Peru is one of the safest and most beautiful countries in South America. With a long history dating for thousands of years, it was the home of one of the biggest empires in the world, the Inca Empire. Nowadays, Machu Picchu is probably the most visited place in South America.
Peru is also a very popular backpacking destination. The hostels network is well-developed, transportation is acceptable, food and alcohol are relatively cheap and it’s a safe place to travel. I visited Peru in 2015 with a group of friends and we had an amazing time.
A two weeks itinerary is enough to cover the most important places and get an idea of Peruvian culture.
Lima – 3 days
If you arrive by plane, Lima will probably be your starting point. It is the capital of Peru and the biggest city. It is not much different than any other big city and 3 days here will be enough to get over the jet lag, try some good food and experience the night life.
- Where to stay: If you travel with someone else, I recommend getting an AirBnb so you can rest properly before heading to the mountains.
- What to do: Visit the Historic Centre of Lima, go to Miraflores for the Pacific ocean, for local bars and restaurants visit Barranco district
- Where to eat: If you are into street food, there are some markets near the Historic Centre. For something more exquisite, restaurant Saqra is a good option. Nice atmosphere and amazing Peruvian food. Obviously you should try ceviche and if you are brave, cui.
- Warnings and tips: Avoid getting local taxis since you risk being scammed or worse. Uber app is available in Lima and it’s a safe option. Also, don’t drink tap water and don’t buy bottled water from street vendors. Even if the bottles look sealed, they are usually refilled with tap water and resold. Bring Imodium.
The Sacred Valley – 5-6 days
To get to the Sacred Valley you have to fly to Cusco, which is located at an altitude of around 3400m. The lack of oxygen at this altitude will definitely give you headaches and altitude sickness. The best way to avoid this is to go to Urubamba first and visit Cusco after Machu Picchu.
Urubamba – 1 – 2 days
From Cusco airport you can take a taxi directly to Urubamba. It is 50 km away and located at 500m lower altitude. You will have a better sleep at night and less altitude sickness. It is a pretty small town, but you can visit Moray from there.
Ollantaytambo – 2 days
Ollantaytambo, located in the Sacred Valley, is the second most amazing Inca archaeological site and the departure point for the train to Machu Picchu. Ollantaytambo used to be a defensive fortress during the Spanish invasion and chosen spot for the Temple of the Sun. You can hike up the mountain and enjoy the spectacular views.
Machu Picchu – 1-2 days
The easiest way to get to Machu Picchu is to get a train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes and then a bus. All these will be very expensive, so prepare to pay a lot of money. If you want to catch the sunrise in Machu Picchu, you can sleep in Aguas Calientes. However, don’t expect to find good accommodation or good restaurants in this town. It is probably the worst place I’ve seen.
The number of people who can visit Machu Picchu per day is limited, so make sure you buy your tickets a few months before. Also the train tickets are cheaper if booked in advance.
For Machu Picchu, I recommend you to buy the entrance tickets from the official website. There are three options available: the general grounds, grounds + Machu Picchu mountain or grounds + Huayna Picchu mountain. The last option is the best since it offers the highest and best views of Machu Picchu. If you choose this one, make sure you wear good hiking shoes, because the rocks can be slippery, especially during rain.
Cusco – 3 days
From Ollantaytambo you can take a bus directly to Cusco and enjoy it without having any altitude sickness. Cusco is a World Heritage Site and it is a good representation of Inca and Hispanic architecture. It has a lot of cool bars, restaurants and coffee shops and quite a young vibe at night.
- Where to stay: Pariwana is one of the best hostels I stayed in. Well organised, good atmosphere and plenty of drinking games. For a better party experience, try Wild Rover Hostel.
- What to do: Visit the sexy woman (Saksaywaman) for a beautiful view, go to Plaza de armas, drink pisco sour, do a cooking class, party
- Where to eat: Try restaurant Chicha (by Gaston Acurio) near the Chocolate museum or restaurant Marcelo Batata
- Warnings and tips: Our Latam flight from Lima to Cusco was cancelled for no reason and we luckily got a place on the next flight. Also our night bus from Cusco to Arequipa left 30 mins earlier than what was shown on our tickets and we made it just on time. Transportation in Peru can be messy, but it was totally worth the 10$ extra for the 1st class sleeper bus.
Arequipa – 3 days
Arequipa is the second biggest city in Peru and used to be the capital just after Peru’s independence. It offers beautiful views of Misti Volcano and it is a perfect start point for a trip to Colca Canyon, one of the deepest in the world.
- What to do: The trip to Colca Canyon is a must. It is 2 days trip and it’s crossing through some deep valleys and high points. You will see amazing landscapes and condors. In Arequipa you can visit the Santa Catalina Monastery and Plaza de Armas.
- Where to eat: If you liked Chicha and you want something more exclusive, try Tanta, another restaurant by Gaston Acurio
- Warnings and tips: If you go to Colca Canyon, you will sleep one night at 4000m altitude. If you don’t handle altitude very well, make sure you get some pills or coca leaves.
Extras: Juliaca, Puno and La Paz
If you still have some days left, from Arequipa you can go to Juliaca and Puno to visit the floating islands on Lake Titicaca. It is one of the biggest lakes in South America, situated at 3800m altitude with great biodiversity.
From Puno is very easy to cross to Bolivia and arrive in the capital, La Paz.