Skip to Content

The Ultimate Peru Itinerary: From One Week to One Month of Travel

Home to an abundance of cultural and archaeological sites, many of which are surrounded by breath-taking nature, Peru is guaranteed to exceed your expectations. And then there’s the local cuisine: many agree Peru’s culinary scene is one of the best in the world.

Whether you’ve got a week or two weeks in Peru (or perhaps even more), there’s plenty of time to explore the country’s famed archeological sites, hit the beach or head into the jungle, all the while treating yourself to the country’s unique offering of traditional coastal and Andean dishes.

Views from the archeological site over Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, a must-visit on a Peru itinerary
Views across Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, one of Peru’s most-visited historic sites.

Machu Picchu is on everyone’s list when it comes to a vacation in Peru, and it’s to understand why. In fact, all of our four Peru travel itineraries include a visit to what is by far the country’s premier tourist attraction. But there’s plenty more to add to your Peru vacation itinerary.

Often forgotten, northern Peru also offers big adventure, from surfing to archeological sites that are significantly older – and perhaps more impressive – than better-known Machu Picchu. Luckily, these different Peru itineraries can help you explore the country’s most acclaimed destinations and get you off the-beaten-trail.

What should you consider before planning your itinerary?

  • Altitude sickness is no joke in Peru, especially if you plan to hike or trek. Our itinerary focuses on helping you adjust to the altitude slowly while exploring the best of Peru. Generally, your body needs two weeks to get used to it completely. However, a couple of days of adjustment is better than nothing. Drinking plenty of water and having enough sleep usually help with altitude sickness. You can also consume coca leaf tea and apply herbal oil made for this type of sickness; both are available in most local markets in Peru. Alternatively, consult your doctor before departing your home country as they can prescribe you medication, such as acetazolamide, to ease symptoms of altitude sickness. It’s worth noting that eating spicy, sour, and greasy seafood combined with alcohol can exacerbate the symptoms of altitude sickness. Drinking a cup of coca or muña tea in the morning and after a big meal is one of the known remedies for stomach discomfort.
  • Instead of doing both the Colca Canyon hike and the Inca Trail, it’s best to choose only one, no matter how long your itinerary is. There are so many cool things to do in Peru other than just trekking, and it would be a loss to miss them while you’re here. Besides, both trails are strenuous – especially considering the altitude – and you may end up spending the rest of your vacation recovering – rather than enjoying Peru.
  • Different regions in Peru usually have different weather conditions. For example, Arequipa is a high-altitude desert where the sun is quite intense, yet Lima and its shores have their own microclimate where winter days are mostly cloudy, but it almost never rains. With that in mind, before you finalize your itinerary, it’s worth reading our article on the best time to go to Peru to learn when’s the best time of the year to travel there.
  • Peru is an affordable destination. Dining at a fancy restaurant generally costs less than $50 USD for two, even in the capital city, Lima, while you can expect to spend around $70 USD per night for a decent mid-range hotel, or around $15 USD per night for a bed in a dorm room. Transportation is also very affordable: flights between Lima and Cusco can cost as little as $100 USD one-way, while a bus covering this route can cost as little as $45 USD. As a result, you can cover a lot of distance during even a shorter trip.
  • There are only a few direct domestic flights within Peru that don’t travel through Lima. Most flights have at least one stop in the capital city. There are plentiful bus routes throughout the country, although many routes wind through the mountains and it’s wise to always pay for a more expensive bus company, as cheaper operators can be dangerous; we recommend using companies such as Cruz del Sur, Oltursa, TEPSA, Movil and Civa for their higher safety credentials. Bus Bud is a great site for finding bus tickets before you travel, but they are often cheaper bought at the bus station directly. If you have significant issues with motion sickness, do bring medication.
  • Public transport in Peru is accessible and affordable. Buses routes pass each city’s popular places, while taxis are cheap, too. A one-kilometre trip usually costs around S/4 ($1 USD) or less. Note that most taxis are unmetered, so it’s best to agree upon the fare before you get into one.
  • Packing for your trip to Peru depends a lot on what you plan on doing. To visit Machu Picchu, pack light and comfortable clothing, alongside a waterproof jacket as there’s a high chance of rain. Medication to help you deal with altitude sickness (and motion sickness if you plan on taking long bus rides) is always helpful. Sunblock is very important, particularly in high-altitude destinations such as Cusco where the sun is more powerful. Packing a wide-brim hat is also useful. Check out our complete South America packing list for more details.

Planning Your Trip to Peru?

Save time, stress & money with a customized travel itinerary planned for you by a Peru expert

What previous clients have said:


Steph did a great job! I have never used such a service before and I wish there were more of them!

Getting off the beaten track was important to us and with Steph’s knowledge we were away from the crowds. The information is very detailed and she knows some great places to stay! Thank you Steph!

avatar

Justin and Lisa

Traveled Patagonia, Bolivia and Peru in Jan ’19

One week in Peru

Overview of this one-week Peru itinerary:

  • Days one and two: Cusco and the Sacred Valley
  • Days three and four: Machu Picchu
  • Day five: Cusco
  • Days six and seven: Lima

One week in Peru is enough to explore Machu Picchu and the former capital of the Inca, the historic city of Cusco before heading back to Lima for a final few days on the coast.

Day one: Cusco

Instead of Lima, make Cusco your first stop in Peru. Landing here only requires a further one-and-a-half-hour flight from the capital – and which is definitely the best way to get from Lima to Cusco. And it’s worth the chance to dive into the cultural highlights right away. Cusco also offers some of the best tour companies for Machu Picchu.

The San Blas Plaza in Cusco after rainfall with views across the city
Views of the city spanning far and wide from San Blas Plaza in Cusco.

Spend your first day in Cusco taking things nice and easy; at 3,400 metres (around 11,000 feet) above sea level, this city can leave you feeling breathless. Adjust to the altitude and the low oxygen levels by exploring the old town – the focal point of this city – on foot.

Head to the Museo Inka (Inca Museum) to explore over 10,000 Inca artefacts including mummies and gold figurines, as well as the Museo de Arte Precolombino (Museum of Precolombian Art) to admire gold and silver ornaments, some of which date as far back as 1250 BC.

End your walking tour with a visit to the cathedral, where you can find painter Marcos Zapata’s famous rendition of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, just this time featuring a guinea pig as part of the feast.

If you’re still feeling good, take the 15-minute walk uphill to the Sacsayhuaman site, a walled complex that served as both a temple and fortress for the Inca and has fantastic views of the city. An easier alternative is a taxi ride from the city; expect to pay around S/10-25 ($2.5-6.3 USD), although the exact fare depends on which road is accessible on that day.

Where to stay in Cusco: Promising affordable comfort in a charming setting, El Mercado ($210 USD double) is a perfect getaway in the city centre. The 32 bedrooms are decorated with modern furnishings and artwork, adding a modern twist to a historic casona

Where to stay in Cusco on a budget: Few places offer the degree of comfort and affordability as MOAF Boutique Hotel ($80 USD). The rooms are bright thanks to plenty of natural light and have modern furnishings and pleasant neutral decoration. This helps to enhance the rooftop views available in some bedrooms, as well as in various communal areas.

Day two: The Sacred Valley

On your second day, it is time to explore the Sacred Valley, where the Urubamba River brings life to otherwise barren land. Take a colectivo (a public van), bus, or taxi from Cusco to the Sacred Valley and the town of Pisac. The former is the cheapest and easiest option; you’ll find they leave every ten minutes or so from Puputi Street, and cost between S/4-10 ($1-2.5 USD).

Pisac is a peaceful little town where you can hike (or take a taxi) to a magnificent Inca fortress that sits in the hills above. The view of the Sacred Valley from the site are mesmerizing. Located only an hour away from Cusco and also home to a busy daily market (although it’s best visited on a Sunday), Pisac is one of the best day trips from Cusco.

The concentric circles of Moray, an open-air laboratory dating from the Inca and located in the Sacred Valley, Peru
The concentric circles of Moray, a remarkable open-air laboratory dating from the Inca and located in the Sacred Valley, Peru.

Other great options in the Sacred Valley are Moray, a series of concentric circular stone terraces that were used for testing out growing crops in different conditions, as well as the Salinas de Maras (Maras salt pans), where local people have panned for salt for hundreds of years. You can take local transportation to get to them, or book this tour that’ll take you to each.

From Pisac in the Sacred Valley, you can return to Cusco or continue downriver to Ollantaytambo, another picturesque town home to further archeological sites, as well as horseback riding, rafting and hiking tours. The train to Machu Picchu is available from both.

Where to stay in Ollantaytambo: Right next to the train station, but home to a lush garden and suntrap terrace, El Albergue ($142 USD double) is a tranquil place to while away the evening. They also have a fantastic on-site restaurant that cooks up ingredients from the hotel’s organic vegetable garden.

Where to stay in Ollantaytambo on a budget: Rustic but clean bedrooms are the norm at the affordable Picaflor Tambo Guest House ($42 USD double) run by owners who will ensure you have the most comfortable stay possible.

Days three and four: Machu Picchu

Head northeast along the train to reach Aguas Calientes, a small town at the base of Machu Picchu and which is filled with bars, restaurants, and markets. The train ride from Cusco to Aguas Calientes takes four to five hours, while the one from Ollantaytambo only takes one and a half hours.

If you choose the latter option, you can spend your morning visiting Ollantaytambo’s archaeological sites before departing and the afternoon in Aguas Calientes relaxing in your hotel, soaking in the thermal baths that give the town its name, or even checking out the local butterfly sanctuary.

Views across Machu Picchu in Peru as seen from the Sun Gate
Machu Picchu in Peru as seen from the Sun Gate.

The next day, get up bright and early to board the earliest bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu – at 5:30 am. By doing this, you can expect to one of the first to arrive at the site. What a treat: there’s nothing like enjoying your first view of the ruins accompanied by little else than the sound of birdsong. For the best weather – and for a clear, unobstructed view of the site’s magnificent stonework – read our guide to the best time to visit Machu Picchu.

Feeling adventurous? Eschew the bus and instead hike from Aguas Calientes up to the entrance of Machu Picchu. However, depending on your fitness level, the hike can take between one and two hours – so start early if you want to see the site at its quietest.

Be aware when planning your trip to Machu Picchu that you must book tickets well in advance as there is a limit on the number of people who can enter the site per day. Your ticket gives you four hours within the grounds, and it generally takes around two hours to explore Machu Picchu. Note that it’s now mandatory to visit with a guide, which you can hire at the entrance to the site, although you’ll have more control over the language they speak if you book with a tourism agency in Cusco.

It’s another couple of hours to your visit if you plan to hike up Huayna Picchu, too (just note you’ll need to buy a ticket with permission to visit Huayna Picchu in order to do this). This hike is strenuous, but the views across the entire site is a highlight of any trip to Machu Picchu.

Return to Cusco in the evening by train.

Day five: Cusco

Spend one last day of exploring historic sites, as well as enjoying the city’s culinary traditions. Explore the imposing buildings of the formerly impressive Inca temple of Q’orikancha, join tourists and locals alike for locally-brewed beer in Cholos, head to the ChocoMuseo for a workshop on chocolate making and spend an evening sampling heady pisco cocktails and listening to lively local music at the Museo del Pisco.

Wrap up your Cusco itinerary by visiting the Mercado San Pedro (San Pedro market), where you’ll find sweaters, bags, and knick-knacks made from Alpaca wool. While these are also available in other markets around the city, you’ll find them for the best prices in San Pedro.

Days six and seven: Lima

Head back via plane to the capital city, Lima. Two days in Lima is just the right amount of time in order to get a glimpse of life in this dynamic city. Head to the trendy Barranco neighbourhood, home to uber-chic cafes and chic bars in restored mansions, with all of this just a few steps away from the beach.

For an insight into the grittier side of Lima, head by taxi to the Callao neighbourhood where Lima’s former shipping district and one of its most dangerous places has been transformed through street art and shops selling local arts and crafts – just don’t stray far aware from local hub Callao Monumental as the area remains dangerous for visitors.

Don’t miss the city’s renowned dining scene. For haute cuisine, head to Barranco and the world-famous Central, or dine on Nikkei (a Peruvian take on sushi) at Maido in Miraflores. Any visitor to the city can’t miss ceviche, so head to La Mar or Punta Azul in Miraflores to sample your newest favourite dish – washed down with a crisp glass of white or a pisco sour.

Haute cuisine in Maido, one of Lima's best restaurants and an unmissable culinary experience to have on a visit to Peru
Sample some of the best food Lima has to offer at one of its world-famous restaurants, such as Maido.

Spend your last days here museum-hopping (the Museo Larco is one not to miss), exploring the old town around the Plaza Mayor, or up the ante by testing the waves of the Pacific Ocean on a surfboard.

Where to stay in Lima: The Barranco neighbourhood is known for a place of poets, artists and creatives, so there’s nowhere better to stay than in than Second Home ($135 USD double), a grand, eight-room guesthouse in the former home of Peruvian sculptor Victor Delfin, who you might even spot pottering around the house if you’re lucky.

Where to stay in Lima on a budget: One of our favourite places to stay when we’re in Lima, the Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast ($40 USD double) is run by a Peruvian-British couple and offers a handful of doubles with private bathrooms in a pleasant residential area in Miraflores. The terrace out the back where breakfast is served is a gorgeous place to while away the day.

Where to stay in Lima on a budget: Located in Miraflores and offering a youthful, friendly guide Selina Lima ($53 USD double) is our budget pick. (read our comprehensive Selina Lima review ). Even though it’s a hostel, comfortable and stylishly presented private rooms with private bathrooms are available.

10 days in Peru

Overview of this 10-day Peru trip planner:

  • Days one through three: Cusco and the Sacred Valley
  • Days four through seven: The Inca Trail
  • Day eight: Machu Picchu
  • Days nine and ten: Lima

10 days in Peru is perfect length of a trip that allows you to add the Inca Trail to your Machu Picchu trip. Follow the itinerary above but, instead of taking the train straight to Aguas Calientes on day three of the itinerary above, take a hiking tour of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Days four through seven: Inca Trail

The trails built by the Inca throughout the Andes were used to connect what was once a vast empire to its territories across Peru and into neighbouring Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile. Know as the Qhapaq Ñan (Royal Road), many of these paths remain today and can be explored on foot – much the same was as they would have been used by the Inca royalty and pilgrims.

A hiker stands on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru
The Inca Trail is Peru’s most famous hike and ends at the Sun Gate, an iconic entry point into the Inca city of Machu Picchu.

Hiking to Machu Picchu on the 40-kilometre (25-mile) Inca Trail generally takes four days and joining a guided tour is required. If you see three-day Machu Picchu tours operators, it is likely only for the fittest travellers, or the tour only includes part of the trail. We recommend reading our extensive guide on what you need to know about hiking the Inca Trail before signing up for any tour.

This hike is strenuous and can be dangerous in some parts. Even for experienced hikers, it’s challenging, so listen to your body, take your time, and pause if you need to. The good news is you don’t need to pack food or a tent as those will be provided by the tour company. Some companies even offer a porter service, so you don’t need to carry anything during the entire hike!

Day eight: Machu Picchu

The Inca Trail leads directly to Machu Picchu through what is know as the Sun Gate – named as such because the sun’s rays pass through here on the summer solstice. The view from here is also legendary and a privilege only to those who reach the site from the Inca Trail.

Once you’ve explored this magnificent stone fortress, descend to Aguas Calientes via the path or take one of the public buses from the gate of Machu Picchu. Depending on what time you get to town and your train schedule, you can either spend the night in Aguas Calientes or go directly to Cusco, where you’ll find flights to Lima.

Days nine and ten: Lima

As per the previous itinerary, spend the last two out of your ten days in Peru tasting local dishes, visiting museums, or simply relaxing on the beaches of Lima.

Two weeks in Peru

Overview of this two-week Peru vacation itinerary:

  • Days one and two: Lima
  • Day three: Pisco and Ballestas Islands
  • Day four: Nazca
  • Days five to eight: Arequipa and the Colca Canyon
  • Days nine and ten: Cusco and the Sacred Valley
  • Days eleven and twelve: Machu Picchu
  • Day thirteen: Cusco
  • Day fourteen: Lima

With two weeks in Peru, you can explore four main destinations – Lima, Nazca, Arequipa, and Machu Picchu – and famous attractions near to these main draws. Instead of going straight from Lima to Machu Picchu, spend two days exploring Lima as you would on the last days of the previous itineraries, and then take a day trip from Lima to the Ballestas Islands and Nazca.

Day three: Pisco and Ballestas Islands

Take the bus four hours south to Pisco, one of the most popular towns within striking distance of the city because of – well, you can guess from its name – Pisco, the famous Peruvian spirit. In this town, tourists can visit vineyards and sample their products.

However, if you’re short on time, head directly for Paracas, one of the most popular destinations to visit in Peru. This is where the boat trip to Ballestas Islands, aka the Peruvian Galapagos, starts.

A group of Humboldt penguins on the rocky Islas Ballestas, an unmissable place to visit in Peru
A group of Humboldt penguins on the rocky Islas Ballestas

While they’re certainly not as impressive as their Ecuadorian namesake, the Ballestas Islands are still full of a rabble of wildlife, that can include everything from Humboldt penguins, to sea lions and pelicans. Since the entire archipelago is a national reserve, you’re not allowed to swim or to disembark on any of the islands, but your two-hour boat tour will give you front row seats to the raucous melee of sea life that lives upon them. Book with a local tour company on the day or in advance here.

Stay overnight in Paracas, ready for an early bus the next morning.

Where to stay in Paracas: Located just metres from the beach, the chic Casa Paracas ($108 USD double) will make you wish you had more time to hang here and soak up the sunshine. All rooms have their own private balconies, as well as much-appreciated air conditioning.

Where to stay in Paracas on a budget: Basic but budget-friendly, Atenas Backpacker Hospedaje ($18 USD double) is an extremely cosy home-away-from-home, with plenty of communal spaces and an extremely welcoming atmosphere.

Day four: Nazca

Your next stop is Nazca, a four-hour bus journey from Paracas. This is where you’ll find the massive geoglyphs, the Nazca Lines, whose origins – and purpose – remaind one of the greatest mysteries in the world. For the best views of these remarkable lines, which are in the form of hummingbirds, spiders and bold geometric patterns, take a flight over the desert from the airport in Nazca.

A hummingbird drawn into the desert as part of Peru's mysterious Nazca Lines
A hummingbird etched into the earth – one of the remarkable Nazca Lines located along the south coast of Peru.

There’s not much to do in Nazca besides wandering around the Plaza de Armas, so get an early night ready for tomorrow.

Where to stay in Nazca: It’s no looker, but Nasca Travel One Hostel ($22 USD) has everything you need for a comfortable one-night stay and is extremely clean and comfortable, particularly as it’s a little away from the town centre meaning you’re guaranteed a peaceful night’s sleep.

Days five to eight: Arequipa and the Colca Canyon

A six-hour bus journey from Nazca brings you to the White City, Arequipa. Situated in the volcano studded highlands of southern Peru at 2,335 metres above sea level, Arequipa is your first introduction to altitude, so take it easy once you get off the bus.

Arequipa is a striking place: Volcán Misti stands tall above the city, which the buildings around the centre are built using dazzlingly white volcanic stone.

Spend the remaining part of the day exploring Arequipa’s old town – the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, a vast and beautiful nunnery, and the seventeenth-century cathedral are two not to miss – before an evening tasting the lip-smacking rocoto relleno (stuffed spicy pepper), a traditional Arequipan dish.

For more highlights of the city, read this article about things to do in Arequipa.

A condor flies over the Colca Canyon in Peru, one of the best places for spotting these incredible birds
A condor flies over the Colca Canyon in Peru, one of the best places for spotting these incredible birds.

On the afternoon of day six, hop on a minivan to Chivay (3.5 hours) and then onto Cabanaconde (1.5 hours) and spend the night there in preparation for the Colca Canyon trek.

The next day, embark on the two-day Colca Canyon trek, which starts from Cabanaconde and heads down into the botton of the canyon. Unlike the Inca Trail where you sleep in tents, you will be spending nights within rustic lodgings inside Sangalle, the oasis town at the bottom of the canyon, offering you a soft bed and a pleasant night’s sleep. But don’t be fooled: this hike is challenging.

After a day hiking into the canyon the only way back out is up – a climb of 1,200 metres (4,000 feer) over a five-kilometre (three-mile) stretch.

Return to Arequipa by bus for an overnight bus to Cusco or for a final night in the city before a bus the next morning.

Where to stay in Arequipa: Set in a charming old house with a gorgeous courtyard for a leisurely cup of coffee or cold beer, La Hostería Boutique Hotel ($72 USD) double) is one of Arequipa’s most luxurious yet accommodation hotels. A pool, sun terrace and spa facilities are just some of the highlights here.

Where to stay in Arequipa on a budget: The family-run La Casa de Margott ($30 USD double) has clean and spacious rooms, as well as a pleasant roof terrace for lounging in.

Days nine and ten: Cusco and the Sacred Valley

It’s a fair distance from Arequipa to Cusco, so you can expect a ten-hour bus journey to get you from the coastal highlands and up into the Andes.

Unlike flying, which can lead to altitude sickness due to the rapid change in altitude, taking a bus to Cusco is a much gentler form of transport and gives you the opportunity to view some of the country’s incredible mountain landscapes.

Finish your itinerary by following the one-week in Peru itinerary, just shaving off a day in Lima at the very end.

Adapting this itinerary: Want to hike the Inca Trail instead? Spend days fix and six in Arequipa, then head to Cusco for the Inca trail for days seven through ten, with day eleven at Machu Picchu. Spend days twelve and thirteen in Cusco, before heading back to Lima on day fourteen.

One month in Peru

Overview of this one-month Peru backpacking itinerary:

  • Days one and two: Lima
  • Days three and four: Trujillo and Huanchaco
  • Days six and seven: Cajamarca
  • Days eight to ten: Chachapoyas
  • Day eleven: Lima
  • Day twelve: Pisco and the Ballestas Islands
  • Days thirteen: Nazca
  • Days fourteen to seventeen: Arequipa and the Colca Canyon
  • Days eighteen to nineteen: Puno and Lake Titicaca
  • Days twenty to twenty one: Cusco and Sacred Valley
  • Days twenty wo to twenty five: The Inca Trail
  • Day twenty six: Machu Picchu
  • Day twenty seven: Cusco
  • Days twenty eight to thirty: Puerto Maldonado

Do you have one whole month to spend exploring Peru? Lucky you: you’ve got time to add northern Peru to your itinerary. In addition, a slower pace of travel means your body will have the time to adjust to the altitude changes well.

One month in Peru is also plenty of time for seeing the most unmissable destinations in Peru: hear to the north but without excluding Machu Picchu or the Inca Trail, as well as stopping in Pisco and the Ballestas Islands and Arequipa, plus a trip into the jungle in Puerto Maldonado.

Days one and two: Lima

Touch down in Peru’s lively capital city, Lima. While it might be packed with traffic and a little rough around the edges, this city is a place you’ll soon fall in love with.

The cityscape and shoreline of Peru’s lively capital city, Lima.
The cityscape and shoreline of Peru’s lively capital city, Lima.

Spend your days museum-hopping (the Museo Larco is one not to miss), , exploring the old town around the Plaza Mayor, or up the ante by testing the waves of the Pacific Ocean on a surfboard. You can also head to the trendy Barranco neighbourhood, home to uber-chic cafes and chic bars in restored mansions, with all of this just a few steps away from the beach.

Don’t miss the city’s renowned dining scene. For haute cuisine, head to Barranco and the world-famous Central, or dine on Nikkei (a Peruvian take on sushi) at Maido in Miraflores. Any visitor to the city can’t miss ceviche, so head to La Mar or Punta Azul in Miraflores to sample your newest favourite dish – washed down with a crisp glass of white or a pisco sour.

Where to stay in Lima: The Barranco neighbourhood is known for a place of poets, artists and creatives, so there’s nowhere better to stay than in than Second Home ($135 USD double), a grand, eight-room guesthouse in the former home of Peruvian sculptor Victor Delfin, who you might even spot pottering around the house if you’re lucky.

Where to stay in Lima on a budget: One of our favourite places to stay when we’re in Lima, the Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast ($40 USD double) is run by a Peruvian-British couple and offers a handful of doubles with private bathrooms in a pleasant residential area in Miraflores. The terrace out the back where breakfast is served is a gorgeous place to while away the day.

Where to stay in Lima on a budget: Located in Miraflores and offering a youthful, friendly guide Selina Lima ($53 USD double) is our budget pick. (read our comprehensive Selina Lima review ). Even though it’s a hostel, comfortable and stylishly presented private rooms with private bathrooms are available.

Days three and four: Trujillo and Huanchaco

From Lima, it’s a gruelling nine-hour bus journey to reach Trujillo. A better alternative is to take one of the multiple one-hour fourty-minute flights from Lima to the airport in Trujillo, which is an easy taxi ride into the city.

Trujillo is a city on few travellers’ bucket lists – but the intrepid who make it here are in for a treat. Many are unaware of the civilisations which predate the Inca Empire, but the archeological sites they left behind are often just as remarkable as Machu Picchu – made more so by the relative lack of visitors at these destinations.

The dramatic murals on the outside walls of the Huaca de la Luna near Trujillo and Huanchaco, Peru
The dramatic murals on the outside walls of the Huaca de la Luna, just outside Trujillo.

Spend half a day learning about Peru’s remarkable past by taking a bus to Chan Chan, an archeological site just five kilometres away from the city of Trujillo. Chan Chan was once the capital of the Chimú Empire and is the largest adobe brick city discovered anywhere on earth, having been home to 60,000 people at its apogee around 850 AD.

At the heart of this city was a fortress where temples once panelled with gold, and courtyards and walls decorated with finely carved fish and other symbols of the sea, can still be explored.

Another unmissable site to explore in the region is that of the Huacas de Moche. The two pyramids known as the Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna date from 500 AD and are adorned with polychrome friezes, which have been remarkably well preserved and depict the sacrificial rituals for which the Mochica civilization have become associated with. Best explored by a tour from Trujillo, they’re an easy half-day trip from the city.

Alternatively, spend a day on a tour of the Complejo Archeólogico El Brujo (The El Brujo Archaegoloical Complex), a series of small pyramids in which the mummified remains of the Señora de Cao, a shamanic leader, were discovered.

Her body – bearing tattoos of fish, snakes and spiders – as well as gold and silver artefacts found within her tomb are on display in the on-site museum.

The pier in Huanchaco, Peru
The pier in Huanchaco, one of Peru’s top surfing destinations.

For a relaxing afternoon, consider dropping into Huanchaco, a beachside village a 45-minute bus journey north of Trujillo. Oozing buena onda (good vibes), it’s a great place to swim or surf. Read more about this Peruvian beach town in our complete guide to Huanchaco.

Where to stay in Trujillo: Located not far from the Plaza de Armas, Tierra Viva Trujillo ($100 USD double) might be located within a soulless tower block, but the hotel’s design and clean but chic bedrooms make up for this fact.

Where to stay in Huanchaco: Accommodation options abound, including the glorious tranquil yoga hostel, ATMA $7 USD dorm, $21 USD double), with cosy rooms and a very chilled vibe.

Days five and six: Cajamarca

Your next stop is Cajamarca, an historic Andean town sitting 2,750 metres (9,000 feet) above sea level and a six-hour bus journey east of Trujillo. Home to beautiful buildings constructed during the Spanish conquest, the city’s roots go much deeper.

Head to the El Cuarto del Rescato, the only remaining Inca building in the city and where the Inca emperor, Atahualpa, was captured and later executed by the Spanish and follow this with a trip to the Casa Museo Nicolás Puga, a privately owned museum showcasing 2,000 year-old textiles and other incredible pre-Hispanic treasures.

Adapting this itinerary: Want a more relaxing few days? Head north along the coast (10 hours by bus from Trujillo) for a few days of glorious beach time in Máncora, where the sun shines all year long, and the turquoise water temperature is pleasant for swimming and a popular destination to learn surfing or kitesurfing. A favourite among backpackers thanks to its wild nightlife, Máncora can be replaced with the neighbouring surf enclave of Lobitos (1.5 hours south) or the the tranquil – and pricey – luxury resorts of remote Las Pocitas. Try the truly remote bungalows at Yemaya ($126 USD double), which are right on the beach.

Spend a day outside of the city by taking a bus to the Ventanillas de Otuzco, a pre-Inca necropolis where the Cajamarca people were buried in holes cut into the volcanic rock. On your way back, visit the Baños del Inca, the Inca thermal baths that are still in use today for a relaxing soak.

The Ventanillas de Otuzco, a series of niches carved into the volcanic rock near Cajamarca and an important place to visit in Peru
The Ventanillas de Otuzco, a series of niches carved into the volcanic rock and one of Peru’s lesser-known archeological wonders.

Bear in mind that the bus ride up the mountains is a rough drive, and you might prefer to fly instead – although it won’t save you a huge amount of time. All flights go via Lima (1.5 hours) before heading to Cajamara (1 hours 15 minutes.

Where to stay in Cajamarca: Just off the Plaza de Armas and with a beautiful, flower-filled courtyard, El Cabildo Hostal ($35 USD double) promises comfortable, if somewhat old-fashioned, accommodation.

Where to stay in Cajamarca on a budget: Extremely comfortable and with a location good for both the Plaza de Armas and the bus station, family-run Chakra Runa Backpacker ($12 USD double) is guaranteed to offer a warm welcome.

Days eight, nine and ten: Chachapoyas

Deeper into the Andes is the market town of Chachapoyas. Getting here isn’t easy: the most direct route is a ten-hour minibus journey, through damp cloud forest and alongside steep mountainsides. Though surrounded by spectacular views, this route is not for the fainthearted.

With that said, Chachapoyas is worth visiting for one particular reason: Kuélap. This site is known as the Machu Picchu of Northern Peru thanks to its mountain-top location – accessible only via cable car, minibus or a grueling four-hour hike – and the fact it’s the largest ancient stone structure in Peru. It also pre-dates Machu Picchu.

Backpacking in northern Peru.
The magnificent Gocta Falls near Chachapoyas are an essential feature of any off-the-beaten-path itinerary for Peru.

Read more about this magnificent fortress city in our guide to visiting the fortress of Kuélap, which is worthy of a full-day tour from Chachapoyas.

Spend the next few days exploring other key archeological sites, such as the row of ancient sarcophagi located on a wall at Karajía or dropping in at the Museo de Leymabamba, where 219 mummies from the Chachapoya people are on display.

Alternatively, take a bus to Cocachimba and hike to some of the tallest one-drop falls in the world, the dazzling Cataratas de Gocta (Gocta Waterfall).

Where to stay in Chachapoyas: The most luxurious lodgings in Chachapoyas are La Xalca Hotel ($100 USD), another colonial mansion with large, antique-furniture decorated bedrooms, some of which have pretty balconies overlooking the central courtyard and an extensive breakfast buffet. If you’re visiting in winter, ask for a room with carpet, not tiles.

Where to stay in Chachapoyas on a budget: The best budget option in town is Chachapoyas Backpackers Hostal ($22 USD), which has well-sized rooms, all with a private bathroom.

Day eleven: Lima

Take a flight with ATSA Airlines (only Monday, Thursday and Saturday; 1.5 hours) from Chachapoyas airport, or a minibus to Jaén (four hours) and a flight from there to Lima (1.5 hours).

Street art outside Fugaz in Callao Monumental, the old shipping district of Lima
Callao Monumental is an dynamic new arts hub at the heart of the Callao neighbourhood. Care must be taken when visiting as the area remains quite dangerous to tourists.

Spend the afternoon relaxing or catching up any museums or restaurants you didn’t get a chance to visit on your first stay here.  

Day twelve: Pisco and Ballestas Islands

Take the bus four hours south to Pisco, one of the most popular towns within striking distance of the city because of – well, you can guess from its name – Pisco, the famous Peruvian spirit. In this town, tourists can visit vineyards and sample their products.

However, if you’re short on time, head directly for Paracas, one of the most popular destinations to visit in Peru. This is where the boat trip to Ballestas Islands, aka the Peruvian Galapagos, starts.

A pelican takes off from the Ballestas Islands, off the coast of Paracas in Peru
Get up close and personal with wildlife on the Ballestas Islands with a boat tour from Paracas.

While they’re certainly not as impressive as their Ecuadorian namesake, the Ballestas Islands are still full of a rabble of wildlife, that can include everything from Humboldt penguins, to sea lions and pelicans. Since the entire archipelago is a national reserve, you’re not allowed to swim or to disembark on any of the islands, but your two-hour boat tour will give you front row seats to the raucous melee of sea life that lives upon them. Book with a local tour company on the day or in advance here.

Stay overnight in Paracas, ready for an early bus the next morning.  

Day thirteen: Nazca

Your next stop is Nazca, a four-hour bus journey from Paracas. This is where you’ll find the massive geoglyphs, the Nazca Lines, whose origins – and purpose – remaind one of the greatest mysteries in the world. For the best views of these remarkable lines, which are in the form of hummingbirds, spiders and bold geometric patterns, take a flight over the desert from the airport in Nazca.

There’s not much to do in Nazca besides wandering around the Plaza de Armas, so get an early night ready for tomorrow.

Days fourteen to seventeen: Arequipa and the Colca Canyon

A six-hour bus journey from Nazca brings you to the White City, Arequipa. Situated in the volcano studded highlands of southern Peru at 2,335 metres above sea level, Arequipa is your first introduction to altitude, so take it easy once you get off the bus.

Arequipa is a striking place: Volcán Misti stands tall above the city, which the buildings around the centre are built using dazzlingly white volcanic stone. Spend the remaining part of the day exploring Arequipa’s old town – the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, a vast and beautiful nunnery, and the seventeeth-century cathedral are two not to miss – before an evening tasting the lip-smacking rocoto relleno (stuffed spicy pepper), a traditional Arequipan dish.

For more highlights of the city, read this article about things to do in Arequipa.

Volcan Misty dominates the Arequipa skyline.
Volcan Misty dominates the Arequipa skyline

On the afternoon of day six, hop on a minivan to Chivay (3.5 hours) and then onto Cabanaconde (1.5 hours) and spend the night there in preparation for the Colca Canyon trek.

The next day, it’s time to embark upon the two-day Colca Canyon trek, which starts from Cabanaconde and heads down into the botton of the canyon. Unlike the Inca Trail where you sleep in tents, you will be spending nights within rustic lodgings inside Sangalle, the oasis town at the bottom of the canyon, offering you a soft bed and a pleasant night’s sleep. But don’t be fooled: this hike is challenging.

After a day hiking into the canyon the only way back out is up – a climb of 1,200 metres (4,000 feer) over a five-kilometre (three-mile) stretch.

Return to Arequipa for a final night in the city before a bus to Puno the next morning.

Day eighteen and nineteen: Puno and Lake Titicaca

Hop on a six-hour bus that’ll promises fantastic views, especially when navigating the Salinas y Aguada Blanca Reserva Nacional, as it climbs further up into the Andes Mountains to arrive at what can seem to be the very top of the world. At this high altitude of 3,800 metres (12,507 feet) lies Lago Titicaca, a vast lake covering more than 8,000 square kilometres and spit by the border between Peru and Bolivia.

You’ll arrive in Puno, the gateway for all destinations in the Lake Titicaca area. Though small, this city houses accommodations catering to travellers.

The floating Uros Islands on Lake Titicaca
The Uros Islands are an example of remarkable indigenous architecture and are small villages built entirely of totora reeds.

Several options for day trips from Puno are available, but the one to Uros Islands is a must. Comprising 40 islands, this man-made archipelago is the focal point of Lake Titicaca. Also known as the Floating Islands, each of the islands is made of totora or reeds woven by hand.

Besides Uros, there are two main destinations on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca: Taquile and Amantani. Both are reachable by sailboat and have been inhabited for thousands of years. Nowadays, they’re best known for their striking textile weaving and you can even spend a night here staying with a local family.

If you can, go further across to the Bolivian side to the Isla del Sol (Sun Island), which is crisscrossed with Inca archeological sites and promises, from ever point on the island, spectacular views of Lake Titicaca.

Take your time exploring Lake Titicaca’s secluded corners before you move on to Cusco and Machu Picchu.

Where to stay in Puno: With a flower-filled courtyard and bedrooms tastefully decorated with art, you’ll feel a world away from the bustle of the city at Casa Panqarani ($40 USD double). It even has an excellent on-site restaurant.

Days twenty and twenty one: Cusco and the Sacred Valley

You should be nice and acclimatized to altitude by now, but it’s still worth taking things easy by exploring the old town – the focal point of this city – on foot. Head to the Museo Inka (Inca Museum) to explore over 10,000 Inca artefacts including mummies and gold figurines, as well as the Museo de Arte Precolombino (Museum of Precolombian Art) to admire gold and silver ornaments, some of which date as far back as 1250 BC.

End your walking tour with a visit to the cathedral, where you can find painter Marcos Zapata’s famous rendition of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, just this time featuring a guinea pig as part of the feast.

If you’re still feeling good, take the 15-minute walk uphill to the Sacsayhuaman site, a walled complex that served as both a temple and fortress for the Inca and has fantastic views of the city. An easier alternative is a taxi ride from the city; expect to pay around S/10-25 ($2.5-6.3 USD), although the exact fare depends on which road is accessible on that day.

On your second day, it is time to explore the Sacred Valley, where the Urubamba River brings life to otherwise barren land. Take a colectivo (a public van), bus, or taxi from Cusco to the town of Pisac. The former is the cheapest and easiest option; you’ll find they leave every ten minutes or so from Puputi Street, and cost between S/4-10 ($1-2.5 USD).

Local people panning for salt at the centuries-old Salinas de Maras in the Sacred Valley in Peru
Local people panning for salt at the centuries-old Salinas de Maras in the Sacred Valley in Peru

Pisac is a peaceful little town where you can hike (or take a taxi) to a magnificent Inca fortress that sits in the hills above. The view of the Sacred Valley from the site are mesmerizing. Located only an hour away from Cusco and also home to a busy daily market (although it’s best visited on a Sunday), Pisac is one of the best day trips from Cusco.

Other great options in the Sacred Valley are Moray, a series of concentric circular stone terraces that were used for testing out growing crops in different conditions, as well as the Salinas de Maras (Maras salt pans), where local people have panned for salt for hundreds of years. You can take local transportation to get to them, or book this tour that’ll take you to each.

From Pisac in the Sacred Valley, you can return to Cusco or continue downriver to Ollantaytambo, another picturesque town home to further archeological sites, as well as horseback riding, rafting and hiking tours. The train to Machu Picchu is available from both.

Day twenty two to twenty five: The Inca Trail

The trails built by the Inca throughout the Andes were used to connect what was once a vast Empire to its territories across Peru and into neighbouring Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile. Know as the Qhapaq Ñan (Royal Road), many of these paths remain today and can be explored on foot – much the same was as they would have been used by the Inca royalty and pilgrims.

The Sayamarca ruins on day three of the Inca Trail
Exploring the Sayamarca ruins on day three of the Inca Trail.

Hiking to Machu Picchu on this 40-kilometre (25-mile) trail generally takes four days and joining a guided tour is required. If you see three-day Machu Picchu tours operators, it is likely only for the fittest travellers, or the tour only includes part of the trail. We recommend reading our extensive guide on what you need to know about hiking the Inca Trail before signing up for any tour.

This hike is strenuous and can be dangerous in some parts. Even for experienced hikers, it’s challenging, so listen to your body, take your time, and pause if you need to. The good news is you don’t need to pack food or a tent as those will be provided by the tour company. Some companies even offer a porter service, so you don’t need to carry anything during the entire hike!

Day twenty six: Machu Picchu

The Inca Trail leads directly to Machu Picchu through what is know as the Sun Gate – named as such because the sun’s rays pass through here on the summer solstice. The view from here is also legendary and a privilege only to those who reach the site from the Inca Trail.

Once you’ve explored this magnificent stone fortress, descend to Aguas Calientes via the path or take one of the public buses from the gate of Machu Picchu. Depending on what time you get to town and your train schedule, you can either spend the night in Aguas Calientes or go directly back to Cusco.

Day twenty seven to thirty: Puerto Maldonado

From Cusco, it’s a 45-minute flight to Puerto Maldonado, the last last stop on your adventurous month in Peru.

Located at the confluence of the Tambopata and Madre de Dios rivers, Puerto Maldonado is unlike all the other regions you have explored so far: here we’re deep into the tropical rainforest, a place renowned for its rich, untouched wildlife and extremely comfortable eco lodges, many of which are accessed solely by boat.

An otter sites on a tree branch in the Manu Biosphere Reserve in the Peruvian Amazon
You’ve got excellent wildlife spotting opportunities if you visit the Manu Biosphere Reserve or the Tambopata-Candamo National Reserve during your trip to Peru.

Book a three-night stay in an eco-lodge located in the hard-to-reach and strictly protected Reserva de la Biosfera del Manu (the Manu Biosphere Reserve) or in one of the cheaper lodges located in the Reserva Nacional Tambopata-Candamo (Tambopata-Candamo National Reserve) Wherever you stay, you can expect to spot numerous species of monkeys, caiman, capybara and, if you’re extremely lucky, giant otters.  

At the end of your stay, return to Lima by plane (1.5 hours) and onto your flight back home.

Where to stay in and around Puerto Maldonado: Located in the Tambopata National Reserve, the fantastic Tambopata Research Center ($236 USD double) is the ultimate place to stay for piranha fishing, nocturnal hiking, birdwatching, ayahuasca rituals, and more.

FAQs about planning a Peru itinerary

How much does a trip to Peru cost?

Excluding your flights in and out of Peru, budget travellers can keep their daily travel here below $30 USD per person. But if you plan on staying at hotels and eating at more expensive restaurants, you should budget around $50 USD per person per day. If you’re staying for two weeks in Peru, you’ll need at least $350 USD spending money for expenses outside of tickets and souvenirs.

What should you take to Peru?

Climates and weather conditions vary considerably across Peru, so your packing list will reflect this. Make sure you have light and comfortable hiking clothing, alongside a waterproof jacket for the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu. Bring medication to help you deal with altitude sickness (and motion sickness if you plan on taking long bus rides), as well as sunblock and a wide-brim hat. Comfortable hiking shoes, plus a pair of trainers for inside cities, are invaluable, while plenty of layers should keep you warm as you travel from the hot, humid coast up into the mountains. For more detailed information, check out our complete South America packing list.

How far is Lima from Machu Picchu?

Technically, it’s only around 500 kilometres away. But if you plan on getting to Machu Picchu from Lima by car or bus, the distance covers more than 1,000 kilometres, and it will take more than a day in a bus. The best way to reach Machu Picchu from Lima is by flying to Cusco and taking a train to Aguas Calientes.

How can you plan a trip to Machu Picchu?

Planning a trip to Machu Picchu depends on how you want to see this archeological site. If you’re wanting to hike the Inca Trail, you’ll need to book with a tour operator based in Cusco, who will organize your permits for food, porters, accommodation, meals, transportation to and from Cusco and permits for entry to Machu Picchu. If you want to visit independently, you will need to purchase your own tickets for Machu Picchu via the government’s website. Note that you will need to decide at the point of purchase if you want to include Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu mountain and the Museo de Sitio Manuel Chavez Ballon (an informative museum about the site located in Aguas Calientes, not Machu Picchu).

You will also need to book your own transportation to and from the site (either via train or minivan), as well as your overnight accommodation in Aguas Calientes. We recommend arriving the day before you visit Machu Picchu but booking an afternoon ticket; by 2pm, the skies should be clear if they’re cloudy in the morning, and most day trippers and Inca Trail hikers will have left by this point, leaving the site must quieter to explore.

What souvenirs should you bring back from Peru?

Peru offers many kinds of souvenirs. We recommend buying handmade Alpaca wool products, such as sweaters and hats. They are available at most local markets, but the best and cheapest ones are available at San Pedro Market, Cusco.