Tall mountains are topped with undulating grass. The road stretches out in front of my eyes. Beyond it, I can see a glacier peeking through mountain tops and then there is that sky, that snatches my breath every single time I look at it. Ancient Peruvians worshipped Pachamama – (Mother Earth). Now I know why….
Peru has fascinated travellers for centuries. It has been a constant source of inspiration to culture connoisseurs, historians, artists and travellers alike. Join us on this trip of a lifetime through the heartland of Peru on a vacation where you will see the desert, spend lazy evenings in vineyards, drool over Incan ruins, witness wonders of the world, crumbling villages, and the mighty Amazon Rainforest.
Ever since we got back, many of you have asked us to divulge information about our itinerary for Peru. Well, we finally have a guide for you to plan the perfect trip to Peru. Adjust the days according to the time you have at hand, because it is easy to spend months in Peru. Choose hotels according to your budget – Peru has everything from basic backpacker accommodation to luxurious boutique hotels. But don’t waver when it comes to the destination – Peru is special in so many ways and you must experience it for yourself. So go, go, go 🙂
Peru Itinerary – Days 1&2: Fly into Lima
There are talks of an airport being constructed in Cusco but till that happens chances are you will fly into Peru’s busy capital, Lima. Lima is a large and sprawling city with unsafe pockets. Take adequate precaution and book a hotel in a safe area. Miraflores, Lima’s upscale suburb is the hub of most tourist accommodation in the city. Expect beaches, flower-lined promenades, parks, and shopping centres here.
If you want to escape the sanitised safety of Miraflores, Lima’s bohemian district Barranco is the answer. It is Lima’s response to London’s Brick Lane or Berlin’s Kreuzberg. Here colourful houses populate streets laden with bougainvillea. Quirky street art adorns walls, hole-in-the-wall eateries call out to tourists, and locals go about their daily lives. Barranco is home to a burgeoning community of artists and musicians and it’s possible to discover a number of great acts at small independent bars here. We loved it!
Accommodation in Lima:
We stayed at JW Marriott, Lima. It is centrally located opposite the beach and a shopping centre in Miraflores. As is the case with most large cities in Peru, Lima offers a variety of accommodation for everyone from backpackers and budget travellers to luxury travellers. There is no shortage of options, whatever your budget. We suggest choosing any hotel or hostel in Miraflores for your days in Lima.
Top tips for Lima:
- There’s no better place than Lima to try Peru’s national dish Ceviche that consists of cured raw fish, served with red onions – best with a glass of chilled beer.
- Read about places before visiting them in Lima. This might seem surprising coming from intrepid travellers like us but safety is a concern in Lima. It’s best to exercise caution when you leave districts that are traditionally considered safe. Steer clear of shanty towns to avoid getting in trouble. We always rely on information provided by locals.
- Ask your hotel to call a cab for you or prebook transfers with a known company. We found a local cab company called Taxi Datum on Tripadvisor forums (always the best place to look for recommendations!) and used their services extensively while we were in Lima. Their website is http://taxidatum.com/. We even booked our airport transfer in Lima with them before we boarded our flight from London – their service was reliable and safe.
- If you decide to hang around in Lima for more than 2 days, visit the Temple of Pahcacamac. The Incan site is about 40 kilometres from Lima and is shrouded in mystery. Most cab drivers will take you to the site and wait there for you. Make sure you settle on a rate beforehand.
Days 3-5: Marvel at Ica, Nazca, and Huacachina
On our third day in Peru, we took a short 4 hour bus ride from Lima to Ica. The landscape begins to change almost as soon as the bus leaves Lima. Buildings give way to Incan temples and shopping centres give way to barren deserts. The arid landscape in this part of the country seems shrouded in mystery. This feeling only amplifies as one goes deeper into the Peruvian hinterland. We passed colonial houses that secrete tales of slavery and offer a window into Peru’s dark past.
I remember feeling very excited as the bus pulled into Ica. Ica is the gateway to the mighty Nazca Lines, something I’d always dreamt of seeing. Hundreds of massive lines shaped like animals, birds, geometric figures, pagan gods, and even an astronaut, extend for countless miles throughout the remote Peruvian desert. These figures are so huge that they can only be seen from an aircraft. They were carved in the desert by the Nazca people centuries ago but refuse to wither or change with time. Researchers are yet to figure out whether the enigmatic designs are indicative of some kind of pagan ritual, an ancient astronomical calendar, or alien activity. It’s been weeks since we visited Nazca but we’re still completely dumbstruck at the sheer size of these strange remains of an ancient civilisation left behind in the desert sand.
Our skirmish with the desert did not end there. We visited Huacachina on a local’s recommendation. It is a tiny village which is literally an oasis in the middle of gigantic sand-dunes in the Peruvian desert. It’s possible to spend the entire day slipping and sliding down sand-dunes on sand boards or riding over the dunes in a buggy. Such fun 🙂
Accommodation in Ica
You can choose any hotel in Ica that offers transfers to Huacachina and Nazca. We stayed at Vinas Queirolo, a unique hotel, situated amidst 800 acres of Peruvian vineyards. It receives only a handful of international tourists every year, so it’s truly off-the-beaten path. We loved spending our evenings sipping on wine as we watched the sun go down.
If you don’t mind moving on a daily basis, you could spend one night each in Ica, Huacachina, and Nazca too.
Top tips for Ica
- Read reviews before you book bus tickets for yourself. If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. We used the bus company, Peru Hop, for most of our bus journeys in Peru. They offer a flexible hop-on, hop-off service in one ticket, which is perfect if you don’t know how long you want to stay in each city. Buses were comfortable, punctual, and had an english-speaking guide. Passes start at $119/£80.
- We pre-booked our flight to the Nazca Lines with www.tinggly.com. But it is possible to book the flight on getting to Ica as well. Just ask around and bargain before you book your flight.
- Skip the flight over the Nazca lines if you suffer from the slightest bit of claustrophobia or vertigo. The abrupt twists and turns of the tiny aircraft are bound to leave you nauseous. If you do go, DO NOT have a heavy meal before the flight 😉
- Try to opt for the dune buggy ride that starts at 4 pm in Huacachina. You will be at the top of sand dunes in time for sunset and the sight of the sun setting in Huacachina is nothing short of spectacular 🙂
- You might want to take a change of clothes to Huacachina because you will be covered with a thick layer of desert sand if you choose to go sandboarding 🙂
Days 6-9 – Be amazed at The Amazon Rainforest
Get ready to be transported into a different world altogether. Most lodges and hotels in this region are over 4 hours away from the nearest paved road. So this is well and truly remote! One is encompassed by nature on all sides and this is nature as you’ve never seen it before!
We couldn’t believe our eyes when we first reached the rainforest. We saw dozens of colourful butterflies, brightly-coloured tropical birds, and howler monkeys waiting to greet us. Our days were spent exploring the trails of the Peruvian Rainforest, acquainting ourselves with the wildlife, stargazing every night, and enjoying the serenity in this corner of the world.
Accommodation in The Amazon Rainforest
We stayed with Rainforest Expeditions in the Peruvian Amazon. We’ve written a detailed article about our stay in the Amazon Rainforest, which you can consult for further details. You can pick a hotel of your choice – just make sure you consult the fine print and check the list of amenities before booking your accommodation in the Rainforest. Try to pick a place that offers electricity, hot water, and wifi (if you’re an internet fiend like us!) for a comfortable stay 🙂
Top tips for The Amazon Rainforest
- Regular price-comparison websites exclude a number of South America airlines. Make sure you check individual websites to bag the cheapest fares for flights within South America. We booked our Lima-Puerto Maldonado flight with Star Peru
- Spend a short time (2/3 days) here if it’s your first time in the Amazon Rainforest. The landscape is gorgeous and nature is stunning here. However there are creepie crawlies around, which can be off-putting for some.
- Don’t forget to carry lots of mosquito repellent and long-sleeved tees to the jungle. Most hotels and lodges offer an extensive packing list. Try to consult it while packing for the Amazon Rainforest.
Days 10-14 Fall in love with Cusco
“Cusco – The whole city is an immense gallery: every house, every balcony looking out over every street, is like a museum with which to evoke the past”
Che Guevara’s description of Cusco in The Motorcycle Diaries is probably the best description of this endlessly-fascinating city. The bustling capital of the Incan empire is a decadent feast for the senses. Evidence of its rich and complex history is everywhere to be seen – walls that date back thousands of years, colourful rituals that are rooted in local legend, and alleyways that seem to have stood still in time. The very air that pervades the city of Cusco breathes history.
It’s hard not to spend hours running one’s fingers along Incan walls that surround the city, mollycoddling baby llamas on the roads, trying to decipher the intent of colourful posters hanging everywhere, getting lost in markets and watching local ladies scuttling about their business in colourful skirts. The best part? This is only the tip of the iceberg insofar as Cusco’s kaleidoscopic Peruvian aesthetic is concerned. The multi-hued disposition of the city will leave you dizzy with excitement.
Accommodation in Cusco
We stayed at JW Marriott in Cusco, a gorgeous hotel situated within walls that date back to Incan times. There is no shortage of accommodation options in Cusco, whatever your budget. You could also consult a portal like Flipkey for affordable options. In either case, try to choose a hotel that is located close to Plaza de Armas.
Top Tips for Cusco
- Most tourists set aside just 1 or 2 days for Cusco. We strongly recommend spending at least 3-4 days in the city. It will delight you to no end.
- Spent the first day acclimatising yourself to the altitude – stick to light meals and short walks. If you feel nauseous, sample Peruvian Coca Tea. It is said to help with altitude sickness.
- Take time out to explore Cusco’s rich culinary scene. There are dozens of affordable vegetarian and vegan restaurants that serve luscious smoothies, Quinoa stews, and bean burgers. We loved a tiny vegetarian restaurant called El Encuentro (huge portions and reasonable prices). If you’re a meat eater, make sure you hunt down a traditional Polleria. These establishments are frequented by locals. Most pollerias have a set menu that includes grilled chicken, fries, salad, and a soup for less than 10 soles (£2). Cusco is also a great place to try regional specialities like Lomo Saltado (beef sauteed with peppers and onions) and alpaca steaks.
- Try to take a guided tour of Cusco’s cathedral to find out more about the unique ways in which Christianity was adopted by a nation that worshipped the elements of Earth
- There is no dearth of shopping venues in Cusco but we recommend the Central Artisan Market (Centro Artesanal Cusco) on Avenida Del Sol for the best deals in town. There is a wide array of traditional bags, ponchos, colourful throws and Peruvian jewellery available for purchase. Make sure you bargain LOTS 🙂
- Visit the surrounding ruins, especially the ruins of Sacsayhuaman and Tambomachay.
- Wear comfortable shoes because you will be walking around a lot.
Days 15-18 Explore the Sacred Valley
Few places in the world have the power to beguile travellers like Peru’s famed Sacred Valley. Driving through glaciers, mountains, and picture-perfect panoramas will snatch your breath way every second of the way. But that’s not all. There are quinoa, potato, and corn fields everywhere you look – the earthy tones of the crops complemented perfectly by the vibrant garments of local farmers. It’s safe to say that no itinerary for Peru would be complete without at least a couple of days in the Sacred Valley.
There’s no dearth of things to do in the Sacred Valley. Peru just doesn’t stop throwing surprises – there are amazing sights at every corner but here are some of our favourites:
- The Pre-Incan Salt ponds of Maras, nestled between Andean Mountains, are still used to produce salt in Peru. There are over 3000 salt ponds in Maras. These are probably some of the most gorgeous farms we’ve ever seen!
- The drive to the agricultural terraces of Moray will leave you spell bound. The terraces, shaped like a womb, throw light on the way in which key Incan beliefs – geometry, science, nature, and spirituality – come together as one organic whole. Make sure you include it in your itinerary of Peru.
- The Pisac Market, although touristy, is definitely worth a visit. The colourful mélange of Peruvian fabrics, ornaments, jewellery, and colourful ponchos can be very seductive.
- If you, like us, enjoy local and experiential travel, then you must take a cooking class in Urubamba. We spent one whole day with Ricardo, a Peruvian chef who is a bit of a legend in Urubamba. He taught us how to cook 4 signature Peruvian dishes. But my favourite part was the time we spent visiting the local markets. He introduced us to local Peruvian fruits, herbs, and vegetables, tore them open, made us smell them, and devour them. Here’s a rare selfie of the three of us having Chicha morada, a sweet beverage made from Peruvian purple corn, at a local market. Yum, yum, yum!
Accommodation in Sacred Valley
We moved around almost daily and stayed in a couple of hotels in the Sacred Valley. There is a lot to co-ordinate here because public transport isn’t readily available in the Sacred Valley, hotels fill up fast, and attractions are quite far apart. So we delegated this section of the trip (including private transfers, cab rides, hotel stays, guides, and tickets to all attractions) to Magical Cuzco Tours. It made life a lot simpler and we could concentrate on enjoying everything the Sacred Valley has to offer instead of getting lost in the nitty-gritties and logistics of it 🙂
If you do book everything on your own, then Casa Andina could be the hotel to consider. It’s a mid-range hotel located in close proximity to Urubamba and Maras. This was the most conveniently-located hotel of all the ones we stayed at.
Top Tips for Sacred Valley
- If you enjoy a bit of luxury and fine dining, make sure you sample the 5 course lunch and dance of Peruvian paso horses at Hotel Sol y Luna.
- Don’t try to cram everything in a day or two. If you’re in the Sacred Valley for a short time, pick and choose a couple of things to do. This way you will relish the surroundings and enjoy the Sacred Valley as its meant to be enjoyed. We suggest prioritising a visit to Maras, Moray, and the cooking class.
- Do go on a long drive in the Sacred Valley – the panoramas will leave you spell bound. Pull over to chat with local farmers or weavers for a truly unforgettable experience
- Cuy (guinea pig) is a local delicacy. It tends to be over-priced in most restaurants in the big cities. But it is the only dish on the menu in the eateries in Lamay (30 minutes from Cuzco) and Tipon (70 minutes from Cuzco). This is where the locals go to get their Cuy fix. Worth a stop if you want to sample a local delicacy!
- Visit a local fruit and vegetable market, irrespective of whether you take a cooking class or not. Sample local Peruvian fruits and vegetables such as grenadilla (passion fruit), lucuma (eggfruit), mango, dozens of varieties of avocado, chirimoya (custard apple), pepino dulce (sweet cucumber) – fruits and vegetables are SO luscious here, you will not forget their taste for a long long time.
Peru Itinerary – Days 19 -21: Machu Picchu
Aah Machu Picchu – the Incan masterpiece that is the subject of many a reverie. It’s hard to say what makes the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu just so special. The mountain air is thick with mystery and anticipation here. A cloud of spirituality seems to hang over these ruins, hidden deep within a cloud forest. Dreamy clouds swivel over handsome ruins, which were made by the Incas to worship the Sun God.
We spent one whole day exploring Machu Picchu with a guide – the ruins of the city, its walls, Incan temples, and houses of Royalty and common people. No cement or mortar was used to build this sacred city. It is an intricate puzzle built entirely of stones that fit well together. What’s more, it is perfectly aligned with the surrounding mountains and the skies. This harmony of nature, spirituality, and science is impressive, to say the least. But the city is so massive that exploring it all can get a tad overwhelming.
So we decided to buy another set of entry tickets. On the second day, we did ‘nothing’ – we breathed the mysticism surrounding Machu Picchu, ran our fingers across Incan walls, stared at gorgeous crevices, and just lay under the Peruvian sun – that’s when our trip to Machu Picchu felt COMPLETE. So we highly recommend going back to the ruins a second time before leaving Aguas Calientes!
Accommodation in Machu Picchu
Spend 1-2 nights in Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu Pueblo as its now known. Accommodation options are plentiful.
We spent 2 nights at Sumaq Hotel – it has spacious rooms overlooking the river. The hotel offers free cooking classes, cocktails, beverages, and snacks to all guests, which came as a welcome surprise. The dining room offers a sumptuous menu showcasing local ingredients – Peruvian corn, Andean trout, yuca, and local cheese – nom! The hotel is a 5 minute walk from the bus station from where you should catch one of the first buses of the day up to Machu Picchu. This way you can catch sunrise at the ruins of Machu Picchu – score 🙂
Top tips for Machu Picchu
- To get to Machu Picchu, you need to take a train from Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley to Aguas Calientes. We took the Vista Dome train and loved it. It has large glass windows that offer amazing views of the Peruvian countryside and steep Andean peaks. Tickets start at £40/$60.
- Book your tickets for Machu Picchu well in advance. Daily visits are limited and tickets often get sold out way in advance during peak season.
- We continued our tryst with Magical Cuzco Tours and arranged our transfer to Ollantaytambo, train tickets to Aguas Calientes, and tickets for Machu Picchu with them. The service was impeccable and we would highly recommend them if you want to delegate the planning to a travel agency.
- Carry some snacks, sunscreen, mosquito repellent and loose change (for using the public toilet) with you for your visit to Machu Picchu. Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes.
- Hike to the sun gate for amazing views of the ruins. If you have time, hike to the top of the neighbouring mountain (Huayna Picchu/Wayna Picchu) for epic views of Machu Picchu. Only 400 people are allowed the trek to Huayna Picchu every day (over 2 sessions), so book in advance.
- Stay in Aguas Calientes at least for a night. Machu Picchu will be the highlight of this trip of a lifetime to Peru and a rushed visit is no fun at all!
Days 22 – 24 Live in a village in Huarocondo
If you want to experience true Peruvian village life without all the urban ‘noise’ (both literal and metaphorical), then head to Huarocondo. Huarocondo is in close proximity to the Sacred Valley but there is nothing to do here. That is what we love about it!
Spend languorous days getting accustomed to the slow pace of village life in Peru. You could help locals dry corn on their terraces, walk around the village and sample chicharron (fried pork belly, the local speciality), or visit offbeat Incan ruins that most tourists don’t know about.
Accommodation in Huarocondo
We stayed at Gringo Wasi B&B , an intimate and well-equipped B&B/home stay in Huarocondo. It is owned by an amazing American/Peruvian couple. Lyle and Lily are great hosts and extremely responsive to emails (which always gets a big thumbs up from us 🙂 ). There are barely any other accommodation options in this neck of the woods, so make sure you book ahead.
Top Tips for Huarocondo
- Visit the agricultural terraces of Zurite. These ruins are completely off-the-beaten-path, free, and you’ll probably be the only person around!
- Take the local minibuses (collectivos) to neighbouring towns and villages. They cost just 1 sole per person (£0.20) and they’re completely safe.
- Hop over to neighbouring Izcuchaca to stock up on supplies and visit bustling local markets. Make sure you head over to a traditional polleria for rotisserie chicken.
Days 25-28 The best for last: Puno & Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca, straddling the borders of Peru and Bolivia, is the highest navigable lake in the world (12,500 ft. above sea level). It is also said to be the birthplace of the Incan civilization. It’s hard to articulate Lake Titicaca’s remote and otherworldly beauty but we’ll just say this – a languorous stay at a luxury lodge on the shores of Lake Titicaca will make you forget the ‘real’ world. Order your coffee in a lake pavilion as you contemplate the beauty of the lake’s glistening waters.
Don’t forget to visit The Uros Islands, a group of 90 floating islands, made entirely of reed. The inhabitants on the Peruvian side occasionally ‘anchor’ the islands to stop them from floating across the border to Bolivia. A day trip to the Uros islands offers a rare opportunity to sample a completely different way of life. These islands are self-sustainable and completely removed from modern life. Inhabitants still use the barter system to purchase groceries, food, and clothes.
As for evenings, there’s nothing like spending chilly evenings by the bonfire with a picnic basket, nibbles and warm mulled wine to hand as you watch the sun dip over Lake Titicaca. We followed this up by counting millions of stars and staring at the elusive Milky Way – the night sky in this corner of the world is extraordinary.
Accommodation in Puno/Lake Titicaca
We stayed at Titilaka, a luxury eco lodge poised beautifully on the banks of Lake Titicaca. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call Titilaka one of the best hotels we’ve encountered on our travels. Everything from its location on a remote peninsula to its rooms bedecked in bright colours favoured by native Aymara people is nothing short of perfect. There are a number of other properties in the area as well – choose one that fits your budget. We recommend avoiding accommodation in Puno and choosing a hotel or lodge that overlooks Lake Titicaca for an unforgettable experience in one of the most spectacular and remote corners of the world. Read about our experience at Titilaka here.
Top Tips for Lake Titicaca
- There are direct overnight buses available from Cusco to Puno. Most hotels offer a pick-up service from Puno Bus Station. We took a Peru Hop bus from Cusco to Puno – punctual and comfortable.
- If you’re short on time, you could take a flight to Juliaca Airport. Most hotels offer a pick-up service from Juliaca Airport.
- Do try the local produce and trout at Lake Titicaca. It’s scrumptious.
- The Uros Islands are amazing and we highly recommend a day trip to the islands. You could also go rafting amidst reeds at Lake Titicaca
- If you have more time, venture to Lampa, a quaint city which has several interesting manors and alleyways. There are also several interesting Incan temples, including Aramu Muru in the area.
- Stock up on woollies before you trip to Lake Titicaca. The high altitude ensures chilly evenings.
Getting to Peru
[box] We flew to Lima from London on Air France with a short stopover in Paris. If you are based in UK or Europe/Asia, chances are that Air France/KLM will offer the best connectivity to Peru. Return fares in economy class from London to Lima start at £466. [/box]
That’s it! The perfect itinerary for Peru that will help you plan the trip of a lifetime through handsome deserts, remote rainforests, Incan ruins, quaint villages, and glorious wonders of nature. Peru will snatch your breath every second of the way – book your flights now? 🙂
Planning a trip to South America? Read all our articles on South America here
Do you seek once-in-a-lifetime experiences while travelling? Read our Top 10 Travel Experiences here
Have you been to Peru? Did you love it as much as we did? 🙂