“Peru in two weeks? That can’t be done.” Is probably the first thing you will hear from somebody that traveled to Peru after they just read this title. And in all fairness, they are sort of right. Peru is huge, spanning from north to south in about the same amount of kilometers as the USA. So you got two option here: you either include 6 or 7 flights into your itinerary and rush around without having time to catch your breath or you make compromises. Needless to say, following this itinerary means you’re choosing the latter. But by including most highlights, taking into account elevation-differences and leaving you with enough time to actually enjoy being away from home this itinerary will absolutely deliver you the best of Peru, all in as little as two weeks.
About the itinerary. This itinerary assumes you fly in and out of Peru on its largest and most traveled international airport in Lima. It slowly builds up altitude so as to ensure you will get minimal discomfort from altitude sickness and it takes into account a limited budget, but is not overly tight. you can alter the route if you for example enter Peru by crossing the border from Argentina or Bolivia but take into account the altitude and build in steps to acclimate. Since the distances are just to vast, this itinerary skips the north of Peru, at the end of this article I will briefly touch upon what I recommend including if you got a week or so extra. The itinerary includes the 4-day Salkantay-trek which is one of the most awesome things I have ever done and highly recommend. If you really hate trekking you could simply take the bus or train to Machu Picchu and save 3 days. Including the trek stretches the itinerary to a little over 2 weeks.
If you want a more elaborate explanation of a place (or how to get from one place to another in more detail), just click on the title of the day and you’ll be taken automatically to an article I wrote about that specific place of interest!
Budget: 30-50$ per day. Peru is cheap and can be traveled from about 25$ a day if you do not mind eating in the market every day and choose the cheapest bus-companies to get around. Depending on your accommodation, the bus-companies you choose and the places you pick for your meals (and of-course the amount of alcohol you consume;) ). This itinerary includes 1 internal flight and a lot of activities. Budget on 40$ a day (plus your international flight into the country) and you should be able to meet the budget.
What you should book upfront. The tighter your schedule the more sense it makes to actually book ahead. If you build in the minimum amount of lee-way I recommend pre-booking all accommodation, your internal flight and if you are traveling with the more luxurious bus-companies, also the bus-tickets. Tours can better be booked at arrival as this will save you a lot of money, and since there are always enough tours on offer, it is extremely unlikely that everything will be booked full.
You arrive at Jorge Chávez airport and take a taxi (60 soles, the most expensive taxi you will take in the whole country) to Miraflores. Take what’s left of the day to explore this part of Lima.
After breakfast, take the bus to Ica and a taxi for 3 soles from there to Huacachina where you will arrive around lunch. check into your ho(s)tel, put on some extra sunscreen and take some time to explore this tiny desert oasis. If the sunset sandboarding tour for that evening is already booked full at your accomodation, ask around and book another (they are all really comparable). This is also the best time to book your ticket for the night-bus to Arequipa if you haven’t pre-booked. At sunset you’ll venture out into the desert in a sandbuggy for an adrenaline-pumping but beautiful tour and if your brave enough you can slide down the slopes (the dunes go up hundreds of meters!) on an old waxed-up snowboard. After the tour you have the option to climb a dune (take someone with you) and gaze at a starry sky while laying in the still-warm sands of the desert. Huacachina sports a surprisingly lively nightlife, so if you are up for it you there’s also the option of a social mingle in one of the few bars around the lagoon.
Get up early to take a tour to the Islas Ballestas, dubbed the “Poor Man’s Galapagos” and for good reason! Here you can check out sea-lions, pelicans, penguins and if you are lucky enough dolpins and whales. The seas are quite rough around this part to carry some sea-sickness pills. In the afternoon you can either opt to explore the close-by Paracas Peninsula (by quadbike!) or you could visit the world-famous Nazca-lines. Take into account that these lines are only worth it if you book a micro-plane flight to actually see the full array which is quite pricey. I didn’t like the lines much so I recommend the Peninsula or alternatively you could go on a pisco-tasting but if you expect something more cultured than getting pissed on pisco you’ll return disappointed (and wasted nevertheless). After you return, take a taxi to the bus-terminal of your bus-company where you will take the night-bus to Arequipa. Book either Exclusiva or Cruz del Sur for this lap. You pay double of what you pay on the budget-alternative but the full-cama seats are so comfortable that it is very likely that you get a decent nights sleep, and not ruin your whole following day out of pure exhaustion.
Arequipa is situated at the perfect altitude to acclimate for higher altitudes that are yet to come. Take your time to relax and explore this beautiful colonial city.
Take the bus or public transportation into the Colca Canyon and travel to the beautiful village of Cabanaconde. Depending your reaction to the slightly higher altitude you can either explore the little village and relax in your ho(s)tel, or already go out into the Colca Canyon area as there are some beautiful short walking trails starting here.
Get up super early to be the first at the famous Cruz Del Condor where you will see huge condors soaring over the mighty Colca Canyon. If you followed my advise, stayed at the Pachamama-hostel and booked the MTB-tour, then after a while you down-hill back to the village cruising through the beautiful landscape at a slow pace, but without too much effort (since you are going downhill). When you arrive back in the village take a taxi or collectivo to the nearby Chivay where you can take a bus to Puno (the bus leaves around 13:00 o’ clock from the main plaza) where you will arrive around dinner-time, after which you’ll probably be glad to head straight to bed.
In the morning walk to the harbor and arrange for a boat to take you to the floating reed-islands of Uros and further onto Isla Amantani. At Amantani you can sleep at local families that and get to know the local island-culture. The island also offers beautiful walking and because of its tiny size it is hard to get lost here. Use the second day to explore the island but make sure you get on the last boat back to Puno. Have dinner at Puno before heading back to the bus-station for another night-bus this time to Cusco.
Take two days to explore the old capital of the Inca’s on your own pace. Relax and rest-up to be fully ready for an intense (but insanely beautiful) trek. This is also when you should arrange for your trek (no worries, multiple treks depart on a daily basis). A half-day trip to the Salinas Maras is definitely worth it.
These days are undoubted be the highlight of your trip, since you are trekking the beautiful Salkantay Trek! You’ll walk on rocky ridges between snow-capped mountains the one day only to dive into lush cloud-forests and jungle the next. You eat local food, sleep in tents and jungle huts and get the ultimate reward at the end of your journey: the sight of the magical Machu Picchu.
After Machu Picchu hike back to Hydroelectrica from where you take the bus back to Cusco, where you rest-up and spend the night.
If you are not keen on taking the Salkantay Trek you can use the money to take the train & bus to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu straight away. You can either stay at Aguas Calientes for one night or do it all in 1 day. You’ll save 3 or 4 days by doing so making the itinerary in 2 weeks. If you are up for the challenge, take into account that your trip will take you 18 instead of the promised 14 days.
Take a morning flight to Lima where you will arrive sometime in the afternoon. Stay in Miraflores once more and if there are still some hours of daylight left you can opt to take a taxi to the old center and explore the colonial history of Lima by going on a self-guided walking-tour. After dark make sure you book a registered taxi back to Miraflores.
Day 18: Flight back home
If you are leaving Lima in the evening you can take the morning to either explore the old center (if you have not done so on day 16) or take a stroll through the beautiful Barranco (only a 10 min taxi-ride from Miraflores). Sadly this is the end of your trip, however if you sticked to the route you have definitely had an amazing trip and seen the best of Peru in as little as two weeks!
What to do if you have a week extra
So there are a few places that you should definitely include into your trip if you got lets say a week more. Like trekking and got some extra time? Take a flight from Cusco to Huaraz instead of back to Lima. This town has some of the best trekking in Peru and is set beautifully between snow-capped Andes peaks. From Huaraz you can take the (night)bus back to Lima in about 9 hours.
Only got an extra day or two? Include the rainbow-mountain trek into your itinerary (departing from Cusco) which is beautiful. Also stay a night at Ollantaytambo on your way back from Machu Picchu and explore the impressive Inca ruins that it gives host to. Another option is to visit the Amazon from Cusco, Manu NP is accessible by bus/boat and 3D/2N trips are available (I myself have not been here so I cannot recommend anything in particular).
Want to see the real Peru? Head out to Ayacucho where you come face-to-face with both the real rural Peru and its gruesome history involving the Shing Path. Your best option is to take the bus from Ica to Ayacucho and from there head on to Cusco – Puno and then from Puno to Arequipa flying back to Lima (or Huaraz) from there. Take into account that the bus-drive from Ayacucho to Cusco crosses some rough, badly maintained roads so this isn’t gonna be a pleasant drive.
Any of the above options are a great addition to the itinerary but do not worry if you don’t have the time. No matter how long your trip is there are always places you have to miss out on and considering how big the world is you will never be able to visit every awesome place anyways, so whats the point of worrying?