. Some vacations visit Galápagos first, others Peru – and you have the option of trekking the Inca Trail to these ancient ruins, or reaching them by train, depending on how long you have spare – and whether you think your calves can take it.

Hike up verdant Andean mountains and up dark, island volcanoes. Step into colonial cathedrals overlooking grand plazas, and learn how Darwin developed his theory of evolution. Why choose between these fabulous experiences – when, as our Peru and Galápagos travel guide explains, these vacations let you enjoy them all?

Peru & Galápagos map & highlights

make the most of your time

If opting for Peru first, it’s likely you’ll fly into Lima and head down to Cuzco, and either acclimatising for a couple of days before trekking to Machu Picchu – or enjoying the city and the nearby Sacred Valley before heading to the famous ruins by train. Following your Inca encounter, you’ll fly up to Quito, with a day or so in this colonial city before flying out to embark on your Galápagos cruise, typically lasting five to eight days. Reverse trips begin in Quito or Guayaquil – Ecuador’s largest city, and the leaping off point for Galápagos. Additional days can give you more time in the highland cities – or glimpses of the Peruvian Amazon or Lake Titicaca.
Cuzco Fearless wildlife Inca Trail Machu Snorkelling Volcano


The former capital of the mighty Inca Empire, today, Cuzco is a UNESCO-rated city which, at 3,400m, is the ideal place to acclimatise before trekking the Inca Trail. It’s also a great spot for encountering modern Inca culture in the form of the Quechua people, whose language, dress and customs have changed little over the centuries. If you’re here for a few days, venture down to the nearby Sacred Valley.

Fearless wildlife

The creatures on these islands are not only unique thanks to their isolation, 1,000km from mainland Ecuador, but also to their lack of fear of humans. You can snorkel with marine iguanas, be approached by curious sea lions, observe endangered giant tortoises and be entertained by the comical mating dance of the blue footed booby, while the animals remain indifferent to your presence. Magic.

Inca Trail

South America’s classic hiking route takes you from the city of Cuzco, through Andean tundra (including some tough, high passes), past Quechua villages, along humid cloud forests and past astonishing Inca ruins, before arriving at the famous Sun Gate for the first glimpse of the fabled Machu Picchu. The high altitude trek takes around four days, following ancient Incan stone paths.

Machu Picchu

More than a century after its rediscovery, Machu Picchu continues to enthrall. Now reached by train as well as the Inca Trail trek, the ruins have become every more accessible – though the magic of this Inca city, perched atop a mist-clad Andean Mountain, has not diminished. Spend the night in the nearby village for extra exploration time, or consider a hike up the steep slopes of Huayna Picchu for a new perspective.

Snorkelling with sea lions

The clear Galápagos waters hover between 18-24°C – although the cooler months of June to October are preferable for snorkelling as nutrients flow in on the Humboldt Current, attracting even more wildlife. You can snorkel right off the beaches or head out to remote sites such as Pinnacle Rock on your cruise ship, looking out for playful sea lions, equatorial penguins and marine iguanas.

Volcano hikes

Lava fields, strange, lunar-like craters, conical peaks and black sand beaches: there is no doubt that this archipelago is volcanic. Make the most of these surreal landscapes – backdrops for the extraordinary wildlife – with a hike up peaks such as Bartolomé Island, covered in a rainbow of volcanic formations; or trek for 17km around Isabela Island’s Sierra Negra, the archipelago’s most active volcano.
Photo credits: [Topbox: claumoho] [Map topbox: Gustavo M] [Cuszco: Geraint Rowland] [Fearless wildlife: Vince Smith] [Inca Trail: karlnorling] [Machu Picchu: Luna sin estrellas] [Snorkelling with sea lions: Steven Bedard] [Volcano hikes: Jan Hazevoet] [Helpdesk: oliver.dodd]
Written by Vicki Brown
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